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Holy Trinity Church, Dartford High Street

Dartford shown within KentPopulation85,911 (2001) OS grid referenceTQ538739 - London18.8 mi (30.3 km) DistrictDartfordShire countyKentRegionSouth EastConstituent countryEnglandSovereign stateUnited KingdomPost townDARTFORD Postcode districtDADialling code01322 PoliceKentFireKentAmbulanceSouth East CoastEuropean ParliamentSouth East EnglandUK ParliamentDartfordList of places: UKEnglandKent

Coordinates: 51°27′50″N 0°15′14″E / 51.464, 0.254

Dartford is the principal town in the borough of Dartford. It is situated in the northwest corner of Kent, England, 16 miles (25 km) east south-east of central London.

The town centre is situated in a valley through which the River Darent flows, and where the old road from London to Dover crossed: hence the name, from Darent + ford. . Dartford became a market town in medieval times; and, although today it is principally a commuter town for Greater London it has a long history of religious, industrial and cultural importance. It is an important rail hub; the main through-road now avoids the town itself.


Geology and geography

The quarry at Bluewater, showing the underlying Chalk
Further information: Geography of Kent

Dartford lies within the area known as the London Basin. The low-lying marsh to the north of the town consists of London Clay, and the alluvium brought down by the two rivers - the Darent and the Cray - whose confluence is in this area. The higher land on which the town stands, and through which the narrow Darent valley runs, consists of chalk surmounted by the Blackheath Beds of sand and gravel.

As a human settlement, Dartford became established as a river crossing-point with the coming of the Romans; and as a focal point between two routes - that from west to east being part of the main route connecting London with the Continent; and the southerly route following the Darent valley. As a result the town's main road pattern makes the shape of letter 'T'. The Dartford Marshes to the north, and the proximity of Crayford in the London Borough of Bexley to the west, mean that the town's growth is to the south and east. Wilmington is to all intents and purposes part of the town to the south; whilst the almost continuous Thames Gateway development means that there is little to show the town boundary in an easterly direction.

Within the town boundaries there are several distinct areas: the town centre around the parish church and along the High Street; the Joyce Green area; Temple Hill estate constructed in 1927; the Brent; Fleet Downs; as well as two important areas of open space and several industrial estates. The open spaces are Central Park alongside the river; and Dartford Heath (see below).


The Library and Museum with the war memorial in front

In the prehistory period the first people appeared in the Dartford area around 250,000 years ago, a tribe of prehistoric hunters whose exemplar is called Swanscombe Man. Many other archaeological investigations have revealed the picture of occupation of the district: there have been finds from the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.

When the Romans engineered the Dover to London road (afterwards named Watling Street) it was necessary to cross the River Darent by ford: giving the settlement its name. Roman villas were built along the Darent valley, and at Noviomagus (Crayford), close by. The Saxons may well have established the first settlement where Dartford now stands. Dartford manor is mentioned in the Domesday Book, written after the Norman invasion in 1086: it was owned by the king.

During the medieval period Dartford, because of its strategic position en route for the Continent, but also since it was the on route taken by many pilgrims, became one of the sites in England where various religious orders established themselves. In the 12th century the Knights Templar had possession of the manor of Dartford.[1] The National Trust property at Sutton-at-Hone, to the south of the town, is a remaining piece of that history. In the 14th century, a priory was established here, and two groups of friars—the Domicans and the Franciscans—built hospitals here for the care of the sick. At this time the town became a small, but important, market town.

Wat Tyler, of the Peasants' Revolt fame, might well have been a local hero, although three other towns in Kent all claim the same, and there are various reasons to doubt the strength of Tyler's connection to the town.[2] However, the existence of the public house named after him in the town nevertheless gives a little credence to Dartford's claim.

The gatehouse of Henry VIII 's Royal Manor

In the 15th century, two kings of England became part of the town's history. Henry V marched through the town with his troops prior to fighting the French at the Battle of Agincourt in November 1415; in 1422 Henry V's body was taken to Holy Trinity Church by Edmund Lacey, the Bishop of Exeter, who performed a funeral. In March 1452, Richard the Duke of York camped on the Brent with ten thousand men, waiting for a confrontation with King Henry VI. The Duke surrendered to the King in Dartford. The place of the camp is marked today by York Road.

