Divisions of the county
IN the reign of king Alfred the inhabitants of
this island, following the example of the Danes,
were so greedy of spoil and rapine, that no one could
travel in safety, in order, therefore, to secure them
from such outrages and robberies, the king divided
the several counties, or shires, into smaller districts,
which were called laths, or tritbings, each of which
he again divided into hundreds, taking the model of
them, no doubt, from his German ancestors, in whose
country a like system still prevails. (fn. 1) It has been much
questioned from whence the hundreds in England
took their name, and what was the extent of their
jurisdiction; however, the general opinion has been,
that they were so called from their extending over a
district, in which one hundred assessors, pledgers, or
sureties of the king's peace resided, which plainly accounts for the great difference in the size of them;
some in this county having but one or two parishes,
whilst others have twenty, or more, or the greatest
part of them within their bounds. Every hundred
was governed at first by a particular officer, called a
centenary, or hundredary, who was chosen into that office by all the elder sort of the people, who met together at the usual place in the hundred on a certain
day appointed for that purpose. This officer held his
court, called the hundred-gemote, or hundred court, for
particular cases within the extent of his jurisdiction;
but there was an appeal from it to the court of the
lath, or trithing.
These laths in this county were five in number,
and were so called from the Saxon word, gelatbian, to
assemble together; for in this court all the principal
men of the hundreds, within the bounds of the lath, as-
sembled together, to debate and determine the matters
brought before them; though if they were found too
difficult, they were sent up from hence to the superior county-court, as to a parliament of the whole body
of the county. All which has been already treated
of more at large. King Alfred, for the still better establishment of the peace and security of his people,
subdivided these hundreds into tithings, so called, because in them ten families were cast into a society,
or as they were termed in this county, boroughs, of the
Saxon word, borh, signifying a pledge or surety; each
of whom was bound to the king for the peaceable
and good behaviour of the others. The chief in
each of these tithings, as they were called in the west,
was named tienheofod, or theohungman, from his office;
and with us, friborg, from fri, free, and borgh, a surety, or pledge, as much as to say, a free pledge.
This fribourg or borsholder's office was, at its first
institution in this court, called the lete, or view of
frank pledge, (which, being esteemed the king's court,
has been long since granted by charter to the lords of
hundreds and manors,) to determine the smaller differences between neighbours, and such trespasses as
belonged to their farms; the greater matters being
reserved to the hundredaries. Besides this, the king
ordained, that every natural inhabitant, or Englishman born, should live in some hundred, or tithing,
that would be bound for his appearance, to answer
the law; but he that could not find such surety,
should abide the severity of the law, and if such offender happened to make his escape, then all that
hundred or borough incurred a mulct or fine, to be
imposed by the king. By which means, it is said,
king Alfred reduced his subjects to such a state of hohesty and good behaviour, that having caused bracelets of gold to be hung upon posts in the highways, to
delude the greediness of passengers, none dared to
touch them. (fn. 2) This wholesome distribution of justice by king Alfred lasted but a small time; for the
kings his successors, either for the sake of improving
their revenues by the profits of these hundreds, or
of obliging some of their nobles, granted some of
them, and let others to farm to their great men, or
sheriffs, under a rent, or otherwise; so that this office
of bundredary was soon laid aside, and the jurisdiction
became vested in the lord of the hundred, as abovementioned. But it was not long before great evils
arose from this change; for, either through the negligence or connivance of the lord of the hundred, great
mischiefs happened to those that travelled through
these districts; murders were committed, robberies
perpetrated, houses burnt, and theft practised among
the people, so that few could pass through the country in quiet, or reside at home in safety.
In this uncivilised state, as it may well be termed,
this country remained even to the time of king Edward I. who, in the 13th year of his reign, by the
statute of Winchester, made many regulations for the
better government of the police, and the re-establishment of quiet and safety throughout the kingdom.
For this purpose he instituted a hue and cry, which
made the whole county answerable for the robbery
and the damages thereof, and a watch, which should
be kept in every town from sun-setting to sun-rising,
from the time of Ascension to Michaelmas. He ordained that the highways should be cleared of wood,
to prevent the felons concealing themselves, and directed that every man, according to his substance,
should have arms in his house, to pursue the felon effectually. He likewise constituted two constables in
every hundred, to view the armour, and present the
defaults thereof, and the defaults of tourns of high.
ways, &c. since which time acts of parliament have
enlarged the power and authority of these officers,
who are employed to keep the public peace, and convey the warrants of magistrates to the petty constables
and borsholders of the several vills, boroughs, and parishes within their hundreds. They are called chief
or high constables, to distinguish them from the petty
constables of parishes and boroughs, and were antiently
chosen and sworn in the tourns held for the hundred;
but the sheriff, or lord thereof, neglecting to hold their
courts at the usual times, they are, in such default,
now usually appointed at the general court of quarter
THIS COUNTY has been for some time divided
into two districts, usually called West and East Kent,
which nearly divide it into two equal parts, in which
are contained the five laths, or great districts, which
comprehend the whole county of Kent.
