Dartford Tourist Guide

Introduction

Dartford is located in the northwest corner of Kent 16 miles (25 km) south-east of central London.

The town is situated in the River Darent valley and where the old road from London to Dover crossed the river - hence the name, from ‘Darent’ and ‘ford’. It is chiefly a commuter town for Greater London it but has a fascinating history behind it.

There have been finds dating from the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. The Romans constructed the Dover to London road which was named Watling Street and it crossed the River Darent at this point. There was also a Roman villa sited here. Dartford is mentioned in the Domesday Book, written after the Norman invasion in 1086. The Domesday Book entry for Dartford shows that the royal manor of Tarentfort (Dartford) was a small but prosperous agricultural community supporting a populace of around 150 families. The manor of Dartford was made up of a mixture of arable land, meadow, pasture and woodland. Other interesting features were the parish church, Holy Trinity, three smaller chapels, a mill and two wharves on the River Darent.

The town became an important during the Middle Ages, and two groups of friars—the Dominicans and the Franciscans—built hospitals here for the care of the sick, especially those travellers on pilgrimage through the town. Dartford evolved into a flourishing and successful medieval market town supporting a population of about 1,000 people. This happened because the town was on the main road from London to Canterbury and the Kent coast, and had close involvement with trade and commerce. Dartford became a significant market town at the centre of a complex of smaller farming communities dotted along the productive Darent Valley and along the south bank of the River Thames.

It is claimed that Wat Tyler's Poll Tax Revolt of 1381 started in Dartford. Thousands of peasants marched to Dartford with thoughts of going to London to face the government and to get rid of the Poll Tax. Peasant forces led by Wat Tyler, Jack Straw and John Ball met at Blackheath. They marched on London on 12 June 1381 and rioting occurred. King Richard II finally agreed to meet Tyler to discuss grievances and a meeting took place near Smithfield. However, during the talks the Lord Mayor of London attacked Wat Tyler with the city mace. Tyler was killed by some of the King's courtiers and the peasants were soon in flight.

Before the Battle of Agincourt in November 1415, Henry V marched through Dartford with his soldiers. In 1422 Henry V's body was taken to Holy Trinity Church by Edmund Lacey for the funeral. In March 1452, Richard, the Duke of Yor,k 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. In 1576 the now extremely successful Dartford Grammar School was founded.

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 - who was 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.

Iron-making on the Weald was in flourishing at this time and iron ingots were sent to Dartford, to England's first iron-splitting mill, erected on the Darent at Dartford Creek by Geoffrey Box, an immigrant from the Low Countries. Sir John Spilman, set up the first paper mill in England at Dartford in 1588, on a site near Powder Mill Lane, and before long 600 employees worked there providing an important source of local employment. In the 1780s a blacksmith from Lowfield Street began to make engines, boilers and machinery. Some of that machinery was for the local gunpowder factory.

Dartford's has a long history of brewing traditional beers and ales because of
its prominence as a market town and its closeness to the Kent hop fields. Dartford paper mills were built in 1862 when excise duty on paper was abolished. Engineering both in Dartford and the surrounding area expanded. The demand produced by World War I meant that output at the local Vickers factory multiplied, creating many new jobs. Burroughs-Wellcome chemical works (now called GlaxoSmithKline) made Dartford a hub for the pharmaceutical industry.

Dartford is perhaps now most well-known for the Dartford Crossing which is the main way of crossing the River Thames to the east of London, where the southbound A282 crosses the river via the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge toll bridge and the northbound carriageway crosses via the twin Dartford Tunnel.

The Manor Gate House in Priory Road is an historic building and the exterior is certainly worth studying. The interior is now used for offices. Following the dissolution of Dartford Priory, Henry VIII selected the location to build a Manor House between 1541 and 1544. In 1545 the Privy Council met here, showing how impotant it had become. Anne of Cleves was given the Manor House as part of her divorce settlement by Henry and lived there between 1553 and 1557. Elizabeth I also had use of the use of the Manor house but only stayed there on two occasions. Today it is just the Gatehouse that remains.

The Swanscombe Skull Site was where three completely matching pieces of a 400,000 year old skull were found in Swanscombe in 1935, 1936 and 1955. These pieces are among the oldest human remains discovered in Europe. Three dedicatory stones mark the places where the fragments of the skull were found. Thousands of primitive stone tools have been found on this site from this period, some of which are at display at the Dartford Borough Museum.

The Borough of Dartford has eleven churches that were mentioned in the Domesday Book. One of the most interesting is Holy Trinity, situated in Dartford town centre. The oldest part of the church is the lower section of the main tower which was built between 1050 and 1080. After the canonisation of Thomas Becket, Holy Trinity became fashionable with pilgrims making their journey to Canterbury. In 1422 Henry V's body lay overnight at Holy Trinity for a requiem mass before completing the journey from Agincourt to Westminster Abbey. Inside the church is a dramatic 15th century wall painting of St George and the Dragon together with the early 17th century tomb of Sir John Spilman, England's first paper maker, who died in 1626.

Dartford Borough Museum is free, provided by Dartford Borough Council, for the benefit of both residents of the Borough and visitors. The Museum is located in Market Street in the same building as Dartford Library at the entrance to Central Park. Tel: 01322 224739.

Fairfield Pool and Leisure Centre on Lowfield Street offers a friendly and welcoming environment. The centre has a multitude of activities available ranging from swimming pools, aerobics, gym, Health Suite and much more. It is open to members and non-members alike and caters for all ages from adults to children.

If you want the ultimate shopping experience then try Bluewater or try something different at Orchards Shopping Centre.

There is a live performance facility at the Mick Jagger Centre that aims to programme a high quality range of events and opportunities, in the Performance, Production and Participation of Music and the Arts for the communities of Dartford and North Kent Region. www.themickjaggercentre.com.

Since 1991, The Miskin Theatre, at the North West Kent College in Oakfield Lane, has been committed to offering daring and innovative work through their in-house production company and visiting players. It is a lively, intimate theatre with an atmosphere that only comes from a working producing house . The Miskin Theatre is able to seat up to 180 people. There are also a number of other facilities available on the site, including a studio theatre seating 80 people, 3 dance studios, 2 rehearsal spaces, 2 recording studios and ‘The Miskin Link’ for music rehearsals and performances, which is hired out on a regular basis to touring theatre companies.
You can scale new heights at Bluewater as climbers from the age of 6 years old can have a go on the 36ft Big Blue Rock inside the Yellow Welcome Hall. Tel: 07870 194 695.

Bluewater's six lakes can be explored, with two and five-seater pedalos available as well as traditional rowing boats. It is open every weekend and weekdays during the school holidays from 11am to 6 pm. From £6 per half hour. Tel: 01732 360630.

With 50 acres of marvellously landscaped parkland to discover, choose from a range of bikes including unicycles, tandems, family four-wheelers at Bluewater - even peddle-powered go-karts for kids. Visit the booking office (outside the Wintergarden) to hire the bikes. From £3 per person per half hour.

Dartford Heath is not only an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but it is also home to a breathtaking variety of wildlife. The Heath has three ponds: Donkey Pond, Woodland Pond and North Pond, the infamous Glory Bumps and an assortment of habitats including acid grassland, broadleaved semi-natural woodland, heather, dwarf gorse, orchids and a rare Kentish plant, petty whin.
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Provided for the community by Dartford Borough Council the Dartford Festival has become the largest free event in the South East of England. Taking place in Dartford's Central Park, the weekend's attractions include a vast selection of music, children's rides, funfair, trade and charity stalls and a fantastic range of family entertainment! Usually the festival is held on the third weekend in July.


Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.
 

Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015