The sixteenth century saw significant changes in the hitherto agricultural basis of the market in Dartford, as new industries began to take shape (see below). The priory was destroyed in 1538 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and a new manor house constructed by King Henry VIII. In 1576 Dartford Grammar School was founded, part of the Tudor emphasis on education for ordinary people.

Many Protestants were executed during the reigns of Queen Mary (1553–1554) and Philip and Mary (1554–1558), including Christopher Waid, a Dartford linen-weaver burnt to death at the stake in front of thousands of spectators on Dartford Brent in 1555. The Martyrs Memorial on East Hill commemorates Waid and other Kentish Martyrs.


Dartford's industrial history

The earliest industries were those connected with agriculture, such as the brewing of traditional beers and ales. Lime-burning and chalk-mining also had their place. Fulling was another: the cleansing of the wool needed a great deal of available water, which the river could provide. This led to other water-based industries, using the power of the water to operate machinery.

Sir John Spilman set up the first paper mill in England at Dartford in 1588 on a site near Powder Mill Lane, and soon some 600 employees worked there, providing an invaluable source of local employment. Iron-making on the Weald was in full operation at this time, and iron ingots were sent to Dartford, to England's first iron-slitting mill, set up on the Darent at Dartford Creek in 1595 by Godfrey Box, an immigrant from the Low Countries. In 1785, a blacksmith from Lowfield Street began to make engines, boilers and machinery. Some of that machinery was for the local gunpowder factory run by Miles Peter Andrews and the Pigou family. In 1785, the firm of J&E Hall was set up, specialising in heavy engineering; later into refrigerating equipment; and by 1906 into vehicle production.

From those beginnings in the 18th century were to come the industrial base on which the growth and prosperity of Dartford were to follow.

In 1840 the mustard factory of Saunders & Harrison was described as being 'perhaps the largest in the kingdom'.[3] Dartford Paper Mills were built in 1862, when excise duty on paper was abolished. Between 1844-1939 the fabric printing works of Augustus Applegath were in being in Bullace Lane: again a firm using the waters of the river.

The demand created by World War I meant that output at the local Vickers factory multiplied, with a positive effect on the local economy. Burroughs-Wellcome chemical works (now called GlaxoSmithKline) made Dartford a centre for pharmaceutical industry. During the war, many Belgian refugees arrived in the town. Unable to house them all, many people were housed with volunteers.[citation needed]

Dartford Civic Centre

There has been a large power station on the Thames at Littlebrook to the north of the town since 1939. The current station, which has one of the tallest chimneys in the UK, dates from the early 1980s.

Industrial estates

Dartford, like many other similar-sized towns, has a periphery of estates, both housing and industrial. The latter comprise the following, listed in clockwise order:

  • Riverside Industrial Estate - beside the Darenth to the north of the town
  • Crossways Business Park. This large development over the last few years lies on either side of the extended A206 road. Within it the areas are:
    • Admirals Park; Masthead; and Newton Court
    • Dartford Internationa Ferry Terminal (Thames Europort)
  • Orbit One Industrial Estate, on the Green Street Green road
  • Questor Industrial Estate off Hawley Road
  • Four estates off the erstwhile A206 to the NW:
    • Victoria Industral Park
    • Burnham Trading Estate
    • Miilside Industrial Estate
    • Swan Business Park

In early 2006 the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) purchased a 2.6 hectare site on the edge of the town which had been used by Unwins, an off-license chain, which went into administration in 2005. They also purchased the neighbouring Matrix Business Centre to protect its future. They intend to develop the site as 'Dartford Northern Gateway', with a mixture of retail and other businesses and housing.