The western division, or West Kent, contains the
laths of Sutton at Hone, and Aylesford, and the
lower division of the lath of Scray.
The eastern division, or East Kent, contains the laths
of St. Augustine and Shipway, and the upper division
of the lath of Scray.
The extent of both these districts, as well as of the
laths, may be easily traced out by the dotted line on
the map of the whole county, prefixed to this work.
These laths are divided into fourteen bailiwics and
sixty-three hundreds, as well for the distribution of
justice by the sheriff and his bailiffs, as by the justices
of the peace; and within the limits of the above are
thirteen franchises and liberties, most of which have
courts of record belonging to them. These hundreds
are again divided into parishes, the institution of
which, in England, many of our writers have ascribed
to archbishop Honorius, about the year 636, build-
ing their opinion on the authority of archbishop Parker; but Mr. Selden seems rightly to understand the
archbishop's expression, provinciam suum in parochias
divisit, of dividing his provinces into new dioceses
The distinction of parishes which now prevails could
never be the model of Honorius, nor the work of any
one age; the reduction of a whole country into such
formal limitations must have advanced gradually, and
have been the result of many generations. (fn. 3) There are
four hundred and thirteen of these parishes in this
county, most of which are subdivided into vills, boroughs, and hamlets; among which are fifteen separate jurisdictions, or liberties, not in any hundred,
having constables or officers of their own, and three
exclusive jurisdictions from the justices of the county,
as is the liberty of Romney-marsh, and that of the
The lath of Sutton at Hone contains the bailiwics of
Sutton Dartford and Sutton Bromley, and the hundreds of
Bromley and Beckenham,
Axtane, alias Clackstone,
Little and Lesnes,
Dartford and Wilmington,
Codesheath alias Codesede,
Westram and Etonbridge,
The lath of Aylesford contains the bailiwics of Hoo,
Twiford, Eyhorne, and the lowy of Tunbridge, and
the hundreds of
Chatham and Gillingham, (fn. 3)
Larkfield, alias Lavercfield,
Wrotham, (fn. 4)
the lowy of Tunbridge,
West, alias Little
Eyhorne, alias Aihorne,
The lath of Scray, formerly called Sherwinhope, and
in Domesday Wiwarelest, contains the bailiwics of
Milton, alias Middleton, Scray, and of the Seven
Hundreds, and of the hundreds of
Great, alias East
Barnfield, (fn. 5)
Middleton alias Milton,
Boughton alias Bocton.
The hundreds of Calehill, Chart and Longbridge, Felborough, and Wye, commonly called the Four Hundreds, once belonged to this lath; but they have been a long while severed from
it, and added to the lath of Shipway.
The lath of Shipway, alias Shepway, called in Domesday, Limwareleft, contains the bailiwics of Stowting,
Shipway, and Chart and Longbridge, and the hundreds of
Chart and Longbridge,
St. Martin's Pountney,
The lath of St. Augustine, called also formerly, Hedelinth, contains the bailiwics of Bridge, and Eastry,
and the hundreds of
Eastry, alias Estrege,
Ringslow alias Tenet.
Bridge and Petham,
The particular parishes in each of these hundreds are described in
the future course of this history.
There are also several towns and places in this
county, which have constables and other officers of
the like nature within themselves, and are not subject to the constable of any hundred; some of these
are in the forraigne, and others in their particular liberties. The following is a list of them both, and
of those in the forraigne, of foreign, a term made use of
to express a place that is in the jurisdiction of the
county at large, and not in any liberty or franchise,
which has a particular jurisdiction of its own, and in
which the justices of the county cannot intermeddle,
Christ Church, in
Gravesend and Milton, Corporation of
Hilden borough, in
West or Town Malling,
South borough in
The following places are in their particular liberties, in which the justices of the county cannot intermeddle.
CANTERBURY, which is a city and county of itself, and a corporation, under the jurisdiction of its
ROCHESTER is likewise a city and corporation under the jurisdiction of its own justices.
MAIDSTONE town is a corporation, which, together with the parish of Maidstone, is under the jurisdiction of its own justices.
ROMNEY marsh is likewise a liberty under the jurisdiction of its own bailiff and jurats.
In the liberty of the cinque ports are the following
places, which have constables and officers of their
own, and are under the jurisdiction of their own justices. This liberty has a court of chancery, and a
court of admiralty, and it had antiently a court, called the castle-gate court, for the determination of pleas
touching the guarding of the castle of Dover.
