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CANT, CENT, CHENT, KENT: no other English county can trace its name back further than Kent which was first mentioned by Julius Caesar in 51 BC. It probably derived from the Celtic canto "rim or border" and simply meant "the coastal district". The word cant survives in Welsh to this day and, of course, in Canterbury "the fort of the Cantware".

So what's in a name? The answer can be a great deal of history. At a glance we can see that Kent was as strategically and commercially important in Caesar's time as it is today. To understand any English county we need to study its original place names and, because relatively few names go back as far as that of Kent, there is no better vehicle for that study than the Domesday Book. Canterbury, incidentally, was Darovernon in Roman times "the swamp by the fort"; in the Domesday Book it was listed as Cantuaria "the men of Kent".

"A description made of all England.... covering the lands of every shire and the property of every magnate in fields, manors and men - whether slaves or freemen, cottagers or farmers - in ploughteams, horses and other stock, in services and rent." So wrote a monk in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle about the Domesday survey.

At Christmas time 1085, two years before his death, William the Bastard, Duke William of Normandy, or more familiarly William the Conqueror held court at Gloucester and "had much thought and very deep discussion with his council about his country - how it was occupied and with what sort of people". The result was the Domesday Book, a document unrivalled in its thoroughness in any country until our own century and William's most durable legacy to the historian. The name Domesday was not coined until a century later when a Treasurer of England wrote, "This book is called by the natives Domesday, that is, metaphorically speaking, the Day of Judgement.

Facts, facts, facts. - just nine months in preparation, the Domesday Book was a remarkable achievement, and would have been so in any age. Its very tone, no-nonsense and businesslike, strikes a modern note; there are no frills in this document, because computer databanks don't need frills. The Whitehall bureaucrat of today would have no difficulty in using the Domesday Book to prepare a parliamentary brief for his minister. It is in fact still, after nine centuries, "Document No 1" in the Public Record Office and has been used as evidence in a couple of legal cases within living memory. (The Anglo Saxon chronicler, by the way, didn't approve of William's attention to detail; in his view such questions were unworthy of a King.

And yet for all the Domesday's scope, something is missing. The very first thing for which the modern minister would ask - a set of maps. The omission is startling, so startling, that most people nowadays assume that an original set of "Domesday Maps" must have been prepared. Accurate maps, however, would have been as alien to the itinerant commissioners as a databank; the first complete series of county maps did not appear until Christopher Saxton's immortal project in the 1570's. But it is only by looking at maps that we can grasp the enormity of the task that William's commissioners undertook; and by studying them we can gain a new and fascinating insight into England as it once was.

The Domesday Book, the greatest document in English history, co-incided with the production of the Bayeux Tapestry., The Bayeux tapestry, was actually made by nuns in Canterbury rather than Queen Matilda and her ladies in Bayeux and shows the high level of English craftsmanship which existed at the time of the Conquest. William's half-brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, was created Earl of Kent after the Battle of Hastings and this probably has much to do with the Tapestry's early history.

The date of the Book, 1086, is of great significance for it was produced a mere 20 years after the last invasion of England. The Norman Conquest did not bring a great wave of settlers into the country from Normandy, but what it did do was to stop settlers from elsewhere in Europe streaming into England as they had been doing ever since the Romans had left. The Domesday Book therefore records England exactly at the moment when the country could be said to have been frozen into its modern form. The place names in the Domesday are sometimes a little bizarre in spelling, the result of Norman-French speaking commissioners interrogating Saxon peasants, but it is generally possible do determine the origin of a place name from the Domesday.

Perhaps the first thing that strikes the eye on the Domesday Map is just how few settlements there were in the hills at the time. The sweep of the North Downs and the Weald are both virtually unpopulated. The explanation is simple: keeping livestock alive over the winter was difficult at the best of times; altitude simply made things worse. It is well to remember that there was, relative to today, plenty of living space at low level - the whole population of England was probably no more than one and a quarter million.