Gravesend Clock Tower
|Gravesend shown within Kent|
|Population||66,000 (2012 est)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Postcode district||DA11, DA12|
|Ambulance||South East Coast|
|EU Parliament||South East England|
Gravesend // is an ancient town in northwest Kent, England, situated 21 miles (35 km) east-southeast of Charing Cross (central London) on the south bank of the Thames Estuary and opposite Tilbury in Essex. Located in the diocese of Rochester, it is the administrative centre of the Borough of Gravesham.
Its geographical situation has given Gravesend strategic importance throughout the maritime and communications history of South East England. A Thames Gateway commuter town, it retains strong links with the River Thames, not least through the Port of London Authority Pilot Station and has witnessed rejuvenation since the advent of High Speed 1 rail services via Gravesend railway station.
- Gravesend and the River Thames
- Religious buildings
- Twin towns
- Images for kids
Recorded as Gravesham in the Domesday Book of 1086 when it belonged to Odo, Earl of Kent and Bishop of Bayeux, the half-brother of William the Conqueror, its name probably derives from "graaf-ham": the home of the reeve or bailiff of the lord of the manor. Another theory suggests that the name Gravesham may be a corruption of the words "grafs-ham" – a place "at the end of the grove". Frank Carr asserts that the name derives from the Saxon Gerevesend, the end of the authority of the Portreeve (originally Portgereve - chief town administrator). In the Netherlands, a place called 's-Gravenzande is found with its name translating into "Sand (or sandy area) belonging to the Count". The 's is a contraction of the old Dutch genitive article des, and translates into plain English of the. The neighborhood of Gravesend, Brooklyn in the United States is said by some to have been named for 's-Gravenzande.
The Domesday spelling is its earliest known historical record; all other spellings – in the later (c. 1100) Domesday Monachorum and in Textus Roffensis the town is Gravesend/Gravesende. A variation, Graveshend, can be seen in a court record of 1422, where Edmund de Langeford was parson, and attributed to where the graves ended after the Black Death. The municipal title Gravesham was adopted in 1974 as the name for the new borough.
Stone Age implements have been found in the locality since the 1900s, as has evidence of an Iron Age settlement at nearby Springhead. Extensive Roman remains have been found at nearby Vagniacae; and Gravesend lies immediately to the north of the Roman road connecting London with the Kent coast – now called Watling Street. Domesday Book recorded mills, hythes, and fisheries here.
Gravesend has one of the oldest surviving markets in the country. Its earliest charter dates from 1268, with town status being granted to the two parishes of Gravesend and Milton by King Henry III in its Charter of Incorporation of that year. The first Mayor of Gravesend was elected in 1268, although the first Town Hall was not built until 1573, being replaced in 1764 with a new frontage added in 1836. Although it ceased to be a town hall in 1968 when the new Gravesend Civic Centre (Woodville Halls) was opened, it remains in use as Magistrates' Courts, and in 2004, following a full refurbishment funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and grants from Kent County Council and Gravesham Borough Council, the Old Town Hall now thrives as a venue for weddings and private functions as well as community and public events.
In 1401, a further Royal Charter was granted, allowing the men of the town to operate boats between London and the town; these became known as the "Long Ferry". It became the preferred form of passage, because of the perils of road travel (see below).
On 21 March 1617, John Rolfe and Rebecca (aka Princess Pocahontas) with their two-year-old son, Thomas, boarded a ship in London bound for the Commonwealth of Virginia; the ship had only sailed as far as Gravesend before Rebecca fell fatally ill, and she died when her body was taken ashore. It is not known what caused her death. Her funeral and interment took place on 21 March 1617 at the parish church of St George, Gravesend. The site of her grave was underneath the church's chancel, though since the previous church was destroyed by fire in 1727 her exact resting place is unknown. Thomas Rolfe survived, but was placed under the supervision of Sir Lewis Stukley at Plymouth, before being sent to his uncle, Henry Rolfe whilst John Rolfe and his late wife's assistant Tomocomo reached America under the captaincy of Sir Samuel Argall's ship.
At Fort Gardens is the New Tavern Fort, built during the 1780s and extensively rebuilt by Major-General Charles Gordon between 1865 and 1879: it is now Chantry Heritage Centre, partly open-air, under the care of Gravesend Local History Society.