SANDWICH, with the three churches in the same;
Deale, with the church; Ramsgate in St. Laurence,
but not the church; St. Nicholas, but not the church;
both in Thanet; Walmer, with the church; and
part of Woodnesborough, but not the church, are in
the liberty of the port and town of Sandwich.
DOVER, with its two churches; Birchington, with
the church; part of Charlton, but not the church;
part of Hougham, but not the church; St. John's
with Margate, with the church; St. Peter's, with the
church; Ringwold, with the church; and Woodchurch in Thanet, the church of which is demolished,
are in the liberty of the port and town of Dover.
Part of NEW ROMNEY, viz. the town with the
church; part of Old Romney, with the church;
part of Apledore, but not the church; part of Brenzet, but not the church; part of Ivechurch, but not
the church; part of Snargate, but not the church;
so much of Bromhill as is in Kent, are within the liberty of the port and town of New Romney.
HITH, with the church, part of West Hith, but
not the church, are in the liberty of the port and town
BEAKSBORNE, with the church, and the Grange
in Gillingham, but not the church, are in the liberty
of the port and town of Hastings in Sussex.
FORDWICH, with the church, is a member of the
port and town of Sandwich, and within the liberty
of the same.
Part of FOLKESTONE, viz. the town, with the
church; part of Faversham, viz. the town, with the
church, are members of the port and town of Dover,
and within the liberty of the same.
TENTERDEN is a member of the antient town of
Rye in Sussex, one of the additional cinque ports.
There are, besides the above, several franchises and
liberties within the forruigne, some of which have
courts of record in them, though most of them are
The liberty of the archbishop of Canterbury claims
over a great number of manors, parishes, and parts of
parishes in this county, being such as have been at
any time in the possession of the see of Canterbury,
since the separation made of the archbishop's revenues, and those of the priory of Christ-church, in the
time of archbishop Lanfranc. This liberty has in it
a court of record, to hold plea of all actions, real,
personal, and mixed; but it has been a long time disused.
The liberty of the dean and chapter of Canterbury claims
likewise over a great number of manors, parishes, and
parts of parishes, being such as were the estates of the
late priory of Christ-church, and were granted, with
all their liberties, privileges, and exemptions, to the
dean and chapter, by king Henry VIII. in the 33d
year of his reign. This liberty had a like court of
record as the former, which has also been long since
The liberty of Ashford claims over that town and all
the parish, except the boroughs of Henwood, alias
Hewet, and Rudlow. It has in it a court of record,
to hold pleas for all actions, the debt or damages
whereof do not exceed twenty marks.
The liberty of St. Augustine, near Canterbury, commonly called, The high court of the liberty of the late
dissolved monastery of St. Augustine, near the city of
Canterbury, claims over ten whole parishes, besides
part of upwards of one hundred others, and into the
city of Canterbury. It has, among other privileges, a
court of record, to hold pleas of all actions, real, personal, and mixed, without limitation of any sum; but
it has been long since disused.
The liberty of Eleham, which has no court of record
The liberty of Gravesend and Milton, near Gravesend, claims over both those parishes, and has in it a
corporation and a court of record.
The liberty of the duchy of Lancaster claims over certain manors, lands, and parishes in this county, being
such as were part of it in the reigns of king Henry IV.
and V. But this liberty has no court of record for
pleas in this county.
The liberty of Liminge has no court of record for pleas.
The liberty of Queenborough has a corporation and
court of record, which claims over the town and ville
The liberty of the bishop of Rochester claims over all
such manors, lands, and parishes, as are, or have been
part of the revenues of this bishopric. It has a court
of record for pleas in all actions, real, personal, and
mixed, but it has long since been disused.
The liberty of Sevenoke has no court of record for
The liberty of Wrotham has no court of record for
The liberty of Wye has a court of record for pleas,
in all actions, real, personal, and mixed.
As the county of Kent is divided into the two
great districts of East and West Kent, so is the distribution of justice in it; for though every justice of
the peace is, by the commission, appointed for the
whole county at large, yet he usually confines his
acting in that office, except upon extraordinary occasions, to that district of the two in which he resides, and in common matters, to that particular division of justices of the lath and hundred to which he
Each district of East and West Kent holds its own
court of sessions four times in the year, that is, twice
originally, and twice by adjournment, viz. the Eastern
District originally at the Old Castle of Canterbury,
on the Tuesday in the week after the Epiphany and
the feast of St. Thomas Becket, from whence it is
adjourned for the Western District to the county
town of Maidstone on the Thursdays next ensuing;
and the Western district originally at Maidstone on
the Tuesdays next after the seasts of Easter and Michaelmas, from whence it is adjourned for the Eastern District to Canterbury on the Fridays next ensuing.
There are in this county thirty-four market towns.
St. Mary Cray, (fn. 6)
Eleham, (fn. 7)
Milton, near Sittingborne,
Which last eleven are within the cinque ports.