Old anchorAt once bucolic and cosmopolitan, with a history of violence and academic elitism, The South East of England is indeed a study in contradiction.  Nowadays, it is second only to London in terms of its economy, and is the most populated English region.  Its history, though, is perhaps even richer, as it had been the passageway for the conquerors that eventually invaded and caused major changes to the rest of England. 

Nicknamed the “Garden of England”, the South East of England is indeed home to landscapes that are quintessentially English—sleepy hamlets, cobble-stoned villages, and well-manicured Elizabethan gardens in the Cotswolds, which has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  There is not one particular attraction to go to here—instead, it is the overall look and feel of the hill, home to many historical houses and estates that attract people to this side of England.  For those into arts and crafts, the Cotswolds is a haven, with a crafts movement that’s well and thriving.

Literary and architectural enthusiasts will find the area of Canterbury to their liking.  While in the olden days, pilgrims flocked to Canterbury because it was the place where Thomas a Becket was murdered, nowadays, bookworms go to Canterbury as a pilgrimage to the town that inspired the classic Canterbury Tales.  They will find Geoffrey Chaucer’s tales and characters brought to life inside St. Margaret’s Church, which houses a reconstruction of 14th century England.  Walking on the streets of Canterbury can provide insight into many architectural movements that ought to excite people interested in the relationship of architecture and history.  While the area was bombed during the Second World War, some historic buildings still survive, standing alongside newer buildings.  Some notable structures here include the Canterbury Cathedral, which is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the oldest parish church in England that is still used, St. Martin’s Church.

For even more history, visit the Windsor Castle.  While nowadays, it serves as a royal weekend getaway, this fortress (the oldest in the world that remains occupied) has seen its fair share of history—and we can see touches of the monarchs in the little details they left behind.  Another attraction here is the changing of the guard, but it gets crowded during the summer.

Separated from Windsor by the Thames is Eton, which is easily accessible from Windsor by the Windsor Bridge.  It is home to Eton College, which schools most of England’s future public officials and diplomats.  From Eton as well, across the Windsor Bridge, you can get a view of the Windsor castle by the Brocas Meadows.

The South East is also home to Oxford, the oldest university in England.  Situated on the river Thames, the landscape of the university city is dotted with architecture that range from ones built in the 13th century, to ones that are just a few decades old.  Here you can find some of the finest churches, museums, and if you’re that way inclined, taverns and pubs populated by students and locals who give certain vibrancy to this otherwise antiquated University City.

The Battle of Hastings in 1066 between the English and the Normans may have taken its name from the town of Hastings, but it didn’t actually happen there—it happened in the town of Battle.  Nowadays, while the town may still carry the burden of that history, Hastings has become a Victorian seaside resort, but its biggest draw is its Old Town, where visitors can travel back in time by traversing narrow passageways, bargaining in the antique shops, and seeing the first castle built in England after the Norman invasion—the Hastings Castle.  In the Stade, visitors will see the largest of Europe’s fishing fleet.

While the South East of England is predominantly steeped in what may be regarded as stiff history, it does know how to have fun.  This is where Brighton Beach comes into the picture.  This is, after all, where the Prince Regent built a place where he can let loose and have fun, during the 1800s.  Nowadays, it is still teeming with character—mixing its laidback by-the-beach attitude with city sophistication.

Its proximity to London and the European Continent makes it an ideal stopover and respite from visitors who want to take a breather from the city, but perhaps for the first-time traveler to England, the South East region is the best place to start—one can easily spend days marveling at its contradictions that makes this part of England quintessentially English.

Writer:  Kannika Pena

Because of its nearness to the European Continent, and its ancient people’s openness to the Roman civilization, it was only natural that much of England’s history would be concentrated in the South East region of the country.  The three most important invaders of Britain which shaped its history, the Romans, the Saxons, and the Normans, all treaded on this region, and left their indelible imprints.

Julius Caesar was the first to try and civilize the illiterate nation, landing on the coast of Kent in 54 BC, though he failed his two attempts, one of which happened near Canterbury.  In 43 AD, Emperor Claudius was able to integrate the nation to the Roman empire, and labeled it the Britannia Province.  When the Romans left just before their decline, the Saxons arrived in Thanet, a small district in Kent that would eventually endure the impact of many battles over Britain in the next few years.  Augustine’s arrival in Thanet during the reign of the Saxons, on the other hand, was the beginning of England’s strong Christian heritage.  

The third and final invasion of England that proved to be successful was the Battle of Hastings between the English and Norman armies, in 1066.  While the battle was named after the town of Hastings, it actually happened northwest of the town, in the modern-day town of Battle in Sussex.  The Battle of Hastings saw the Normans, led by William the Duke of Normandy, finally conquering England.  Its effect on the culture of England is still evident, especially in the language.  The Normans, being French, integrated many French words into the language, which had Germanic origins.

These three invasions which made lasting marks on England all had their start in the region.  The Pevensey Castle in East Sussex witnessed the coming and passing of all these three invaders, and is perhaps the most concrete illustration of England’s early history.  It was first constructed during the Roman rule in Britain, as a way to protect the region from the Saxons.  Years later, it became the fort of King Harold II and his army.  When they left it, the Normans took advantage, and this contributed to their victory over the Anglo-Saxons in 1066.


lick on the link to download your 36-page PDF version of SOUTH EAST ENGLAND.  It contains the counties of Berkshire, Surrey, kent, Hampshire, West Sussex, East Sussex and the Isle of Wight.