Kits Coty A History - Notes
|Kits Coty From the West|
So, here we are Kits Coty.
Or Kits Coty House to give the site it’s official title. Over the last 46 years I have been up here probably nearly 100 times. What is it? Who built it and Why is it here? Are just a few of the questions that have puzzled me over the years….
In a nutshell it’s the remains of a Neolithic Chambered Tomb, built between 3500-2800 BC during the Neolithic or New Stone age so it’s about 5000- 5500 years old. So what does that mean?
Well about 10,000 years ago Britain was still attached to mainland Europe – albeit just as a funky little peninsula on the western edge roughly where Dover and Folkestone are today extending up to the Norfolk Coast. Herds of reindeer and mammoth would migrate back and forth looking for grazing land and better climes, in their wake our ancestors followed them leading a nomadic hunter- gatherer lifestyle. For centuries, even millennia they pursued this route forging ancient trackways on a natural route through the Downs that still exist today from the Kent coast to Avebury in Wiltshire, the most famous now known as the Pilgrims Way following the murder and canonisation of Thomas a Becket in 1170 and the ensuing pilgrimages of the medieval period, but hey the pagans were there first!
At some point in the period between the Stone Age and the Bronze Age these Nomadic ancestors discovered their ability to domesticate cattle, pigs and sheep - I’m guessing the domestication of mammoths didn’t work out too well and also started to experiment successfully with growing crops. With the beginning of more than seasonal settlements and the growth of farming, these ancient
settlers began to put more importance on the burial of their loved ones
and the rituals and customs around them. Ancestor veneration and worship has
its roots around this time, early temples and cults of the dead began to appear
in mainland Europe, with people praying to their ancestors for their help and
interventions with the Gods and Goddesses and the forces of nature, just the same
as we do today, urging Mum or Grandad to help us with something tricky.
Megaliths – literally meaning ‘Big Stones’ began to be constructed for the community to collectively house the remains of their dead – usually specially selected body parts – the skull and femur and grave goods such as combs or beads maybe for the afterworld. These tombs were built on prominent hills and slopes, acting as border and territory markers high above the dense forests below - here at Kits Coty the Anderida Forest stretched beneath to the coast as far as New Romney and Dungeness, full of wild boar, wolves and bears.
About 8000 years ago it’s believed a huge
tsunami swept south from
modern day Norway over the low-lying land, swamping the flatter coastal areas and
cut Britain off forever, marooning an estimated population of 5000 which no
doubt shaped the increase in settlement and the farming lifestyle. With the
lifestyle changes that were evolving in Europe the settlers had brought their
new death and burials customs with them and across the Medway valley a swathe
of megaliths and chambered tombs and long barrows began to be constructed over
the coming millennia.
|Kits Coty From the North|
Kits Coty is part of this group known as the Medway Megaliths. These standing stone constructions have all been made using local stones made of crystalline sandstone – a mixture of sand and silica, like most of them across the UK. These post glacial capstones were strewn liberally over the hills and valleys of Southern England and are also known as Sarsen stones, a derivative of Saracen which most likely came about in the Medieval period as a reference to Saracens, Muslims, Moors and all things Pagan and unholy by God fearing Christians.
Kits Coty House as it is known was built around 5500 years ago, approximately 500 years after the nearby Coldrum Stones – 6 miles west as the crow flies, bigger and better – maybe and earlier examples of keeping up with the Jones!
Built around the same time as the settlement at Skara Brae on Orkney
and about 500 years before Stonehenge in the form that we know it. What we see
at Kits Coty are the three Orthostats approximately 3m tall and the capstone a
huge 4m by 2.7 m thought to be the Eastern entrance to a huge chambered long
barrow. Local legend has it that on a wild winter night 3 local witches who
lived on nearby Bluebell Hill raised the 3 stones up but had to summon the help
of another of their coven to raise the massive capstone – or may be the stone
age ancestors used logs, pivots and hard graft like their peers! Legend also
has it that if you place something on the cap stone on a full moon and walk
round it widdershins (anti-clockwise ) that it will disappear…
Built from local stones the site was covered with an earth mound to preserve it, so it was at least the height of the remaining stones and is believed to have been 15 m and estimated to be between 55m and 70 long extending westward into the Meadow. When I first read that I doubted the measurements, even checking that I hadn’t confused it with a measurement in feet, it seemed too big.
My brother very wisely suggested that I checked other barrows by way of comparison and I was astonished to discover that West Kennet Long barrow in Wiltshire, which was built around the same time is 100m long and when excavated around 50 separate human remains were identified and Wayland’s Smithy in Oxfordshire again a contemporary is a very similar size.
The apparently not so dubious estimate
|Kits Coty From the East|
Kits Coty is part of a larger group now as the Medway Megaliths that stretch across the slopes of the Medway valley:
On the southern slopes of the land surrounding Kits Coty the remains of a Neolithic Longhouse were discovered but no excavations or further archaeological digs have been carried out.
|Little Kits Coty House|
Just down the track way from Kits Coty and down the Rochester Road is Little Kit’s Coty House, now a collapsed jumble of Sarsen stones that was once another long barrow on an open site managed by English heritage. Known locally as the Countless Stones or the Devil’s Stones as they are so difficult to count, the problem being that they all over lap each other. As children, we would mark them with chalk to keep track and still they would vary between 17 and 21! The Devil told me there were 20…..
|The Tottington Stone|
Hidden in a field a few hundred metres to the west of Little Kits Coty lies The Coffin Stone, in a private field but handily on a public footpath several collapsed stones are believed to be another tomb and 2 skulls were found there during early 19th century excavations.
