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Isle of Thanet.
The Isle of Thanet lays at the most easterly point of Kentmarker, Englandmarker. Archaeological remains testify to the fact that ancient peoples lived here. Today, it is a tourist destination, but it also has a busy agricultural base. The port of Ramsgatemarker serves the Continent. The capital of Thanet is the village of Minster-in-Thanetmarker, not being widely known but widely taken in pride by residents of Minster, as evident of their website: [24814].

Etymology of The Isle of Thanet

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.

History of the Isle of Thanet

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-Thanetmarker; and several Iron Age settlements have also come to light.

A general map showing late Roman Kent.
The Isle of Thanet was then known as Thanatos
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 Richboroughmarker, on the opposite side of the Wantsum Channelmarker (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 Britons, was under attack from other tribes and called for assistance. Among them were the Jutes 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 and the island in calm waters. Gradually this silted up, and the last ship sailed through the Channel in 1672.

In 597 St Augustine is said, by the Venerable Bede, to have landed with 40 men at Ebbsfleet, in the parish of Minster-in-Thanetmarker, before founding Britain's second Christian monastery (the first was founded fifty years earlier on Eilean na Naoimh, in the Hebrides), in Canterburymarker: a cross marks the spot. In 851 and again in 854, the Vikings wintered on Thanet.

Minster's village website states "It is widely believed, around 670 AD, whether in truth or legend, that the Hind emblem owes its origin to Egbert, King of Kent and Princess Domneva. The King purportedly asked Domneva which piece of land she wished to take as compensation for the murder of her two brothers. Her answer was that she would take no more than her hind would run around. This the King granted her with pleasure, and the land became the new Minster." this both shows the importance of minster and how it became the capital of the islands.

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 Thanetmarker 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 Seamarker encroached on the land which is now the estuary of the River Thames, and southwards to reach the higher land of the North Downsmarker, leaving behind an island composed of Upper Chalkin its wake. The Upper Chalk is a soft pure-white limestone with abundant flints. The proto-River Stour then formed part of the intervening water, with a new tributary, the River Wantsummarker, 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 Sarremarker. The first bridge over the channel was built there in 1485. Until the mid 18th century there was a ferry between Sandwichmarker and the island; a wooden drawbridge was built, and the ferry was closed.

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 Forelandmarker. 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:

Population in 1801
Population in 1861
Ramsgate & St Lawrence
Broadstairs & St Peter's


The principal landmarks on the Isle are the North Foreland, and all the bays around the coastline, the principal ones of which are Minnis Baymarker, Palm Baymarker, Botany Baymarker, Joss Baymarker, and Pegwell Baymarker: 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 Baymarker, Botany Bay (Broadstairs), Margate Main Sands, St Mildreds Bay (Westgate), Stone Bay (Broadstairs), West Bay (Westgate), and Westbrook Bay. 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 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. 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 Manstonmarker, formerly RAF Manstonmarker, but since renamed by its commercial operators as Kent International Airportmarker. 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.

Ferry services (predominantly freight and car with passengers) are operated by Transeuropa ferries to the Continent from Port Ramsgatemarker.

In Popular Culture


  1. Naming of the island over the centuries
  2. Kent History Illustrated, Frank W Jessup, Kent County Council 1966 — from which much of the following information is taken
  3. Wantsum Channel
  4. Notes on Ramsgate:’’Historic Kent‘’
  5. A. Forte, R. Oram, and F. Pederson. Viking Empires. 1st. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005 ISBN 0-521-82992-5.
  6. 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.
  7. ‘’The Rural Landscape of Kent, SG McRae and CP Burnham, Wye College, 1973.
  9. Southeastern 2009 - your journey starts here : Home
  10. Kent International Airport

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