This article appeared in the Autumn 1967 (Issue #9) edition of the Kent Archaeological Review.
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Tenterden and Thanet.
The place-name connection between TENTERDEN and THANET is well known, but the implications have been little discussed. Some "speculation" will, it is hoped, seem not too improper to archaeologists in a field where "evidence" is inevitably intangible. These notes upon the meaning, history and significance of the place name "TENTERDEN' are accordingly offered up-and any criticism, however destructive, will be welcome.
- DEPN gives the meaning of TENTERDEN as "the DENN or swine pasture of the THANET people"; classifies "DENN' as OE; says that the word may indicate "pasture" in a general sense, that many DENS in Kent are names of "old pastures"; and that there can be "confusion" with DENU (O E -- valley).
- DEPN says that "THANET" may mean "bright island" or "fire island" (from a beacon or lighthouse) and that the word is cognate with a British (O W) river name.
- The first recorded form of TENTERDEN is "TENTWARDENE" in 1179 (Pipe Roll), but TENETWARABROCAS ("the brooks or fens of the THANET people") is recorded in 968 (BCS 1212) and is assumed by DEPN to have been "near TENTERDEN".
- "THANET" first appears as "TANATUS" in SOLINUS (a Latin encyclopaedist of the 3rd century-the interesting passage on THANET is incompletely cited by LAMBARDE), as "TANATOS" circa 730 in BEDE (Latin version) and circa 890 in BEDE (O E version). JACKSON (op. cit. p.331) following FORSTER derives the Anglo-Saxon form from Brittonic which in JACKSON'S vocabulary appears to mean the language of the Celtic invaders of Britain (including the BELGAE, a people never mentioned as such by JACKSON) before, during and after the Roman occupation.
- Taking the evidence so far, THANET was so called at least as early as the 3rd century AD; probably by its Belgic occupants in 100 BC. and perhaps earlier.
- It is not so clear when TENTERDEN was first so called. The orthodox view is that place names of this sort indicate a settlement first occupied and first named by what are thought of as "Anglo-Saxon invaders". These views involve a number of inferences which are not all inescapable. The nature and extent of any "invasion" and the composition and language of the population in Kent between 100 BC and 600 AD are still open questions. It is not certain that "DEN" is originally an "Anglo-Saxon" word -- (i.e. GERMANIC rather than CELTIC). If "DEN" is "Anglo-Saxon" it does not necessarily follow that the place was first occupied by the people who first described it as a "DEN". It would indeed be reasonable to infer (in the absence of evidence to the contrary) that a place name indicating a connection between two places dates from the earliest time at which there is in fact a connection of any importance between those two places.
- As stated above (paragraph 4) the first written record of TENTERDEN is 1179 or perhaps 968. But TENTERDEN is dedicated to ST MILDRED. She was second Abbess of MINSTER in THANET and died circa 770. Her mother ERMENBURGA was the first Abbess and founded the monastery at MINSTER in 670. It seems probable that TENTERDEN (which still belonged to the Manor of MINSTER in 1290) formed part of the lands settled on the monastery by ERMENBURGA'S cousin EGBERT, King of Kent, and inherited by him from his great-grandfather ETHELBERT.
- Though we are now in a more speculative realm, it is noteworthy that many of the possessions of the Royal house of Kent (and particularly those settled upon monasteries founded by Royal abbesses) can be shown to have been places of importance in Roman times (e.g. LYMINGE).
- As to archaeological "evidence", admittedly there is not much. But if it is to be concluded from an absence of "finds" that TENTERDEN did not exist or was of no importance in Roman or earlier times, a similar conclusion could be drawn as to Anglo-Saxon or Norman times.
- However, according to the Ordnance Survey Department and to MARGARY [ROMAN WAYS IN THE WEALD (1965) page 247 and maps at pages 245/248] a Roman Road does in fact run from HEMSTED (near BENENDEN) to ASHFORD (forking there to CANTERBURY and to LYMPNE) along the MEDWAY/ROTHER watershed North of TENTERDEN. From this main Roman road-according to MARGARY -- a branch road runs down to a tributory of the ROTHER (LIMEN) at a point within 2 miles of the town. [During the next few months a gas pipe line is to be laid on a course which must cut any such branch road and there should be an opportunity of establishing "facts" recognisable as such by archaeologists.]
- Further, at various times there have been found -- though inadequately recorded: Roman remains of an unstated nature (including ashes and lead) at CLAY HILL; an urn and coins of Roman date and Samian ware and ashes at READING HILL; a Roman bronze jug near ASHBOURNE MILL; a Romano-British burial on ROLVENDEN HILL; and a Roman gold coin at PEN HILL. All these are places within 2 miles of the centre of TENTERDEN. [See MACE'S "TENTERDEN OLD AND NEW" and GORDON WARD'S notes in MAIDSTONE MUSEUM.]
- There was therefore in Roman times, whatever the importance or purpose of the place, at least a connection with THANET in the form of the road, and some settlement. THANET and TENTERDEN are just under 40 miles apart. Probably the connection was strategic or economic or both. If the geographical position of TENTERDEN is examined it will be found that it is placed upon the first and only point of high ground where the land route (the Roman road) between East Kent and the industrial area of Sussex is easily accessible to and from the LIMEN and the sea -- a point therefore of both strategic and commercial importance. (There is not space here to examine communications with MEDWAY and THAMES.)
- Probably the strategic and economic importance of TENTERDEN continued into Anglo-Saxon times and perhaps later. (It is a mistake to think of WEALD or MARSH as "impenetrable" or "inaccessible" in early times or of monasteries as merely pious hermitages in remote places.)
- The precise significance of "DEN" remains obscure. If this is a late element in the name, its agricultural or other meaning in say the 12th century throws perhaps no light on the problem of TENTERDEN-THANET (which almost certainly cannot be solved in terms of pigkeeping). If it is an early element, it is still difficult to visualise any agricultural state of affairs which could justify the connection or the name. It may be said however that the present state of geological knowledge appears to indicate that ROMNEY MARSH was more above sea level at the beginning of Roman times (and a little earlier) than in "Anglo-Saxon" times and today, that ROMNEY MARSH may, like the Lincolnshire fens, have been reclaimed, drained and farmed on a large scale by the Romans and/or their predecessors; and that the LIMEN and its tributaries may have been canalised and consequently useable for water transport far upstream. (In the fens it is known for certain that canals were cut and rivers canalised and sluices built.) If such a state of affairs existed on ROMNEY MARSH and the ROTHER levels in the first century BC, the DEN at what is now TENTERDEN may perhaps have been the agricultural centre for the livestock or arable farming of the Belgic rulers of THANET and East Kent just as a thousand years later APPLEDORE became the centre for the Marsh farming of the Cathedral clergy of CANTERBURY.