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Gravesend is a town in northwest Kentmarker, Englandmarker, on the south bank of the Thames, opposite Tilburymarker in Essex. It is the administrative town of the Borough of Graveshammarker and, because of its geographical position, has always had an important role to play in the history and communications of this part of England. It still retains today a strong link with the river. The opening of the Eurostar railway station at Ebbsfleetmarker, and the fact that it lies with the Thames Gatewaymarker, add to the town's importance.


The town was recorded as Graveshammarker in the Domesday Book in 1086 as belonging to Odo, Bishop of Bayeux: the name probably derived 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". The Domesday spelling is the only historical record; all other spellings - in the later (c1100) Domesday Monarchorum and in Textus Roffensis the town is Gravesend/Gravesende. Gravesham has however been adopted for the 1974 Borough title.


Stone Age implements have been found in the area; as has the evidence of an Iron Age settlement at nearby Springheadmarker. Extensive Roman remains have been found nearby, at Vagniacae (Springhead); and Gravesend lies immediately to the north of their road connecting London with the Kent coast – now called Watling Streetmarker. The Domesday Book recorded mills hythes and fisheries here. .

In the Fort Gardens is Milton Chantry, Gravesend's earliest existing building of the late 13th century. It was refounded about 1321 on the site of a hospital founded in 1189. At the time it was supported by lands in Essex.

Gravesend has one of the oldest surviving markets in the country, its earliest charter dating from 1268. Town status was granted to the two parishes of Gravesend and Miltonmarker, the Charter of Incorporation being received in that year. The first Mayor of Gravesend was elected in that year, although the first Town Hall was in place by 1573: it was replaced in 1764. A new frontage was built in 1836. Although its use as a Town Hall came to an end in 1968, when the new Civic Centre was opened, it continued in use as the Magistrates' Courts. At present (2004) it is disused, and discussions are being held with a view to its future.

In 1401 a Royal Grant was issued, 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 the road journey (see below).

On the river front is recorded the archaeological remains of a riverside fort built at the command of Henry VIII in 1543. At Fort Gardens is the New Tavern Fort built during the 1780s and later extensively rebuilt by General Gordon between 1865 and 1879: it is now a museum, partly open-air under the care of the Gravesend Local History Society. [39879]

Journeys by road to Gravesend were once quite hazardous, since the main London-Dovermarker road crossed Blackheathmarker, notorious for its highwaymen. Stagecoaches from London to Canterburymarker, Dover and Favershammarker used Gravesend as one of their "stages" as did those coming north from Tonbridgemarker. In 1840 there were 17 coaches picking up and setting down passengers and changing horses each way per day. There were two coaching inns in the New Road: the New Prince of Orange and the Lord Nelson. Stagecoaches had been plying the route for at least two centuries: Samuel Pepys records having stopped off at Gravesend in 1650.
A Map of Gravesend from 1946

Although a great deal of the economy of the town continued to lie with the shipping trades, the other big employees were the cement and paper industries.

During the period 1932-1956 there was an airportmarker located to the east of the town. It began life as a civilian field, but during the World War II it became a Royal Air Force fighter station, RAF Gravesendmarker. In 1956 the site was taken over by the town council; the large estate known as ‘’Riverview Park’’ was built on its site.*


Gravesend is part of, and is the principal town of, the Borough of Gravesham. As noted above, it consists of the two ancient ecclesiastical parishes of Gravesend and Milton-next-Gravesendmarker. The Borough was formed on 1 April 1974, under the Local Government Act 1972, by the merger of the Gravesend Borough Council and Northfleet Urban District Councils (UDCs), both set up under the Local Government Act 1894, which also revived the parish councils. Since the built-up areas of the two latter council coincide, it was always impossible to discern the boundary between them.


The site of Gravesend is at a point where the high land - the lowest point of the dip slope of the North Downsmarker - reaches the river bank. To the east are the low-lying marshy areas of the Shorne Marshes; to the west, beyond Northfleet, the Swanscombe Marshes. The settlement which grew up was therefore the only good landing place; it was also sheltered by the prominent height of what is now called Windmill Hillmarker (see Landmarks below). Although Windmill Hill dominates the town, Gravesend's highest point is actually Marling Cross to the south adjacent to the A2.

From its origins as a landing place and first port of call for shipping Gravesend gradually extended. southwards and eastwards. The well-off people from London were coming to 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 estates around the town were built.

Those built-up areas include Painters Ash, adjacent to the A2 main road; King's Farm (most of King's Farm estate was built in the 1930s); and Christianfields housing estates. The latter is in process of being completely rebuilt. The area now known as Singlewellmarker, part of the southern built-up area of the town, was originally two separate rural parishes.


