At the end of the last Millennium

The following article, written by Morgen Witzel, was in the Leigh Parish Magazine in January 2000.


No archaeological or written records concerning Leigh survive from the time of the last Millennium and it is possible that the village did not even exist (although given the poor coverage of Kent by some later records such as the Domesday Book, it is entirely possible that there was a hamlet in the area.  West Kent, however, is known to have been a prosperous area, as indeed was the rest of the county.  Agriculture and sheep-rearing, trade with France up the old Watling Street route from Dover to Rochester and on to London, and probably iron mining (though again no records exist) made for a prosperous mixed economy.  Canterbury and Rochester were thriving towns.

Kent also had quite a distinctive culture.  The earls of Kent claimed descent from Hengist in the fifth century, and also described themselves as being Jutes, rather than Angles or Saxons.  Historians are still arguing over precisely what a Jute is, but there is no doubt that Kent had a distinct language, culture and legal system, traces of which survived into the nineteenth century.

By the end of the last Millennium, Anglo-Saxon England had reached dangerous times.  Thanks in part to the inept leadership of King Ethelred ‘the Unready’ (the nickname means ‘Badly Advised’), the Vikings had begun raiding the English coasts in force and in the summer of 999 a Viking force landed at Rochester, defeated the Kentish militias in a pitched battle and laid waste to all of West Kent.  The First Millennium in West Kent, if celebrated at all, would  have been a time of little cheer.  Did our ancestors pay much attention to the last Millennium?  Probably not – most people would have been unclear as to when it fell.  There was no consensus as to when the end of the year fell, with 1 January, Christmas, Easter and the Annunciation all being variously used.  More emphasis was placed on the later thousandth anniversary of the Crucifixion.  The arrival of comets in 988 and 1002 caused greater fear and excitement among the superstitious than did the Millennium.