Bayeux Tapestry, C11
St Augustine of Canterbury (d 604)
Britain had already been a Christian land in late Roman times, but the Anglo-Saxons who flooded in during the C5 and C6 supplanted the old faith with their own belief in such gods as Tiu, Woden, Thor and Frigg – the Germanic deities after whom our weekdays are still named. Late in the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great saw an opening to reassert Rome’s control of this far-off island, when the Christian daughter of King Charibert of Paris married the pagan King of Kent. To this end, he sent an obscure Benedictine monk called Augustine as a missionary. The mission was a shot in the dark, and nearly collapsed even before reaching Kent. Yet Augustine proved so adept on arrival that he converted the Kentish king, founded the English Church, built cathedrals at Canterbury and Rochester as well as St Augustine’s Abbey, and became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. Needless to say, this resounding success was rewarded by canonisation.
St Bertha, Queen of Kent (ca 565-post 600)
The fact that King Aethelbehrt of Kent’s wife Bertha was directly descended from Clovis, first king of all the Franks, goes to show what prestige Kent already enjoyed by the C6. She was a devout Christian, and shared her convictions with her pagan husband. Without her influence, it is doubtful whether Augustine would have met with a positive reception in England; indeed, Pope Gregory the Great even wrote to acknowledge Bertha’s piety. Although her son, the future King Eadbald of Kent, repudiated her beliefs, her daughter Aethelburg married a Northumbrian king and so carried Christianity further north. The oldest church in the English-speaking world, St Martin’s in Canterbury, was built for Bertha’s benefit, and she was made a saint for her role in re-establishing Christianity in England.
Odo of Bayeux (d 1097)
If Odo had an epithet, it would be ‘the Odious’. As Bishop of Bayeux and half-brother to William of Normandy, he participated at the Battle of Hastings; and, after the victorious Normans had purloined almost all English land and wealth, Odo took a share second only to the Conqueror’s. He was made Earl of Kent, settling near Harrietsham. It was probably he who ordered the English to celebrate their own downfall by embroidering the Bayeux Tapestry, which ended up at his home cathedral. For a holy man, he took an unhealthy interest in mammon. At the Trial of Penenden Heath in 1076, he was successfully arraigned, despite being William’s right-hand man, for stealing Church property. Undaunted, he illegally planned a military expedition to Italy, possibly with the aim of making himself Pope, for which he was gaoled for five years. He later supported a failed rebellion against William II, and mercifully died in Sicily on the First Crusade.
St Anselm of Canterbury (ca 1033-1109)
Anselm of Aosta in the far north-west of Italy was Archbishop of Canterbury for the last sixteen years of his life, during which time he was twice exiled for defying the English monarch. He is however better remembered as the Father of Scholasticism. This was a way of thinking critically that came to dominate Europe for half a millennium. Anselm sought to restore the credibility of Roman Catholic doctrine at a time when mysticism was normal. Arguing that faith in God’s existence preceded knowledge, he advocated inferring all facts from faith and depending only on Aristotle for earthly evidence. All contradictions between faith and observable ‘truths’ were to be resolved by arcane disputation among clerics – a practice ridiculed in later centuries as concerning the number of angels that can stand on a pinhead. Though canonised for his ingenuity and dutifully buried in the Cathedral, Anselm is reviled by modernists for having held back the scientific revolution for centuries.
St Thomas Becket (1120-70)
Becket is revered today for being murdered in the Cathedral by four of King Henry II’s knights. Ironically, until his grisly end, he was deeply unpopular. Though born in Cheapside, Becket was altogether Norman, a scion of the invader overclass that still lorded it over their Saxon vassals. He’d originally been Lord Chancellor, but was appointed by his friend the King to the position of Archbishop of Canterbury so that they could reassert royal authority over the Church. Once in position, however, the cussed Becket refused to play ball. Even after being allowed home from exile, he continued to be a bane, and even excommunicated three bishops for carrying out the King’s wishes. The bloody denouement was the stuff of gangster movies, when four goons wasted the rival gang leader after being sent only to rough him up. At least St Thomas the Martyr has had the last laugh in folk mythology.
Stephen, King of England (1092/6-1154)
Stephen of Blois was a grandson of William the Conqueror. Already wealthy, he made a profitable marriage that brought in valuable estates in Kent and Boulogne. He had sworn to support his cousin Matilda’s claim to the throne, she being the daughter of King Henry I and soon to be widow of the Holy Roman Emperor. After she married Geoffrey of Anjou, however, the Anglo-Normans and the English Church turned against her, and Stephen usurped the throne on Henry’s death in 1135. He then spent his entire reign fighting off rebellions, not least an invasion by the Empress Matilda that became the centre-piece of the 18-year Anarchy. His desperate plans to secure the succession for his son Eustace failed when the prince died in 1153. Resigned to ceding the throne to the Angevins, he set about patching up the damage, but soon died at Dover, and was buried with his wife and son at Faversham Abbey.
Simon de Montfort (1208-65)
De Montfort came to England from the Paris area at the age of 21, hoping to succeed to the Earldom of Leicester. Though speaking no English, he was welcomed by King Henry III, whose court was French-speaking. In 1238 he married Eleanor of England, Henry’s sister and the Earl of Pembroke’s widow, who had inherited Sutton Valence Castle from her first husband. Repeated disputes with the feeble king eventually turned to civil war in 1263, when the populist but anti-Semitic de Montfort led a baronial revolt seeking parliamentary reform and a Jewish pogrom. After a temporary reverse, he spectacularly won the Battle of Lewes (1264), capturing Henry and his son Edward. He then innovated his ‘Great Parliament’, the first to embrace the citizenry. Unluckily for him, the charismatic young Prince Edward escaped and led a superior force of disaffected barons against him at Evesham. De Montfort and his men were cut to ribbons, and democracy would have to wait.
Edward I, King of England (1239-1307)
Edward Longshanks, the young prince who turned the tables on the Baron’s Revolt, was to prove a match for more than just Simon de Montfort. The clue is in his epithet, ‘Hammer of the Scots’, earned by his savage treatment of the Auld Enemy after he’d already wreaked havoc in Wales and gone crusading. This made him wildly popular in England, though he was more feared than liked by those about him. His imposing physique and violent temper did at least aid him in restoring order among the barons after the turmoil of his inept father’s reign. His legislative amendments brought temporary stability, although he enshrined anti-Semitism in English law for centuries. He chose to live with his first wife Eleanor of Castile at Leeds Castle, where she bore many of their sixteen or so children. Sadly, his successor would be his son Edward II, the disastrous monarch who would quickly undo all his work.
Eleanor of Castile, Queen of England (1241-90)
Like most royal matches, King Edward I’s with Eleanor was political, intended to reinforce English control of Gascony. Nevertheless, it was a strong one. The two would remain devoted for life, even if the story of Eleanor saving the King’s life on the Ninth Crusade by sucking poison from an assassin’s wound is far-fetched. Their compatibility may have owed something to a common temperament, her feistiness being a foil for his own. Yet she by no means shared in his popularity. Barely able to speak English, she spent her time at their home at Leeds Castle trading in properties with recklessly borrowed money. Most of the numerous children she bore died young, and her only son who grew to adulthood was her very last child, the hopeless Edward II. Even so, after she died near Lincoln, the distraught King had memorial crosses erected at each stop on the long walk home with her body, the last of them being at Charing, Middlesex.
Wat Tyler (d 1381)
Walter Tyler won notoriety as the leader of the Peasant’s Revolt, the direct cause of which was a new fourpenny poll tax. Tyler, who was probably from Kent or Essex, led a pitchfork army from Canterbury to London to demand rights for the peasantry. After crossing London Bridge, his men wreaked havoc, and the young King Richard II felt bound to meet Tyler and offer concessions. In this winning position, however, Tyler’s hubris let him down. At a second meeting at Smithfield, he provoked one of the King’s men into insulting him, whereupon he attacked first the noble and then the Lord Mayor, who cut him down with his sword. His head was displayed on the end of a pole as a warning. And so the Revolt, which had come close to success, failed for want of a modicum of restraint. Tyler nevertheless became a folk hero, and has a road named after him in Kent’s county town.
John Ball (ca 1338-81)
John Ball, a priest originally from Colchester, was evidence of the idea that socialism is a restatement of radical Christian values for a secular age. Having lived through the Black Death, he grew appalled by its consequences, notably the inequality of wealth that persisted among the overworked survivors. For his unorthodox utterances, this ‘Mad Priest of Kent’ was jailed in Maidstone. He was released by insurgents during the Peasants’ Revolt, whereupon he proceeded to the rebel army’s rallying point at Blackheath. There he made a stirring speech beginning, “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?” and exhorting workmen to “cast off the yoke of bondage” in a distinctly Marxist tone. When the revolt failed, Ball was imprisoned, tried, and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. Even King Richard II himself turned up in St Albans to enjoy the spectacle, and got into the redistributive spirit by sharing Ball’s body-parts around.
Geoffrey Chaucer (1340s-1400)
The consequence of writing ‘The Canterbury Tales’, the most famous of all medieval works in English, is that Chaucer is generally known for little else, despite his extraordinarily rich life. The son of a London vintner, he was captured as a teenager during an invasion of France and ransomed by King Edward III. Marrying one of the Queen’s attendants brought a family connection with his future patron, John of Gaunt. From 1367 he remained in the King’s service, initially as a diplomat; his visits to Italy crucially introduced him to Petrarch and Boccaccio. He started writing poetry seriously around 1370, commencing his magnum opus in 1387. By then he had moved to Greenwich and become MP for Kent; he was additionally a senior bureaucrat in customs and public works. Remarkably, in his spare time he even wrote a ‘Treatise on the Astrolabe’. He was the first to be buried at Westminster Abbey’s Poets Corner.
Catherine de Valois, Queen of England (1401-37)
When Catherine entered history in 1420, she was an 18-year-old ingénue who happened to be the daughter of King Charles VI of France. Her appeal to King Henry V of England was not just sexual: by marrying her, he became heir to the French throne. Their marriage lasted only two years before he died of dysentery, bequeathing Leeds Castle to her. By then she’d borne him an heir; it was not her fault that he was Henry VI, whose utter incompetence sparked the Wars of the Roses. Less blamelessly, she then defied a Parliamentary decree to get embroiled with an ambitious Welsh courtier called Owain ap Tudur. Their bastard son would father the Harri Tudur who abused his royal connection to usurp the English throne in 1485. Given her talent for unwitting trouble-making, she is appropriately best known for the scene in Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V’ when she gets to speak the foulest of words; pure ‘Carry On’, but funnier.
Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England (1430-82)
Amid a succession of unloved foreign Queens of England, Marguerite d’Anjou takes the biscuit. She was the daughter of René, King of Naples, a man described as “all crowns and no kingdoms”. Landing his 15-year-old daughter’s marriage to the King of England must have struck him as an absolute godsend. Even better was the fact that her new husband, Henry VI, was an idiot, so she was free to rule the roost. Having seized Placentia Palace in Greenwich, she pursued the same preoccupations as Nero’s mother, Agrippina: her own wellbeing, and her son’s succession. All else was expendable, not least public safety. It was her crass imperiousness that prompted the Yorkist revolt, and her bloody-mindedness that sustained the conflict beyond endurance. She was hated with a passion, and none shed a tear when, in 1471, she was defeated at Tewkesbury and her young son killed. Shattered, she fled to France, and lived her last decade as a pauper.
The Duke of Clarence (1449-78)
George Plantagenet was one of those rare individuals better known for his manner of death than anything he did. He grew up in Greenwich, the son of Richard of York and brother of two future Kings of England, Edward IV and Richard III. When Edward took the throne in 1461, George became the 1st Duke of Clarence. Had he been patient, he might have succeeded himself, being older than Richard; but he was inclined to mental instability and questionable decision-taking. When his father-in-law, the Earl of Warwick, turned against the Yorkists in 1469, the foolhardy Clarence backed him in the belief that he would be installed as king in his brother’s place. Disappointed, he returned to the Yorkist cause, but repaid his brother’s forgiveness by again rebelling in 1477. This time, King Edward had him tried for treason and executed. According to tradition, he was imaginatively drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine.
Richard III, King of England (1452-85)
Arch-villain, as per Shakespeare, or just an unlucky pragmatist? It is hard to be sure about Richard. He was raised with elder brother George in a tower at Placentia Palace in Greenwich after their father Richard of York fled the country. He stuck loyally with his eldest brother, Edward IV, throughout the bitter civil war. Come Edward’s death in 1483, however, he took on another hue. He used a legal ruse to argue that Edward’s young sons Edward and Richard were conceived illegitimately, and seized the crown for himself; the two ‘Princes in the Tower’ were never seen again. He might have argued that it was necessary for England’s sake, given the imminent threat from the Tudors. All was lost in any case at Bosworth in 1485, when the usurper Henry VII ended Richard’s life, the Plantagenet dynasty, the Wars of the Roses, and the Middle Ages. Richard’s skeleton was eventually found in 2012, and respectfully reburied at Leicester Cathedral.
Cardinal Wolsey (1473-1530)
Thomas Wolsey’s life encapsulated the principle that supping with the devil demands a long spoon. From humble origins in Suffolk, he became a priest after studying theology at Oxford. He was appointed chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury and rector of Lydd, although it is debatable whether he preached there. He was royal chaplain under Henry VII, and his rise to fame and riches grew meteoric under Henry VIII. He became Archbishop of York in 1514 and then a cardinal; yet his secular power was no less impressive, culminating in the Lord Chancellorship. It all went pear-shaped when Henry took a fancy to Anne Boleyn. Wolsey was charged with securing Henry’s divorce from Queen Catherine. Seeing the likely consequences, he actively resisted. Henry responded by relieving him of his government titles and Hampton Court Palace, and then summoning him to be tried for treason. Wolsey saved himself a lot of pain by expediently dying en route.
Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England (1485-1536)
Catalina de Aragon was one of the more pitiable figures in history. Her illustrious parents were Ferdinand and Isabella, who’d completed the reconqista of Spain and unified the Spanish nation. At 15, she married Prince Arthur, heir to the English throne, who died after just five months. Seven years later, she wed his brother, King Henry VIII. Living at Leeds Castle, she acquitted herself well, even serving as regent in Henry’s absence. Her one failure lay in the matter of providing a male heir. The nearest she came in six pregnancies was a would-be Henry IX who died after seven weeks; only the future Mary I survived. In 1533 her impatient husband had the marriage annulled, took up with Anne Boleyn, and ejected Catherine from court. She was shunned, moved from place to place, and took to wearing a hair shirt; and still she refused to recognise the divorce. When she died, daughter Mary was even forbidden to attend the funeral.
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556)
It fell to Nottinghamshire-born academic Thomas Cranmer to pick up the pieces of King Henry VIII’s repudiation of the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Wolsey turned to him at Cambridge for support on the matter of Henry’s divorce. It led Cranmer to tour Europe in search of academic advice, during which his encounters with Protestant activists influenced his theological thinking. In 1532, he was surprisingly summoned to the Canterbury archbishopric. As a theological Mr Fixit by royal appointment, he smoothed the passage of Henry’s matrimonial convulsions, whilst under Edward VI he created the Anglican liturgy, including the Book of Common Prayer. Such achievements came back to bite him, however, for he inevitably fell foul of the Catholic Queen Mary. Tried for treason and heresy, he recanted his beliefs, but to no avail; Mary wanted an example made of him. At the last moment, he dramatically renounced his recantation, cursed the Pope, and died a Protestant martyr’s fiery death at Oxford.
Anne Boleyn, Queen of England (ca 1501-36)
Nan Bullen was probably born at her family’s second home in Norfolk, but is most associated with Hever Castle. After two proposed marriages had fallen through, in 1526 she drew the attention of the priapic King Henry VIII, who already enjoyed her elder sister Mary as a mistress. Anne refused to sleep with him unless as his Queen. His ardour for her became the primary driver of his campaign to divorce his wife, even though it meant forcing a historic rupture with the Roman Catholic Church. Not until 1533 could they marry, just three months before Anne gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth I. There followed three miscarriages in three years, however, prompting the King to transfer his interest to Jane Seymour. To this end, he had various trumped-up charges brought against Anne, including adultery, incest, and intended regicide. Being a decent cove, however, he graciously permitted her head to be severed by an expert swordsman.
Anne of Cleves, Queen of England (1515-57)
After Jane Seymour’s death, Henry VIII decided to strengthen his alliance with German Protestants by marrying one of the Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg’s two daughters. Hans Holbein the Younger was famously sent to paint accurate portraits of both so that Henry could make his choice. When in 1540 the King informally met his bride-to-be Anna von Kleve at Rochester Abbey, however, he was sorely unimpressed. The feeling remained when they were officially introduced at Blackheath; and he proved incapable of consummating their marriage at Greenwich. After six fruitless months, he got her to agree to an annulment. The ever-loyal Thomas Cromwell, who had presided over the fiasco, paid with his life. At least Anne was treated well: Henry called her his “Beloved Sister”, and granted her the use of several houses, including Hever Castle. She resided last at the Manor House in Dartford, where she outlived all Henry’s other wives, and indeed him.
Edward VI, King of England (1537-53)
For one whose birth was greeted with such an outpouring of joy, the life of Edward VI was strangely disappointing. He never got to know his mother, Jane Seymour, because she died suddenly a fortnight after giving birth to him at Hampton Court. He succeeded his father Henry VIII at the age of nine. The Council ruling on his behalf functioned calamitously, ushering in military defeat, economic problems, and revolt. Only in religious reform did his reign see anything coherent. The young Protestant king oversaw a radical advance in the Reformation, as Archbishop Cranmer and Bishops Latimer and Ridley established the Anglican liturgy. Conscious that his half-sister Mary would not stomach the new orthodoxy, Edward worked with the Council to bar her from power, issuing his ‘Devise for the Succession’ in 1553. By that time, however, he had contracted a fatal lung illness, possibly tuberculosis. He resorted to the Placentia Palace in Greenwich, where he died aged 15.
Jane, Queen of England (1537-54)
Even by Tudor standards, the fate of Lady Jane Grey was dismal. Like Edward VI, she was a great-grandchild of Henry VII, but through a cadet branch. Living at Halden Place in Rolvenden, she seemed secure from courtly intrigue. In May 1553, she married Guilford Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland’s son, in a triple wedding. The King, however, was fatally ill, and a month later reversed his father’s Third Succession Act that had restored Edward’s two illegitimate sisters to the succession. By July, he was dead, and Lady Grey became Queen Jane. When her father-in-law belatedly rode off to apprehend Edward’s elder sister, Mary Tudor, the Catholic Earl of Arundel staged a putsch. Mary was hailed queen, and Jane’s support evaporated. Since Jane hadn’t wanted the job, Mary showed clemency at first; but when her father joined Wyatt’s Rebellion, the Nine-Days’ Queen was done for. Young Jane was even shown Dudley’s headless body before facing the chop herself.
Sir Francis Drake (1540-96)
Drake’s bravado at sea earned him the ultimate accolade, the contemptuous Spanish nickname ‘El Draque’: the Dragon. The quintessential English national hero, his story used to be known to every schoolchild. In an era of Spanish mastery of the seas, he plundered the Spanish Main, burned King Philip II’s fleet at Cadiz, and enjoyed a game of bowls before seeing off the Armada. Less well known is his Kentish connection. His family had fled a Catholic rebellion in their native Devon when he was nine, settling at Upnor, where his father became vicar. It was their proximity to the Medway that first drew Drake to seafaring. It is often forgotten that Queen Elizabeth knighted Drake at Deptford not for his military exploits but as a navigator. He was in fact the first man ever to captain a ship all the way around the world. For an encore, he even claimed California as an English colony en route.