A little further down the Rochester Road, the casual wider dispersal of the stones can be seen at the nearby Great Tottington Farm. Classified as a Standing Menhir, the Tottington Stone is a single standing stone. This lonely sentential stands alone in the farm driveway, it’s original site unknown.
Across the fields and near the busy A229 – lies another solitary Menhir - the (Upper) White Horse Stone also known in folklore as The King Making Stone. It was once not so far from The Lower White Horse Stone and Smythe’s Megalith both casualties of 18th Century agriculture, sadly now ploughed out of existence by enthusiastic farmers. Also on these slopes were allegedly the remains of a Roman Villa and maybe even a temple.
|Coldrum Long Barrow|
The atmospheric Coldrum Long Barrow at Trottiscliffe (Locally pronounced as Trosley) is 6 Miles almost due west as the crow flies, hidden in the hills just below the ancient trackways and now signposted Pilgrim’s Way footpath predates Kits Coty by about 500 years. Open to the public on a National Trust managed site this is just over half the size of its later counterpart but was excavated and its reconstruction in its present form is not thought to be entirely accurate. No fewer than 22 bodies were found there and testing has shown them to be a familial group, with one in particular – a young woman to be elaborately buried with much finery – maybe a tribal leader or priestess? The name Coldrum I have been told on very good authority, is derived from a Cornish word meaning ‘enchanted place’ – anyone who visits could hardly fail to feel the beauty of this place complete with its own cloutie or wishing tree, festooned with ribbons, rags and prayers all year round.
|Chestnuts Long Barrow|
Chestnuts Long Barrow a mere mile away at Addington is on a privately-owned site, managed by English Heritage sadly closed for viewing at the moment due to the owner Joan being elderly and frail. The lovely Joan once gave fine tours, merrily handing out dowsing tools and telling with relish the tale of when a local band used the site for an album cover shoot in the 70’s and painted the stones bright green for effect! For the record Joan’s father who owned the site then, made the record company strip the paint back off. Huge stones remain many still standing but sadly here too most have been ploughed away at the far end of the site. The dowsing here is simply amazing, not something I had experienced before I visited a few years ago.
Just over the road are the remains of Addington Long Barrow which also owned by the fabulous Joan. A road now runs through them dissecting the once proud barrow, the result of zealous ploughing over the years. Who knows what else was originally there or what stones may remain with their secret history?
So, what’s in a name? The Jury is still
out on why the stones have
such a curious name, but there are several interesting explanations. One of the most popular translations is that Kits Coty mean ‘Tomb
in The Forest’ possibly derived from the Ancient British word Kaiton or Keiton meaning forest and is pretty self-explanatory.
|Offerings at Kits Coty|
Another suggestion is that Cit Coit meaning ‘Battle of The Wood’ This refers to the local history of the area. This allegedly refers to the Battle of the Medway in 43 AD between the Iron Age Tribes and early Roman invaders who were initially repelled. One of the most likely places for this is Aylesford then recorded as Aegelsforda as the river was shallowest here and a ford existed. Whether the battle would have traversed a whole mile and a half uphill and been fought there is another matter.
|Cloutie Tree at|
Coldrum Long Barrow
The word Kit has also been suggested as a derivative of Catigern and Coty meaning House which also have major local historical relevance. Catigern was the son of Vortigern a 5th Century High King of Britain supposedly responsible for killing the father of Uther Pendragon father of the once and future King Arthur. Following the retreat of the Romans in the 5th century, England was a volatile land fighting each other as well as the Northern Tribes. Vortigern hired Hengist and Horsa, two brothers who were Jutes/Angles/Saxons from the continent to keep the wild Picts and Gaels at bay. Defeated, these Northern tribes fell North to eventually create the Kingdom of Scotland.
The Brothers were given The Kentish Isle of Thanet as their reward. Clearly this wasn’t enough and in the mid-5th century they revolted and in an attack known as the Night or Treachery of The Long Knives they killed many of the important chieftains of the day on a camp at Salisbury Plain before retreating to Kent. Vortigern’s sons Catigern and Vortimer followed them to Kent to revenge the deed. In a battle supposedly fought over the area of Aylesford both Horsa and Catigern were killed, with legend suggesting that Catigern was buried in a then 3500 -4000-year-old tomb. Personally, I find it unlikely, though it may give some credence to the local naming of the
Horse Stone as the King Making Stone, certainly from this point Hengist the
surviving mercenary brother became the King of the Kingdom of Kent known as the
Regnum Cantuariorium according to
scribes and scholars of the day.
|Old Graffiti On Kits Coty|
A final idea is the remote possibility that the name Kit derives from the welsh names Ket or Ked which may be linked to Keridwen/Ceridwen an Early Celtic Goddess – notably a Crone who lived in a cave/underground. It’s farfetched but it certainly fits and who’s to say that the sons of Vortigern didn’t bring their ways with them? That said the tomb predates this so Tomb in The Woods has to have the best odds.
I like the last suggestion best though! Many offerings are left at the stones throughout the year, whether that is a new ‘ancient custom’ or the result of generations of folklore, we will probably never know.
Claire Kehily 2017