Kent has been around for a long time – with traces of pre-human settlement going back over 400,000 years – but the last couple of hundred years has seen the country disappearing before our eyes.
It’s not Brexit or coastal erosion that are somehow behind it, either – as the main culprit is the country’s capital.
That’s right – urban sprawl has been gradually and quite literally eating away at the Garden of England for well over a hundred years – taking some of our richest history with it.
Read more: Maidstone Zoo – The long-lost Kent attraction gone far too soon
From Greenwich to Dartford, parts of the south east that historically were part of Kent have been pulled into the orbit of London, as poorly defined borders saw towns and villages bleed into the endless suburbs of south east London.
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Take Sidcup for example.
Lying in the London Borough of Bexley, the town falls within London’s Oyster Card zone; residents can vote for the Mayor of London; and when travelling just one town over, to Swanley, you will notice “Welcome to Kent” signs as you go.
Sidcup, though, very much used to be part of Kent, and if you look at the addresses of homes in the area, it appears to still be there – it even has Dartford postcodes, and Dartford is very much a borough of Kent.
Though these lines perhaps aren’t terribly important on their own, and are more than a little arbitrary, it stands that some bits of Kent history have been lost to the capital, robbing the county of some of it’s north-western settlements.
So then, let’s run down a list of some of the most notable towns to be absorbed into Greater London that really, if we’re being totally honest, still belong to The Garden of England.
Greenwich is, shockingly, actually a former part of Kent, in spite of how close to the centre of London it now seems.
Home to the O2, Greenwich Observatory, the Cutty Sark and, most famously, the Meridian line around which global time is based, the now-tourist centre was once part of Kent, having first been settled by humans as long ago as the Bronze Age.
Formally made a borough of London in 1965, the area’s rich maritime history, and status as a gateway of sorts to central London makes it understandable that it is now considered a part of the capital, but all the more surprising considering you can clearly see most of London’s most famous landmarks from the hill atop Greenwich Park.
After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror gifted Plumstead to his brother, of whom he also titled Earl of Kent. This district jumped on the London bandwagon in the mid 19th century.
This neighbourhood still lies in the historic county of Kent, but by 2020 will be connected by CrossRail’s Elizabeth Line.
Once the home of famous sociologist, political theorist and philosopher Karl Marx, Lee’s past is dripping with history and culture, having also seen the British army pass through on their way to the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
Though a few hundred years ago the town was little more than a small town comprised of a pub, farms, a small forest and the brilliantly named River Quaggy, it has since become part of the London Borough of Lewisham, sandwiched between the former town and Eltham.
(Image: Geograph/Creative Commons)
As mentioned earlier, Sidcup is a notable awkward edge-case, and unlike Lee or Greenwich, it’s status as part of Kent is still up for debate.
Previously home to Lord Sydney, who also lent his name to Australia’s best-known city, Sidcup’s past includes the invention of modern plastic surgery, performed on WWI veterans to reconstruct their wounds after returning from war.
Now most famous for being called the “armpit of England” by one James Corden, Sidcup is also home to one of the UK’s best drama schools, Rose Bruford College.
The jury remains out as to whether England’s underarm belongs to Kent or London.
Just across the way from Greenwich, the hilly and picturesque town of Blackheath has it’s own dark history as a part of Kent, before being subsumed by London.
Revolutionary sentiment runs in the soil of the town, as the heath was the rallying site for both the 1381 Peasants rebellion, and tellingly, the Kentish Rebellion of 1450, as well as being host to a local branch for the London Society of Women’s Suffrage in 1909.
Perhaps the juiciest bit of Blackheath’s Kentish past was during the black death, from which urban legends have sprung up claiming the town’s name is derived from the huge plague-era burial ground that lies underneath the flat, open heath.
Though the truth of that is difficult to verify, Blackheath’s status as a lovely patch of Kent, stolen away by London is not, as it was incorporated into the borough of Greenwich in 1965.
If you thought Sidcup was on a knife-edge, wait until you hear about Crayford.
Just a stones throw from the very much Kentish town of Dartford, the town has existed for the best part of 2000 years, with roman ruins dating back to 30bc being discovered in the river town.
Playing host to the manor house Hall Place, Crayford’s sawmill produced the floorboards that line Buckingham Palace, the small ford the town was initially built around is out of use, and it is dwarfed by neighbouring areas.
In spite of this, Crayford was once a significant location, home to numerous Anglo-Saxon battles, and is about as close to Kent as you can get without actually being in Kent.
Served by three Transport for London bus services, West Heath has certainly been tainted by London in the past century.
Its name derived from the location of the district, Thamesmead was once in Kent is now classed as south east London – they’ve even got the SE postcode to prove it.
(Image: Darren Pepe)
As one of the largest towns to be absorbed into the London Metropolitan area, it is no surprise that there’s a lot to Bromley.
Home to the author of The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells, as well as having previous residents including Charles Darwin, David Bowie and children’s author Enid Blyton, the town hasn’t exactly been showered with praise by it’s former residents.
Called a “morbid sprawl of population,” by Wells, and a ” lobotomy made out of bricks,” by Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle, Bromley seems lovely enough, but perhaps it’s for the best that Kent left this one to the capital.
Most of Petts Wood was built in the early 20th century as a high quality estate in an extremely rural setting, just a short trip away from the big city.
Chelsfield was delegated to the London Borough of Bromley in 1965. Thatched rooves and country cottages make this quaint town one that doesn’t feel like London in the slightest.
Shooters Hill is the highest point of south London, reaching to an astonishing 432ft – making for incredible views across London and Kent.
Known for the Belvedere explosion of 1864, Belvedere is also one of the many districts that London have added to the growing city.
Biggin Hill was an ancient parish in Kent but became a municipal borough in 1935. But by 1965, London County Council was replaced by Greater London Council and Biggin Hill became part of south London.
Also historically part of Kent, Beckenham was a tiny village, with the vast majority of its land being rural. Timber merchant John Cator and his family began to build villas which resulted in a rapid increase in population between 1850 and 1900, from just 2,000 to 26,000.
Though arguably the least suburban of any of the towns on this list, Chislehurst’s past is by no means as quiet as the town’s relatively whimsical appearance might suggest.
Small and dotted with large patches of woodland, it feels much more like a village than many of South East London’s larger towns, though it was once the home of the exiled Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, who was once emperor of France.
Also home to Siouxsie Sioux, lead singer of iconic punk band Siouxie and the Banshees, Chislehurst is probably best known for its huge cave system, used as a shelter during Second World War bombing raids.
It also happened to be featured as the location where Mark and Dobby went live-action roleplaying in the cult hit 2000s TV comedy, Peep Show.
Though no longer part of Kent, having been absorbed during the expansion of the city in 1965, like so many other towns, it still feels like a slice of the Kent countryside in London’s busy sprawl.
Woolwich became part of the London metropolitan area in the mid-19th century, though it was officially still in Kent at the time.
A vital part of the First World War, the Royal Arsenal Munitions Factory employed thousands of women to work on the assembly line.