Edmund Spenser (ca 1552-99)
Spenser must be acknowledged as one of the most talented (not to mention prolific) poets in the English language. On the other hand, he was a world-class toady. Born in London, he made his way via the Merchant Taylors’ School to Pembroke College, Cambridge. The Master there was John Young, who later became Bishop of Rochester. In 1578, Young invited Spenser to join him as secretary. Thereafter, Spenser spent many years in Ireland. He was not popular, possibly because of his view that Ireland would never be subjugated until its language and culture had been obliterated; Irish insurgents eventually burnt his home. While there, however, he wrote the first three volumes of his masterpiece, ‘The Faerie Queene’. It was intended to be a 12-volume apotheosis of Queen Elizabeth I. Although it won him a £50 pension, he managed only six volumes, which probably cost him his knighthood. It is not known whether the Queen read it.
Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham (1564-1618)
Henry Brooke was perfectly happy as the 11th Baron Cobham and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports when a regime change wrong-footed him. Brooke was the son of the 10th Baron, the man reckoned to have been the basis of Shakespeare’s Falstaff, whom the Bard originally named Oldcastle after Brooke’s ancestor. Henry’s brother Sir George, an altogether sharper character, was involved in a plot to kidnap the new Catholic king, James I, and replace him with Arbella Stuart. This so-called ‘Bye Plot’ was discovered, and Sir George executed. The investigation also revealed a ‘Main Plot’ in which his brother, Henry, was to travel to Spain, collect a vast amount of money, and share it with Sir Walter Raleigh for seditious purposes. Brooke’s understandable motivation was probably to stop the King stealing his estate to give to a Scottish favourite, the Duke of Lennox. Both Brooke and Raleigh spent most of the rest of their lives in the Tower.
John Donne (1572-1631)
A Londoner, John Donne was born Catholic in a Protestant society. Faced with limited career prospects, he spent his substantial inheritance on women and travel. At length he landed a job as secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, whose daughter he married secretly, for which he was initially thrown in gaol. Living in poverty with numerous children drove him to despair. He sought respite in politics; but it was poetry that changed his life. He started writing poems for wealthy patrons, including anti-Catholic works. His expedient transformation was completed in 1615, when he became an Anglican priest and took on the rectory of Sevenoaks. It’s uncertain how often he preached there, especially after becoming Dean of St Paul’s, where he eventually was buried. One of the tricksy Metaphysical poets, his erotic and satirical works later gave way to religious reflection. Most famously, his ‘No man is an Iland’ invites us to regard every death as our own, presumably even his.
Richard Lovelace (1617-57)
The Cavalier Poets are little remembered nowadays, but produced some graceful verse, and Lovelace’s contributions were among their most memorable. Although his birthplace is unknown, the family estates were at Bishopsbourne. His father Sir William was killed in battle in the Netherlands when young Lovelace was just nine. After attending Oxford and Cambridge, he loyally supported King Charles I as trouble brewed. Handsome and gallant, he espoused ‘Cavalier’ values, which simply signified latter-day chivalry, whatever the Roundheads’ sarcastic redefinition of the term. The Cavalier Poets sought to replace morbid introspection in poetry with more phlegmatic sentiments, such as Lovelace expressed in his ‘To Lucasta, Going to the Warres’ and ‘To Althea, from Prison’. As the titles suggest, however, his political endeavours worked out badly. In 1642, he was imprisoned for presenting the notorious Kent Petition to Parliament, and was again gaoled in 1648. He ruined himself for the King’s losing cause, and ended up in a London slum.
John Evelyn (1620-1706)
Evelyn’s family had grown rich manufacturing gunpowder. He grew up with grandparents in Lewes, attending grammar school before going to Oxford. His studies then took him to the Middle Temple in London, just in time for a tumultuous period in British history. Evelyn witnessed the Civil Wars, the execution of King Charles I, the Dutch Wars, Cromwell’s dictatorship, the Restoration, the Great Plague, the Great Fire of London, and the Glorious Revolution. This whole period, from 1640 to his death, he recorded in his diaries. Forty years of it he spent at Sayes Court, Deptford. What makes his memoir particularly interesting is the fact that, being a well-travelled polymath, he covered culture as well as politics. He actually wrote books on numerous topics. A particular interest was trees, but he also penned forward-looking works on pollution, forestation, and conservation. He even co-founded the Royal Society. He is celebrated in the name of the American toiletries company Crabtree & Evelyn.
John Locke (1632-1704)
Locke, a Puritan from Somerset, devoted his life to thinking. He did some work, for example as a physician to MP Caleb Banks near Wye in 1679; but philosophising was his thing. His one good contribution was turning Sir Francis Bacon’s empirical ideas into Empiricism: the theory that knowledge derives from verifiable experience, not rationalisation. From that promising start, however, he rationalised endlessly. Among his suppositions was the belief that the mind is a Blank Slate. Although discredited at book length by neuroscientist Stephen Pinker, this canard still encourages authoritarians determined to programme children with their own convictions. Locke also asserted that rulers who fail to respect the hypothetical ‘Social Contract’ are liable to be replaced. This progressive-sounding notion was seized upon by American revolutionists wanting to get on with the business of slave-owning and colonial expansion. Anyone interested to know the source of the unverifiable philosophical speculations of the Declaration of Independence need look no further than John Locke.
Titus Oates (1649-1705)
Oates from Rutland took a well-trodden path, donning a priest’s robes so as better to deceive others. He became vicar of Bobbing in 1673, following which he falsely accused a Hastings headmaster of sodomy in the hope of getting his job. Charged with perjury, he fled to the Navy, where he himself was found guilty of that very crime, but escaped a death penalty because of his ‘calling’. He then swapped religions from Anglican to Baptist to Catholic and back. Despite his record, he was taken seriously when he alleged a Popish Plot to kill Charles II; so seriously that numerous innocent men were executed. Parliament even awarded him an apartment and an income. Once found out, he was castigated mercilessly, but could not legally be executed. Any psychiatrist would now see in Titus Oates a pathological liar. The fact that the political elite was so readily deceived is a C17 lesson that resonates four centuries later.
Edmond Halley (1656-1742)
The great mystery about Halley is how to pronounce his name. It rhymed either with Crawley or Valley; we can discount the misconception that led Bill Haley to call his band the Comets. Halley came from a wealthy manufacturing family in Middlesex and studied astronomy at Oxford. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society at 22 on account of his impressive star maps. Famously, he prompted Newton to write up the earth-shattering ‘Principia’, which Halley himself paid to have published. The achievement that immortalised him, however, occurred in 1705, when he correctly predicted that the comet he had observed in 1682 would return every 76 years. In 1720 he succeeded John Flamsteed as Astronomer Royal, taking up residence in Greenwich. He lived a long life, but not the 102 years necessary to see his Comet again. He died at home, and is buried in Lee Green. As for Halley’s Comet, it will be back in 2061.
Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)
As the author of ‘Robinson Crusoe’, Daniel Foe takes credit for one of the most popular characters in world literature. Almost all else about him was however a mess. Although the son of a wealthy London tallow-chandler and beneficiary of his wife’s rich dowry, he was always in debt or bankrupt, and in and out of debtors’ prison. What’s more, as a Presbyterian, he was ever the outsider. His contrarianism got him into further trouble, especially as he wrote compulsively: he penned hundreds of works under around 200 pseudonyms, including ‘Defoe’. More than once he was literally pilloried. After participating in the failed Monmouth Rebellion, he was lucky to escape the Bloody Assizes. He later offended George I, and went into hiding for months on the outskirts of Cranbrook, where he probably wrote his magnum opus. The shambolic anti-hero of his other great novel, ‘Moll Flanders’, could have been an allegory of himself. He died while hiding from creditors.
Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726)
Vanbrugh was a type very familiar today: a rich and powerful establishment figure who ostentatiously devoted himself to radicalism. Contrary to the homely myth of Leigh Hunt’s biography, he started life with a silver spoon in his mouth, being descended from Flemish cloth-merchants. At 22 he committed himself to William of Orange’s campaign to overthrow James II and was imprisoned in France, including in the Bastille, for nearly five years. Back in London, he failed in theatre management; but there was no doubting his talent, or versatility. He wrote two successful Restoration comedies, the latter of which particularly scandalised Tories with its libertarian outlook. His more enduring achievements, however, came in the world of architecture. He designed the most extravagant of C18 stately homes, including Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace. As befitted a Whiggish man of means, he also built himself a handsome abode, Vanbrugh Castle in Greenwich Park, where he spent the bulk of his married life.
Beau Nash (1674-1761)
Richard ‘Beau’ Nash was a supreme English dandy. His early life was highly conservative: Oxford, the Army, the Bar. It wasn’t for him. Instead he made himself the unofficial but indispensable Mr Fixit of Bath’s social scene. He would get anyone into the right function with the right people, so long as he was remunerated. He turned the city into the most fashionable in Britain, whilst gambling and womanising furiously. A handsome chap with outrageous fashion sense, he was plainly quite a catch: after he left one distraught mistress, she spent the rest of her life living in a hollow tree. Having turned Bath into his personal kingdom, Nash made Tunbridge Wells a colony, just as soon as his counterpart there – the redoubtable Bell Causey – popped her clogs. From 1735, under this self-appointed ‘Master of Ceremonies’, the town became an essential port of call for high society. When he died, Bath gave him the municipal equivalent of a state funeral.
Thomas Bayes (1701-61)
Bayes is a name familiar to every scientist, but sadly not to the public. Bayes had two interests: religion, and maths. Like his father, he was a Presbyterian minister, and moved from London to become Minister of Mount Sion chapel in Tunbridge Wells from 1734 to 1752. He was perhaps goaded by David Hume’s attack on belief in miracles to formulate his lasting contribution to maths, Bayes’ Theorem. He never published it in his lifetime, so only won posthumous recognition. His concise mathematical formula demonstrated how, for example, the likelihood of having a disease varies dramatically according to its incidence in a population and the accuracy of the test for it. This gave rise to the concept of Bayesian probability, the idea that likelihoods change as we acquire more information. Anyone in politics and the media who understands this will appreciate that simply applying the average mortality rate of a disease to a whole population is not science.
William Pitt the Elder (1708-78)
The 1st Earl of Chatham was actually nicknamed The Great Commoner because of his long refusal to accept a title. It only came about because, in 1766, he felt the need to join the House of Lords in order to comply with the King’s wish that he form a new government. He had already been informal leader of the Cabinet between 1756 and 1761. His family’s long connection with politics went back to his grandfather, who had got rich by finding a massive diamond. Pitt, however, stood out not for aristocratic connections but outstandingly erudite debating skills in Parliament. Though unpopular with the Commons, his energetic foreign policy earned him public adulation; even Pittsburgh was renamed after him on being taken from the French. He was initially buried at Hayes Place, the house near Bromley he had bought in 1754; but politicians of all persuasions joined in requesting that he be reburied with a monument at Westminster Abbey.
Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-84)
Johnson did not start life well. He never cried as a baby, was sickly, and had a scarred face in consequence of a botched operation for scrofula. He then developed embarrassing tics, now recognised as Tourette’s. At their first encounter, Hogarth assumed he was an idiot, but was then astonished by the man’s conversational brilliance. Johnson was after all a genius. Even as a child he performed prodigious feats of memory. He is most associated now with the ‘Dictionary of the English Language’ (1755) that became his bequest to mankind. Yet his accomplishment as a man of letters went much further. He has been described as the world’s only great critic of English literature, and his aphorisms and witticisms were of the highest order. He also wrote poetry and drama, and moved to Greenwich in 1737 to complete his play ‘Irene’. The world is lucky to have had the assiduous James Boswell to record it all.
Commander James Cook (1728-79)
James Cook was the captain who boldly went where no European had gone before. A Yorkshireman, he joined the merchant navy and later the Royal Navy, earning note for charting the St Lawrence River at Wolfe’s Siege of Quebec. It earned him the command of HMS Endeavour on an expedition to Tahiti (1768-71) to observe a Venus transit. He continued in search of Australia, making landfall at the place he famously named Botany Bay. On his return, he landed at Deal. His second voyage (1772-5) was a failed attempt on HMS Resolution to locate Antarctica, though he greatly expanded knowledge of the South Pacific. Cook was awarded honorary retirement as an officer of Greenwich Hospital; but he soon fatefully accepted the challenge of seeking the Northwest Passage, again on Resolution (1776-9). Foiled by ice, he returned to Hawaii, which he had named the Sandwich Islands after his sponsor. Like fellow circumnavigator Magellan, however, he was stabbed to death by natives.
Lord Sydney (1733-1800)
Thomas Townshend would be forgotten if it hadn’t been for one historic event on his watch. He had been MP for Whitchurch in Hampshire for nearly three decades when, in 1783, he was ennobled. By that time, his father had died and left Frognal House near Chislehurst to him. He at first intended to call himself Lord Sidney after the stout republican Algernon Sidney, from whom he was descended. Concerned that the Sidneys might make something of it, he opted instead for Sydenham, after the nearby Kent town. Further thought led him to a compromise: Lord Sydney. It happened to be in 1788, during his time as Home Secretary, that the first convict ship reached Australia. Arthur Philip, as first governor of New South Wales, named the new penal colony in Sydney’s honour. But for Townshend’s change of mind, Australia’s biggest city would now be called Sydenham. As for Lord Sydney, he lies buried in Chislehurst church.
Captain John Montresor (1736-99)
Montresor’s legacy in Kent is Belmont House, which he built in 1783 and occupied for ten years before being charged with embezzlement. By then, he already had a colourful history. He was born in Gibraltar, and trained as a British Army engineer. He served with Braddock in the French & Indian War in America, and then Wolfe at Quebec. His next few years have the flavour of a Boy’s Own frontier adventure. He even acquired an island in New York harbour that he named after himself. He became the Army’s chief engineer, and from 1776 participated in several battles of the Revolutionary War. After three years, he came home and resigned from the Army, but had walked into trouble: he was made to appear before Parliament to account for his expenditure. Certainly he wasn’t hard up, having a property in Portland Place in addition to Belmont. After having his assets confiscated by the state, he eventually died in Maidstone prison.
Thomas Paine (1737-1809)
Thomas Pain (sic) single-handedly triggered the loss of Britain’s American colonies. A Quaker from Norfolk, he followed his father into stay-making. After a spell as a privateer, he set up a failed business in Sandwich before moving to Margate, where his wife died in childbirth. He then drifted from job to job, an untrustworthy ne’er-do-well. In 1774, he left his second wife and emigrated to Pennsylvania. Now ‘Paine’, he penned ‘Common Sense’, a vengeful work of anti-royalist propaganda that whipped colonial grievance into open sedition. Following the War, Paine returned to Britain, but fled to revolutionary Paris after being arraigned for treason. Ever the turncoat, he sought to help the French king and was sentenced to be guillotined; but Robespierre expired just in time. Paine died back in America, barely mourned after lambasting President Washington. Often hailed as a leftist firebrand, it was actually Paine who enabled the slave-owning elite to commence their aggressive conquest of French, Spanish, and Indian territory.
Kitty Fisher (1741-67)
Catherine Fisher showed what a difference a century makes. From lowly origins in London, she had little but her looks and her wits to fall back on. She no longer had to depend on royal favours, however: the absolutist and mercantilist Stuart era had given way to the nascent Industrial Revolution, putting money in lots more pockets. Fisher revelled in the luxury showered on her by rich patrons. An outrageous exhibitionist, she deliberately exposed her private parts to the public in an ‘accidental’ fall from a horse, got Joshua Reynolds to paint her portrait many times in the most flattering manner, and made sure to promote endless gossip. Envious of her old rival Maria Gunning’s marriage to one of her former customers, Lord Coventry, she allowed a doting admirer, MP John Norris, to marry her and house her at his country home, now Benenden School. She died after only four months there, and is buried in the local churchyard.
Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820)
Most people can name more astrophysicists then they can botanists; but there is one with a Kent connection who ought to be a household name. Joseph Banks became famous when he accompanied James Cook on his first voyage. So important was he to the mission that Botany Bay was named in his honour. He discovered 1,400 new plant species, bringing home tens of thousands of specimens, and became a key player in the establishment of Kew Gardens. He was also instrumental in setting up other important maritime missions, for example Vancouver’s exploration of North-West America and Bligh’s expeditions that, despite the mutiny on HMS Bounty, helped establish breadfruit as a major food source in the Caribbean. His outstanding contribution to science was recognised in his presidency of the Royal Society, which he held for 41 years. In 1779, Banks married Dorothea Hugessen of Provender House near Faversham, where some of the trees he planted can still be seen today.
William Eden, 1st Baron Auckland (1745-1814)
William Eden was from the same aristocratic County Durham family as the C20 prime minister Anthony Eden. His first noteworthy action was a failed mission to end the American Revolutionary War in 1778. He did however gain a reputation as an expert on commerce, and later became Britain’s spy chief. Eden moved to Eden Farm in Beckenham, where he was neighbour and friend to prime minister William Pitt the Younger. Pitt became very close to Eden‘s daughter Eleanor; he would visit her on his way from London to Walmer, where he occupied the Castle as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. As poignantly depicted in Carol Reed’s 1942 biopic, Pitt was so wed to his career that he ultimately spurned her, for which Eden never forgave him. Worse, his eldest son drowned himself in the Thames. The Auckland Islands south of New Zealand were named after him by their discoverer, Abraham Bristow, in 1806.
William Cobbett (1763-1835)
Cobbett was the original social justice warrior. Though best known for ‘Rural Rides’ – a travelogue that includes two accounts of 1820s Kent – he was predominantly a lifelong scourge of the ruling class. The connection was the Corn Laws, legislation aimed at sustaining landowners’ profits by restricting foreign food imports. Like much of Cobbett’s copious writing, ‘Rural Rides’ was intended to dramatise its impact on ordinary people. Yet he would have had no truck with the anti-nation stance of today’s radicals: Britain belonged to the people, not the rulers, and must be sustained. He signed up to the Army at 20, spending a year at Chatham before serving in America. He returned to marry an American at Woolwich. Though he escaped retribution more than once by fleeing overseas, his loyalty never wavered. Indeed, he cheekily opened a shop in Philadelphia loudly supporting the King. Despite his antislavery stance, he even lambasted the supposedly disloyal William Wilberforce.
Sir Thomas Hardy (1769-1839)
Hardy, from Dorset, joined the Navy from grammar school, and worked his way up through the ranks. He was a first lieutenant at the time when, in 1796, he got a new senior officer: Commodore Nelson, who made him master and commander of his own corvette. In 1798, the two hunted down the French fleet and smashed it at the Battle of the Nile. Although Hardy disapproved of Nelson’s paramour Lady Hamilton, he was still flag captain at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801. Two years later, the pair joined up on HMS Victory, blockading the French fleet at Toulon before chasing it across the Atlantic and back. At length, on October 21st, 1805, the tragic finale arrived. At Trafalgar, Nelson ignored Hardy’s advice to retire, and was shot dead. Hardy later became First Sea Lord and Governor of the Greenwich Hospital, where he died and is buried. He will never have forgotten Nelson’s last words: “God bless you, Hardy”.
The Duke of Wellington (1769-1852)
Arthur Wellesley came from an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family, but used to point out that being born in a stable did not make a man a horse. He had a stratospheric career in the British Army. Already a general by 1803, he won a decisive victory over the Maratha Confederacy. He then distinguished himself in the Peninsular War, and was made a field marshal in 1813. With the War won, he briefly became ambassador to France, until called upon to take on Napoleon himself at the century’s most momentous battle, Waterloo. As usual, it was his ability to conserve his own forces that won the day. Although he remained Commander-in-Chief of the Army until his death, politics consumed him thereafter. He joined the Tories, and became Prime Minister from 1828 to 1830. Having always fancied residing at Walmer Castle, he made himself Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports from 1829, and so lived and died there.
