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37.—Kit’s Coty House., in Maidstone, Kent, England more
Sheep graze by the neolithic burial tomb while two shepherds wait.
The high road from Rochester to Maidstone presents several of those rich and varied prospects which so often in England compensate the traveller for the absence of the grander elements of picturesque beauty. Here, indeed, are no mountains shrouded in mist or tipped with partial sunlight; but the bold ridges of chalk are the boundaries of valleys whose fertility displays itself in wood and pasture, in corn-lands and scattered villages. If we look to the north, the broad Medway expands like a vast lake, with an amphitheatre of town and hill-fort, which tell at one and the same time the history of the different warfare of ancient strength and of modern science. When we have ascended the highest point of the ridge, we again see the Medway, an attenuated stream, winding amidst low banks for many a mile. The hill of chalk is of a sufficient height to wear an aspect of sterility; it has some of the bleak features of a mountain-land. The road lies close under the brow of the hill, with a gentle slope to the village of Aylesford – an historical village. Not far from the point where the Aylesford road intersects the high road is the remarkable monument called Kit’s Coty House (Fig. 36). Unlike most monuments of the same high antiquity, it remains, in all probability, as originally constructed. It was described two hundred and fifty years ago by the antiquary Stow, and the description is as nearly exact as any that we could write at the present hour: “I have myself, in company with divers worshipful and learned gentlemen, beheld it in anno 1590, and it is of four flat stones, one of them standing upright in the middle of two others, inclosing the edge sides of the first, and the fourth laid flat across the other three, and is of such height that men may stand on either side the middle stone in time of storm or tempest, safe from wind and rain, being defended with the breadth of the stones, having one at their backs, one on either side, and the fourth over their heads.” In one point the description of Stow does not agree with what we find at the present day: “About a coit’s cast from this monument lieth another great stone, much part thereof in the ground, as fallen down where the same had been affixed.” This stone was half buried in 1773, when Mr. Colebrooke described the monument; it is now wholly covered up. The demand of a few square feet for the growth of corn, in a country with millions of acres of waste land, would not permit its preservation.” (p. 11)
“The dimensions of Kit’s Coty House are thus given in Grose’s ‘Antiquities:’ “Upright stone on the N. or N. W. side, eight feet high, eight feet broad, two feet thick; estimated weight, eight tons and a half. Upright stone on the S. or S. E. side, eight feet high, seven and a half feet broad, two feet thick; estimated weight, eight tons. Upright stone between these, very irregular; medium dimensions, five feet high, five feet broad, fourteen inches thick; estimated weight, about two tons. Upper stone, very irregular, eleven feet long, eight feet broad, two feet thick; estimated weight, about ten tons seven cwt.
Holland, the first translator of Camden’s ‘Britannia,’ gives a description of Kit’s Coty House, which includes his notion, which was also that of Camden, of the original purpose of this monument. “Catigern, honoured with a stately and solemn funeral, is thought to have been interred near unto Aylesford, where, under the side of a hill, I saw four huge, rude, hard stones erected, two for the sides, one transversal in the middest between them, and the hugest of all, piled and laid over them in manner of the British monument which is called Stonehenge, but not so artificially with mortice and tenants.”
The tradition to which Holland refers is, that a great battle was fought at Aylesford, between the Britons commanded by Catigern, the brother of Vortimer, and the Saxon invaders under Hengist and Horsa: in this battle the Saxons were routed, but Catigern fell. An earlier writer than Holland, Lambarde, in his ‘Perambulation of Kent,’ 1570, also describes this monument in the parish of Aylesford as the tomb of Catigern; “The Britons nevertheless in the mean space followed their victory (as I said) and returning from the chace, erected to the memory of Catigern (as I suppose) that monument of four huge and hard stones, which are yet standing in this parish, pitched upright in the ground, covered after the manner of Stonage (that famous sepulchre of the Britons upon Salisbury Plain) and now termed of the common people here Citscotehouse.” ” (p. 11)