Journeys by road to Gravesend were historically quite hazardous, since the main London-Dover road crossed Blackheath, notorious for its highwaymen. Stagecoaches from London to Canterbury, Dover and Faversham used Gravesend as one of their "stages" as did those coming north from Tonbridge. In 1840 there were 17 coaches picking up and setting down passengers and changing horses each way per day. There were two coaching inns on what is now Old Road East: the Prince of Orange and the Lord Nelson. Post coaches had been plying the route for at least two centuries: Samuel Pepys records having stopped off at Gravesend in 1650 en route to the Royal Dockyards at Chatham.
A permanent military presence was established in the town when Milton Barracks opened in 1862.
Although a great deal of the town's economy continued to be connected with maritime trade, since the 19th century other major employers have been the cement and paper industries.
From 1932 to 1956, an airport was located to the east of the town. It began as a civilian airfield, but during World War II it became a Royal Air Force fighter station, RAF Gravesend, and so Gravesend was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe. In 1956 the site was taken over by Gravesend Town Council; a large housing estate known as Riverview Park was built on its site. At 03:35 GMT on Sunday 5 February 1939, Alex Henshaw took off from Gravesend Airport at the start of his record-breaking flight to Cape Town and back. He completed the flight in 39 hours 36 minutes over the next four days; his record still stands.
The location of Gravesend is at a point where the higher land – the lowest point of the dip slope of the North Downs – reaches the river bank. To the east are the low-lying Shorne Marshes; to the west, beyond Northfleet and the Swanscombe Marshes. The settlement thus established because it was a good landing place: it was also sheltered by the prominent height of what is now called Windmill Hill (see Landmarks below); although Windmill Hill still remains a dominant feature, Gravesend's highest point is actually further inland at Marling Cross, adjacent to the A2.
From its origins as a landing place and shipping port, Gravesend gradually extended southwards and eastwards. Better-off people from London visited the town during the summer months; at first by boat, and then by railway. More extensive building began after World War I; this increased after World War II, when many of the housing estates in the locality were built.
Gravesend's built-up areas comprise Painters Ash, adjacent to the A2; King's Farm (most of King's Farm estate was built in the 1920s); and Christianfields. The latter housing estate has been completely rebuilt over a 6-year project from 2007 to 2013.
Part of the southern built-up area of the town was originally two separate rural parishes: viz, Cobham and Northfleet.
On 10 August 2003, Gravesend recorded one of the highest temperatures since records began in the United Kingdom, with a reading of 38.1 °C (100.6 °F), only beaten by Brogdale, near Faversham, 26 miles (42 km) to the ESE. The Brogdale weather station, which is run by a volunteer, only reports its data once a month; Gravesend, which has a Met Office site, reports its data each hour.
Being inland and yet relatively close to continental Europe, Gravesend enjoys a somewhat more continental climate than the coastal areas of Kent, Essex and East Anglia and also compared to western parts of Britain. It is therefore less cloudy, drier, and less prone to Atlantic depressions with their associated wind and rain than western parts, as well as being hotter in summer and colder in winter.
Thus Gravesend continues to record higher temperatures in summer, sometimes being the hottest place in the country, e.g. on the warmest day of 2011, when temperatures reached 33.1 °C. Additionally, the town holds at least two records for the year 2010, of 30.9 °C and 31.7 °C. Another record was set during England's Indian summer of 2011 with 29.9 °C., the highest temperature ever recorded in the UK for October.
|Climate data for Stanford-le-Hope (nearest climate station to Gravesend) 1981–2010|
|Average high °C (°F)||7.9
|Average low °C (°F)||2.2
|Precipitation mm (inches)||47.9
|Source: Met Office|
Since 1990 the economy of Gravesham has changed from one based on heavy industry to being service-based. The borough's estimated population in 2012 was 101,700: a 6,000 increase in less than a decade. It has a high population density (almost 10 people per hectare) compared to nationally; it has a relatively young population (40% of the population are below 30); and 60% of the population are of working age.
Based upon figures from the 2001 Census, the second largest religious group in the Borough are Sikh, who at that time made up 6.7% of the population. However, if the term belief is used, Christians are most numerous at more than 70%, non-religious and undeclared are second and third, with Sikhs as the fourth group.