Richard Trevithick (1771-1833)
When Richard Trevithick was born, steam power was only that. Newcomen had invented his atmospheric engine in 1712, good for pumping water, and half a century later Watt added the separate condenser, tripling its efficiency. Yet locomotion remained a dream. Like Newcomen, Trevithick was set on making mining less onerous; but locomotion was no easy challenge, beset by theoretical and technical difficulties. His solution depended on high-pressure steam power, which could be dangerous. In 1803, four of his men were killed in an explosion at Greenwich, which his older rival Watt exploited mercilessly. Trevithick pressed on regardless. Having demonstrated the world’s first road locomotive, the Puffing Devil, at Camborne in 1801, he triumphantly staged the first-ever railway journey at Merthyr Tydfil on February 21st, 1804. He struggled to exploit his breakthrough commercially, however. After living for over a year at Dartford, he died penniless at the Bull hotel, and was buried in an unmarked grave.
Sir Francis Austen (1774-1865)
Francis Austen was another unfortunate whose achievements are overshadowed by an illustrious relative. Born in Hampshire, he attended the Royal Naval Academy, and in his early twenties was ordered to Ramsgate to form the local Sea Fencibles – a naval Home Guard – to help defend against Napoleonic invasion. It landed him the command of his own ship, HMS Peterel, in which he proved highly effective at harassing enemy shipping: he captured 40 French ships that the Navy had the option of turning against their former owners. He ended up sailing under Nelson in the fleet that chased the French both ways across the Atlantic. He missed Trafalgar while on duty elsewhere, but later fought in the War of 1812. After a long career that earned him many honours, he was made Admiral of the Fleet at 89. Since his sister Jane’s favourite character Fanny Price adored her seafaring brother, we can assume that Austen had at least one famous admirer.
Sir Joseph Paxton (1803-65)
Paxton from Bedfordshire looked special from an early age. Spotted by the Duke of Devonshire at 20, he was made head gardener of Chatsworth. Arriving at 4.30am on his first day, he had explored the gardens, briefed his team, and met his future wife by 9am. He worked marvels in the coming years, culminating in the Great Conservatory and the Lily House. So ingeniously designed were these iron-and-glass structures that they prompted the idea for his chef-d’oeuvre, the Crystal Palace. Being prefabricated, it could be removed from Hyde Park after the 1851 Great Exhibition. Paxton re-erected it at Penge, and moved to the area. His achievements did not stop there. He wrote a ‘Pocket Botanical Dictionary’ in addition to various magazines; he cultivated the Cavendish banana that is now standard in the West; he designed several great houses, including Mentmore Towers; and he even spent 10 years as an MP. He died at his home, Rock Hills, in Sydenham.
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81)
Nobody observing the primrose-loving ‘Dizzy’ in 1825 could have believed he’d become a distinguished Conservative prime minister. Of Italian-Jewish ancestry, he was born in Bloomsbury, boarded at school in Blackheath, and at 12 converted to Anglicanism. He looked the Romantic writer and radical he aspired to be, especially when early forays into the law, journalism and business speculation failed miserably. He was drawn to politics by the 1832 Reform Bill crisis. Supportive of protectionism, he gravitated to the Tories, despite having alienated its old guard with his satirical writings. By 1837 he was elected MP for Maidstone. In 1868, he became Prime Minister, and again from 1874 to 1880. Under Disraeli, the Tory party transformed to today’s ‘One Nation Conservatives’, preaching aristocratic support for workers as a counterweight to the mercantile class. His death was met with grief, especially from the adoring Queen Victoria. Even Gladstone, whom he had often bested in debate, managed to sound magnanimous.
Napoleon III, Emperor of France (1808-73)
As nephew of Emperor Napoleon and grandson of Empress Josephine through an earlier marriage, Louis-Napoleon was a chip off the old block. He had two serious addictions, sex and power, and sought the latter to secure the former. His path was barred by King Louis Philippe I, whom he tried to depose with farcical rebellions. After the 1848 Revolution, he became President democratically by offering that potent mix, nationalism and socialism, but then ruled autocratically, even banning beards as subversive. When democracy failed him, he declared himself Emperor. His reign saw developments in infrastructure and some minor reforms, but he failed abjectly as both politician and general in the face of Bismarck’s rise in Prussia. Taken prisoner at Sedan in 1870, he was deposed and later exiled to his bolthole, Camden Place in Chislehurst, where he’d kept a mistress during an earlier exile at Brasted Place. At his death, he was suffering from multiple painful maladies. So ended the glorious French monarchy.
Charles Darwin (1809-82)
It is curious that Darwin, nowadays on most people’s list of the top scientists ever, was told by his father while young that he would never make anything of himself. His response was to join a five-year circumnavigation of the globe as naturalist on HMS Beagle. As he made observations and collected samples, a world-changing idea formed: natural selection. After returning in 1836, he methodically chose to marry his cousin Emma Wedgwood, and settled down for the rest of his life at Downe near Bromley. There, despite a chronic tropical illness, he completed the studies that would inform his ‘Origin of Species’ in 1859. He generously shared the credit with Alfred Wallace, who’d expressed the same idea without the evidence. Ever the gentleman, Darwin was anxious to avoid the religious controversy his book would inevitably spark, but had eminent friends in Lyell, Hooker and Huxley to put the case. Though internationally revered, he was never honoured by his nation.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92)
Tennyson had two great strengths that have maintained his reputation to the present day. One was his talent for quotable quotes, such as “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all“. The other was his ability to tell stories in verse that painted vivid pictures. His most famous was ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ with its ill-fated foray into the “Valley of Death”, which he managed to glorify without mitigating the blunder that prompted it. Though his poetry was unashamedly sentimental and populist, his medieval and mythological themes proved an inspiration to the Pre-Raphaelites. Tennyson was born in Lincolnshire, but his family moved to Tunbridge Wells when he was 30 and, a year later, to Boxley, north of Maidstone. He didn’t marry until he was 40. That same year, he succeeded Wordsworth as Poet Laureate, which he remained for an incredible 42 years until his death – a record.
William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-63)
Thackeray was once placed on a par with Dickens. He is remembered today for ‘Vanity Fair’, which still enjoys a glorious reputation as a satire of Victorian society; but the rest of his work goes largely neglected. Thackeray came from Calcutta, where his father worked for the East India Company. After coming to England and failing to graduate from Cambridge, he spent his life as something of a ne’er-do-well, living at times in Tunbridge Wells. Only when he got married and had three children did he start, in his words, to “write for my life”. It was the serialised adventures of Becky Sharp in ‘Vanity Fair’ (1847-8) that made all the difference to his wealth and fame. His happiness was not terribly long-lived, however. After his wife became suicidally insane, he devoted himself to eating and drinking, and died suddenly of a stroke; 7,000 attended his funeral. Paradoxcally, his widow survived him by 31 years.
Charles Dickens (1812-70)
If the Royal Navy hadn’t temporarily relocated his father to Portsmouth at the time of Dickens’ birth, he’d be a thoroughgoing Man of Kent. When he was four, the family moved to Sheerness, then Chatham. Young Dickens used to admire Gads Hill in Higham on his way to school, and decades later bought it to retire to. He proved a career novelist of the highest order, producing a dozen classics of which most authors might be proud to claim just one. Dickens was highly familiar with and fond of East Kent, and buildings in the Medway towns, Canterbury and Thanet are recognisable in his works. He had a particular association with Broadstairs, notably ‘Bleak House’ where he wrote ‘David Copperfield’. He especially dramatised the misery of indebtedness, sparked by his father’s self-inflicted misfortunes. His talent lay in doing so whilst usually maintaining a wry distance, despite sometimes lapsing into excessive sentimentality. Notwithstanding his marital misdemeanours, he died a national hero.
Augustus Pugin (1812-52)
If Pugin had never designed the tower in which Big Ben resides, it is debatable whether he would now be remembered much. The great art critic John Ruskin thought not; but Pugin certainly made a statement with his many neo-Gothic commissions all over the country, especially churches. He was the son of a draughtsman who’d fled the French Revolution. Having been raised a Presbyterian, he suddenly converted to Roman Catholicism at 22. This usefully opened up a lot of new business contacts among Catholics; and Pugin wholeheartedly embraced the sumptuousness of Catholic culture. This was nowhere more evident than at The Grange in Ramsgate, which he designed from scratch as his new home in 1843-4, along with the adjacent St Augustine‘s Church. His end was as macabre as it was premature. On a train journey with his son, he dramatically lost his mental faculties, and never recovered them before his death seven months later.
Robert Browning (1812-89)
Although Browning was born and raised in the borough of Southwark, his family moved in 1841 to Telegraph Cottage in New Cross, which he described as looking like a goose pie. He remained there for five years until his marriage, in which time he published a work that would become millions of children’s introduction to narrative poetry, ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’ (1842). On a trip to Italy in 1845, he penned his most popular poem, ‘Home Thoughts from Abroad’, beginning “Oh, to be in England / Now that April’s there”, the epitome of Romantic nostalgia. One of the most popular poets of his time was Elizabeth Barrett, on whom he developed a crush, despite her somewhat greater age. She eloped with him to Italy in 1846, against her father’s warnings, and was duly disinherited. On returning to London after her death from unknown causes, Browning renamed the canal area near his home ‘Little Venice’.
Samuel Plimsoll (1824-98)
Having failed to make a living as a coal merchant, Samuel Plimsoll experienced the pain of living in penury. It persuaded him to commit to improving conditions for others. Being a Bristolian by birth, he decided to adopt a maritime cause, namely the issue of ‘coffin ships’: vessels that were overladen and in danger of sinking. After becoming MP for Derby, he campaigned for legislation to set a maximum draught for each merchant ship. He was vehemently opposed, and backed down after going berserk in the House. Nevertheless, public pressure led to his demands being met in 1876. The visible result was the ‘Plimsoll line’ painted around ships’ hulls, above which sea-level must not rise. Plimsoll’s name became known worldwide. He had a second bite of the cherry in 1870, when the plimsoll shoe was named after him on account of the line of the sole running around it. He retired to Folkestone, and was buried at Cheriton.
Joseph Lister, 1st Baron Lister (1827-1912)
Essex-born Joseph Lister trained to be a surgeon not long after the Hungarian medic Ignaz Semmelweis had realised the deadly danger of sepsis. Semmelweis was so ostracised by his peers that he had a breakdown, but was later vindicated by Pasteur’s discovery of microbes. In 1867, Lister picked up the thread. Having observed that farmers applied carbolic acid to their fields in order to kill microbes, without any apparent ill effect on livestock, he hypothesised that cleaning wounds with it would save lives. He tested his theory and got dramatic results, which he published. Realising that prevention was better than cure, he urged cleaning hands and surfaces in hospitals. He too was ridiculed by fellow doctors, but persisted. His insistence that surgeons should adopt antisepsis was so manifestly successful that he is now hailed as the Father of Modern Surgery. After practising in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London, Lister opted to enjoy his last years at Walmer.
Lieutenant-General Augustus Pitt Rivers (1827-1900)
Yorkshireman Augustus Lane-Fox was a career soldier. After fighting in the Crimean War, he did weapons instruction at Woolwich, and later set up the Hythe School of Musketry. During his various postings overseas, he was a fanatical collector of ethnological objects, which he innovatively organised so as to demonstrate their evolution over time. He particularly developed the philosophy that archaeological artefacts must be collected irrespective of their artistic merit, a landmark change from current practice. In 1880 his cousin left him a vast estate in the West Country with the proviso that he adopt the surname Pitt Rivers. When he left his 22,000 ethnological exhibits to Oxford University, they were given that name; and today the Pitt Rivers Museum remains among the most important in the world. On his retirement in 1882, Pitt Rivers became the first Inspector of Ancient Monuments. It was at his behest that the Kit’s Coty monuments near Aylesford were protected with railings.
Sir John Lubbock (1834-1913)
John Lubbock was a banker in the family tradition who became the first president of the Institute of Bankers. He was also a politician, serving twice as MP for Maidstone. But his passion was for the past. This was unsurprising, since his childhood neighbour at High Elms in Downe was Charles Darwin. In 1864, his interest in palaeontology earned him membership of the X Club, an elite group of supporters of natural selection led by Thomas Huxley. He had a parallel interest in archaeology, and in 1865 wrote the seminal text-book ‘Pre-Historic Times’, in which he coined the terms ‘palaeolithic’ and ‘neolithic’. For good measure, after his first wife died, he married Augustus Pitt Rivers’ daughter Alice. He saved the Avebury stone-circle from destruction, for which reason he became Baron Avebury in 1900. Although born in Eaton Square, he was a Kent man through and through. He actually rebuilt Kingsgate Castle as his family home, and died there.
William Morris (1834-96)
William Morris was less a man than a phenomenon. He was such a bowl of contradictions that he defies definition. Having started life as an evangelical Protestant, and courted Anglo-Catholicism at Oxford, he professed himself an atheist. While enjoying a privileged background, he expressed socialist ideals. His lifestyle was ostensibly bohemian, but thoroughly bourgeois. Yet the breadth of his creative power is unsurpassed. In his lifetime, he was best known as a poet, but today is reckoned a designer without equal. He was close to the Pre-Raphaelites, with whom he formed both friendships and profitable business associations. His Kentish connection is the Red House in Bexleyheath, which he co-designed with Philip Webb in 1859. It was a showcase of his Arts & Crafts Movement, with its commendable emphasis on traditional authenticity; Burne-Jones and Rossetti helped decorate it. Though Morris and wife Jane intended it as a home for life, he tired of it after five years.
Octavia Hill (1838-1912)
Despite usually being bracketed with Elizabeth Fry as a ‘social reformer’, Octavia Hill was specifically interested in providing alternatives to slum housing. The daughter of a failed merchant in Cambridgeshire, she believed passionately in self-reliance, and regarded the prompt payment of rent as a crucial moral commitment from tenants. In 1865, the art critic John Ruskin, who was offended by the ugliness of slums, provided three cottages in Marylebone that got her started as a landlady. Within a decade, she was running 15 schemes that housed around 3,000 tenants. The other side of Hill’s coin involved the provision of open spaces accessible to the masses, for which reason she co-founded the ‘National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty’ with Sir Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley in 1895. She contributed a viewing terrace at the National Trust site in Toys Hill whilst living in neighbouring Crockham Hill, at whose church she is buried.
Prince Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha (1844-1900)
At his birth, Prince Alfred was second in line to the throne behind the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII. At 14, he entered the Navy as a midshipman. By the age of 23, he was being sent around the world visiting the colonies on Queen Victoria’s behalf. Whilst in Australia, he was shot in the back by an Irish assassin, who was spared lynching but presently hanged. Alfred survived, and back home married Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna, sister of Tsar Alexander III, with whom he moved into Eastwell Manor. They had four daughters, one of whom became Queen of Roumania. Their eldest son Alfred killed himself in his twenties. Alfred’s marriage was unhappy, his wife taking a dim view of British royalty. It perhaps was a relief when, in 1893, his uncle died and he succeeded as Duke of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha in Germany. He succumbed just seven years later to throat cancer.
Dame Ellen Terry (1847-1928)
Alice Ellen Terry had two great interests in life: the stage, and men. She had the theatre in her blood, coming from a family of actors in Coventry, and took up the trade from her earliest years. She joined Henry Irving’s company in 1878, and for the last two decades of the C19 became Britain’s greatest living actress, in both Shakespeare and comedy. Late in life, she even appeared in five silent movies. By then she had demonstrated the phenomenon, well known in sport, of the great player who proves a poor manager, when she took over the Imperial Theatre from Lily Langtry; it went out of business four years later. She also scandalised society with her string of men that included three husbands. The Pre-Raphaelites were particularly fond of her, and John Singer Sargent artfully painted her as Lady Macbeth. She spent her last 28 years living in Small Hythe, where she retired and died.
William Waldorf Astor, 1st Viscount Astor (1848-1919)
Willy Astor is chiefly remembered for two things: inheriting a vast amount of money, and giving much of it away. He was the great-grandson of John Jacob Astor, who had made himself the richest man in America through fur-trading. Willy inherited his father’s fortune in 1890. Having got into a rift with his Aunt Lina over who was the senior Mrs Astor in New York, he decamped to England and faked his own death, earning much derision when the truth came out. In 1893 he bought Cliveden, and ten years later Hever Castle, which he renovated as the new family pile; he gifted Cliveden to his son and daughter-in-law Waldorf and Nancy as a wedding present. In 1908, he funded the construction of London’s Waldorf Hotel. He also gave prodigious amounts to charity and the British war effort. It earned him a baronetcy, plus a lot of flak for allegedly buying his way into the aristocracy.
Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924)
Francis Hodgson managed the feat of writing not one children’s classic, but three. The death of her father when she was two left the family in straitened circumstances, so in 1865 they left Manchester for Tennessee. Aged 19, Hodgson began writing in order to raise money, and three years later married a trainee doctor called Swan Burnett. Her big literary breakthrough was ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ in 1885. At 37, she started travelling annually to England, initially for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Between 1898 and 1907 she lived at Great Maytham Hall in Rolvenden, where she made the discovery that would later inspire ‘The Secret Garden’. Her marriage had broken up after 26 years whilst she was suffering from depression following the death of a child. She ill-advisedly married a much younger man, Stephen Townsend, who was after her money; she divorced him after two years. Her consolation was the further success she enjoyed in 1905 with ‘The Little Princess’.
Sir David Salomons, 2nd Baronet (1851-1925)
Sir David Salomons, 1st Baronet, is best remembered as the first Jew ever elected to Parliament; he could not take his seat for Greenwich for some years, however, because he refused to take the Christian oath. His Brighton-born nephew, also David Salomons, inherited his title and estate, Broomhill near High Brooms, in 1873. A barrister, young Salomons became Mayor of Tunbridge Wells and Sheriff of Kent. One of his scientific interests was electricity, which led him to introduce innovative electric lighting on the estate. He also was an accomplished motor-car mechanic. In 1895, he cannily mounted the first-ever motor show at Showfields in Tunbridge Wells, shortly after which the pioneering car-manufacturer Walter Arnold was fined at Tonbridge for speeding – events that prompted the transformative Locomotives on Highways Act 1896. Salomons was also a major collector of Breguet watches, and bequeathed to a Jerusalem museum a unique collection that was notoriously stolen in 1983. Broomhill is now the Salomons Museum.
Lord Kitchener (1850-1916)
Herbert Kitchener will never be forgotten for the WW1 recruitment poster in which his stern face and pointing finger informed the reader that “Your Country Needs You”. It was typical of his style: tough and uncompromising. He was born in the west of Ireland after his father, an Army officer, bought land there. After being educated in Switzerland, he attended the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich. He joined the Royal Engineers, serving in Palestine, Cyprus, and the Sudan. In 1898, he won the Battle of Omdurman, and was made Baron Kitchener of Khartoum. In the Boer Wars he was associated with a scorched-earth policy and the confinement of Boers in primitive ‘concentration camps’. At length, in 1911, he bought Broome Park near Canterbury, which he started renovating for his retirement. On June 5th, 1916, however, HMS Hampshire, on which he was sailing to meet the Tsar, struck a mine off Orkney. She went down with all 737 men on board.
Alice Liddell (1852-1934)
The world can thank Alice Liddell for one of the world’s great fictional characters. On July 4th, 1862, on a boating trip with her two sisters in Oxford, she asked Lewis Carroll for a story. Crucially, she then requested that he put it in writing. And so ‘Alice’s Adventures Under Ground’ was born. The fictional Alice was not a depiction of Liddell, but Carroll did pay literary homage to her, spelling out her full name in an acrostic at the end of ‘Through the Looking-Glass’. Furthermore, his allegory of that boating trip, ‘A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale’, is imperfect unless Alice is Alice. The rumour that Carroll hoped to marry Alice is unfounded; a rift between him and the Liddells was probably caused by her sister Lorina’s excessive affection. Liddell would actually marry the Hampshire cricketer Reginald Hargreaves. After his death in 1926, she lived and died at Westerham, appropriately owning a Rolls-Royce with the registration number A1.
Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia (1853-1920)
In a world where it was customary to marry off royal princesses into foreign courts – whatever the young women concerned thought of it – it was encouraging that the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia and Prince Alfred of the UK actually loved each other. Indeed, their marriage went ahead despite universal opposition, especially from Queen Victoria. The objectors were nevertheless proved right. Maria was miserable at Eastwell Manor, hating Britain, the Church of England, and the Royal Family. After happily leaving when Alfred was posted to Malta, she changed the course of history by deterring her daughter from marrying the future King George V. In 1893, she did briefly find happiness in Germany, where her husband became the Duke of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha. She supported Germany during WW1, which sparked the Russian Revolution that brought the death of her nephew Nicholas II and destroyed the Romanov dynasty. She lost everything, and died unwanted in Switzerland.
Vincent van Gogh (1853-90)
It seems hard to believe that van Gogh ever stayed in Kent during his short and turbulent life, but he did. Aged 23, having lost his job with an art dealer in Paris, he applied to teach in England. His only response came from headmaster William Stokes, who offered him a post at his boarding school in Ramsgate. Though van Gogh received only board and lodging, he reported that he enjoyed a rare spell of tranquillity there. It was rotten luck that, after two months, the school moved to Isleworth; he walked there via Canterbury and Chatham. The most tortured of creative geniuses, van Gogh was absurdly underrated in his lifetime. He suffered rejection and derision, and his brother Theo, a lifelong support, unfortunately predeceased him. His misery famously led him to cut off his ear, and then cut short his life. He does at least get the recognition he deserves today, even meriting his own museum in Amsterdam.
Margaret Zborowski (1853-1911)
Margaret Laura Carey might best be described as a career heiress. She was born in Manhattan as a great-granddaughter of America’s richest man, John Jacob Astor, and an only child. In 1875, she married the globe-trotting Dutch diplomat Alphonse, Ridder de Stuers, who handily was also an art collector. After having four children, they sensationally divorced in 1892. Within hours, she married a self-styled American count called Eliot Zborowski, son and heir of Martin Zabriskie who owned much of New York. Zborowski was killed in a motor-racing crash in 1903, leaving all to his widow. Now hyper-rich, she treated herself to Higham Park near Canterbury in 1910, paying £17,500 for its 225 acres and 12 houses. She then effortlessly spent £50,000 on refurbishing it. Unfortunately for her, it was only a year before she died. The beneficiary of this life of resourceful inheriting was her son Louis, who at 16 found himself very rich indeed.
Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Bourne (1854-1945)
Frank Bourne is best remembered for a piece of fiction. In the 1964 film ‘Zulu’, which depicted the Battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1879, Nigel Green played the character named after Bourne who, delivering a sentry’s report, uttered the chilling words, “Zulus to the Southwest. Thousands of them!” The real Frank Bourne was much smaller than Green, and much younger; he had become the British Army’s youngest colour-sergeant at 21, and was still only 24. For his valour, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, second only to a VC. Bourne would have a long career in the Army. He later served as Adjutant of the Schools of Musketry in Hythe and Dublin. At the latter, he was responsible for training sharpshooters who later used their skills against the British Army for the IRA. A Sussex man, he retired to Beckenham, and only died there the day after VE day, making him Rorke’s Drift’s last survivor.
William Willett (1856-1915)
Willett, a builder, is known for just one thing: British Summer Time. Although he came from Farnham, he spent most of his life living in Chislehurst. It was while riding his horse through Petts Wood early one summer morning that he noticed most people were still in bed, and realised it would save a lot of daylight if the clock were moved forward in the spring. He proposed that it be advanced by four weekly 20-minute increments during April that would be reversed in September. He did get some political support for the idea, including from Winston Churchill; but nothing happened until WW1, when an urgent need to preserve coal stocks forced action. The practice of advancing the clock by an hour was introduced in May 1916, a fact commemorated in the Willett memorial sundial at Petts Wood. Perhaps one day someone will complete his work by abolishing the habit of putting the clocks back in October.
Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)
Conrad’s status as one of the world’s greatest English-language novelists is astonishing, considering that he only learned the language in his twenties. He was born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, the son of a Polish noble. He went to sea, and his maritime adventures, including smuggling, formed the basis of his early fiction. In 1878 he began a 16-year career in the British merchant navy, finally as a captain. He became a British subject and settled at Aldington. The novels for which he is now famous mark a lurch away from Victorian realism towards modernism, concerning human drives, dilemmas, and isolation. Politically, however, he is regarded today with ambivalence. His classic extended story ‘Heart of Darkness’ proposes the sameness of different races, but only because all are equally dangerous. This helps explain why the obscure Simone Weil is marked by a major avenue in Ashford, whilst the world-famous Conrad, who died in Bishopsbourne, gets only a new-build side-street.
E. Nesbit (1858-1924)
Edith Bland, née Nesbit, was born in Kennington, Surrey, but spent years moving around Europe after her father died. She spent three years at Halstead Hall in Kent, on which she modelled the location of ‘The Railway Children’ in 1905. Her relationship with Hubert Bland was not easy. After getting her pregnant before their marriage, he continued doing the same to others, and had one lover move in permanently. Nesbit occupied herself by writing prolifically for a children’s audience, introducing more grown-up plots than was customary in the Victorian era, as well as a high literary standard. She and her husband did share an interest in radical politics: they joined the incipient Fabian Society, and named a child after it. Nesbit later retired to New Romney, where she died of lung cancer induced by her chronic smoking. It emerged in 2011 that she plagiarised her best-known book from Ada Graves’s ‘The House by the Railway’, published nine years earlier.
Sir Henry Royce (1863-1933)
Although he was born near Peterborough, it was in Manchester that Frederick Henry Royce set up an manufacturing business in 1884. Eventually deciding that he must expand outside of electric cranes and dynamos, Royce looked to the expanding automotive business. In 1904 he produced his first model, which he showed to London showroom owner Charles Rolls. The two united to form a perfect partnership, with the energetic Rolls as front man and the quietly spoken but fiercely determined Royce providing the expertise. The duo lasted only until 1910, however, when Rolls was killed in a plane crash. Royce’s marriage broke up two years later and, plagued by ill-health, he moved south. He took up residence in St Margaret’s Bay with his full-time nurse from 1913 to 1917. In the 1930s, his commitment to aero engines created the world-record breaking ‘R’ engine, whose successor the Rolls Royce Merlin would become the cornerstone of Britain’s aerial defences in 1940.
David Lloyd-George (1863-1945)
Few prime ministers had such a chequered record as David Lloyd George. Born in Manchester of Welsh parents, he narrowly became MP for Carnarvon Boroughs in 1890. He used his silver tongue effectively in climbing the greasy pole; it also brought him a string of bedroom companions. With WW1 going badly, he finally ousted his boss Herbert Asquith in December 1916, succeeding him as Coalition premier. On the plus side, he is remembered for somehow getting the War won, and in 1918 for expanding the franchise to all adult men, plus some women. On the other hand, he made a hash of the Chanak Crisis in Turkey, allowed the Irish Free State’s secession, and saw the economy crash. His slump in popularity ended Liberal government in Britain, ushering in the Labour Party. His acquaintance with Kent was brief: he lodged with his friend Sir George Markham at Beachborough Park in 1911 while recovering, aptly, from a throat complaint.
Lord Northcliffe (1865-1922)
Though he was born in Dublin, Alfred Harmsworth was the son of an English lawyer, and moved to England at two. He was not well educated, but knew what he liked: newspapers, and power. His brilliant idea was to open up the national press market by introducing the ‘Daily Mail’ for the middle classes and the ‘Daily Mirror’ for women. His stance was unapologetically populist. He grew circulation dramatically with a competition to win a pound a week for life. With the profits, he bought ‘The Observer’ and ‘The Times’, thereby also gaining control of the highbrow sector. During WW1, he became a kingmaker, siding with Lloyd George in the ‘Shell Crisis’ that brought down Asquith. So influential was he in building public morale that the Germans sent a warship to shell his home, Elmwood in St Peter’s, Broadstairs. Harmsworth was made 1st Viscount Northcliffe of St Peters in 1918 in recognition of his war efforts.
Emma, Baroness Orczy (1865-1947)
Anyone who imagines that all the great swashbuckling heroes of literature were created by Dumas, Scott, or Stevenson needs to think again. ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ began life in 1903 as a stage play written by Baroness Orczy and her English husband. It proved such a success that, two years later, she turned it into a novel, which in turn became a series. It introduced the literary concept of an apparently effete noble who uses a secret identity for doing good, an idea that would ultimately give rise to the likes of Zorro and Batman. Sir Percy Blakeney’s mission was to save French aristocrats from the guillotine, leaving behind a pimpernel flower as a calling-card. The idea pointed to Orczy’s background: her noble family had fled Hungary when faced with a peasant uprising. She remained a passionate believer in aristocracy, not to mention the British Empire. During WW1, she even formed a women’s movement to recruit men for the British Army.
Marie Lloyd (1870-1922)
Considering that many C20 superstars are already fading into oblivion, it is remarkable that Marie Lloyd is still recalled nearly a century after her death. She came from Hoxton in London, being born Matilda Wood, and made her solo singing debut there at 15. Whilst perfecting her craft on the stage between the ages of 17 and 23, she lived at New Cross. After establishing a reputation as a boisterous entertainer, she left to go globetrotting, earning international popularity. Unlike today’s stars, her appeal did not depend on her looks but her irrepressible personality. She sang and danced with bravado, which mattered considering that the lyrics and her interpretation of them were risqué by the standards of the day. Meanwhile, she had a tumultuous private life, going through two divorces. As late as 1919, she enjoyed a hit with her best-remembered number, the singalong ‘My Old Man Said Follow The Van’.
Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939)
Joseph Leopold Ford Hermann Madox Hueffer was born in Surrey, the half-German, half-English grandson of Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown. He attended the Pretorius school in Folkestone and, after marrying Elsie Martindale in 1894, came to live on Romney Marsh. In 1898 he met Joseph Conrad, whom he introduced to Aldington, and collaborated with him on his own novels ‘The Inheritors’ and ‘Romance’. During WW1 he composed propaganda for the Government, but also managed to survive the Somme. His most notable achievements were the novel ‘The Good Soldier’ and his tetralogy ‘Parade’s End’, which particularly studied marriage and adultery. Hueffer was also a significant literary critic. He was friends with James Joyce and Ezra Pound, and is supposed to have discovered DH Lawrence. He changed his name to Ford Madox Ford in 1919 because of anti-German sentiment. Anthony Burgess thought him the best C20 British novelist, although that opinion would not be widely shared today.
Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
Churchill’s life was sufficiently eventful to fill volumes. Born at Blenheim Palace, he became a cavalry officer at 20, and fought at Omdurman. In 1899, while covering the Boer War as a journalist, he escaped from a PoW camp. He became an MP in 1900, Home Secretary in 1910, and First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911; his career was almost shattered by the disastrous Gallipoli campaign he masterminded. Between the Wars, he remained a voice in the wilderness arguing for rearmament; but, following Chamberlain’s failure, he became the obvious choice for Prime Minister. He proved an inspired and inspirational war leader, far cannier than his reckless opponent. His eloquence made a crucial difference in winning over the Americans. Though surprisingly voted out in 1945, he returned to power five years later. Having written copiously about English-speaking history, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. Through nearly half his life, he resided at his beloved Chartwell.
Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922)
Shackleton’s Anglo-Irish family left for Kent when he was ten and settled at Sydenham. After going to sea, he joined Scott’s 1901 expedition to Antarctica. He was picked to join Scott and Wilson on the march that progressed further south than ever before. However, Scott sent him home sick, possibly out of jealousy. Shackleton responded with his own expedition in 1907, when he got much closer: just 112 miles from the South Pole. He was knighted; but his ambition of reaching the Pole first was dashed by Amundsen in 1912. Two years later, Shackleton undertook the doomed Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The ‘Endurance’ got iced in, and then sank. He was obliged to sail 800 miles in a lifeboat through stormy seas to South Georgia, then returned to collect the rest of the crew. After WW1, the great hero attempted one more expedition, but died en route; and so ended the Heroic Age of polar exploration.
W Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)
Maugham’s early life sounds like a Dickens plot. His wealthy father was advisor to the British Embassy in Paris, where Maugham was born. He was eight when his mother died, and his father followed two years later. He went to live with his uncle, the cold, unkind Vicar of Whitstable. He disliked attending the Kings School, Canterbury, and left at 16. Turning to writing, he immediately enjoyed success. His first novel, ‘Liza of Lambeth’, was a best seller in 1897, and numerous other lauded plays and novels followed quickly. His greatest work was ‘Of Human Bondage’ in 1915, an autobiographical novel dealing with the pursuit of freedom from earthly passions. In WW1, he became a special agent in Russia, and might have foiled the Revolution, given more time. Around then, he wed a divorcee he had got pregnant while she was still married. Thereafter his romantic life was mostly connected with other men. Maugham’s ashes were scattered at King’s.
Aleister Crowley (1875-1947)
It is amusing to reflect that the character who revelled in being called the world’s most wicked man was once a pupil at Tonbridge School. Crowley, whose real first name was Edward, came from the Midlands, but might have been from outer space. He invented a religion called Thelema, a magical cult of which he was of course the Prophet, having been handed ‘The Book of the Law’ by the unearthly ‘Aiwass’. Its central credo was “Do what thou wilt”. What particularly outraged the media was Crowley’s approach to drugs and sex, which amounted to literally anything goes. Ironically, this is now a fairly commonplace attitude; but his spiritual beliefs have remained arcane. Adding to the Crowley mystique is the likelihood that he was recruited by MI6. It’s hard to say whether his scriptures that filled countless volumes were the product of supernatural insight, a diseased imagination, an epic scam, or a spy’s elaborate cover.
Charles Hamilton (1876-1961)
Hamilton, from Ealing, holds the distinction of having written more than a million words of fiction whilst remaining largely unknown by name. The reason is that he used many pen names, one of which was Frank Richards, the creator of Billy Bunter. He started contributing to the ‘Gem’ comic in 1907 as Martin Clifford, and from 1908 additionally contributed tales of Greyfriars School to ‘The Magnet’. This he carried on doing until 1940, when publication ceased; but, after the War, he began writing the Billy Bunter books. Although George Orwell acknowledged Bunter as a “first-rate” character, he didn’t like the snobby public-school ethos. Hamilton justly replied that the books’ moral message concerned the importance of honesty and consideration, qualities as rare as ever today; and he did pointedly introduce sympathetic Asian and Jewish characters, albeit not African ones. He moved to Kingsgate in 1926, and remained there with his housekeeper until his death.
Katie Johnson (1878-1957)
Bessie ‘Katie’ Johnson was born near Brighton, Sussex, and at 15 became a stage actress of the jobbing variety. After marrying a Geordie called Frank Bayly in 1908 and raising two sons, she eventually broke into British movies in 1932. Although she played several dozen film and TV roles, they tended to be minor and were often uncredited; her part as a maid in ‘Gaslight’ (1940) lasted just seconds. Finally, aged 76, she got a huge break, being cast as Mrs Wilberforce, the quintessential sweet old lady who outsmarts a gang of violent robbers in the classic Ealing comedy ‘The Ladykillers’. Even performing alongside superstars Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, and Herbert Lom, she acquitted herself outstandingly, and actually won the Best British Actress BAFTA. Sadly, there was time for only one more movie appearance before she died at her home, West Bank in Elham, the former school once attended by Audrey Hepburn.
Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor (1879-1964)
Nancy Langhorne was the daughter of a Virginian businessman who had made a second fortune after losing his first. She married at 18, but divorced her husband after just four years. She emigrated to England, which she fell in love with. Still only 27, she married Waldorf Astor, one of the world’s richest men. Already known for her beauty, she soon won popularity for her forward wit, backed by moral fibre. These qualities set her in good stead when she stood for Parliament in 1919 and entered history as the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons, succeeding her husband as Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton. She held the seat for 25 years, speaking up for temperance and women’s rights, but was persuaded to stand down in 1945 because of her fascist sympathies. She and her husband built ‘Rest Harrow’, a luxurious second home on the Sandwich seafront, as a getaway from Cliveden.
Anna Essinger (1879-1960)
As an overseas student in Wisconsin, Essinger encountered Quaker beliefs that changed her outlook. Back in southern Germany, she opened a progressive school for Jewish children from 1926. When Hitler came to power in 1933, they were evidently in danger. She identified a new home for the school, namely Bunce Court at Otterden. Initially just 13 pupils were taken, ostensibly to take exams. She then arranged for the rest to follow in three groups by different routes. All 53 made it. Kentish locals reacted suspiciously at first, but she assimilated children of other faiths, and the advent of WW2 justified the project. She also organised a camp in Essex that received 10,000 Jewish children in 1939. The experience of her school’s Jewish contingent was harrowing on account of chronic homesickness and, later, the mass murder of their loved ones; but they were at least safe, thanks to Essinger. The school broke up in 1948, having housed 900 children.
EM Forster (1879-1970)
Forster’s life was in some ways an echo of Somerset Maugham’s. He also had a privileged upbringing, but suffered childhood misfortune as an infant when his father died. His Anglo-Irish mother took him from London to Hertfordshire. He was happy until he was sent to Tonbridge School, where he was bullied as a misfit. He turned out to be a homosexual in an age when the censoriousness of the church was considerable: his autobiographical novel ‘Maurice’ was only published posthumously. Like Maugham, he took his revenge on the English middle-class through literature, only more so. His themes seldom varied much from an assault on bourgeois narrow-mindedness, usually expressed as a variant of the idea that other nations do feelings better. He was true to his own example, losing his virginity at 38 to a soldier in Cairo. Forster was an expert storyteller who produced several fine novels, especially ‘A Passage to India’, although strangely none after 1924.
Air Chief Marshall Hugh Dowding, 1st Baron Dowding (1882-1970)
Britain owes much to the fact that Dowding was an archetypical dour Scot. He was a fighter pilot in WW1, and between the wars made his way up the RAF ladder. Come 1940, it fell to him to marshal Britain’s defences against overpowering Luftwaffe might. Dowding’s conservative approach raised hackles, but worked. Germany’s superiority in equipment and men was so overwhelming, he insisted, that the RAF’s few resources must be treasured. During the Dunkirk evacuation, he withheld aerial support for fear that Britain be left defenceless. It remained a highly unpopular decision, but the right one strategically. In the Battle of Britain, he played his few cards so effectively that Hitler was forced to abandon the invasion. When the Blitz took hold, however, there was the usual hysterical demand for somebody to do something. Dowding was unceremoniously sacked, and never got over his bitterness. He retired for the rest of his life to Tunbridge Wells, where he died.
Dame Sybil Thorndike (1882-1976)
Although born in Lincolnshire, Thorndike moved to Kent at the age of two, when her father was made a canon at Rochester Cathedral. She attended Rochester Grammar School for Girls, where there is now a health centre named after her. Her brother Russell, who later became better known as a writer, introduced her to acting. She toured America at 21, and excelled at Shakespeare. Her career was given a major boost in 1908 when she was spotted by GB Shaw, who wrote the role of Saint Joan especially for her. That same year she propitiously wed actor-producer Lewis Casson at Aylesford; the two worked together professionally, were separately ennobled, and remained married for 61 years. At 39, she graduated to silent movies, and continued to be filmed for 40 years. The most singular thing about her career, however, is simply its longevity. Aside from Saint Joan, she is barely remembered today for any standout role.
Baron Brabazon of Tara, of Sandwich in the County of Kent (1884-1964)
In later life, John Moore-Brabazon looked and sounded the typical civil servant, but was nothing of the sort. Born in London, he attended Harrow and Cambridge, working in his vacation for Charles Rolls. His first job was in the French automotive industry. He took up motor racing, and won the Circuit des Ardennes at 23. Next he progressed to new-fangled aeroplanes, making the first ever powered flight in Britain in 1909 at Shellness. Though his wife discouraged his flying after Rolls’s death in a crash, he worked in aerial surveillance during WW1, advancing to Lieutenant Colonel and winning the Military Cross. He entered politics as MP for Chatham, and during WW2 was Minister of Aircraft Production. He later headed up Britain’s renascent aeronautical industry, noted for the revolutionary Comet airliner. He also captained St Andrews Golf Club, and even won a trophy at 71 at the Cresta Run. Appropriately, the largest ever British airliner was named the Brabazon.
