Gravesend Tourist Guide

Introduction

Gravesend is a town in northwest Kent on the south bank of the Thames.

The town is named as ‘Gravesham’ in the Domesday Book of 1086 and belonged to Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. The name probably came from ‘graaf-ham’ - the home of the Reeve, or Bailiff, of the Lord of the Manor. Another idea claims that the name Gravesham may have been altered form of the words ‘grafs-ham’ — a place ‘at the end of the grove’. Myth has it that Gravesend received its name because, during the outbreak of bubonic Plague in the 1600s, the town was the place where victims were no longer buried on land — they were buried at sea (the town being next to the Thames Estuary).

Widespread Roman remains have been found nearby at Vagniacae (today’s Springhead). Gravesend is situated directly to the north of the Roman road linking London with the Kent coast called Watling Street.

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 Milton in that year. The first Mayor of Gravesend was also selected in that year, although the first Town Hall was not built until 1573 and it was replaced in 1764. Although it was no longer used as a Town Hall after 1968 it continued in use as the Magistrates' Courts for some while.

Khartoum Place in Gravesend is associated with General Gordon (1833–1885), who lived in the town during the construction of the Thames forts. He dedicated himself for some six years to the welfare of the town’s ‘poor boys’. He set up a Sunday school and provided food and clothes for them out of his Army wage. Gordon was responsible for the forts that guarded the Thames downstream from Gravesend, New Tavern Fort in the town, Shornemead Fort on the south bank, and Coalhouse Fort on the north. His links with Gravesend are commemorated with the embankment of the Riverside Leisure Area which is known as the Gordon Promenade and Khartoum Place which lies just to the south. The promenade was originally a salt marsh and was leased from the War Office in 1886. In 1890, Mr. G. M. Arnold, who had been mayor of Gravesend eight times, gave a further area to the town. The bandstand was built in the same year at the cost at £100.

The New Tavern Fort is the remains of an 18th century fort situated within the Fort Gardens and built in the 1780s to protect the Thames against the menace of a naval attack from the French and comprehensively rebuilt by General Gordon between 1865 and 1879. The Fort was re-armed in 1904 and guns of that period of improvement are now on display. You can nowadays venture into the mystifying underground world of the Victorian artilleryman and see the magazines and full size reconstructions of scenes from Gravesend during the Second World War. The fort is open from 31 March to 30 September from 12noon - 5pm.

Chantry Heritage Centre in Fort Gardens, Milton Place is the oldest surviving 14th century building in the Borough of Gravesham. Housing a fascinating insight into Gravesend’s heritage with the help of high quality displays and modern artefacts. The building fell into disuse after the Reformation and the chapel became an inn towards the end of the 17th century and later became part of the fort and defence works constructed on the site. Today the building is promoted as the Chantry Heritage Centre, accommodating a enthralling insight into the history and heritage of Gravesend, Northfleet and the nearby villages. The beginnings of the Chantry date back to a leper hospital founded on the site in 1189. Aylmer de Valence was the Earl of Pembroke, he endowed land on the north side of the Thames in Essex to maintain the hospital and build a chapel in 1321. The purpose of the Chantry was to say prayers for the souls of the dead. Aylmer de Valence an important man in the14th century probably had little time for the saying of prayers himself and therefore employed the services of two chaplains to say prayers on behalf of him and his family so that their souls did not end up in purgatory. On entering Milton Chantry, and immediately to the right, there is a fine 17th century Jacobean staircase. The reception area, which dates from the 16th century, was originally the Priest's House. The Chantry is closed January - February but open from 31 March - 30 September Weekends only 12noon - 5pm.

The town’s Clock Tower was built at the top of Harmer street. The foundation stone was laid by the mayor, William Fletcher on 6 September 1887. The memorial stone records that the clock tower was constructed by public subscription (£700 was raised toward its construction) and it was dedicated to Queen Victoria in order to honour the 50th year of her reign. The tower was built with Portland and Dumfries stone and backed with hard stock brickwork. The design of the tower was based on St Stephens tower, the tower at Westminister which houses Big Ben. The centre of the clock is 50 feet (15 m) above the ground and the face has a diameter of 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m).

The original Colonnades, built in the latter part of the 19th century, were designed by Amon Henry Wilds for the Milton Park Estate Company. They were part of the design for Harmer Street and Berkley Crescent. The original purpose was to have a second crescent and road leading to Windmill Hill. The colonnades fell into bad condition in the early 20th century but were later rebuilt as a Millennium project by Gravesham Borough Council in 2000. The regeneration work to the colonnades has won national awards, including achieving Beacon status for Regeneration in 2001.