Low cost shopping units in the Priory shopping centre

Some of Dartford's most prominent industries suffered extreme decline in the 20th century, causing redundancies and unemployment.[citation needed] Brewing, paper-making, flour milling and the manufacture of cement were the main industries to suffer extinction or significant decline.[citation needed] Nearby Swanscombe Cement Works (now redeveloped into Bluewater shopping centre) was closed by Blue Circle in 1990. This industry had brought great prosperity to the companies involved in cement manufacture,[citation needed] but left a legacy locally of despoiled derelict land and pollution.[citation needed] In 1990 Dartford contained some 1,700 acres (6.9 km²) of spoiled land resulting from extractive industries.[citation needed] Cement-dust pollution from local cement works was a regular subject of complaint in the local press throughout the 20th century.[citation needed]

Since the closure of Dartford's major employers: Seagers, J. & E. Hall, Vickers and Burroughs Wellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline), and the re-development of nearby Bexleyheath as a shopping town in the 1970s (and the more recent development of the Bluewater Shopping Centre), Dartford lost a significant number of its rising Generation X demographic to more economically viable jobs, towns and cities.[citation needed] This has been reflected in the sharp decline of the number of visible household brands in Dartford's High Street and its two shopping centres.[citation needed] At its peak in the 1980s Dartford was home to major brands such as Sainsbury's, W.H. Smiths, Topman, Boots, Marks & Spencer and HMV, but some of these high street names closed down during the early 1990s leaving cheaper brands such as Primark and Wilkinson to take over the empty premises.[citation needed]


Orchards and Waitrose

In 2007 Dartford saw an increase in the number of visible household brands in its environs as B&Q, Marks & Spencer, TK Maxx and asda living opened new outlet stores on the outer edges of the town centre. Before this Safeway had taken part in the development of Dartford's second shopping centre, The Orchards, located next to the Orchard Theatre. The Safeway's site was eventually taken over by Waitrose and continues to be only one of a few major brands visible in the town.[citation needed] The historical and once bustling main High Street and adjacent shopping centre, The Priory, continue to fall into a decline.[citation needed]


In 1801, Dartford’s population was c.2400; by the 2001 census it had increased to 85,911. 2001 census figures for Dartford Much of this growth can be apportioned to the fact that Dartford became, for some time in its existence, an industrial town. Unemployment levels, taken from the 2001 census, were at 3.8%. By 2006 this had decreased to 2.2%, somewhat below the national average. 1


The Orchard Theatre, seen from the footbridge over the A226

Dartford has two major buildings concerned with performance art. The Orchard Theatre, located in the town centre, is a fully professional theatre, providing audiences with a large range of drama, dance, music and entertainment. The Mick Jagger Centre (built in the grounds of Dartford Grammar School) in Shepherds Lane was completed in 2000 and provides facilities for community arts across a wide region. The local museum in Market Street is housed in the same building as the library.

Dartford is the home of one football club, Dartford F.C., who play home matches at Princes Park Stadium and compete in the Isthmian League Premier Division after winning promotion as champions from the Isthmian League Division One North in the 2007-08 season.



The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge forms the southbound lane of the Dartford Crossing

Since the time of the Romans, Dartford has always been of importance to road transport. The construction of what has become known as Watling Street, which passed through town and forded the river, was of great importance to the communications of the Roman Empire, connecting London to Dover and the continent. Even when the Romans left Britain, it was still maintained in good order and continued in use,although the introduction of stagecoach services increased the amount of traffic on the road so that, by the 18th century it had become necessary to control the upkeep of such heavily-used roads. Turnpike Trusts were set up by Act of Parliament. Dartford was served by two: that for Watling Street; and the road south to Sevenoaks, both brought into being between 1750 and 1780.

The coming of the railways brought an end to the turnpikes, and road improvement came almost to a standstill. In the first quarter of the 20th century, which also saw the beginning of motor transport, tarmacadam was developed. In 1925 the building of what was to become the A2 main road took traffic away from Dartford town centre since it included a bypass to the town (Princes Way). Today the original main road trough the town is the A226. The erstwhile turnpike road south to Sevenoaks is now the A225). A newer by-pass is the A206, which skirts the town to the north. Its prime purpose is to carry traffic from the riverside industrial developments on to the Dartford Crossing from both west and east.

Dartford is perhaps most well-known for the latter, the main mode of crossing the River Thames to the east of London, where the southbound A282 (part of the London Orbital) crosses the river via the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge toll bridge, opened in 1991. The northbound carriageway crosses via the twin bore Dartford Tunnel. The first tunnel was opened in 1963, its twin in 1980 [1].

A recent innovation is Fastrack, an express bus system connecting the Kent Thameside area. The system is still (2007) being developed.