Sir Barnes Wallis (1887-1979)
In the ‘Dambusters’ movie of 1955, Sir Michael Redgrave depicted Barnes Wallace as the classic British scientist of the era: boyishly enthusiastic, thoroughly resourceful, and effortlessly brilliant. He wasn’t far wrong. Wallis, born in Derbyshire, went to school at Haberdashers’ Aske’s in New Cross, and started work in Blackheath. He got a job at Vickers as an airship designer, creating the R100. He moved onto aeroplanes, notably introducing his ‘geodetic’ structure to the Wellington bomber. In 1942, he devised the idea of a bouncing bomb that would enable the RAF to attack three major dams in Germany. Despite all the technical and operational difficulties, the mission was a success; or so it appeared. The truth is that 53 airmen were killed, to Wallis’s lasting regret, and the damage was soon made good. The political and propaganda benefit was nevertheless enormous. There is now a memorial to Wallis at Herne Bay, not far from the first testing-ground at Reculver.
Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (1887-1976)
Bernard Montgomery was born in Surrey, attended the King’s School, Canterbury and Sandhurst, and survived being shot in the chest by a sniper in WW1. He was a senior commander when WW2 started. Taking charge of South-Eastern Command, he was stationed at Stede Court, Harrietsham. In 1942 he was posted to North Africa, leading the 8th Army to victory over Rommel at El Alamein. He next played a major role in the invasion of Sicily and Italy before serving as Commander-in-Chief of ground forces during the Normandy invasion. In 1945, he accepted the surrender of the German forces in the North. A pious vegetarian teetotaller, ‘Monty’ might still be a national hero, but for the fact that he was insufferably vain and divisive. He opined prejudicially on subjects from apartheid and Chairman Mao (pro) to homosexuality and Indian soldiers (con). He continued to offend former colleagues after WW2, even savaging Eisenhower. Churchill accurately branded him “unbeatable but unbearable”.
Dame Edith Evans (1888-1976)
Of the countless comic performances in movies over the decades, one of the best has to be Edith Evans’s Lady Bracknell in the 1952 production of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. There cannot have been a funnier depiction of the sort of woman who would “ring the bell and tell you to put a lump of coal on the fire”, as Evans put it. She even managed to squeeze five syllables out of the word ‘handbag’. Ironically, at the start of her career, she had been faulted by one critic for her diction. She was however the consummate actress throughout her long career, even without good looks. One reason was her honesty: she declined for example to play characters whose malign motives she couldn’t identify with. Hollywood belatedly recognised her genius by nominating her three times for Oscars in her seventies. Evans lived at Washenden Manor in Biddenden and, from 1955, Gatehouse in Kilndown, which was where she died.
John Logie Baird (1888-1946)
It is a moot point whether John Baird invented television, considering that several others made contributions along the way. There is no doubt however that he was the first to make a public demonstration of television in action, which he famously did at 22 Frith Street, Soho in January 1926. Because his first equipment was too crude to make out faces, he used ventriloquist dummies with more pronounced features, the first talking-head ever seen on television being ‘Stooky Bill’. Just two years later, he also unveiled the first colour transmission, featuring a child who would become one of the first British soap stars, Noele Gordon. Baird added entrepreneurial zeal to his inventive genius, creating a company that continued to develop broadcasting systems and produce television sets until 1960, when Radio Rentals bought it. In 1933, he set up shop at the Crystal Palace and moved his family to Sydenham, where they remained for eleven years.
Will Hay (1888-1949)
William Hay from County Durham looks today like just another Music Hall funny man, but in real life he was something of a genius. As well as being able to loop the loop in a plane and give a good account of himself in the boxing ring, he could speak several languages, and was an accomplished astronomer who built telescopes, penned a popular book on the subject, and even made a noteworthy discovery. He went into acting at 21 after seeing WC Fields and admiring his ability to portray a likeable misanthrope. Hay’s stock character was a self-important but inept authority figure, which scriptwriter Jimmy Perry later took as his inspiration for Captain Mainwaring of ‘Dad’s Army’. It brought Hay wild success in the 1930s, at which time he brought his wife and children to live in Ramsgate. He remained there until his death, despite having split up the family by having an affair.
Ivor Gurney (1890-1937)
Gurney, from Gloucester, is one of the less famous but more highly regarded WW1 poets; yet his greater talent lay in music. He studied at Gloucester Cathedral alongside Ivor Novello, and then at the Royal College of Music. Although his ability was beyond doubt, his erratic behaviour made him a difficult pupil. In 1915, he went to war in the British Army and, unable to play music, took up writing poetry. He adopted neither a jingoistic nor pacifist stance, instead focussing on the minutiae of wartime life that helped him get through. Despite being both shot and gassed, he survived the War, but his mental health took a serious turn for the worse after he broke up with a nurse. In 1922, he was briefly institutionalised in Gloucester, then transferred to the City of London Mental Hospital near Dartford where, seriously delusional, he spent the rest of his years. He recently became the subject of a new biography.
Richmal Crompton (1890-1969)
On the face of it, Richmal Lamburn’s life was rather sad. A bright girl from Lancashire, she came south to study Classics, and took up teaching. She moved to a post at Bromley High School at 27, living with her mother, and took up writing in earnest. In 1923, however, she contracted polio, which cost her the use of one leg. Then, in the 1930s, she got breast cancer that demanded a mastectomy. She lived alone for the rest of her life. Despite her misfortunes, she channelled her energies into cheering others up with her stories, especially children. One of her characters secured her lasting popularity: William Brown. Like the slightly older Frank Richards, she had the literary talent to turn a stereotypical unruly schoolboy into a rounded character who provided an endlessly versatile vehicle for entertaining capers. Amazingly, she continued writing ‘Just William’ books from 1922 until her death at Farnborough Hospital.
Brigadier-General Charles de Gaulle, President of France (1890-1970)
The future President of France started life in a strictly religious family in Lille, his father being a professor of history and literature. De Gaulle chose to enrol at the St Cyr military academy, and as a company commander was captured at Verdun in 1916. At the time WW2 broke out, he was a tank commander in the French 5th Army. Refusing to accept France’s capitulation to Germany, he escaped to England and took up residence in Petts Wood, until the threat of bombing made him move further north. He became the figurehead of French resistance, and would remain synonymous with France for 24 years after the War. He repaid his debt to the Allies by forming a Franco-German economic pact, building an independent nuclear deterrent, actively supporting Québecois independence, and repeatedly saying ‘Non!’ to Britain. He ultimately alienated many of his own supporters by granting Algerian independence in 1962, and dealing feebly with the disturbances of 1968.
Princess Anne-Marie Callimachi of Roumania (1893-1970)
Bucharest to Egerton is not a journey that many have made, but one who did was an actual princess. Anne-Marie Vacaresco was a Roumanian aristocrat whose father spent most of the fortune she had inherited from her grandparents. At 18, she was thrown into the social whirl, a world of glittering balls and banquets. She eventually proposed, as was the custom, to Prince Jean Callimachi, and so acquired her regal title. The Queen of Roumania at the time was Marie of Edinburgh, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who had been born at Eastwell Manor. It was presumably Marie who recommended Kent as a place of refuge after Communism blew away the gilded cage. Older Egertonians still recall Callimachi in her farmhouse at Pembles Cross, dispossessed but still regal. She recounted her pre-WW1 years in a 1949 autobiography called ‘Yesterday Was Mine’, a depiction of a world almost within living memory that now seems as far off as the Blue Danube.
Louis Zborowski (1895-1924)
Young Zborowski was born not so much with a silver spoon in his mouth as a silver service. His father had been killed in 1903 in a motor-racing accident. His hyper-wealthy mother died when he was just 16, so he found himself in possession of both Higham Park and a vast fortune. A fraction of it was spent on the steam railway he built in the gardens, which his friend Jack Howey re-created on a much larger scale as the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway. Far more however went into his greatest passion, extremely fast automobiles. He set up a factory on his estate building racing-cars powered by aircraft engines. They acquired the name ‘Chitty Bang Bang’, which inspired Zborowski’s equally adventurous friend Ian Fleming to have a money-spinning publishing and movie idea. Zborowski did also race more conventional racing-cars, and it was while competing in the Italian Grand Prix that he collided fatally with a tree.
Jack Warner (1895-1981)
Horace John Waters was born a Cockney. He served as a driver in WW1, and later tried motor racing. It wasn’t until he was in his thirties that he became an actor. His sisters Elsie and Doris became famous as ‘Gert and Daisy’ during WW2, but his own big break came in 1947 as the father of the Huggett family in ‘Holiday Camp’, the first of a string of popular comedy movies. Changing direction in 1950, he played a policeman who was shockingly shot dead in ‘The Blue Lamp’. The role was resurrected for the BBC TV series ‘Dixon of Dock Green’, which became an intrinsic part of British popular culture for 21 years. With his physically commanding presence and quietly assertive manner, Dixon’s cosy monologue to camera at the end of every episode established the stereotypical trusty British copper. Warner lived for 35 years in Kingsgate. At his death, his coffin was carried by actual police officers.
Aneurin Bevan (1897-1960)
Nye Bevan divides opinion not so much on left-versus-right lines as old-left-versus-new. He was the archetypical utopian socialist, with a firm belief in the power of central government to remodel society. His time came when Labour won the 1945 general election. His two biggest ideas concerned health and housing, specifically the introduction of the NHS despite vehement opposition from the British Medical Association, and the conversion of vast areas of English countryside to housing estates. It was all designed to realise his own vision of a socialist post-War Britain. It made him a hero in his native Wales; yet many Labour supporters still disagree, arguing that Bevan’s bête noire, Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, offered a more realistic way forward. It is telling that, whilst formulating his plans for the working class, the champagne socialist Bevan and his wife Jennie Lee were enjoying the view from Burnt House Barn on Pilgrims Way in Charing.
Enid Blyton (1897-1968)
Blyton’s family moved from her birthplace Dulwich to rural Beckenham when she was a baby. She worshipped her father, a salesman, who taught her about nature and much else. When he left his querulous wife, Blyton was distraught. She became head girl, and went into teaching at Bickley, where she learnt how to communicate with children, especially by keeping things simple. After winning her tenacious battle to get published, she became an inexhaustible writing machine. Living in Chessington, Surrey, she was already prolific by the time the ‘Famous Five’ appeared in 1942, followed by ‘Malory Towers’ – based on Benenden School – in 1946, and both ‘Noddy’ and the ‘Secret Seven’ in 1949. Each property encompassed numerous titles that, with her many other works, have sold over 600 million copies. The traditional British values she embraced repeatedly offend new sensibilities arriving from America, but repeated efforts to gag her are regarded by readers as a jolly bad show.
Sir Noel Coward (1899-1973)
Coward was born in Teddington, Middlesex shortly before Oscar Wilde‘s death, and his life might almost have been a continuation of the Irishman’s. From an early age he showed an aptitude for theatre, and went on to be a popular playwright, as well as screenplay writer. Equally he shared both Wilde’s flamboyance and his sublime wit. There were differences: Coward could also act, he had rare musical talent – writing and performing such classics as ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ – and, by his time, his overt homosexuality seem to matter not a jot. One reason for his popularity was his patriotism. He worked tirelessly throughout WW2 to raise the public’s spirits, notably with ‘In Which We Serve’ (1942), which won him a special Academy Award. It is no wonder that he was on the Nazis’ special hit list. He lived for 30 years at Goldenhurst Farm in Aldington, apart from a spell at St Margaret’s Bay during the War.
Stevie Smith (1902-71)
As a writer, Florence ‘Stevie’ Smith from Hull was not everyone’s cup of tea. Considered too minor to be included in Benét’s definitive ‘Reader’s Encyclopedia’, she was almost more interesting for her life, which in 1978 became the subject of a biopic. While she was small, her father left home, and she was sent to Broadstairs for three years because of tuberculosis. She ended up being raised in London by an aunt with conservative views who drummed into her the need for self-sufficiency, which mattered when her mother died when she was 16. She remained a loner, suffered from depression all her life, and was conspicuously preoccupied with death. The publisher who rejected her poetry suggested novels, so she wrote three between 1936 and 1949. Meanwhile she persisted with her poetry, which can be eccentrically amusing. The names of two collections are now part of the language: ‘A Good Time Was Had By All’ and ‘Not Waving But Drowning’.
Kenneth Clark, Baron Clark (1903-83)
Clark was another from that mould of rich people who know what is best for the working class. Having grown up surrounded by art treasures, he believed that everyone should be exposed to great art, whether they wanted to or not. After running the National Gallery, he went into broadcasting, and in 1969 won renown for the BBC2 series ‘Civilisation’. He got paid to spend three years touring the world’s great museums and galleries and explaining their delights from a Whiggish perspective. Originally David Attenborough’s idea, the 13-part series ran horrendously over budget. It turned out a lavish record of the West’s cultural achievement, although largely preaching to the converted on a Sunday evening while the great unwashed watched the BBC1 movie. True to his ethos, Clark bought Saltwood Castle near Hythe and lived there for 26 years with his wife Jane, who like him was serially unfaithful. Their elder son was the equally lecherous MP Alan Clark.
C. Day-Lewis (1904-72)
It is curious that, only 50 years ago, Cecil Day Lewis was Poet Laureate, and yet he is now remembered best as the father of a famous actor. He was born in Ireland into an Anglo-Irish family, one of his grandparents hailing from Canterbury. The family moved to London after his mother died when he was two. After Oxford, he became a teacher and, after his first marriage ended in divorce, he married actress Jill Balcon, who would be Daniel’s mother. Early on he was a Communist sympathiser under the influence of WH Auden, and used his writing to instruct the masses. At 35, however, he lost faith in Marxism, and his work thereafter became more introspective, though more popular. Under the name ‘Nicholas Blake’, he wrote detective stories featuring Nigel Strangeways, a gentleman investigator. In the early 1950s he was Professor of Poetry at Oxford, and in 1957 came to live out his life in Greenwich.
HE Bates (1905-74)
Herbert Ernest Bates certainly enjoyed the countryside. Originally from Northamptonshire, he worked as a reporter and a clerk, and started writing seriously at 20. He became a master of the short story, especially in a pastoral context. He made his name with books like ‘My Uncle Silas’ (1939), ‘Fair Stood the Wind for France’ (1944), and ‘Love for Lydia’ (1952), but it was his ‘The Darling Buds of May’ (1958) that made his lasting fame. It was inspired by an experience Bates had while on holiday in Kent, when he watched a jocund farmer splashing out on goodies for his family. So was born Pop Larkin, whose fictional family would form the basis of one of the country’s best loved TV shows for two years from 1991. The adaptation was shot all around the Pluckley area, including Little Chart, which Bates and wife Madge moved to after marrying in 1931. They remained there, inveterate gardeners, until he died at Canterbury Hospital.
Not many young people today will know that, 50-odd years ago, Annunzio Mantovani was so big that he sold more LPs than anyone before the Beatles. Listening to his work, they might well wonder why. He came from an impeccable musical background, having been born in Venice as the son of the concert master at La Scala in Milan. The family emigrated in 1912 to London. After studying music, Mantovani formed an orchestra that became a popular dance band. He developed an association with composer Ronnie Binge, whose contribution to popular music was the ‘cascading strings’ effect that the Italian made his trademark. Mantovani’s fortunes were greatly assisted by the popularisation of the stereogram, his music being used ubiquitously in stores to demonstrate its capabilities to a public who had only ever listened in mono. Mantovani came to live in Tunbridge Wells in the 1950s, and died there in a care home.
George Sanders (1906-72)
As the title of his memoirs admitted, George Sanders was a professional cad. He was born in St Petersburg, but his family fled the 1917 Revolution. After running a South American tobacco plantation, he joined a London advertising agency, where Greer Garson advised him to take up acting. After six British movies, he was cast in Hollywood as an English villain, and subsequently specialised in the urbane rogue. It won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for ‘All About Eve’ in 1950, and the part of Shere Khan in ‘The Jungle Book’. His private life was equally glamorous. After his first divorce, he married Zsa Zsa Gabor for five years, before moving to Egerton in 1959 and startling locals with his gold Rolls Royce and Cadillac. After his Kent-born wife Benita Hume died of cancer, he was wed to Magda Gabor for just 32 days, and lost millions on ‘Cadco’, a sausage-manufacturing scam. Depressed, he killed himself in Spain.
Sir Carol Reed (1906-76)
An illegitimate son of theatre impresario Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Reed studied at the King’s School, Canterbury. After taking up acting while in his teens, he moved into production and worked his way up the ranks to direction, initially of quota quickies. During the WW2 years he established himself as an accomplished maker of gritty dramas, and in 1947 had his first major success with ‘Odd Man Out’, an IRA-based film noir that won a BAFTA for Best British Film. Much his greatest success, however, was his dramatisation of Graham Greene’s ‘The Third Man’ in 1949, which assured his reputation as a directorial great. Having already worked with Greene on ‘The Fallen Idol’, he did so for a third time on ‘Our Man in Havana’ in 1959. Ironically, he finally won an Oscar for Best Director in 1968 with Lionel Bart’s colourful musical ‘Oliver!’ Knighted in 1952, he was married twice, and counted Oliver Reed as a nephew.
Dame Daphne du Maurier, Lady Browning (1907-89)
In the middle of the C20, Daphne du Maurier’s fecund but dark imagination became a favourite source of material for Hollywood movies. Her novels ‘Jamaica Inn’ (1936), ‘Rebecca’ (1938), and ‘My Cousin Rachel’ (1951) were all box-office successes, and two of the best horror movies ever made were derived from her short stories ‘The Birds’ and ‘Don’t Look Now’. Consequently, it is disappointing to know that, like E. Nesbit, she was a plagiarist. ‘Rebecca’ was plainly based on a Brazilian novel published four years earlier, and ‘The Birds’ was actually the name of a novel by Frank Baker, for whose publisher du Maurier was a reader. It is perhaps one reason why, despite her family’s high-profile artistic connections and her husband Sir Frederick Browning’s military renown, she became increasingly aloof and reclusive. Having lived in Hythe during WW2, she spent most of her life in Cornwall, where for some reason she became a Cornish nationalist.
William Hartnell (1908-75)
Bill Hartnell was already 55 when he got the break that made him. He was born on the mean streets of North London, the son of a young Devonian mother and unknown father. He grew up tough, even becoming a juvenile delinquent, and was luckily taken in hand by an actor who got him into the Italia Conti Academy. He went on to appear in over 75 British films, first in comic roles but later typically as a hard man like an army sergeant or career criminal. In 1963, after he had been dependably typecast for decades, BBC TV’s Verity Lambert offered him the lead role in a new science fiction series called ‘Doctor Who’. He played it with his usual earnestness, but adding a touch of humanity that was emphasised by an uncharacteristically hirsute wig. He stayed in the role for three years, establishing one of the greatest TV properties. He spent his last years living in Marden.
Bernard Lee (1908-1981)
John ‘Bernard’ Lee played those dependable authority figures that you wish could always be in charge. He was born in Brentford, Middlesex, and went straight into acting via RADA. He had a prolific acting career on both stage and screen, the latter amounting to over 100 movies. By far his most famous assignment was as 007’s departmental boss M in 11 of Eon’s James Bond movies, starting with the very first, ‘Dr No’. He moved with his wife to Oare, being friends with Kingsgate resident Jack Warner, with whom he had co-starred in ‘The Blue Lamp’ in 1949. Disaster struck in 1972, when fire broke out at night; he escaped through the bedroom window and returned with a ladder, but too late to save his wife. He became depressed, fell into debt, and was only rescued by a generous gift from Richard Burton. After remarrying, he died during the filming of ‘For Your Eyes Only’.