The Gravesend Blockhouse in Pier Road was one of five small forts built in 1539/40 on either side of the lower Thames to guard the river approaches to London against the likelihood of an attack by an enemy fleet. This was part of Henry VIII's national programme of defence. All that remains of Henry's Blockhouse today is the foundations excavated in the 1980s. When Henry VIII visited here he would have seen a D-shaped brick and stone tower studded with gun ports. So too would have Charles II who used the Blockhouse as a banqueting hall. By the 18th century, the Blockhouse had become a gunpowder storage magazine and it was eventually demolished in 1844 to allow for the creation of the Clarendon Royal Hotel’s gardens.

The New Gurdwara in Khalsa Avenue is a magnificent place of worship. It has a similar resemblance to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest of places for over 20 million Sikhs worldwide. The Gurdwara will be able to accommodate 1,200 worshippers. The structure includes three halls and two dining rooms, each with their own kitchen. The £8 million development serves the 12,000 strong Sikh community in Gravesend.

Just opposite the pier, St George's Church was restored in 1731 after having burnt down in August 1727 when a great fire consumed much of Gravesend. The parish records were lost in the fire so that the site of the burial of the native American princess Pocahontas has also been lost. There has been a church on the site for over 500 years. A statue of the Native American Indian Princess Pocahontas, buried in the previous church in 1617, can be seen in the churchyard. The church has a number of fascinating features. The first reference to a church on the present site dates as long ago as the Court Roll of 1475-78, where King Edward IV was petitioned to build what was to be a parish church. A Royal Manor, which stood in the surrounding area, with its own chapel, may have led to this selection of location. St. George's Church (built as a Chapel-of-Ease) was licensed for worship in 1497. It replaced the fire damaged St. Mary's as parish church in 1544.

Pocahontas was to become the first Native American to visit England. The daughter of Powhatan, chief of the Powhatan confederacy of Indian tribes, she came into contact in 1607 with a group of English settlers at Jamestown, in Virginia. A legend was born when she famously saved the pioneer Captain John Smith from the immediate threat of death from an Indian raiding party by shielding the Captain.

What is true is that after John Smith had returned to England she was made a hostage by the English settlers in an attempt to gain good behaviour from the Powhatan tribes. One of the colonists, John Rolfe, fell in love with her and she with him. Pocahontas married Rolfe, accepted Christianity and was baptised Rebecca. She later sailed with Rolfe to England with their infant son, Thomas, where she was received at the court in London by Queen Anne and became something of a celebrity.

After seven months in England, Rolfe decided to return his family to Virginia and, in March 1617, they set sail. It was soon apparent, however, that Pocahontas would not survive the voyage home as she was deathly ill from pneumonia or possibly tuberculosis. She was taken ashore at Gravesend, England, and there died. 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 1700s. She was 22 years old at the time of her death, but her son survived to have many descendants.

An American sculptor, William Ordway Partridge, had created a life-size statue of Pocahontas, which was unveiled in Jamestown, Virginia in 1922. On October 5, 1958, an exact replica of the Pocahontas statue by Partridge was dedicated as a memorial to the princess at St. George's Church in Gravesend. 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. Click here for more information on St George’s Church and Pocahontas: www.stgeorgesgravesend.org.uk

Windmill Hill offers extensive views across the Thames and was a well-liked spot for Victorian visitors to the town because of the camera obscura installed in the old mill as well as its tea gardens and other amusements. The hill was the location of a beacon in 1377 which was ordered 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 built and lit during 1988, the 300th anniversary. It was during the reign of Elizabeth I that the first windmill was positioned on top the highest point in Gravesend. One mill burnt down in 1763 and replaced the following year. That was demolished in 1894. The last existing windmill was destroyed by fire during the celebrations of Mafeking Night in 1900.

The River Thames has always been an important aspect in Gravesend life and may have been a key factor for the first settlement here. One of the town's earliest distinctions was in being given the exclusive right to transport passengers to and from London by water in the late 14th century. The ‘Tilt Boat’ was a common sight on the river. The first steamboat plied worked between Gravesend and London in the early 19th century, bringing with it an ever more increasing number of visitors to The Terrace Pier Gardens, Windmill Hill, Springhead Gardens and Rosherville Gardens. Gravesend quickly became one of the first English resort towns and prospered from an early tourist trade.

The world's oldest surviving cast iron pier is on the river front, a structure unique because of the iron cylinders used for the first time as its foundation. From here the steamboat services had begun from London in 1815. The pier was completely refurbished in 2004 and now has a bar and restaurant.

The river still plays an essential part in the life of the community today, providing a key link for industry and jobs to the benefit of many people. The cross-river passenger ferry to Tilbury provides a traditional route to and from the neighbouring county of Essex.