On 10 August 2003, Gravesend recorded one of the highest temperatures since records began in the United Kingdommarker, with a reading of 38.1 degrees Celsius (100.6 degrees Fahrenheit), only beaten by Brogdalemarker, near Favershammarker, to the ESE. One explanation for the phenomenon was the large amount of earthworks in connection with High Speed 1, which had exposed a great deal of the local sandy soil, which absorbed more sunshine.


NB Statistics here are for the Borough of Gravesham, not simply Gravesend

In the past twenty years the economy of Gravesham has changed from being based on heavy industry to being more service-based. The population in 2001 was 95,717, an increase of 2.6% since 1991; it has a high population density (almost 10 people per hectare) compared nationally; it has a relatively young population (40% of the population are below 30); and 60% of the population are of working age.

The second largest religious group in the Borough are Sikhs, who make up 6.7% of the population.


Gravesend today is a busy commercial town. It serves a large area as a shopping centre: there are several of the multiples here, and a good range of local shops. It has a market hall open six days a week; and a newly-established farmers’ market. There are still those employed on the river as crews on the tugboats. Gravesend "watermen" were often in a family trade; and the town is the headquarters of the Port of London Authoritymarker Thames Navigation Service, supplying both river and sea pilots. Today radar plays an important part in the movement of shipping on the river.

Its position in the Thames Gatewaymarker makes for being an important asset: there are many commuters away from the town, but local enterprises employ as many people.


Gravesend Town Pier

The refurbished Town Pier
The Pier is the world's oldest surviving cast iron pier, built in 1834it is a unique structure with the first known iron cylinders used for its foundation. The pier has recently been completely refurbished (2004) and now has upon it a bar and restaurant (currently closed). There is access for the public to the pier head when the premises are open.

Gravesend clock tower, Harmer Street

clock Tower

The town’s clock tower was built at the top of Harmer street. The foundation stone was laid on 6 September 1887. The memorial stone states that the clock tower was erected by public subscription (£700 was raised toward its construction) and it was dedicated to Queen Victoria, to commemorate the 50th year of her long reign. Built with Portland and Dumfries stone, backed with hard stock brickwork, the design of the structure was based on St Stephens tower, the Westminster tower that houses Big Benmarker. The centre of the clock itself is measured at 50 feet (15 m) above the ground and the face is 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m) in diameter.

Pocahontas statue

The statue of Pocahontas in St George's churchyard
An American sculptor, William Ordway Partridge, had created a life-size statue of Pocahontas, which was unveiled in 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 the founding of the first successful English colonial settlement in America. On 5 October 1958 an exact replica of the Pocahontas statue by Partridge was dedicated as a memorial to the princess at St George's Churchmarker here. The Governor of Virginia presented the statue as a gift to the British people; this gesture was prompted by The Queen's visit to America the previous year.

Windmill Hill

Windmill Hillmarker named for its erstwhile windmills, offers extensive views across the Thames, and was a popular spot for Victorian visitors to the town, because of the Camera obscura installed in 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 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 during 1988, the 300th anniversary.

It was during the reign of Elizabeth I that the first windmill was placed on top the highest point in Gravesend, 179 ft (55 m) above 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 was destroyed by fire during Mafekingmarker Night celebrations in 1900.

During World War I A German airship passed over Windmill Hill and dropped bombs on it. Today there are three markers indicating where these bombs struck.

Gravesend and the 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 river. 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 Authoritymarker Thames Navigation Service, supplying both river and sea pilots. Today radar plays an important part in the movement of shipping on the river.

Gravesend also has one of the oldest regatta's in England again showing its strong links to the river. Although the origins of the regatta are shrouded in mystery it dates back to at least Tudor times. The races are traditionally done with Gravesend Skiffs, 21 foot long oak built clinker built boats.

The Thames Navigation Service was first thought up between 1950 and 1952 by Captain Peter de Neumann, GM, when he was Commander of HMRC Vigilant (HM Customs & Excise), whose base was in 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.

Tugs docking the panamax coal carrier Armia Krajowa at Tilbury Power Station
Until the building of Tilbury Docksmarker on the opposite side of the river, between 1882-6, Gravesend was the 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 Docksmarker. 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 Indiaman traditionally stopped here at a point known as Long Reach to lighten their loads before sailing up the Thames to moorings at Blackwallmarker.

Passengers alighting from the Tilbury ferry
The river still plays a vital part in the life of the community today, providing an important link for industry and jobs to the benefit of many people. The cross-river passenger ferry to Tilburymarker provides a long-established route to and from the neighbouring County of Essex. Before the Dartford Crossingmarker came into being there was a vehicle ferry here as well.

