General history
Soil and products

Sponsor

Institute of Historical Research

Publication

Author

Edward Hasted

Year published

1797

Pages

265-271

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'General history: Soil and products', The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 1 (1797), pp. 265-271. URL: http://british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=53772 Date accessed: 25 October 2014.


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Soil and products

HAVING thus described the several divisions of this county, I shall now take some notice of the Air, Soil, natural and artificial Products, and other particulars relating to the present state of it.

The air in this county is various, according to the different parts of it: in many it is as healthy and pure as any can be in this island; but on the north side of the great road, leading from London to Dover, almost as far as Canterbury, and from thence again on the same side of that into the isle of Thanet, there is a long space of country, lying near the banks of the Thames and the Medway, along the Swale, and adjoining to the river Stour below Canterbury, in which the air is gross, soggy, and much subject to intermittents, owing to the large tracts of low, swampy, marsh grounds, among which there are such quantities of stagnating waters, as render the country near them exceedingly unwholsome, especially in the autumnal quarter. Romney-marsh labours under the same inconvenience, and for the same reasons.

The general face of this county is very beautiful, not only from the wealth and abundance with which it is constantly covered, but from the great variety and inequality of the ground, the former of which is so great, that it may almost be called from thence an epitome of the whole kingdom. Indeed, it has most advantages that the rest of the kingdom enjoys, and, many that are not to be found elsewhere.

The foil is so different in almost every parish, that it is not possible to give any regular description of it; I shall only observe, therefore, that the whole county, excepting the marshes and the weald, is a general cluster of small hills; two chains of which, higher than the rest, run through the middle of it, from west to east, mostly at about eight miles distance (though at some places much less) from each other, beginning at the county of Surry, and ending at the sea. These are called the upper and lower hills, and are, along the tops of them, covered with large tracts of woods and coppice. The soil of them is but poor and barren, that of the upper being mostly chalk and flint, and of the lower various, as sand and gravel, and more easterly full of the rock stone, the richness of the soil increasing as you descend to a greater distance from them.

The inclosures in Kent are in general small, and consist promiscuously of arable, meadow, pasture, orchards, and hop-ground, and much woodland interspersed among them, except in the north-east part of the county, beyond Canterbury, which is a much more open and campaign country than the rest of it.

It has corn and grain of the like sorts with the rest of the kingdom, as wheat, rye, oats, barley, buckwheat, peas, beans, and tares, much more than can be consumed in it, great quantities of which are weekly sent by water to London and elsewhere. In the eastern parts there are many fields and plats sown with canary and hemp, and about Faversham are se- veral fields planted with madder, which is there of late manufactured for the use of the dyers, and woad is likewise frequently sowed in West Kent for the like use.

The pasture, meadow, and marsh ground is much of it exceedingly rich and fertile, especially below the hill, and in Romney-marsh, from which London is weekly supplied with great quantities of the finest and fattest sheep and oxen that are at any time brought to market. Besides which, great numbers of sheep are kept and fatted on the turnips, clovers, sansoins, and other such grasses, which are continually sown on the uplands, by which manure there is afterwards produced a much greater quantity of corn than would be by any other method of husbandry.

As to the orchards of apples, pears, plumbs, and cherries, there are great numbers of them everywhere, but not so much as formerly, especially of the latter; many of them having been destroyed and converted into hop-grounds. The codling-tree is likewise more scarce than it used to be in this county. In the neighbourhood of Maidstone the plantations of apples are very large, and a great quantity of cyder is made from them; and there are likewise in those parts many plantations of filberts, which turn out to good account, the fruit of them being sent to the London markets.

The hop-grounds have increased greatly of late years, and about Maidstone, Faversham, and Canterbury especially, hops are the principal commodity of the country, though they were petitioned against by the parliament so late as the reign of king Henry VI. about 1428, as a wicked weed. They were introduced by king Henry VIII. but were not much cultivated in England for some time; and so late as queen Elizabeth (fn. 1) they were fetched from the Low Countries; since which they have so greatly increased, that the duty on hops throughout England, in the year 1778, amounted to 1603581. 13s. 11¼d. of which the county of Kent produced nearly one half, viz. Canterbury district, 368621. 3s. 6d. and Rochester district, 42046l. 0s. 11d. together 789081. 4s. 5d. These plantations, amounting to many thousand acres, being of the greatest advantage to this county, they employ great numbers of the neighbouring poor, not only in their cultivation, but in the making of the bagging for them; they greatly increase the value of the woodlands, and are the cause of much money being circulated within the county every year.

There are many nurseries for trees, plants, &c. and acres of rich garden ground, in the western part of this county, and in the environs of London, mostly used for the supply of the metropolis, and there are others of the like sort in the neighbourhood of the several capital towns in it; about Sandwich the soil is so adapted to the growth of carrots, that it produces larger ones, and of a more excellent flavour and colour than those that grow any where else.

The coppice wood in general is either oak, hazel, birch, or beech, intermixed with ash, willow, chesnut, &c. of which last there are large tracts in the neighbouring parts of Milton, near Sittingborne, and Newington, and so on for some miles towards the south.