The 2011 Census shows that, in the Medway area, Christians are now approximately 57% of the population, with the non-religious at 28%, whereas, in Gravesham, specifically, the population comprises 61% Christian, non-religious at 22% and Sikhs at 7.6%.
Gravesend Town Pier
Gravesend has the world's oldest surviving cast iron pier, built in 1834. It is a unique structure having the first known iron cylinders used in its construction. The pier was completely refurbished in 2004 and now features a bar and restaurant; with public access to the pier head when the premises are open. A recent £2 million investment in a pontoon is now in place at the pier head onto the Thames, which provides for small and medium-sized craft to land at Gravesend. On 17 September 2012, the Gravesend - Tilbury Ferry, relocated to the Town Pier, from its previous terminal in nearby West Street.
Royal Terrace Pier
Built in 1844 and originally named Terrace Pier, the prefix "Royal" was added in honour of Princess Alexandra of Denmark, who arrived at the Gravesend on her way to marry Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in 1865. River pilots have been based at this pier since the late 19th century. Today, Royal Terrace Pier is in constant 24-hour use, keeping vigilant as part of the Port of London Authority main operations centre; thus, its public access is available only occasionally during the year.
This pier's initial construction was funded by the Gravesend Freehold Investment Company, at a cost of £9,000. It is 'T' shaped, with a pontoon at its pier head. Like the Town Pier, Royal Terrace Pier is also a Grade II listed structure.
Gravesend Clock Tower, Harmer Street
Situated at the top of Harmer Street, its foundation stone was laid on 6 September 1887. The memorial stone records that the clock tower was erected by public subscription (£700 was raised toward its construction) and dedicated to Queen Victoria, to commemorate the 50th year of her reign. Built of Portland and Dumfries stone and backed by London stock brick, the design of the structure is based on the design of the Elizabeth Tower in the Palace of Westminster, which houses Big Ben. The centre of the clock itself is measured at 50 feet (15 m) above ground and the face measures 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m) in diameter.
An American sculptor, William Ordway Partridge, created a life-size statue of the 17th-century Native American princess Pocahontas, which was unveiled at Jamestown, Virginia in 1922. Queen Elizabeth II viewed this statue in 1957 and again on 4 May 2007, while visiting Jamestown on the 400th anniversary of foundation, it being the first successful English colonial settlement in America.
On 5 October 1958, an exact replica of the statue by Partridge was dedicated as a memorial to the 17th-century Native American princess at St George's Parish Church. The Governor of Virginia presented the statue as a gift to the British people in 1958, a gesture prompted by The Queen's visit to the USA in the previous year.
Windmill Hill, named after its former windmills, offers extensive views across the Thames and was a popular spot for Victorian visitors to the town because of the camera obscura installed at the Old Mill and for its tea gardens and other amusements.
The hill was the site of a beacon in 1377, which was instituted by King Richard II, and still in use 200 years later at the time of the Spanish Armada, although the hill was then known as "Rouge Hill". A modern beacon was erected and lit in 1988, the 300th anniversary of the Armada.
It was during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I that the first windmill was placed at the highest point in Gravesend, 179 ft (55 m) overlooking the high-water mark of the river. One mill burnt down in 1763 but was replaced the following year and that too demolished in 1894. The last surviving windmill is reported as having been destroyed by fire during Mafeking Night celebrations in 1900.
During World War I an Imperial German Navy airship passed over Windmill Hill, dropping bombs on it; today there are three markers indicating where these bombs struck.
Gravesend and the River Thames
The Thames has long been an important feature in Gravesend life and may well have been the deciding factor for the first settlement here. One of the town's first distinctions was in being given the sole right to transport passengers to and from London by water in the late 14th century. The "Tilt Boat" was a familiar sight on the Thames. The first steamboat plied its trade between Gravesend and London in the early 19th century, bringing with it a steadily increasing number of visitors to the Terrace Pier Gardens, Windmill Hill, Springhead Gardens and Rosherville Gardens. Gravesend soon became one of the first English resort towns and thrived from an early tourist trade.
Gravesend "watermen" were often in a family trade; and the town is the headquarters of the Port of London Authority Control Centre (formerly known as Thames Navigation Service), supplying both river and sea pilots. Today radar plays an important role in the navigation of shipping on the River Thames.