There is an RNLI life boat station at Gravesend established at Royal Terrace Pier which has become one of the busiest in the country. See

Thames and Medway Canal

The canal basin
The Thames and Medway Canalmarker was opened for barge traffic in 1824. It ran from Gravesend on the Thames to Frindsbury near Strood on the Medway. Seven miles long it had only two locks, 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 the canal basin at the Gravesend end of the Canal is used for pleasure craft. Gravesend Sailing Club 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 Dartfordmarker and beyond to Rochestermarker; and the A227 road to Tonbridgemarker. The A2 road passes two miles (3 km) south of Gravesend town centre; a mile stretch of it is being rerouted 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 Greenhithemarker, Bluewater Shopping Centremarker and Dartfordmarker.


The remains of the West Street Pier
Gravesend railway stationmarker 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 closest major town to the new Ebbsfleet International railway stationmarker. Since December 2007, Eurostar services have run to Parismarker and Brusselsmarker from the station and their London St Pancras Internationalmarker station. Late 2009/ early 2010 will see the opening of the final stage of the channel tunnel rail link, with the 225 km/h domestic service operating to and from Gravesend and other parts of North and East Kentmarker into London St Pancras station. This link will also provide services to Stratfordmarker station, in the heart of the London 2012 Olympics site.


The Saxon Shore Way, a long distance footpath, starts at Gravesend and traces the coast as it was in Roman times as far as Hastingsmarker, East Sussexmarker; 163 miles (262 km) in total. The Wealdwaymarker also starts at the Town Pier, and proceeds almost due south over the Wealdmarker to Eastbournemarker in East Sussex where it links with South Downs Way, a distance of 80 miles (128 km).

Religious buildings

The main Anglican parish church is the Georgian St Georgemarker's. It is a tourist site as well as being the parish church, because of its connection with Pocahontas. There are also three other Church of England churches, Roman Catholic, Methodist and Baptist churches, and other smaller chapels.


In secondary education, Gravesend has the following schools: Gravesend Grammar Schoolmarker; Gravesend Grammar School for Girls; St Johns Catholic Comprehensive School; Thamesview School and St George's Church of England School. There are also primary age schools such as Cecil Road Primary and Nursery School, special schools and several independent schools.


Gravesend Hospital was opened in 1854, following the donation of a site by the Earl of Darnley in 1853; it had its origin on 2 December 1850, as a dispensary on the Milton road "to assist the really destitute poor of Gravesend and Milton and vicinities ... unable to pay for medical aid". By 1893, 4,699 such people had benefited by its presence. In 2004 the original building was demolished to make way for a new local health centre.


The Stonebridge Roadmarker football ground in neighbouring Northfleetmarker is home to Ebbsfleet United F.C.marker, who changed their name from Gravesend and Northfleet F.C. in June 2007. Ebbsfleet currently play in the Conference National and are managed by ex-Coventry City F.C. defender Liam Daish; the club won the FA Trophy in May 2008. An agreement was reached for the MyFootballClub online community to purchase a 75% stake in the club in November 2007, and the takeover was completed early in 2008.

Gravesend also has two rugby teams, Gravesend RFC and Old Gravesendians, both situated next to each other and opposite Gravesend Grammar School. Established in the 1870s, Gravesend RFC are currently competing in London 2 South League with teams such as Maidstone FC and Sidcup RFC.

Rowing matches have been taking place on the river Thames at Gravesend since from at least the year of 1698 , and the first organized Regatta was in 1715. The first Borough Regatta began in 1882 , setting the pattern for an annual event on the Thames that is carried on to this day. The popularity of the early events have recently begun to return, thanks to much Borough Council publicity and the presence of a boathouse owned by Dartford's Cambria Sea Scouts.


The Gravesend Historical Society meets regularly and produces a biannual magazine on its activities.

Charles Dickens lived in Gadshill Place, not far from Gravesend. Gravesend and its environs are mentioned in at least two 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 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 Islandsmarker; and also in the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

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.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, the town was the home of a very successful youth marching band, the "Gravesham Corps of Drums" (latterly the "Gravesham Corps"). The band finished third in the British Championships in 1981. They had more success than a local rival, "North West Kent Drum and Bugle Corps" who were based in nearby Northfleet. Since 1992, Gravesend has been the home of one of Europe's most successful music performance groups, Black Knights Drum and Bugle Corps. Carrying on the tradition of the corps and bands that preceded them Black Knights have won numerous British Championships in its history and competed across Europe.