The timber in the woods is mostly oak and beech, and round the fields and hedge rows on the north side the hill, and westward of Barham-downs, mostly elm, with some very few oak and ash, but in other parrs of the county, especially about Maidstone, below the hill, it is in general oak, and that not only in the hedge rows, but in the woods, in great plenty, and of a very large size, fit for the supply of his majesty's navy, insomuch that the timber growing on many estates, if cut down and sold, would purchase the freehold on which they stand. Ash, alders, and willows, likewise grow in great plenty near the fresh streams every where.

The only remains of a forest in this county is what is called the south and north srith, near Tunbridge, most part of which is now woodland. There were, in queen Elizabeth time, fifty-three ancient parks, which are now all disparked, except those of Knoll, Cobham, Mereworth, Greenwich, Eltham, Lullingstone, Leeds, and Chilham; but there are others inclosed since, as Langley in Beckenham, Lamienby and Blendon in Bexley, Chilston in Boughton Malherbe, Charlton by Greenwich two parks, Foot's Cray, God mersham, St. Stephen's, alias Hackington, Knowlton, Lee, Linsted, the Moat in Maidstone, Bradborne in East Malling, Mersham, Penshurst, Surrenden in Pluckley, Kippington in Sevenoke, Fairlawn in Shipborne, East Sutton, Teston, Waldershare, and Eastwell. Befides the above, there are many plantations and lawns near gentlemen's seats, which though they have no deer in them, are kept up and inclosed as parks, and more profitably sed with sheep and oxen.

There are very few heaths of any size in this county; the principal being Black-heath, Bexley-heath, Cox-heath, Charing, Dartford, and Malling heaths; those besides are hardly worth the name of such, being mostly of the smaller sort, such as commons, lees, forstals, minnises, and the like; land being too valuable in it, and the spirit of industry too prevalent, to suffer much land to lie waste and uncultivated. In the easternmost parts of Kent, and on the high chalk cliffs and hills on the coast, there are, however, several tracts of downs, viz. from Barham-down to Deal, and from thence to Dover, and so on to Folkestone and Hith, and in some other places on the summit of these hills; but they are in general well covered with grass, and afford good pasture for sheep, &c.

In the Weald, about Bethersden, there is a broad stone dug up, called, from the excellent polish it bears, Bethersden-marble, which was formerly so highly esteemed, that tombs and ornamental pillars in most of the churches were made of it, and in most of the antient seats the chimney pieces, in the grandest apartments, were made of it; and in the weald adjoining to Suffex are iron mines and furnaces, the manufacture of which is, by the navigation on the Medway, carried to market. Near Maidstone are large quarries of stone, called the Kentish rag-stone, which, when worked up and squared, is conveyed away by the same means. And at Greenhith, Northfleet, and near Rochester, chalk is dug, and the lime from it is carried, by means of the Thames and Medway, not only to distant parts of this county, but into Effex, Norfolk, and Suffolk, in great quantities.

There are but few manufactures in this county, as well owing to the great attention paid to agriculture and grazing, as to the great number of easy and lucrative employments in the disposal of government; yet there are some. For instance, at Canterbury is a manufactory of muslins, called Canterbury muslins, brocaded silks, and of stockings; at Whistaple and Deptford there are large copperas works; at Stonar, in the isle of Thanet, and likewise in the isle of Graine, there are works for the making of salt; at Ospringe are large works erected by government for the manufacture of gunpowder, besides smaller ones in other places; in the Weald, adjoining to Suffex, are large surnaces for the casting of iron; at Boxley, near Maidstone, is the most extensive and curious manufacture of paper perhaps in Europe; at Dartford and Crayford there are mills for the manufacturing of iron; at the latter there are large works for the printing of calicoes, and the whitening of linens; near Sevenoke are extensive mills for the manufacturing of silk. As to the cloathing manufactory, which used to be carried on so largely in the Weald, it is now, I believe, entirely laid aside.

This county produces, in great plenty, every kind of provision for the support of its inhabitants, besides large quantities, which are weekly sent from it to London and its environs, and which are continually expended for the shipping, at the several ports round the consines of it. The beef, veal, mutton, lamb, and pork, are well fatted and excellent. The poultry of every sort is large and fine, and the fish, caught on its own shores, and in the rivers and ponds within it, not only supply the tables of the rich in great plenty, but afford a cheap and constant support to the poor. The native Milton oysters are superior to all others, and the lobsters caught off the isle of Thanet, exceed in goodness all others taken in any other part of England. From the several warrens in it the markets are well supplied with rabbits. From the number of parks in it there is great plenty of venison; which, in those of Eastwell, Knoll, and Cobham, is esteemed superior in flavour and goodness to all others.

The game likewise is in great plenty throughout the whole of it; viz. hares, pheasants and patridges; the pheasants being esteemed larger, and finer flavoured, than in any other part of the kingdom.

In short, I know not what this county has not, that a country should have, for the ease, pleasure, profit, and health of its inhabitants, nor can I conclude better than with the verses of our old English poet, Michael Drayton, who in his Poly Olbion, thus celebrates the praises of it:

Oh! famous Kent, quoth he,
What county has this isle that can compare with thee!
Which hast within thyself as much as thou canst wish,
Thy conies, ven'son, fruit, thy sorts of fowl and fish;
And what comports with strength, thy hay, and corn, and wood,
Not any thing thou wants, that any where is good.

Footnotes

1 Brit. Top. p. 61. Spelm. part ii. p. 147.