A dinghy at an unmodernised Gravesend was the backdrop to the 1952 thriller The Long Memory starring Sir John Mills. In the film, Mills plays a character living in poverty on a derelict fishing boat stranded in the mud flats.
Gravesend also has one of England's oldest regattas retained from its strong maritime links with the Thames. Although the origins of the regatta are unknown it dates back at least to Tudor times. The races are traditionally competed by Gravesend Skiffs, 21-foot-long (6.4 m) oak-built clinker-built boats.
The Thames Navigation Service was first thought up between 1950 and 1952 by Cdr Peter de Neumann GM RN, when he was captain of HMRC Vigilant (HM Customs & Excise) based at Gravesend Reach. [It is possible that "Vigilant Way" in Gravesend is named for her.] This idea followed on from considering such incidents as the accidental ramming of HMS Truculent by the Divina in 1950, the collision with the Nore Forts by Baalbek, and the disastrous flooding of Canvey, Foulness and the East Coast in 1953. In these and other situations, rescue and intelligence gathering were severely hampered by a lack of centralised command and control, and lack of detailed "picture". De Neumann resigned his command after returning Vigilant from the Spithead Review and joined the PLA, immediately suggesting in a report to them, submitted in 1953, that a feasibility study of such a system be commenced. He then oversaw its development and ultimate installation at Gravesend.
Until the building of Tilbury Docks on the opposite side of the river, between 1882 and 1886, Gravesend was the Thames' first port of entry. Thousands of emigrants, as well as large numbers of troops, embarked from here. Tilbury Docks have expanded considerably since with the closure of all the London Docks. The entrance to the Docks is somewhat awkward, situated as it is on the sharp bend of the river, and often need tugboat assistance, as do the larger ships moored at Tilbury landing stages. There have been many tug companies based at Gravesend: among them the Sun Company, the Alexandra Towing Company and, today, the Smith Howard Towing Company. East Indiamen traditionally stopped here at a point known as Long Reach to lighten their loads before sailing up the Thames to moorings at Blackwall.
For some years after war steamer excursions were run on the MV Royal Daffodil down the Thames from Gravesend to France, but they ceased in 1966. Cruises are now operated by the Lower Thames and Medway Passenger Boat Company up the river to Greenwich. The cross-river passenger ferry to Tilbury provides a long-established route to and from Essex. Before the Dartford Crossing came into being there was a vehicle ferry at Gravesend too.
There is a RNLI lifeboat station based at Royal Terrace Pier which has become one of the busiest in the country.
Thames and Medway Canal
The Thames and Medway Canal was opened for barge traffic in 1824. It ran from Gravesend on the Thames to Frindsbury near Strood on the Medway. Although seven miles long it had only two locks, each 94 ft by 22 ft in size, one at each end. Its most notable feature was the tunnel near Strood which was 3,946 yds long, the second longest canal tunnel ever built in the UK. The great cost of the tunnel meant that the canal was not a commercial success.
After only 20 years most of the canal was closed and the canal's tunnel was converted to railway use. Initially canal and railway shared the tunnel, with the single track built on timber supports, but by 1847 canal use was abandoned and a double track laid. Today Gravesend Canal Basin is used for the mooring of pleasure craft. Gravesend Sailing Club which was founded so that working men could participate in the sport while still having to earn a living is based here. The lock has been dredged and restoration and strengthening works have been carried out to the basin walls as part of regeneration of the area.
The main roads through the town are the west-east A226 road from Dartford and beyond to Rochester; and the A227 road to Tonbridge. The A2 road passes two miles (3 km) south of Gravesend town centre; a mile stretch of it was rerouted in the early 2000s to take the traffic away from the south end of the town.
In March 2006 the first of the area’s new Fastrack bus services, which use a combination of ordinary roads and dedicated 'bus tracks', opened. The service links to Ebbsfleet International railway station, Greenhithe, Bluewater Shopping Centre and Dartford.
Gravesend railway station lies on the North Kent Line, and was opened in 1849. The Gravesend West Line, terminating by the river and for some time operating as a continental ferry connection, closed in 1968.