Richard Hearne (1908-79)
Born into a theatrical family from Norwich, Richard Hearne was an acrobat before specialising in comedy. The first of his 17 movie appearances came in 1934, playing a drunk. The character for which he became famous, Mr Pastry, was born two years later in the stage show ‘Big Boy’. Dressed like an English butler, with bowler hat and twirly moustache, this well-meaning twerp was ideal for slapstick. The character prompted a long-running BBC series, making Hearne the first British TV star, and earned him popularity in America. In his thirties, Hearne had moved to Platt, where he ran a market garden, and then via Tovil to Bearsted. He was a familiar figure at local events, including Maidstone Zoo’s annual opening, and advised on the World Custard Pie Championships at Coxheath. In 1974, he almost succeeded his former sidekick Jon Pertwee as Doctor Who, but lost out to Tom Baker. He died in Bearsted, and is buried at Platt.
Robert Morley (1908-92)
Actor Robert Morley was born in Wiltshire. His father was an Army major, but his mother was German; so his second name, but fortunately not his first, was Adolph. He went to prep school in Folkestone, where he loved the Leas Lifts, and then to Winchester School, which he hated. It did however give him the pukka accent that benefitted him richly throughout his career. He went straight into acting, making his stage debut at Margate in 1928. Already by the age of 30, he had the look and sound of a well-fed aristocrat. It was an asset he exploited unselfconsciously during a career of around 100 movies, making himself a shorthand for pomposity. In real life, however, he was a witty storyteller and writer. In the 1970s, he became the face of British Airways for its patriotic “We’ll take more care of you” campaign.
Ian Fleming (1908-64)
The son of a rich banker, Fleming was born in Mayfair and attended Eton and Sandhurst. Owing to his rebellious attitude, he enjoyed success only in sport. Forays into journalism, banking, and stockbroking were likewise blighted, and his love life proved exotic and tangled. In WW2, however, while serving in Naval Intelligence, he successfully organised covert operations, including one called ‘Goldeneye’. Although his first Bond novel ‘Casino Royale’ (1953) was a success, critics later lambasted his writing, and he ran into legal issues with collaborators. Nevertheless, ‘Dr No’ launched the famous movie series in 1962, and his reputation was secure. As well as Goldeneye in Jamaica, Fleming occupied Noel Coward‘s old house White Cliffs in St Margaret’s Bay. He depicted a drive from Maidstone to Kingsdown via Charing, Chilham, Canterbury, and Dover in ‘Moonraker’, and Royal St George’s Golf Club in ‘Goldfinger’. His last work, ‘Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang’, celebrated his friendship with Louis Zborowski at Higham Park. He expired in Canterbury.
Simone Weil (1909-43)
After studying Mathematics, Simone Weil pursued a favoured path of Parisian Jewish intellectuals, embracing Communism and going into teaching. To evidence her solidarity with the proletariat, she opted to work occasionally as a manual labourer. Not one for half measures, she even engaged in debate with Trotsky, and assisted the Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War. Her writings were hard to fathom, however, because she increasingly repudiated Bolshevism in favour of Catholicism and mysticism. Weil might have been forgotten but for her macabre end. After the Nazi invasion of France, she fled with her parents to America, then moved on to London. There she declined to take food, ostensibly in sympathy with her supposedly starving compatriots; it may actually have been because she had TB and could not stomach food. She was sent to a sanatorium at Ashford, where she died. Inappropriately, the major avenue now named after her is home to a food hall.
Sir William Golding (1911-93)
After being born in Cornwall, Golding grew up in Marlborough, Wiltshire, where his father taught science at the Grammar School. At Oxford, he studied Natural Sciences and then English before becoming a teacher. He initially taught English, music and philosophy at Maidstone Grammar School from 1938 to 1940. After WW2, he resumed his career in Salisbury, learning at first hand that boys are not made of sugar and spice and all things nice. The sentiment was powerfully dramatised in his first novel, ‘The Lord of the Flies’, in 1954. While that book argued that civilisation is a thin veneer, his next novel, ‘The Inheritors’ (1955) demonstrated the susceptibility of a peaceable civilisation to destruction at the hands of an aggressive and deceitful invader. His later works generally took a similarly caustic view of human nature. Though not necessarily popular with idealistic social scientists, Golding communicated big ideas sufficiently cogently to win him a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1983.
Christopher Hassall (1912-63)
The Andrew Lloyd-Webber/Tim Rice musical partnership of the 1930s was Ivor Novello and Christopher Hassall. Although none of their musicals has much currency today, they enjoyed several huge West End successes, a couple becoming movies. Hassall, from London, was a singularly skilled librettist, having both an Oxford education and musical expertise. With his hard-earned wealth, he purchased Tonford Manor, south-west of Canterbury. He had two children, his daughter Imogen being his pride and joy. From an early age, he groomed her for a stage career. On his way to see her, aged eight, performing with the Royal Ballet School at Covent Garden, he ran to catch a train, and died of a heart attack at Rochester; he was buried in Canterbury. Imogen too had a tragically early end: with two failed marriages behind her, and her career as a glamorous actress on the rocks, she committed suicide at 38. A road off Tonford Lane bears their name.
James Callaghan, Baron Callaghan of Cardiff (1912-2005)
Leonard ‘Jim’ Callaghan was arguably one of the more human of C20 prime ministers. His background was certainly more colourful. He was born in Portsmouth to a half-Irish Catholic, half-Jewish sailor and his Baptist wife. His father died when he was nine, leaving the family in penury and dependent on handouts. At 17, Callaghan joined the Inland Revenue at Maidstone, where he remained for five years. There he met his wife Audrey Moulton, a local Grammar School girl. He became a union official and eventually ran the AOT union across Kent. In 1945 he was elected Labour MP for Cardiff South, and during the 1960s and 1970s became the only man ever to fill all four great offices of state. He succeeded Harold Wilson as Prime Minister at a time of crisis in 1976. Despite being the quintessential union man, he was undone by relentless TUC pressure, paving the way for Margaret Thatcher to succeed him in 1979.
John Le Mesurier (1912-83)
John Elton Le Mesurier Halliley from Bedford was the original nowhere man. He started life miserably at Grenham House prep school in Birchington, which he hated on account of its insensitivity. He became a bit-part actor, regarding his work little differently from working in an office. Because he played establishment figures dependably, he landed over 120 movie parts, but never the lead. He was married three times. He and his first wife parted after she became an alcoholic. His second wife Hattie Jacques had her lover come to replace him in the marital bed, and then divorced him. His third wife had an affair with Tony Hancock until the latter’s suicide. Le Mesurier grinned and bore it. Finally, at 56, he had some luck. He reluctantly took the role of Sergeant Wilson in ‘Dad’s Army’, which he was told to play however he saw fit. He played it as himself, and his diffident but honest character captured the nation’s heart.
Peter Cushing (1913-94)
Though always associated nowadays with Whitstable, Peter Cushing was born into a well-off Surrey family. His father was a quantity surveyor who wanted to make a draughtsman of him. Cushing however insisted on following his grandfather into acting, so his father bought him a ticket to Hollywood in 1939. Cushing immediately won a part in ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’. He struggled after WW2 to get work, but eventually made his name with Hammer House of Horror, portraying both Baron Frankenstein and Dracula’s nemesis Dr van Helsing numerous times. Not only that, but he starred as Doctor Who in both 1960s movie adaptations of the BBC franchise. In 1977, he appeared in the original ‘Star Wars’ movie, playing the evil Grand Moff Tarkin because he was unavailable to take the nicer but bigger role of Obi-Wan Kenobi. He lived for 35 years in Kent before developing prostate cancer and dying at Canterbury Hospice.
Charles Hawtrey (1914-88)
George Hartree was born into an impoverished family in Hounslow, Middlesex. A talented boy soprano, he went into acting after his voice broke. He assumed the stage-name ‘Charles Hawtrey’ in the hope of being mistaken for the son of the famous Victorian actor Sir Charles. Since homosexuality was illegal, he camped up the roles he played as though mocking effeminacy. It brought him plenty of work, notably as underling to Will Hay, though he would be best remembered for the 23 ‘Carry On’ movies he appeared in from 1958. Nevertheless, the misanthropic Hartree demonstrated the principle that funny people are not always nice. He was above all an alcoholic, which affected both his work and his temper. In 1968, he moved to Deal, supposedly to get access to sailors. After winding up in a Walmer nursing home on account of his heavy smoking, he threw a vase at a nurse who requested his autograph. Hardly anyone attended his funeral.
Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011)
Paddy Fermor was one in many millions: a man tough enough to be a wartime commando, but a scholar so well versed in literature that he was perhaps the greatest travel writer of his age. He was well born in London and sent to the King’s School in Canterbury, where his mix of insight and impetuosity was noted. He was expelled for making up to a local girl, and in 1933 set off on a hike across Nazi Germany to Constantinople. It became the subject of a trilogy of travelogues of which the first part, ‘A Time of Gifts’, is considered a masterpiece. During WW2, he fought in Crete and Greece. In 1944, he incredibly led a mission to kidnap a German general, whom he safely brought to custody in Egypt; the escapade became the subject of a book and a movie, ‘Ill Met by Moonlight’. Fermor married an aristocrat, and despite smoking heavily lived a long life.
Margaret Lockwood (1916-90)
The life of Margaret Lockwood says something about the ephemeral nature of fame. She was born in Karachi, where her father was a railway administrator, but moved to Upper Norwood as a child, attending Sydenham High School for Girls. She was always destined for the stage, making her debut at 12. She attended the Italia Conti Academy and later RADA, and in 1935 made her film debut. She had two qualities that appealed to directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Carol Reed: she was beautiful, and she could act. Two successive films in 1938 made her, namely Reed’s ‘Bank Holiday’ and Hitchcock’s ‘The Lady Vanishes’. A further success in 1945 with ‘The Wicked Lady’ brought her stardom. From then on, as her beauty waned, she found good parts increasingly difficult to come by. After her death, she did not even earn a mention in the Cambridge Biographical Encyclopedia. She is now all but unknown to young movie fans.
Spike Milligan (1918-2002)
The comic genius Terry ‘Spike’ Milligan was born in India, his Irish father being a captain in the Royal Artillery. He moved to Brockley while young and attended two schools in Lewisham. Highly musical, he took up the trumpet, adopting his nickname from wacky bandleader Spike Jones. In WW2, he joined the RA, serving in southern England, North Africa, and Italy; he recounted his experiences in a hilarious 7-volume autobiography. He got to know Harry Secombe, and later Peter Sellers, who together earned world fame as the Goons. Ironically, they were first called the Crazy People, Milligan being an intermittent sufferer from serious mental-health problems all his life. His manic 1960s ‘Q’ series on TV became a big influence on ‘Monty Python’. Although his mother was English, he refused to swear an oath of allegiance, and instead took an Irish passport. He married three times, and his epitaph reads in Gaelic, “I told you I was ill”.
Wing Commander Guy Gibson (1918-44)
Richard Todd’s depiction of Guy Gibson in the 1955 movie ‘The Dam Busters’ typified the British ideal of the era: resourceful, determined, imperturbable. The real Guy Gibson was not quite so saintly, being known for his arrogance; but he did have something to be arrogant about. He was born in India, but came to live in England after his parents’ separation, attending prep school in Folkestone. He joined the RAF in 1937, training as a bomber pilot. Early in WW2, he was posted for a while to West Malling, flying night-fighters. He gained a reputation for fearlessness, and detested inactivity. This attitude brought him the command of Operation Chastise, the ‘bouncing bomb’ mission, in 1943. It won him a Victoria Cross on top of his many other decorations, making him the most honoured British serviceman. He was killed in a crash in Holland, following an air-raid plagued with difficulties, while still only 26.
Squadron Leader Mohinder Singh Pujji (1918-2010)
The son of a government official, Pujji was born in Simla, and was working for Burmah-Shell when war broke out. Having qualified to fly at 18, he volunteered for the Royal Indian Air Force, and arrived in England after the Battle of Britain. Wearing a Sikh turban, he mostly flew Hurricanes supporting bomber raids, and was shot down several times, once near Dover. In 1941 he was transferred to North Africa, where he was brought down in the desert, and then to South-East Asia. His exploits in tactical operations over the occupied Burmese jungle won him the Distinguished Flying Cross. In 1946 he was discharged after suffering from TB, but continued flying and racing cars in India. Having felt exceptionally welcome in Britain, he emigrated in 1974 to become an air traffic controller at Heathrow; he retired to Gravesend in 1998. After protesting about the meagre acknowledgment accorded to Indian pilots, he was commemorated by a statue in Elizabeth Gardens.
Sir Donald Sinden (1923-2014)
It is a pity that, after a long and distinguished thespian career, Donald Sinden is often remembered for a long-running ‘Spitting Image’ caricature that lampooned his supposedly ham acting and his craving for a knighthood. True, he never won a major award; but he was good looking, had an unmistakable screen presence, and possessed such a plummy voice that it could have been served on a plate with custard. He began his career in WW2 performing comedy for the Armed Forces. From 1946 he was a dependable Shakespearean actor, and later became well known through two ‘Doctor’ films and the ‘Two’s Company’ and ‘Never the Twain’ TV series. A Devonian, he moved in 1951 to Ebony near Appledore for the rest of his life. The Homewood School in Tenterden opened its Sinden Theatre, of which he was a patron, in 2004. He died of prostate cancer, and was buried in Wittersham, fortunately after receiving his knighthood in 1997.
Benny Hill (1924-92)
Alf Hill from Southampton, the son of a clown, worked as a milkman before joining Combined Services Entertainment during WW2. Having renamed his act after comedian Jack Benny, he supported Reg Varney in ‘Gaytime’, a show at Cliftonville Lido that ran for three seasons from 1947. It got him into radio and then TV comedy. In 1955, he won his own BBC series, ‘The Benny Hill Show’, an amalgam of slapstick, mimicry, and innuendo; its speeded-up chase sequences, accompanied by ‘Yakety Sax’, became iconic. Hill’s career peaked in 1971, when the series attained an audience of 21 million, and he had a Christmas No. 1 hit with ‘Ernie (the Fastest Milkman in the West)’. In 1989, however, after Ben Elton accused the show of inciting sexual violence, it was cancelled, despite its continuing popularity. Hill also appeared in several movies, including ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ and ‘The Italian Job’, and counted Michael Jackson among his many American celebrity fans.
Margaret Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher (1925-2013)
As the daughter of a Grantham shopkeeper who made herself the UK’s first female premier, Margaret Roberts might be a feminist icon. One reason she is not was her partiality for Friedrich Hayek, whose classical liberal thinking is anathema to left-liberals. Thatcher was a rarity in politics, an Oxford graduate with a science degree. She stood unsuccessfully for Parliament in Dartford, and was turned down for the Tory candidacy in Beckenham and Maidstone before becoming MP for Finchley in 1959. She and Lewisham-born husband Denis Thatcher nevertheless rented a flat at Scotney Castle from 1975 to 1987. She displaced Heath as party leader in 1975, and Callaghan as prime minister in 1979. The 1982 Falklands War and an economic boom gave her a popularity boost that saw her through two further elections, despite the polarising Miners’ Strike, and she forged a strong relationship with President Reagan. The ‘Iron Lady’ remains an accurate litmus test of political opinion.
Sir George Martin (1926-2016)
If Sir Paul McCartney says that George Martin was the real fifth Beatle, you have to believe it. Born in North London, he was evacuated to Bromley Grammar School in WW2. From 1947, he attended the Guildhall School of Music, which would later prove invaluable. He started his music career producing novelty records at Parlophone, an ailing EMI label. It got him acquainted with Spike Milligan, for whom he was best man. He met the Beatles after Decca rejected them. He did not rate their music, but they made him laugh. He applied his maturity to shaping up their act, which included sacking Pete Best. He subsequently produced all their superlative output, in addition to several other top Merseyside artistes. In particular, from ‘Eleanor Rigby’ onwards, he exploited his knowledge of orchestral techniques to lend the Beatles a unique sound in pop and rock. Whatever the jealous John Lennon had to say about him, Martin remained the perfect gentleman.
June Brown (b 1927)
EastEnders had barely got into its stride in 1985 when an unforgettable new character was introduced: Dot Cotton, with her smoking, religiosity, gossip, and hypochondria. She would go on to be one of the standout figures of TV soaps. The real person behind the character, June Brown, was actually born in Suffolk, but like many real East Enders had a mixed ancestry, including Scottish, Irish, Dutch, Italian, and Algerian Sephardic Jewish. She served in the Wrens during WW2. Her first husband committed suicide, but she had six children with her second. She attended the Old Vic drama school in South London, and made her TV debut in 1970. Remarkably, she was already 58 when she landed the role that she would continue to play for the next 35 years, with one four-year break. In 2008, she filled an entire episode single-handedly. A resident of Folkestone, she finally retired in February 2020 at 93.
Danny La Rue (1927-2009)
Daniel Carroll was the man who, in the 1960s, had TV audiences asking, “He can’t be, can he?” The reason for the incredulity was that, as Danny La Rue, he mimicked Marlene Dietrich, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Elizabeth Taylor in the most camp way imaginable. He was born in Cork, but moved to London at six before the blitz forced his family to relocate to Devon. He served for a while in the Royal Navy before becoming what he called a ‘comic in a frock’. It eventually brought him international stardom and a career in TV and film that lasted into the C21. Though funny and kind, he proved too trusting, and was bankrupted by conmen. In retirement, he went to live in Tunbridge Wells at the home of a dress designer friend, where he died. His lasting achievement was perhaps that, by the end of his career, people were answering, “Of course he is. Why do you ask?”
Sir Roger Moore (1927-2017)
Roger Moore from Stockwell must have had one of the best-managed acting careers in history. He luckily missed the fighting in WW2, but at 18 was conscripted and spent two years in Germany. During the 1950s, he had multiple connections with Kent. During the second of his three marriages, to singer Dorothy Squires, he lived at Bexley, and is thought also to have resided at Shorne and Tunbridge Wells. In 1958, he made his TV acting breakthrough in ‘Ivanhoe’, followed by ‘Maverick’ in 1960. That in turn landed the role of Simon Templar in ‘The Saint’ for seven years, bringing international popularity. He took another popular TV role opposite Tony Curtis in ‘The Persuaders’ in 1969. It was only a preamble to his greatest triumph, succeeding Sean Connery as James Bond in seven 007 movies between 1973 and 1985. Famed for his ability to speak volumes by raising an eyebrow, Moore retired to Switzerland as a tax exile.
Audrey Hepburn (1929-93)
Audrey Ruston always looked and sounded the cosmopolitan aristocrat she was. Her British father was an ex-diplomat, and her Dutch mother a baroness. She was born in Brussels, but her parents brought her to Elham as a child to get an English education. Both were fascists, and her father – who assumed the name Hepburn because of a fabricated royal connection – had already left the home to dedicate himself to the cause. When WW2 broke out, her mother took her to Holland, where she lived under the name Edda van Heemstra. Afterwards she took up ballet, modelling, and acting. She was first noticed when Colette proposed her for the Broadway production of ‘Gigi’ in 1951. An Oscar for the 1953 romcom ‘Roman Holiday’ brought other major roles, including Holly Golightly in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and Eliza Doolittle in ‘My Fair Lady’. In 1956, Hepburn played a less light-hearted role opposite her husband Mel Ferrer in ‘War and Peace’.