Two 'Networker' trains in Dartford Station

The first railway from London to reach Dartford was the North Kent Line via Woolwich in 1849, connecting at Gravesend with the line through to the Medway Towns. Later two more lines were built:

The three routes make Dartford a very busy junction. All the lines were electrified on 6 June 1926.


Further information: List of schools in Kent#Dartford

Dartford houses several secondary schools :

Places of Worship

  • Church of England
    • Christ Church, Cross Road
    • Holy Trinity, High St
    • St Albans, St Albans Road
    • St Edmunds, Temple Hill
    • St Michaels, Church Hill
  • Roman Catholic
    • St Anselms, West Hill
    • St Vincent's, Temple Hill
  • Baptist
    • Temple Hill Baptist, St Edmunds Road
    • Baptist Chapel, Highfield Road - Established by Alfred Sturge
  • Methodist
    • Dartford Methodist, Spital Street
    • Brent Methodist, Brent Lane
  • Other denominations
    • St Andrews United Reformed Church, Watling Street
    • The Salvation Army, Hythe Street
    • Dartford Community Church (Dartford Christian Fellowship), Dartford Road
    • Emanuel Pentecostal Church, East Hill
    • Quaker Society of Friends, Holmesdale Gr
    • One With Grace Church, Hawley Road

The parish church

The ford, now Dartford Bridge over the River Darent, and Holy Trinity Church

The Parish Church, Holy Trinity, is situated on the western bank of the River Darent, from where a hermit would conduct travellers across the ford. The church was originally a 9th century Saxon structure, but gained later Norman additions. In the 13th century a Royal Wedding was celebrated there, thus today the choristers are entitled to wear scarlet cassocks. Also on display within the church is a brass plaque commemorating the work of Richard Trevithick, the pioneer of steam propulsion, who lived, worked and died in the town.

The graveyard is situated in St Edmund's Pleasance on the summit of East Hill, which gave rise to a traditional and derogatory rhyme about the people of Dartford being '...buried above the steeple'. The church actually has no steeple; it has a tower featuring a ring of eight bells.


There are, or have been, many hospital buildings in Dartford, the majority of which have been closed since the opening of Darent Valley Hospital. One of the best-known, Stone House Hospital, in Cotton Lane to the east of the town, was opened on 16 April 1866 as the "City of London Lunatic Asylum". It was, and still is, a large castellated structure built in spacious grounds. It remained under the direct administration of the City of London until 1948, when it was transferred to the National Health Service (NHS). It remains one of the largest and most visible structures in Dartford, and was until recently operated by the NHS to manage regional health care delivery, and was also home to a nursing school, Livingstone Hospital on East Hill. The main buildings of this facility are now closed, and are slated to be turned into luxury flats.[4]

Open spaces

Central Park

The River Darent, from Central Park

As its name suggests this quite formal park is in the town centre. It comprises 26 acres of land. The annual Dartford Festival is held here in July.

Dartford Heath

This area to the south-west of Dartford covers some 314 acres (125ha) of open space. Historically it has always been of importance: prehistoric barrows and Bronze Age artefacts having been discovered here. The first recorded cricket match took place here in 1723; and the Society of Royal Kentish Bowman were briefly established here between 1785-1802. The nearby area is still known as Bowmans.

The Heath is an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It contains three ponds (Donkey Pond, Woodland Pond and North Pond) and a variety of habitats: including acid grassland, broadleaved semi-natural woodland, heather and gorse, as well as other plantlife.[5]It is common land and therefore escaped being enclosed during the late 18th and the early 19th centuries. It is also the original source for the name of the Dartford Warbler.(A picture).

Notable people

The following have, or had, some connection with Dartford:

International links

Twin towns

Associated towns


  1. ^ House of Knights Templar - The preceptory of Ewell | British History Online
  2. ^ Medieval Period: Politics - Wat Tyler and the peasants' revolt
  3. ^ 'Pigots 1840', on website accessed 5 December 2007
  4. ^ County Asylums UK
  5. ^ Guardian gallery of heathland in danger
  • ‘’Kent History Illustrated’’ - Frank W Jessup (KCC, 1966)
  • ‘’Railways of the Southern Region’’ - Geoffrey Body (PSL Field Guide 1989)
  • Local History - Mark Chatwin (1997)

External links

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