The Lathes Of Kent

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Kent has a set of unique internal territorial divisions named “Lathes”. The word lathe may derive from a Germanic root meaning “land” or “landed possession”, possibly connected with the Greek word latron “payment”. These unique divisions appear to have originated in the 6th century, during the Jutish colonisation of the county. In the eleventh century seven lathes are recorded; Aylesford, Milton, Sutton, Borough, Eastry, Lympne and Wye but by the thirteenth century their number had become fixed at five;

  • the Lathe of Saint Augustine, formed by the merger of Borough and Eastry
  • the lathe of Shepway, renamed from Lympne
  • the Lathe of Scray, formed from the merger of Milton and Wye
  • the Lathe of Aylesford
  • the Lathe of Sutton-at-Hone

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The Lathes are also prominently defined on John Speed’s 17th century map of the county


Initially used for administrative purposes this function had been lost by the nineteenth century but the Lathes were never formally abolished and indeed Shepway re-emerged as an administrative unit on 1 April 1974. Each of the proposed lathe flags includes a panel at the hoist (the left side of the flag ) one third of the length of the flag, bearing Kent’s well known white stallion on red background. The depiction of the Kent horse

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is taken from issue 92 of Flagmaster, the journal of the Flag Institute

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which in turn appears to have been based on the county arms that adorn the Kent County Council building in Maidstone.

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The designs thus exhibit a degree of uniformity signifying their status as divisions of the county of Kent, with each one bearing a distinctive charge in the rest of the flag, symbolic of the specific locality

The Lathe Of Shepway.

The territory of this lathe includes the Cinque Port towns of Hythe, Folkestone, Lydd and New Romney. A confederation of coastal towns in Kent and Sussex, formed for military and trade purposes, the Cinque Ports originally comprised Hastings, New Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich, with Rye replacing New Romney when storm damage led to it being silted up. A number of other towns, having varying degrees of connection to the ancient Liberties of the Cinque Ports, are known as Limbs of the Cinque Ports towns with Folkestone and Lydd included in their number. The distinctive heraldic emblem of the Cinque Ports features a lion joined to a ship

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also seen in the arms of Hastings

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and Sandwichsandwich

and this same theme was included in the arms awarded to the council of the modern district of Shepway

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Thus the flag of the Lathe of Shepway features a golden Cinque Ports ship.

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This both recalls the heritage of the local confederation and also emphasises the strong association of the locality with the sea, whose colour forms the background against which the ship is placed. The blue is a lighter shade to enhance the contrast with the red of Kent in the hoist panel.

Some time after the creation of this flag, the Flag Institute created and registered a flag 

for the ‘community’ of towns which are members of the Cinque Ports. The arms of the Cinque Ports and the armorial banner formed from it, belong to the local authorities of the member towns of the Cinque Port towns and may be lawfully displayed only by these bodies and the Confederation, as their representative body. However, the Confederation wished to offer an option for residents of the Cinque Ports towns to demonstrate their affinity with the body. The community flag, which greatly resembles the flag of Shepway, maintains the traditional banner as a basis, thus keeping a direct and clear link between the community and authority. 

The Lathe Of Saint Augustine.

The flag of the Lathe of Saint Augustine features the cross shaped staff finial

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associated with the saint, for whom the locality is named, Augustine,

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the first Archbishop of Canterbury, the main city in the lathe.

This form of cross is known as “The Canterbury Cross” after a Saxon brooch, dating around 850 that was found in Canterbury in 1867. A Canterbury Cross is. appropriately, a decorative feature, on the ‘Kent and Canterbury Hospital’, in Canterbury!

The cross features a small square in the centre, from which extend four arms, wider on the outside, so that the arms look like triangles, symbolising the Trinity. The tips of the arms are arcs of a single circle, giving the overall effect of a round wheel. A stone cross is erected at Canterbury Cathedral and the crosses are sold at the souvenir shop there. The cross is black with some minimal grey detailing and is set against a bright yellow field, representative of the bright yellow fields of Oil Seed Rape often found in the area,

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which contrasts well with both the main charge and the red hoist panel.

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The Lathe Of Scray.

The Lathe of Scray is a wide territory which embraces both the north and south Kent coasts and there is no single emblem that naturally represents this somewhat diverse division of the county. Scray was formed by the merger of Milton and Wye however and each of these is associated with a distinct local emblem. The council of Sittingbourne and Milton was awarded arms in 1949 which included a green wyvern

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this had been previously used by the council in Milton Regis and stood for the defence against Danish and later invaders, with an obvious reference to the emblem of Wessex, the bulwark in the struggle against Danish invasion. The town of Wye is overlooked by a chalk hill, into which the outline of a crown has been carved

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The combination of these two devices, using a distinctive green and white colour scheme that reflects the colours of both original emblems, thus symbolises the combined localities that make the Lathe of Scray.

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The Lathe Of Aylesford.

The Lathe of Aylesford is home to “The Aylesford Bucket”,

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a copper alloy funerary device used in a cremation ceremony and discovered in 1886 in an ancient burial ground in the territory. It is identified with the Celtic Cantii people, after whom the county of Kent is named. The artefact is dated to approximately 75 BC. The distinct decorative handle on the bucket, depicting a human face and named for the lathe in which it was discovered, is an ideal local symbol for deployment on a flag for the Lathe of Aylesford. The device is set against a grey coloured field, suggestive of the earth from which it was retrieved.

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The Lathe Of Sutton-at-Hone.

The Lathe of Sutton-at-Hone bears a flag with a white Jerusalem cross against a black background. The symbol is associated with this locality because of the presence of St. John’s Jerusalem Preceptory there

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This was established in 1199 as a Commandry of the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem The building was given to the nation in 1943 by Sir Stephen Tallents, and was open to the public twice a week in the 1950s. The emblem of the order of Saint John and the Knights Hospitaller, known as a Maltese cross because the headquarters of the order is located on the island and it is commonly seen there, is a white eight-pointed cross having the form of four “V”-shaped elements, each joining the others at its “vertex”, leaving the other two tips spread outward symmetrically. Consequently organisations in the Lathe of Sutton-at-Hone make use of the cross, including for example a local parish council

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and the local football club.

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The cross is also present on the civic arms of Dartford, on the necks of the two supporters bearing the shield, where it is white against a red and black field.

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A white cross against a red background, as seen in the above image, remains the specific colour scheme used by the order of Saint John but another common realisation for this device places the white cross against a black background

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and this is the colour scheme utilised for the lathe flag, which is seen as particularly dramatic and distinctive.

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