Isle of Thanet

Isle of Thanet

The Isle of Thanet lies at the most easterly point of Kent, England. Archaeological remains testify to the fact that ancient peoples lived here. Its position close to Continental Europe meant that it was an ideal invasion place. Today it is a tourist destination, although it also has a busy agricultural base. The port of Ramsgate serves the Continent.


The name of the island has gone through several variations. Bede referred to it as "Tanatos insula"; the Romans " Tanatus". It seems to be Celtic in origin, coming from the Welsh-like phrase "tan-arth" or "teine-arth" meaning "high fire", with the possibility of it being a place where beacons were set. The name 'Tenet' was listed in the "Domesday Book" of 1086, whereas an 18th century classical dictionary lists "Tane'tus, a small island of Albion". Ptolemy calls it Tolianis. It is now Thanet." [ [ Naming of the island over the centuries] ]


Archaelogical evidence shows that the area now known as the Isle of Thanet was one of the major areas of Stone Age settlement. A large hoard of Bronze Age implements have been found at Minster-in-Thanet; and several Iron Age settlements have also come to light. ["Kent History Illustrated", Frank W Jessup, Kent County Council 1966 — from which much of the following information is taken]

Like their predecessors, the Romans also crossed the sea to invade Britain. Julius Caesar came first, briefly, in both 55 and 54 BCE; one hundred years later Claudius sent four legions to Britain, where the Romans were to remain for the next four hundred years. During that time the port of Richborough, on the opposite side of the Wantsum Channel (see Geography below), became one of the chief ports. After the breakup of the Roman Empire and their departure from Britain, other invaders soon followed.

Vortigern, King of the Jutes, was under attack from other tribes and called for assistance. Among them were the Saxons Hengest and Horsa; he is said to have rewarded the Isle of Thanet in return for their services. As the following extract from the "Historia Britonum" (first written sometime shortly after AD 833) testifies:

Throughout this time the Isle remained an island. The Wantsum Channel allowed ships to sail between the mainland the island in calm waters. Gradually this silted up, and the last ship sailed through the Channel in 1672. [ [ Wantsum Channel] ]

In 597 St Augustine is said by the Venerable Bede to have landed with 40 men at Ebbsfleet, north of Sandwich, before founding Britain's first Christian monastery, in Canterbury: a cross marks the spot. [ [ Notes on Ramsgate:’’Historic Kent‘’] ] In 851 and again in 854, the Vikings wintered on Thanet twice. [ [ Viking raids:’’Viking Empires‘’ Google Books] ]

The Vikings wintered on Thanet twice in the ninth century, in 851 and 864. The importance of Sandwich as one of the Cinque Ports in medieval times meant that no fewer than seven places on the Isle were part of the Confederation: Sarre, Birchington, St John's, Margate, St Peter's, Woodchurch and Ramsgate By 1334-1335 Thanet had the highest population density in Kent according to Edward III's lay subsidy rolls. It acted as a granary for Calais and documents towards the end of that century refer to turreted walls beneath the cliffs needing maintenance. Coastal erosion has long since destroyed these structures.


Under the 1888 Act, Ramsgate and Margate became municipal boroughs, Broadstairs an Urban District. Since 1974, the Isle of Thanet forms the major part of the Thanet local government district of Kent.


The Isle of Thanet first came into being when sea levels rose after the last Ice Age, in c. 5000 BC. The North Sea encroached on the land which is now the estuary of the River Thames, and southwards to reach the higher land of the North Downs, leaving behind an island composed of Upper Chalkin its wake. [Eventually the sea would break through river valleys in the North Downs to the south (Middle Chalk) and finally today’s [English Channel would be opened up.: Jessup, 1966.] The Upper Chalk is a soft pure-white limestone wity abundant flints. [‘’The Rural Landscape of Kent, SG McRae and CP Burnham, Wye College, 1973.] The proto-River Stour then formed part of the intervening water, with a new tributary, the River Wantsum, completing it; it became known as the Wantsum Channel.

Over the centuries, and with the build-up of pebble beaches at the southern end of the strait, coupled with silt being brought down the Stour, that Channel was gradually narrowed. In the eighth century it was reported that the Channel was now three furlongs wide (660 yards, 600 m), and a map of 1414 showed a ferry crossing at Sarre. The first bridge over the channel was built there in 1485. Until the mid 18th century there was a ferry between Sandwich and the island; a wooden drawbridge was built, and the ferry was closed.Fact|date=September 2008

Today the Isle is an island no longer. The erstwhile Channel is now flat marshland criss-crossed by drainage ditches, whilst the exposed chalk cliffs are gradually being worn down by the sea, particularly at the North Foreland. Much else of the coast is a built-up area. The Wantsum area is still liable to flooding: during the North Sea flood of 1953 Thanet was cut off for a few days, but the sea defences have been strengthened since then.

The soil and equable climate of the Isle have always encouraged arable farming. Today there are still farms inland, but the coast is nearly all covered in settlements, most of which have come into being in the 19th and 20th centuries.

As the popularity of the seaside resort grew, so did that of the Isle of Thanet. At first the holidaymakers came by boat from London; after the coming of the railways in the mid 1840s, that became the preferred mode of transport. The population grew, as the following population statistics show:


The principal landmarks on the Isle are the North Foreland, and all the bays around the coastline, the principal ones of which are Minnis Bay, Palm Bay, Botany Bay, Joss Bay, and Pegwell Bay: the latter being part of the estuary of the River Stour. In 2007, seven of those beaches met stringent quality standards and were awarded a Blue flag: Minnis Bay, Botany Bay (Broadstairs), Margate Main Sands, St Mildreds Bay (Westgate), Stone Bay (Broadstairs), West Bay (Westgate), and Westbrook Bay. [ [{E5977B19-7D19-4BFB-9C95-5F1FB1A7A1B5}&f=locationcategory] ] In 2008, this had risen to 10 beaches.


The rail connections are via the Chatham Main Line through Margate to Ramsgate, and the Ashford to Ramsgate (via Canterbury West) line. New high speed rail links from London to Thanet will begin in December 2009, and will form part of the UK's first true high-speed commuter service, according to the South Eastern Railway Company [ [ Southeastern 2009 - your journey starts here : Home ] ] . Main road links are the A28 which brings traffic from Canterbury and Ashford; and the A299, north coast route. The Saxon Shore Way Long distance footpath skirts the coast.

There is an airport at Manston, [ [ Kent International Airport] ] formerly RAF Manston, but since renamed by its commercial operators as Kent International Airport. Because it was used as an U.S. airbase during the second world war, it has one of the longest runways in the UK, and is designated by the United Nations as an emergency landing site for aircraft in trouble.Fact|date=September 2008

Ferry services (predominantly freight and car with passengers) are operated by Transeuropa ferries to the Continent from Port Ramsgate. [cite web |url= |title=TransEuropa Ferries |accessdate=2007-06-29]


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