In 1990, the ‘’4x4 Bangra’’ dance group was formed among the Sikh community. Since then it has become an internationally-renowned group

Notable people

  • Pocahontas (c1595-1617), the daughter of a Native American chief, was to become the first such American to visit England. After marrying a colonist in America, John Rolfe, she later sailed with him to England, with their infant son,Thomas, where she was received at the court in London by Queen Anne and was feted as a celebrity. On their return voyage, seven months later, she was taken ill and died ashore in Gravesend at the age of 22. She was then buried in the parish churchyard of St George's; the exact location of her grave is unknown, due to a church fire and subsequent reconstruction in the early 18th century.
Khartoum place
  • The composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) was an officer in the Russian Navy and was posted to Gravesend in 1862, where he wrote part of his first symphony, said to be the first such style of composition attempted by a Russianmarker composer.

  • Gravesend is associated with General Charles George Gordon (1833–1885), who lived in the town during the construction of the Thames forts. For six years he devoted himself to the welfare of the town's "poor boys", establishing a Sunday school and providing food and clothes for them from his Army wage. In command of the Royal Engineers from 1865 to 1871, he was responsible for the forts that guard the Thames downstream from Gravesend, New Tavern Fortmarker in the town, Shornemead Fortmarker on the south bank, and Coalhouse Fortmarker on the north. His links with Gravesend are commemorated locally by the embankment of the Riverside Leisure Area, which is known as the Gordon Promenade, and Khartoum Place that lies just to the south.

  • Thom Gunn (1929-2004), poet, was born in Gravesend.

  • Frank Paton (1855-1909), artist, grew up in and around the Gravesend area.

  • Katherine Hamnett (Born 1947) - Fashion designer Studied fashion at St Martin’s School of Art, London. Worked as a free-lance designer before setting up her own business in 1979. Won the Designer of the Year award in 1984. Produced theatrical designs for a production of Madame de Sade in 1991. Best known for her political teeshirts and her ethical business philosophy.

  • edwin arnold (Born 1832. Died 1904)- English poet and journalist. An English poet and journalist, he joined The Daily Telegraph in 1861 and was associated as editor for over forty years. His most prominent work as a poet was The Light of Asia (1879) which had immediate success. Other principal works were Indian Song of Songs (1875), Pearls of the Faith (1883), The Song Celestial (1885), With Sadi in the Garden (1888), Tiphar’s Wife (1892) and The Japanese Wife (1893).

  • Derek Barton (Born 1918. Died 1998) English chemist and Nobel Prize winner.

After work in military intelligence he returned to Imperial College, London as assistant lecturer and then ICI fellow. In 1949 he spent a year at Harvard, and produced a seminal paper on the relationship between conformation and chemical reactivity for which he shared the 1969 Nobel Prize for chemistry with Odd Hassel. He was knighted in 1972 and made an Officer of the French Legion of Honour in 1985.

was born and lived in the High Street, Gravesend for many years. From here he carried on his trade of printer and from which his History of Gravesend and Milton was published in 1797. On the front of the house on the west side G.M. Arnold, Mayor of Gravesend, affixed a blue‑enamelled iron tablet in 1888. This records the fact that it was here that Pocock set up the first printing press in the town in 1786. Here, too, in Pocock's youth, John Wesley visited his friend the Rev. John Dolman, Vicar of Chalk, who had apartments with Mrs. Pocock (his mother) spending the night here with his friend.

Robert Pocock was a man of wide interests, one of which was botany. He also badgered sailors to bring him natural history specimens from foreign lands. He was a keen historian and recorded much about Gravesend during the 18th century. Ill fortune overtook him towards the end of his life, his property being sold to defray his debts. Later historians owe a great deal to his enthusiasm for recording historical events. Pocock street in Gravesend is named after him.

Twin towns


  1. Paul Theroux's report that "the town bore the name of Gravesend because east of it, the dead had to be buried at sea", is unsupported (Theroux, The Kingdom by the Sea 1983:`19).
  2. ’’The Book of Gravesham‘’, Sydney Harker 1979 ISBN o-86023-091-0
  3. - Pictures and info of Gravesend from the past and present. The new pictures were taken from as near as possible the same vantage point as in the old ones
  4. Borough website includes notes on the town
  5. Harker ’’ibid’’
  6. 10 august 2003
  7. Met Office
  8. Gravesham Borough statistics
  9. Notes on Town Centre Management
  10. Gravesend Town Pier
  11. Gravesend Clock Tower
  12. New route of A2 trunk road
  13. Website with information on St George's Church of England School
  14. List of schools
  15. Gravesham Historical Society website
  16. St Trinian's girl Gemma Arterton on the new skool rules Daily Mail - 22 June 2007

External links

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