Gravesend is the primary north Kent interchange for high speed and metro rail services. In December 2009, the full high-speed timetable between London and Kent came into force and passenger usage from Gravesend has exceeded expectations. High-speed services from London St Pancras International and Stratford International, are offered via Gravesend to the Medway towns, Sittingbourne, Faversham, Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate. Some of these services continue to Ashford International via Sandwich and Dover Priory. There are also metro services to London Charing Cross, London Waterloo East and London Bridge via Sidcup, via Woolwich Arsenal and Lewisham and Bexleyheath, and to Gillingham.
Gravesend is served by several Arriva Kent Thameside bus services connecting the town with other areas in Kent including Dartford, Bluewater and Sevenoaks and to the Medway Towns.
Gravesend is also served by Fastrack bus services connecting the town with Bluewater, Darent Valley Hospital and Dartford.
The Saxon Shore Way, a long distance footpath, starts at Gravesend and traces the coast as in Roman times as far as Hastings, East Sussex; 163 miles (262 km) in total. The Wealdway also starts at the Town Pier, and continues almost due south over the Weald to Eastbourne in East Sussex where it links with South Downs Way, a distance of 80 miles (128 km).
The town's principal Anglican place of worship is the Church of St George, Gravesend. This Georgian building is a tourist attraction because of its association with Princess Pocahontas, as well as being the parish church. Gravesend has three other Church of England parishes and Roman Catholic, Methodist, United Reformed and Baptist churches as well as other smaller chapels.
Gravesend has a significant Sikh population. Its first gurdwara was founded in 1956 by Bhat Sikh Santokh Singh Takk (off Pelham Road South) in Edwin Street with a second one opening, ten years later, in a former Congregationalist church, but this gurdwara closed in 2010. The same year, one of the United Kingdom's largest and most impressive Sikh temples was opened at a cost of £12 million.
The Gravesend Historical Society meets regularly and produces a biannual magazine on its activities.
Charles Dickens lived at Gad's Hill Place, 2 miles (3.2 km) east of Gravesend and specifically mentions the town and its environs in at least three of his novels. In David Copperfield Mr. Peggotty, Ham and the Micawbers say their goodbyes and sail away from Gravesend to begin a new life in Australia. In Great Expectations, Pip, with accomplices, rows Magwitch from London downriver in expectation of waylaying a regular steamer (whilst under way in the Lower Hope, off Gravesend) bound for Hamburg. (Gravesend also appears in The Pickwick Papers). Gravesend is briefly mentioned in two other novels: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley during Victor's travels through the United Kingdom with Clerval; ultimately culminating in Victor's residence in the Orkney Islands; and also in the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.
The The War Game was a 1965 television drama-documentary film depicting a nuclear war. Written, directed, and produced by Peter Watkins for the BBC's The Wednesday Play anthology series, it caused dismay within the BBC and in government, and was withdrawn before the provisional screening date of Thursday 7 October 1965. The corporation said that "the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting. It will, however, be shown to invited audiences..."
Despite this decision, it was publicly screened and shown abroad, winning the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1966.
The film was eventually broadcast on 31 July 1985 on the BBC, during the week before the fortieth anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, the day before a repeat screening of Threads.
The film was shot in the Kent towns of Tonbridge, Gravesend, Chatham and Dover. The cast was almost entirely made up of non-actors, casting having taken place via a series of public meetings several months earlier. Much of the filming of the post-strike devastation was shot at the Grand Shaft Barracks, Dover. The narration was provided by Peter Graham with Michael Aspel reading the quotations from source material.
The 1952 film "The Long Memory" starring John Mills was filmed in and around Gravesend. It features many squalid streets running down towards the river that even then were being progressively cleared for redevelopment. It is also possible to hear in the background steam engines working out of the Gravesend West Line West Street terminus. Except for the skeletal remains of the pier all evidence of this station has now disappeared.
Gravesend is mentioned in Ridley Scott's 2010 film Robin Hood. Robin (played by Russell Crowe) and his companions intend to return to England from France by boat to Gravesend, after they flee the army of King Richard I, at whose death in battle they were present as archers.
Gravesend is also briefly mentioned in John Irving's novel A Prayer for Owen Meany, noting that the fictitious town of Gravesend, New Hampshire, is named after the original Gravesend in Kent.
Gravesend is twinned with:
- Cambrai, France
- Chesterfield, Virginia, United States
- Neumünster, Germany
- Brunswick, Victoria, Australia
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