Reggie Kray (1933-2000)
Reginald Kray spent eight years in Maidstone for the worst possible reason: he was imprisoned as part of his life sentence for murder. He even married there, three years before he died. How his life might have panned out had he not been the twin of the mercurial Ronnie is a moot point. They were born in the East End, and at 18 were jailed in Canterbury’s Howe Barracks for going AWOL on national service. Both were talented boxers, but Reggie had much the better self-control. The same was true of their business skills. Though equally hard, Reggie might have continued indefinitely as a celebrity club owner if relations in their criminal gang ‘The Firm’ had not boiled over. Things went seriously awry in 1966, when Ronnie murdered George Cornell, and 18 months later goaded Reggie into killing Jack ‘the Hat’ McVitie. The twins were brought to justice in 1969. They have subsequently been commemorated in two noteworthy biopics.
Tom Baker (b 1934)
Actor Tom Baker’s unmistakable voice exposes no trace of his origin. He was born in Liverpool, half Jewish and half Catholic. He intended to become a monk, but lost his faith after starting training. Instead, he followed his father for a while into seamanship. He attended drama school in Sidcup, and spent some years on the stage before making his name in 1971 as a memorable Rasputin in ‘Nicholas and Alexandra’. Three years later, he landed the role for which he remained famous: the fourth Doctor Who. He kept the job for a record seven years, leaving an indelible impression with his trademark hat and scarf. It assured him a lifetime of TV work that continues today, and has included narration of the ‘Little Britain’ series. He lived for some years with his third wife at Boughton Malherbe, where his carved gravestone leans against the local church porch, with only the date of death missing.
Julie Andrews (b 1935)
Julia Wells’ mother married two men called Ted, neither of whom was her father. The second, however, was an entertainer called Andrews; and, though this second stepfather was alcoholic and abusive, his name stuck when Julie took up singing and acting. After she had debuted in the West End at 12, her prettiness, pertness, and tunefulness landed her the role of Mary Poppins in the 1964 Disney movie, for which she won a Best Actress Oscar. She arguably put in an even better singing performance for ‘The Sound of Music’ nine months later, but had to settle for another Golden Globe. Her second marriage in 1969 was to director Blake Edwards, with whom she did much work. She enjoyed less success, however, perhaps encumbered by her squeaky-clean image. It is nevertheless remarkable that a woman who suffered such a difficult upbringing before moving from the East End to Beckenham should have grown up as nice as raindrops on roses.
Albert Roux (1935-2021)
Chef Albert Roux arrived from his native France in 1954, at a time when English cooking was in no sense world-class. His godfather, Wallis Simpson’s chef, got him a job working for Nancy, Lady Astor. He would become the original celebrity chef, in the sense of cooking for celebrities: he also worked for Sir Charles Clore before joining Sir Peter Cazalet at Fairlawne in Shipbourne for eight years. He and his brother Michel set up Le Gavroche in 1967 and The Waterside Inn in Bray in 1972. They became famous as the first restaurateurs to win three Michelin stars in the UK, first at the ‘Gav’, and at the ‘Waterside’ as an encore. After a difference of opinion, the two decided to split their responsibilities, Albert taking control of ‘Le Gavroche’. One of his greatest achievements was grooming a string of top chefs, including Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White, and Pierre Koffmann, so nurturing a transformation in British gastronomy.
James Burke (b 1936)
After being born in Derry, James Burke grew up in a big family on the Mangravet Estate in Maidstone. He attended Maidstone Grammar School and then Oxford, where he studied Middle English. He was on course to become an English teacher when he saw an advert for a broadcasting job, and decided he would apply if the bus stopped at the next corner. It did, and he got the job. He somehow gravitated towards science broadcasting, and became a regular presenter on BBC’s ‘Tomorrow’s World’ in the late 1960s. This in turn put him in line for the highlight of his career, presenting live coverage of the first lunar landing in 1969. With his knowledgeability, articulacy, and polished locution, not to mention his suitably earnest appearance, he became something of a public figurehead of British science. He wrote and presented two series concerning scientific history and philosophy, ‘Connections’ (1978) and ‘The Day the Universe Changed’ (1985).
Ralph Steadman (b 1936)
Designer Ralph Steadman was born in Cheshire and grew up in Wales before moving to London, where he attended two technical colleges. He supplied work to a number of journals, including ‘Private Eye’ and ‘Punch’. He developed a highly esoteric style that was visually appealing even if sometimes suggestive of an explosion in an ink factory. He became particularly well known for his partnership with Hunter S Thompson, whom he helped establish the ‘gonzo’ style of journalism. He illustrated several of Thompson’s works, including ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ in 1971, and counts Johnny Depp, who starred in the 1998 movie, among his friends. He became known for never selling the original of any of his artworks, having been persuaded to sell his ‘Fear and Loathing’ work for just $75. He also designed a number of album covers, including The Who’s ‘Happy Jack’. He has lived at Old Loose Court, south of Maidstone, for decades.
Sir John Hurt (1940-2017)
It is ironic that John Hurt’s best remembered performance was one in which he didn’t make it into the second half of the movie. After being born in Derbyshire, he was sent to prep school in Otford. It was a formative experience, in that he acquired a passion for drama, despite a sexually abusive schoolmaster. He grew up with weathered looks and a gravelly voice that made for a highly distinctive screen presence. He racked up a number of memorable performances, starting with Richard Rich in ‘A Man For All Seasons’ (1966). In his prime he was lauded for his portrayal of Max, a heroin addict, in ‘Midnight Express’ (1978), and the poignant ‘Elephant Man’ in 1980. In between, he himself became the stage for one of Hollywood’s most unforgettable debuts, featuring the baby Xenomorph that horrifically burst out of his chest in Ridley Scott’s classic ‘Alien’. Hurt won four BAFTAs, but never more than Academy Award nominations.
Jeffrey Archer (b 1940)
Jeffrey Archer was born in London and studied at Dover College. A man with a fertile imagination, he has been accused of several fabrications: confusing his alma mater Winchester School with the more prestigious Westminster College; conflating his wife’s Oxford degree with an imaginary one of his own; depicting his father, a bigamist and fraudster, as a war hero. Ringo Starr supposedly thought him the kind who would “bottle your piss and sell it”. He started writing in 1974 to raise money. His novels, including ‘Kane and Abel’ and ‘First Among Equals’, were best-sellers, and better than many critics made out; much of the enmity towards him was the result of his appointment as Tory deputy chairman in 1985. Two years later, he was accused of using a prostitute, and won £500,000 damages in court. It transpired in 2000, however, that he had perjured himself. He spent two years in prison.
Adam Faith (1940-2003)
Terry Nelhams, from a council estate in Acton, Middlesex, owed much to John Barry. It was the bandleader’s faith in him that got him past a rocky start to his career. As Adam Faith, he shot to stardom with his first No. 1 hit ‘What Do You Want?’ in 1959. He registered a second a year later with ‘Poor Me’, which shamelessly plagiarised Buddy Holly. The long string of chart successes that followed added precisely nothing to the pop music canon, but owed much to Faith’s sex appeal to teenage girls. To his credit, he opened up a second career, acting. He had already been in the 1960 movie ‘Beat Girl’, and won himself a high-profile assignment on ITV playing the eponymous ‘Budgie’ in 1971-2. He also put in a realistic performance as a manipulative music manager in ‘Stardust’ in 1974. Before retiring to Tudeley, he reinvented himself as a financial adviser, but bankrupted himself.
Sandra Paul, Baroness Howard of Lympne (b 1940)
The younger daughter of an RAF doctor, Paul was born in wartime Malta and spent much of her childhood moving around, living as far afield as Singapore. Developing into a classic English Rose, she trained at the Lucie Clayton modelling agency before commencing a transatlantic career as a model. She was photographed by such top talent as David Bailey, Terence Donovan, and Norman Parkinson, uniquely appeared twice in succession on the front cover of American ‘Vogue’, and became well acquainted with the rich and famous. She was married at 18 to a jazz pianist, then twice more to a publicist and an adman before settling down in 1975 with Michael Howard, a Cantabrigian Law graduate who would become MP for Folkestone & Hythe, Home Secretary, Leader of the Conservative Party, and Baron Howard of Lympne. Remarkably, she embarked in her sixties on a successful career as a writer. She has published six novels, starting with ‘Glass Houses’ in 2006.
Graham Chapman (1941-89)
Leicester-born Chapman was training to be a doctor at Bart’s when he decided that laughter is the best medicine. He had been a member of the Cambridge Footlights alongside John Cleese, and in 1966 joined the scriptwriting team for ‘The Frost Report’. Its successor ‘At Last The 1948 Show’ (1967) gave him his performance debut alongside Cleese and guest artiste Eric Idle. The three were joined in 1969 by Oxford pair Terry Jones and Michael Palin to form the core Monty Python team. Chapman was not a prolific joke-writer, but had an instinct for what would work. He was also the best actor, especially satirising uniformed characters – his father ironically being a policeman – and played the lead role in both the ‘Life of Brian’ and ‘Holy Grail’ movies. After becoming a tax exile in America, he returned in the mid-1980s to live in Maidstone with his partner David Sherlock and adopted son. He died of tonsillar cancer at Maidstone Hospital.
Desmond Dekker (1941-2006)
Desmond Dacres was an enigma. He grew up in Kingston, Jamaica in a religious environment, and remained a devout Christian all his life. His songs carried moral messages concerning the challenges faced by young Jamaicans, much of it addressed to the violent ‘Rude Boy’ culture, to which he paradoxically became an icon. In 1968, he made the reggae classic ‘The Israelites’, a No. 1 hit in the British singles charts. He moved permanently to England the following year, living in Lee and Forest Hill, and in 1970 reached No. 2 with Jimmy Cliff’s ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’. He brought reggae to a white working-class audience that mimicked ‘rudy’ culture, including its most unsavoury aspects. The skinheads who worshipped him, however, reserved their aggression for other whites and South Asians. Perhaps Dekker’s most valuable legacy was the fact that, early in his career, he introduced his producer to a 17-year-old fellow welder called Bob Marley.
Celia Hammond (b 1941)
Of the world-class models produced by the Lucie Clayton agency in the 1960s, arguably the cutest was Celia Hammond. Her father being a tea-planter, she was raised in Indonesia, then Australia. At 18, she was discovered by Norman Parkinson and became the face of ‘Queen’, the style magazine of the Chelsea Set. It brought her a string of high-profile suitors, including Dudley Moore, Terence Donovan, and Terence Stamp. In 1968 she met guitarist Jeff Beck, fresh from his success with ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’, which ironically sounded like a send-up of the fashion-model persona. They stayed together for 24 years while she was living in Egerton. Having modelled furs, she campaigned against animal exploitation – Donovan wrote a song, ‘Celia of the Seals’, paying tribute to her – and in her forties morphed into Kent’s answer to Brigitte Bardot. She initiated a cat-neutering programme and a home for cats in Lewisham, from which grew today’s Celia Hammond Animal Trust (CHAT).
Michael York (b 1942)
It is unsurprising that Michael York, with his upmarket accent, upright stance, and gentlemanly demeanour, was the son of a British army officer. Though born in Buckinghamshire, he attended Bromley Grammar School before going to Oxford. His first acting was at the Bromley Little Theatre, of which he is now president. He went into repertory before joining the National Theatre, and made his movie debut in Zeffirelli’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ in 1967. So began a career embracing over 70 movies. Two of his best parts were as the bisexual Brian Roberts in ‘Cabaret’ (1972) and the title role in ‘Logan’s Run’ (1976) opposite the similarly Kent-linked Jenny Agutter. He had another meaty role in ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’ in 1977, and appeared in the three ‘Austin Powers’ movies from 1997 to 2002. York has additionally done a vast amount of TV work. He has been married to photographer Patricia McCallum for more than half a century.
Sir Michael Morpurgo (b 1943)
Michael Bridge was born in Hertfordshire, the son of two actors. While his father was away at war, his mother – who had mental health problems, and later became an alcoholic – began an affair with academic Jack Morpurgo, and divorced her husband. After attending a strict boarding school in Sussex, the renamed young Morpurgo found solace at the King’s School, Canterbury. He took up teaching in a mobile classroom at a primary school in Wickhambreaux, and began writing. From 1974, he wrote copiously for children, always imaginatively and often with a nature theme. By 2003, he had become Children’s Laureate, a post he had created himself with Ted Hughes. His greatest success was ‘War Horse’ in 1982, which later became an acclaimed National Theatre production and Steven Spielberg movie, and in 2017 came home to the Marlowe Theatre. Morpurgo is now an outspoken liberal-leftist, opposing Brexit and expressing hostility towards grammar schools.
Jeff Beck (b 1944)
Surrey-born Geoffrey Beck belonged to that elite group of rock musicians, the Yardbirds’ lead guitarists. He was the second in a succession that also included Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. Beck was practically on a par with them, all three ranking among ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine’s best five guitarists ever. Among the general public, however, he is now only recalled for one Mickie Most pop song, ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ (1967). It was not for want of trying: he made 17 albums, and collaborated with dozens of famous rock stars, but without coming close to emulating Clapton. This perhaps had something to do with his quick temper, or else his meticulousness. In 1975, he played on and produced Upp’s debut album in Egerton, where he had been living for some years with his girlfriend, top model Celia Hammond. He was lucky to be there. In 1969, he suffered a fractured skull in a road accident in Maidstone.
Kevin Godley (b 1945)
Godley was what might be called a thinking man’s rock musician. He came from a Jewish family in Lancashire, and went to art college in Manchester, where he met Lol Creme. After joining up with song-writing team Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman, they had a hit as Hotlegs with ‘Neanderthal Man’ in 1970. They went on to form one of the 1970s’ most successful bands, 10cc, combining clever lyrics with innovation in song structure and arrangement. After making a dozen singles and four albums on drums and vocals, the bearded Godley quit in 1976 to go duo with Creme. They were never as successful musically, but did diversify into video direction, at which they excelled, making a string of award winners. Godley has continued as a video director under his own steam until the present day. Part of the proceeds of his successful career went towards buying Heronden Hall in Tenterden, where he lived for several years.
Dr David Starkey (b 1945)
Historian David Starkey came from a Quaker family in Westmorland. After going to Cambridge, he became a lecturer at LSE, specialising in the Tudor period. From 1977, he started appearing on TV, eventually emerging as a Channel 4 counterweight to Simon Sharma. He impressed with his lucid analysis and precise expression, not to mention his immaculate diction. Meanwhile, he bought a Georgian house in Barham with his long-time partner, publisher James Brown. A frequent guest on TV and radio discussion programmes, he sometimes shocked with his frankness, the ‘Daily Mail’ calling him “the rudest man in Britain”. What grated more was that, having once been a Labour supporter, he came to espouse views now considered in political circles to be on the wrong side of history. He got away with one supposedly career-ending crisis in 2011, after he criticised black rioters; but he evidently self-destructed in June 2020 by prefacing the word ‘blacks’ with ‘damned’ in a podcast.
Joanna Lumley (b 1946)
Major James Lumley was born in Lahore and served as an officer of the Gurkhas during WW2. His daughter Joanna was born in India shortly before independence. They relocated to Malaya, and she went to England. Aged eight, she boarded at a school in Rolvenden, where she loved art but couldn’t do the math. At 11, she left for a school in Hastings. After being rejected by RADA, she joined the Lucie Clayton Finishing School. She became a photographic model before getting into TV acting, her breakout being as the glamorous Purdey in ‘The New Avengers’ (1976-7). She made a couple of ‘Pink Panther’ movies before starring as Patsy Stone in the highly popular TV comedy ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ (1992-2012), for which she won two BAFTAs. In 2008, she led a campaign to grant UK residency to former Gurkhas, ultimately prevailing over Government resistance. Over 60,000 Nepalese now reside in England, with large communities in Kent towns.
Sandy Denny (1947-78)
Alexandra Denny was born in Merton Park, London, but as a small child lived in Broadstairs, just a field away from a deserted beach that inspired many of her later songs concerning the sea. After leaving school, she briefly became a nurse before going to art college and joining the folk club. Her haunting voice and exquisite interpretation quickly got her noticed. She was briefly signed up by the Strawbs in 1967 before joining Fairport Convention. Although she remained for only 18 months, she helped transform the band into a seminal force in British folk music, whilst establishing a reputation as perhaps the greatest female singer in Britain. After departing in 1969 to form Fotheringay with her future husband, she launched a solo career notable for her prolific song-writing. Sadly, a dangerous mix of bipolar disorder, alcoholism, and drug abuse sparked a catastrophic decline. She self-harmed by repeatedly throwing herself downstairs, a habit that eventually cost her life.
David Bowie (1947-2016)
Davy Jones was born in Brixton but moved to Bickley at six. He attended Bromley Technical School, where he befriended Pete Frampton, and later Beckenham Art College. He was bent on musical stardom from an early age. At 15, he joined the Maidstone band Manish Boys, his third, performing at the Royal Star Hotel. After three more bands came and went, a solo career beckoned. In 1969, as David Bowie, he astonished the pop world with ‘Space Oddity’, coinciding with the first lunar landing. It was the first of countless pop classics, always performed with his trademark showmanship. What particularly impressed over time was his musical agility. He effortlessly made the transition from glam rock to New Romantic: his Berlin era marked one intelligent shift of emphasis – ‘Heroes’ (1977) even proving a catalyst to the fall of the Berlin Wall – and ‘Scary Monsters’ (1981) another. Despite his occasional excesses, Bowie remained the nice kid from Bromley till the end.
Ann Widdecombe (b 1947)
When New Labour embraced the Bill Clinton approach of striving to win elections by charm and sex appeal, the Tory government’s response was epitomised by Ann Widdecombe, a pious Somerset-born Anglican turned Catholic. She had studied at Birmingham before taking a PPE degree at Oxford. In 1987 she became MP for Maidstone, living at Sutton Valence. Despite having supported partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, she consistently opposed further liberalisation as an MP. It was typical of her approach to all political issues: automatic resort to the traditional religious position. She was not helped by her stern looks and Victorian matron’s tone. Ironically, she left politics when Labour finally lost power in 2010, and concentrated on celebrity TV appearances, producers favouring her as an Aunt Sally for liberal-left hosts and guests. She did however make friends with her spirited efforts on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ in 2010, and has subsequently appeared regularly in panto.
Anne, Princess Royal of the United Kingdom (b 1950)
It cannot have been easy for Princess Anne, being born the second child of the British monarch but knowing that she was never likely to be queen. It showed in her early years, when she looked the epitome of the spoiled rich kid. She attended Benenden School for five years, and then became associated with horse-riding. Even when she won the 1971 European eventing championship, and competed in the 1976 Olympics, it just looked like the money talking. It was not helped when she got in the news for supposedly shouting “Naff orf!” at photographers, and married the “thick and wet” Captain Mark ‘Fog’ Phillips. She did however win friends for pluckily replying “Not bloody likely!” when ordered out of her car by an armed kidnapper. Since then, she has become a mainstay of the royal family, proving a tireless worker and articulate patron of innumerable bodies and causes, as well as finding contentment in her second marriage.
Bob Geldof (b 1951)
Bob Geldof, a Dubliner, described himself as “a quarter Catholic, a quarter Jewish, a quarter Protestant, a quarter nothing”. A natural rebel, he joined the sub-punk band the Boomtown Rats in 1975. Their No. 1 hit ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’, piggybacking a mass murder in America, brought international fame in 1979. For years Geldof looked another passé New Wave singer until news coverage of an Ethiopian drought in 1984 gave him an idea: Band Aid. He cajoled numerous popstars into singing on a high-profile charitable Christmas single; and, at Live Aid the next summer, he infamously exhorted TV viewers to “Give us your f***ing money!” Their enormous success qualified him to spend years lecturing the world’s political leaders on global problems. While living for decades at Davington Priory in Faversham, he had his own problems. His ill-starred wife Paula Yates left him for Michael Hutchence, and his daughter Peaches died of a heroin overdose at Wrotham.
