26th May 2020
Encouraged by the British Government, there has recently been a revival of interest in the celebration of County Days by the flying of historic county flags. According to the UK charity The Flag Institute, founded in 1971 to promote interest in flags and flag flying, Kent’s County Flag Day is the 26th May – the official date of the death, in 604AD, of the county’s patron saint; St. Augustine of Canterbury.
Augustine arrived in Kent in 597AD with a cohort of 40 monks having been sent by Pope Gregory the Great to evangelise the Anglo-Saxons. They were received by Ethelbert, the pagan King of Kent, and his christian queen, Bertha. Augustine baptised Ethelbert and established an abbey at Canterbury on land provided by the King. The Saxon ruins of St. Augustines Abbey, the magnificent Canterbury Cathedral, which still dominates the skyline of the city, and the ancient 7th century church of St Martin where Queen Bertha is said to have worshipped are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The county flag of Kent displays a rearing white horse which is said to be based on the emblem of Horsa, the younger brother of Hengist. They were mercenary germanic invaders who founded the Saxon Kingdom of Kent in the mid-5th century.
Evidence of earlier prehistoric and Roman occupation is also to be found. Near to the place where St Augustine landed, is Richborough Fort. The impressive remains of its 3rd century walls place it among the most significant Roman sites in Britain.
Medieval Dover Castle is still a formidable sight that dominates the town and historic Port of Dover. It reminds us of Kent’s place at the heart of Britain’s military and maritime history. The Historic Dockyard at Chatham, established in the early 17th century, was where Admiral Nelson’s famous flagship HMS Victory was launched in 1765. Chatham remained an active naval base until its closure in 1984.
Kent is famously described as the “Garden of England” largely because of the fruit orchards and hopfields that characterised its traditional agriculture. This is the Kent that inspired Charles Dickens who grew up, and later made his home, near Rochester. Other authors such as HE Bates and well-known painters JM Turner, Samuel Palmer and Rowland Hilder also found inspiration here.
The hills of the North Downs; the ancient cathedrals of Canterbury and Rochester, the mighty castles; the pretty Wealden villages, the stately homes, the magnificent gardens; the sandy beaches of Thanet and the bleak marshlands of the North Kent shore all give this historic, diverse county its unique character.
On Kent’s County Flag Day, we can certainly “fly the flag” for Kent.
Jonathan is a SE England Blue Badge Guide based in Kent.