The historic county of Kent had just under 1,000,000 acres and was the ninth largest in England. It is a county of contrasts and all writers remark upon the diversity and variety of the landscape. Its geology and soils form east-west bands, each influencing the pattern of agriculture, industry and society. The long coastline and various estuaries provided opportunities for fishing and harbours from which produce could easily be transported to feed the growing city of London.
The early settlement history of the county, and the landholding patterns to which it gave rise, were inextricably woven into determining how population and employment developed in the various regions. For example, the rise of prosperity in the Weald, brought about by the cloth industry in particular, can be seen in the changing distribution of population and wealth between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. In the rest of Kent, population was still dense along the central section of the north coast and in the vicinity of Maidstone, while the north-east remained sparsely populated. But big changes had occurred in Romney Marsh, where few people were living by then, and in the High Weald, which by the mid sixteenth century was among the most densely populated areas of all.
The 1664 hearth tax reflects standards of heating at a single moment during a period of transition. It captures the situation at the point when new opportunities of employment on the London fringes and in the naval and dockyard towns were setting in motion massive changes in the fabric of those northern towns, and just before rebuilding began in rural east Kent. In all parts of the county the occupiers of older buildings were slow to upgrade them, while new ideas about what constituted an acceptable level of heating meant that newly erected buildings were far better equipped. The result was an uneven equation between hearths and wealth. A similar discrepancy occurred in the twentieth century when central heating was introduced: on the whole, old middle-class houses lagged a couple of decades behind new working-class flats in making what was ultimately an inevitable change.