Antony Worrall Thompson (b 1951)
Anthony (sic) Worrall Thompson was one of the vanguard of 1990s TV celebrity chefs who were not just cookery-book writers but successful restaurateurs. He was born in Warwickshire, both of his parents being actors, and attended the King’s School in Canterbury. He studied hotel management, and initially got involved in gastronomy through Brinkley’s in Fulham. In 1981, he opened his first restaurant, Ménage à Trois, in Knightsbridge; other launches included Wiz and Woz in West London. His TV career began with ‘Ready Steady Cook’ in 1994, and was followed by ‘Saturday Kitchen’ from 2003 to 2006. These and other appearances made him a familiar name and face with the British public, his considered manner contrasting with certain more ebullient contemporaries. Nevertheless, the AWT Restaurants group went bust in 2009. Worrall Thompson resurfaced in 2012 in a bizarre news story, when he was cautioned for stealing groceries from Tesco. He explained that he had done it for the excitement while depressed.
Jenny Agutter (b 1952)
Although born in Somerset, Jennifer Agutter grew up in Singapore, Cyprus, and Malaya, being the daughter of a British Army officer. In her teens, the family returned from one tour of duty to live at Bearsted. By then, she had already started her career in movies, having been spotted at ballet school. She was perfectly cast in 1968 in BBC TV’s ‘The Railway Children’, in which she played a character much like herself: kind, thoughtful, and thoroughly middle-class. Her good looks assured her plenty of work as what was then known as posh totty, drawing prurient interest when Nicolas Roeg had her appear fully naked in ‘Walkabout’ at 16. She moved to America in 1974, starring opposite Michael York in ‘Logan’s Run’ in 1976, and won a Best Supporting Actress BAFTA for ‘Equus’ in 1977. She spoke up publicly for Bearsted when it was threatened by the planned Kent International Gateway railway development in 2009.
Vikram Seth (b 1952)
Novelist and poet Vikram Seth was born in Calcutta, his parents being a corporate executive and a judge. He came to England to attend Tonbridge School before moving on to Oxford and Stanford universities. He acquired a deep appreciation of western culture that he merged in masterly fashion with an eastern perspective. His first novel, ‘The Golden Gate’, was a tale of San Francisco yuppies extraordinarily written as 590 stanzas of formal verse. Seth’s particular distinction however is his authorship of one of the longest novels in English – ‘A Suitable Boy’ in 1993 – which extended to nearly 1,500 pages, colourfully critiquing Indian society in 1951-2. There is however a completely different side to his literary persona: he is also a master of the more concise discipline of poetry, of which he has had eight volumes published. Much honoured in his native India, Seth is a true man of the world, having even lived in China.
Sir Kazuo Ishiguro (b 1954)
Nine years after an atom bomb was dropped there, Kazuo Ishiguro was born at Nagasaki. His family moved to Surrey when he was five so that his father could research at the National Institute of Oceanography. Ishiguro studied English and Philosophy at the University of Kent in Canterbury before attending a creative-writing course. In 1982, a year before becoming a British subject, he got his first novel ‘A Pale View of Hills’ published. His second was likewise set in an imagined Japan. In 1989, however, while living at Sydenham, he won the Booker-McConnell Prize for Fiction for ‘The Remains of the Day’, a historical novel set in Oxfordshire whose 1993 Merchant Ivory movie adaptation was nominated for eight Oscars. Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017; the citation mentioned that he had “uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”, which one hopes he reported to the authorities. He was knighted in 2019.
Paul Greengrass (b 1955)
Greengrass’s parents were a merchant seamen and a teacher. He was born in Surrey, but grew up in Gravesend, attending the local Grammar School before moving to Sevenoaks School and then Cambridge. He started work as a director of non-fiction drama, initially making films for ITV‘s current-affairs series ‘World in Action’. He became noted for his edgy directorial style, embracing urgent hand-held camera work and dramatic editing. He developed into a minor British equivalent of Michael Moore, creating independent documentaries with a leftist slant, most notably the award-winning ‘Bloody Sunday’ in 2002. It opened doors for him in 2004, when the director of the original ‘Jason Bourne’ movie was dropped, and Greengrass’s journalistic direction recommended him for the sequel, ‘The Bourne Supremacy’. He pulled it off sufficiently expertly that he was hired to direct Matt Damon in two further sequels. Though they made his name, he has reverted to non-fiction; his most recent film concerns terrorist Anders Breivik.
Billy Idol (b 1955)
William Broad was born in Middlesex into a church-going Anglican family. They emigrated to America when he was a toddler, but returned four years later. When he was 16, they moved to Bromley, where Broad attended Ravensbourne School. He started a degree at Sussex University, but never completed it. Instead he took up with the ‘Bromley Contingent’ of Sex Pistols fans alongside Siouxsie Sioux. He went into music himself, adopting the name Billy Idol after having been called “idle” by a teacher. He enjoyed some success as lead singer of Generation X, distinguishing himself with his good looks and brashness that were a throwback to rock ‘n’ roll stars of the 1950s. In 1981, he left for America and a solo career, quickly becoming a sub-punk legend with such hits as ‘White Wedding’ and ‘Rebel Yell’. As recently as 2018, he combined with the Sex Pistols’ rhythm section for a gig in Hollywood under the name Generation Sex.
John Nunn (b 1955)
Londoner John Nunn was born with a freakish intelligence. He went to study Mathematics at Oxford at 15, when most of his peers were doing their O-Levels; he was the youngest undergraduate there since Cardinal Wolsey. By that time, he had already distinguished himself as the London under-18 chess champion at the age of just 14. He won a doctorate in finite H-spaces, a topic so complex that most humans cannot even begin to understand it. He was maths master for a while at Maidstone Grammar School in the 1970s, and lectured at Oxford before becoming a professional chess player in 1981. He never reached the very top because, as current world champion Magnus Carlsen commented, there was too much else going on in his huge brain. Although he missed playing in the England team that won the 1997 European Championship, he became the world chess problem-solving champion three times, and has written several authoritative chess books.
Paul O’Grady (b 1955)
O’Grady was born on Merseyside into a family of Irish Catholics. His father, Paddy Grady, had acquired the initial ‘O’ as the result of a clerical error when he joined the RAF, and decided to retain it. Paul O’Grady moved to London and worked for Camden Council before he started up his drag-queen stage act in 1978 under the name Lily Savage. Aside from earning him a name, it gave him a platform to campaign for gay rights and against the Royal Family. He eventually ditched the character so that he could take on a wider gamut of roles on both BBC and independent television, as well as radio. Most notable among these was ‘The Paul O’Grady Show’ which started on ITV in 2004. He moved to Aldington in 1999, where he also found Julian Clary a home. He is now building a dance studio there with his partner, a ballet dancer.
Dr Piers Sellers (1955-2016)
It was only by chance that Piers Sellers was born in East Sussex, his father being a peripatetic British Army man. Like his brothers, he was sent to a boarding-school, in his case Cranbrook School. His father imparted an enduring passion for astronomy when he used an orange to demonstrate the principle of Gagarin’s pioneering orbit of the Earth in 1957. Sellers took a degree in Ecological Science at Edinburgh and a doctorate in Biometeorology at Leeds. He went to live in America, but was unable to progress as an astronaut until he became entitled to assume US citizenship. He was finally accepted by NASA in 1996. He undertook three Space Shuttle missions between 2002 and 2010, all involved in the construction of the International Space Station. In total, he racked up 41 hours of spacewalks. Exposure to cosmic rays may have cost him: he died, suspiciously young, of pancreatic cancer.
Kevin Loader (b 1956)
Although he was born in Hampshire, Kevin Loader grew up in Kent. The son of an art dealer and restaurateur, he attended Maidstone Grammar School and became head boy. He went on to study English at Cambridge and then Connecticut. He returned to Britain to become a trainee at the BBC. After several years there, he devised ‘The Late Show’, an arts programme. He eventually specialised in drama production, working among other things on ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’. In 1996 he left to run The Bridge, a Sony and Canal Plus joint venture, for three years. He co-produced ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ for Working Title in 2000, and has produced several movies under the aegis of the independent production company he co-founded in 1995, Free Range Films. Collaborations with his friend Armando Iannucci include ‘In the Loop’ (2009) and ‘The Death of Stalin’ (2017); they most recently co-produced a multi-ethnic Dickens movie, ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’.
Dr Michael Foale (b 1957)
Colin Michael Foale’s father, an RAF fighter pilot, was stationed in Lincolnshire when the future astronaut’s American mother gave birth to him. He grew up in Cambridge, and returned there to study Natural Sciences and then Astrophysics. In between he attended the King’s School, Canterbury, and joined the Air Training Corps. After his studies, he moved straight to Houston, Texas to work for McDonnell Douglas on the Space Shuttle programme. He was accepted for astronaut training after the Challenger disaster in 1986. Though not the first British astronaut, he became the nation’s most prolific. He undertook three Space Shuttle missions between 1992 and 1995, the last involving the first spacewalk by a Briton, lasting four hours. He then spent months on Mir in a dangerous 1997 mission that won him the Gagarin Gold Medal. In 1999, he performed an eight-hour spacewalk correcting defects in the Hubble Space Telescope, before commanding an International Space Station expedition in 2003-4.
Timothy Spall (b 1957)
It is no wonder that many fans imagine Timothy Spall to be from the Midlands. He was actually born in London, but after excelling at RADA began his career in repertory in Birmingham. It helped equip him in 1983 for his first major TV role, in ITV’s ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Pet’, co-starring as Brummie electrician ‘boring’ Barry Taylor. He made the character so memorable in the course of the original two series that he did well not to get typecast. He went on to have a lengthy career in moviemaking that took him to such thoroughly different characters as Maurice Purley in ‘Secrets and Lies’ (1996), Winston Churchill in ‘The King’s Speech’ (2010), and JMW Turner, the Margate-loving artist, in ‘Mr. Turner’ (2014). Despite having become one of the éminences grises of the British film industry, Spall has never won a major award. He has lived for two decades in Forest Hill with his wife Shane.
Sir Daniel Day-Lewis (b 1957)
The son of Anglo-Irish poet laureate C. Day-Lewis and Jewish actress Jill Balcon, Daniel Day-Lewis was born in London but moved at two to Greenwich. A juvenile delinquent, he was sent away to Sevenoaks School, but hated it and left after two years. His acting career progressed conventionally, from the stage to an appearance in ‘Gandhi’ in 1982. Just three years later, he shone in both ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’ and ‘A Room with a View’, and in 1989 earned stardom as Christy Brown in ‘My Left Foot’, for which he won a Best Actor Oscar and BAFTA. That same year, he had a breakdown while playing Hamlet, and never appeared on the stage again. In the C21, his movie performances grew vanishingly rare. His gripping performance in ‘There Will Be Blood’ (2007) won him a Best Actor Oscar, BAFTA, and Golden Globe, a feat he repeated with ‘Lincoln’ (2012). He is the only winner of three Best Actor Oscars.
Siouxsie Sioux (b 1957)
Susan Ballion was born at Guy’s Hospital, the daughter of an alcoholic Belgian snake-milker who met her mother in the Belgian Congo. She grew up in leafy Chislehurst, and the family took its holidays in balmy Broadstairs. Her moment in pop music history came on December 1st, 1976. Having co-formed the ‘Bromley Contingent’ fan club, she turned up with the little-known Sex Pistols on Thames TV’s ‘Today’ programme. Their interview with host Bill Grundy was progressing awkwardly when she said for some reason, “I’ve always wanted to meet you, Bill”. Grundy replied sarcastically, prompting guitarist Steve Jones to utter unprecedented obscenities that made the band an overnight sensation. Renamed Siouxsie Sioux, she began performing with a band called The Banshees. Although she was highly distinctive in Gothic garb and make-up, her copious sub-punk output seldom threatened to top the charts. Ironically, her biggest hit was a cover of John Lennon’s gentle ‘Dear Prudence’.
Jo Brand (b 1957)
Josephine Brand is one of those comedians that people either love or hate, but find hard to ignore. She was born in South London, her father being an engineer and her mother a social worker. He was a depressive, and the family broke up when Brand was in her teens. By that time, they had moved to Kent, first living at Platt and then Benenden. She attended schools in both villages before going to Tunbridge Wells Girls’ Grammar School, and ended up in Hastings. She worked as a psychiatric nurse for a decade, which provided a colourful backdrop to the comedy act that she embarked on in the 1980s. She created an unmistakable persona for herself, with her big physique, unruly hair, and a deadpan voice that gave Jack Dee a run for his money. Since making her TV debut in 1993, she has been practically ubiquitous on TV gameshows and other humorous productions.
Reeves & Mortimer (b 1959)
Jim Moir was born in Yorkshire and went to the North London and Middlesex Polytechnics. He took up comedy under different guises, finally settling on Vic Reeves, a character somewhat reminiscent of Eric Morecambe. He established a show called ‘Vic Reeves Big Night Out’ at Goldsmith’s Tavern, New Cross. There he was watched from the audience by solicitor Bob Mortimer, a Geordie who liked him so much that he joined his act. The two started writing together at Greenwich in 1989 and performed at Deptford’s Albany Theatre. Their act was the epitome of zaniness, the two taking turns to execute their wacky, often highly visual gags. It won them a huge amount of TV work, including the panel game ‘Shooting Stars’ (1993-2011) that co-starred Ulrika Jonsson and got the career of Matt Lucas started. Both have lived in Kent for many years: Reeves at Charing and Deal, and Mortimer at Charing and Tunbridge Wells.
Julian Clary (b 1959)
Since he made his name as an outrageously camp comedian when homosexuality was still constrained by law, it is amusing to learn that Surrey-born Julian Clary’s parents were a policeman and a probation officer. His first comedy routine was called Gillian Pieface, but it was as the Joan Collins Fan Club that his career took off, complete with glamour make-up and leather garb, plus a whippet companion called Fanny the Wonder Dog. His style was in the Kenneth Williams mould but, coming a generation later, altogether smuttier. He actually went too far by the standards of the day in 1993 when he joked publicly that he had been fisting the very staid Chancellor of the Exchequer, Norman Lamont. His career recovered to the extent that he became an ever-present on TV and in panto, and in 2012 won Celebrity Big Brother. He has lived for a decade or more at Goldenhurst Manor, Noel Coward’s former home in Aldington.
Ian Hislop (b 1960)
The son of a Scottish engineer whose work took him around the world, Ian Hislop was born in Wales, but also lived in Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East. He went to school in Sussex and then studied English at Oxford, where he relaunched the satirical magazine ‘Passing Wind’. It immediately got him a job at ‘Private Eye’, and he was appointed editor when Richard Ingrams retired in 1986. An Anglican, he was equally hard on hypocrisy from any part of the political spectrum, and his fearless satire got him sued several times – sometimes unjustifiably – including by Sir Robert Maxwell. In the 1980s, he wrote for ITV’s ‘Spitting Image’, and has starred since 1990 on ‘Have I Got News For You’ with Paul Merton. Now a BBC celebrity, he has increasingly toed the establishment line, even in ‘Private Eye’. For decades he has lived in Sissinghurst with his Bromley-born wife, author Victoria Hislop.
Diana, Princess of Wales (1961-97)
Lady Diana Spencer sprang from aristocratic stock at Sandringham, Norfolk. She attended West Heath School in Sevenoaks, leaving at 16 with no qualifications. Around that time, she first met Prince Charles, who was dating her sister. By 1981, she was Princess Di, and within three years gave birth to Princes William and Harry. Tall, blonde, pretty, and a magnet for photographers, she had attained world celebrity. In 1992, the newly amalgamated Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment was named in her honour; she repeatedly visited the 3rd Battalion at Canterbury as its Colonel-in-Chief. She also regularly visited Kent in connection with charity work. Her marriage, however, was unhappy. Stories of multiple extramarital liaisons ill befitted a future queen; yet, because her husband had also committed adultery, the breakup of their marriage caused her to be painted as a victim. Her death alongside boyfriend Dodi Al-Fayed in a road accident in Paris gave rise to an explosion of populist grief.
Tracey Emin (b 1963)
Half Turkish and half Romany, Emin was born in South London but raised in Margate. She studied at Maidstone Art College, where she met her inspiration and future bête noire Billy Childish, before attending Medway Technical College. She was little known until 1997, when she appeared drunk on a TV discussion program, swore like a trooper, and walked off. Her first noted artwork was a tent in which she recorded ‘Everyone I Have Slept With 1963-1995’. When it was destroyed in a fire, along with a Whitstable beach-hut she had artified, she fumed about the ensuing schadenfreude. She had the last laugh, however, with ‘My Bed’ (1998), an artwork consisting of her unmade bed and various bodily secretions. Although Craig Brown satirised it as ‘My Turd’, Charles Saatchi bought it for £150,000, it resold in 2014 for £2.5 million, and Emin has been appointed a Royal Academician, awarded a CBE, and granted an honorary doctorate by Kent University.
Harry Hill (b 1964)
Despite being a master of the fart joke, Matthew ‘Harry Hill’ Hall is a clever man. Born in Surrey, he was raised in Staplehurst and attended schools both there and in Cranbrook before going to Cranbrook School. He then went into medical studies, eventually taking Neurosurgery at London University. He dropped out, however, to go into comedy. With his bald head, spectacles, and outsize collar, he won an award at the 1992 Edinburgh Fringe, which landed him the ‘Harry Hill’s Fruit Corner’ series on BBC Radio 4. From there he progressed into television with the first of a number of further ‘Harry Hill’ series, the most enduring being ‘Harry Hill’s TV Burp’ – a review of recent TV clips – which ran from 2001 to 2012. He has also hosted ‘You’ve Been Framed’ since 2004. In 2013, he made ‘The Harry Hill Movie’, which made money despite poor reviews. He lives with his wife at Whitstable, and has three daughters.
Paul Hollywood (b 1966)
Paul Hollywood has baking in the blood, his father being the proprietor of a chain of bakeries. Born on Merseyside, he started studying sculpture before taking up the family trade. Moving south, he became head baker at such prestigious venues as The Dorchester and Cliveden. After guesting on various TV shows, in 2008 he developed a sourdough bread with almond and Roquefort said to be Britain’s most expensive. Hollywood was made a judge on the first ‘The Great British Bake Off’ series in 2010, and has remained one ever since. There is a racy side to his personality: he has done a significant amount of competitive autosport, and his personal life is eventful. His marriage to scuba instructor Alexandra, with whom he lived in Wingham’s Old Canonry for 12 years, ended in 2017 after an affair with American co-host Marcela Valladolid. Now living in the Weald, he is into his second relationship with a Kentish barmaid.
Catherine Zeta-Jones (b 1969)
Born in Swansea, South Wales, Catherine Zeta Jones got her forenames from her two grandmothers, the latter being of Greek extraction. She was no great shakes at school, but a huge bingo win paid for dance and singing lessons. She took up acting at 15, and landed her first film role at 20. In 1991, she shot to fame as Mariette in the ITV series ‘The Darling Buds of May’, which was shot at Buss Farm in Bethersden and other locations in East Kent. Numerous movie parts followed in which she played the voluptuous beauty, typecasting that ultimately proved literally depressing. In 2002, however, her training stood her in excellent stead as Velma Kelly in ‘Chicago’ the movie, which won her an Oscar and a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress. Although her career waned from that peak, she continued to enjoy celebrity as the wife of Michael Douglas, and in 2010 was awarded a CBE.
Pete Doherty (b 1979)
Peter Doherty was born in Northumberland and, with one Irish grandfather and one Jewish one, raised a Catholic. His early life seemed conventionally promising. Both parents were in the Army, his father a major and his mother a nurse. He did well at school, and came south to study English Literature at Queen Mary, London. However, he soon dropped out, and cohabited with his old friend Carl Barât. In 1997, they started a band, the Libertines, who eventually achieved success with their first album, ‘Up the Bracket’ (2002). Doherty, who was already a drug addict, was imprisoned for burgling Barât’s flat, but reunited with the band in a gig at Chatham. They disbanded in 2004, but reformed after Doherty had played with both Babyshambles and the Puta Madres, and for two years dated supermodel Kate Moss. A resident of Margate since 2017, Doherty is as notorious for his repeated court appearances as he is revered by his fans.
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