Kent, county (1991 pop. 1,485,600), 1,525 sq mi (3,950 sq km), SE England. It lies between the Thames estuary and the Strait of Dover. The county town is Maidstone, and the county is divided into 12 administrative district: Sevenoaks, Dartford, Gravesham, Tonbridge and Malling, Maidstone, Tunbridge Wells, Swale, Ashford, Canterbury, Shepway, Thanet, and Dover. The Isle of Sheppey is separated from the north coast by the narrow Swale channel. The chalky North Downs cross the county from east to west, and to the south lie the fertile Weald and Romney Marsh. The Medway, the Stour, and the Darent are the chief rivers.
The region, largely agricultural, is a market-gardening center. Crops include fruit, grain, and hops. Sheep and cattle grazing, fishing, and dairying are also prevalent. One of London's "Home Counties," Kent is increasingly important industrially because of the encroachment of the London urban area into its western portion. Since Great Britain's entry into the European Community (now the European Union) in 1973, warehousing has emerged as a growing enterprise. Paper, pottery, brick, cement, chemicals, and beer are manufactured, and there is shipbuilding and oil refining.
Because of its strategic location on the path to the Continent through Dover, Kent has been important throughout English history. Julius Caesar landed at Kent in 55 B.C., and Roman roads crossed the county. In 597, St. Augustine founded a Christian mission near the Canterbury cathedral. Kent was one of the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. In the Middle Ages many religious houses were established in the old kingdom of Kent, and Canterbury became the goal of numerous pilgrims such as Chaucer described in the Canterbury Tales. The region was intimately associated with the rebellions of Wat Tyler, Jack Cade, and Sir Thomas Wyatt. The coast was heavily fortified during the two World Wars. In 1974, Kent was reorganized as a nonmetropolitan county.