Today, the A226 road from Gravesend to Rochester runs beside the Thames and offers a fine view of the Hoo Peninsula. The A2 road passes two miles south of Gravesend town centre, while the A226 also provides a link westwards to Dartford and the Dartford Crossing. Gravesend is close to the new Eurostar and main line station at Ebbsfleet. This will run from Ashford to St Pancras Station from 2007, with the domestic service opening in 2009. This connection also provides a link to Stratford station, in the heart of the London 2012 Olympics site.

The Saxon Shore Way, a long distance walk, starts at Gravesend and traces the coast as it was in Roman times as far as Hastings, East Sussex, about 163 miles (262km) in total. The Wealdway also starts at the Town Pier, and proceeds almost due south over the Weald to Eastbourne in East Sussex where it links with the South Downs Way, a distance of 80 miles (128km).

The Town Hall dates from 1836 and is built on the site of the previous Town Hall. Through an archway under the portico is a covered way to the town's Market, one of the earliest in England, dating from 1268. There is a mural on the rear wall just before the Market entrance. This is the original arms of the town: a boat carrying monks steered by a porcupine. To the left stands what was once the Town's old police station and jailhouse. A full six days a week Indoor Market is open Monday to Saturday, with a neighbouring outdoor Market on Saturdays.

The Gravesend Museum is to be found within the Old Town Hall and occupies what was originally the town's police station. Today the Museum holds a huge collection of exhibits depicting the boroughs fascinating past and is operated by the Gravesend Historical Society. On special dates you can also visit the Old Town Gaol from inside the museum. Opening Times 2007 - Museum and Gaol - last Saturday in the month commencing January 2007 through to November 10.30am - 2.30pm.

The oldest part of Gravesend Cemetery in Old Road West was initially developed as pleasure gardens in the Victorian era as a competitor to the more well-known Rosherville Gardens. It became a cemetery in 1839 but some of the original characteristics of the gardens can still be seen today. The buildings are Grade II listed and the site is included on the English Heritage list of Historic Parks and Gardens. Arranged visits give the chance to learn more about the history of the site. A short talk, a guided walk and the opportunity to view some of the old documents displayed in the Chapel can be arranged on appointment only. For more information telephone T01474 33 76 00.

Built in 1844 by J. B. Redman the Royal Terrace Pier was use by day-trippers to Gravesend, many of whom arrived from London by steamer. Princess Alexandra arrived there from Denmark in 1863 en route to marry the Prince of Wales. It was originally built on cast iron doric columns but these were replaced by glass fibre when it was refurbished. The pontoon connected by a bridge was provided at the outer end. In the late 19th century the pier became a base for pilots and it is still a working pier today. From the Clock Tower walk down Harmer Street towards the river, the Royal Terrace Pier is facing you.

Meopham Valley Vineyard in Wrotham Road is a two hectare vineyard which grows a substantial range of grapes and makes White, Red, Rosé and sparkling wines. It was planted after David and his wife Pauline discovered how much they enjoyed visiting vineyards. They had visited some in France but concluded that finding suitable land in England on which to plant vines would be less regulated. David and Pauline set up Meopham Valley Vineyard with the advice of Gillian Pearkes, an authority on grape growing in England who gave courses in Devon. Meopham Valley Vineyard is unusual in that no chemicals are used to protect the vines or improve the soil other that those authorized by the Soil Association. Opening times are generally Fridays and Saturdays 11am until dusk but they also open on Sundays when the work on the vineyard allows. Parties of up to 25 people are welcome to tour the vineyard by appointment - the tour includes wine tasting. Visit their website for further details and contact information. Meopham Valley

The purpose of the Cold War Bunker in Woodlands Park, Wrotham Road was to form a headquarters for the council to direct the rescue services in the event of a Cold War nuclear attack. The town's original emergency defence headquarters were at the old town hall and then moved to Gravesend police station. The underground facility was relocated to the edge of Woodlands Park after the original provision at the police station became too small. Although the bunker was never used, it is now open to the public to describe how operations would have worked and who would have worked them. Groups re-enact the course of action so people can get a feel of what would happen in the event of war. The underground facility offers absorbing displays and rooms as well as an insight into old-fashioned war procedures and even a video presentation on surviving a nuclear attack suggested by the Government in the 1960s. Tours are available on appointment only and can be booked on 01474 33 76 00.

A Grade II listed building, the Three Daws Pub is probably the oldest in Kent, and with its mixture of timber framing, weatherboarding and tiled roof, it fills the down-stream side of the square. The Three Daws and the Old Pilots' House to the rear (now demolished) are reported to have had seven staircases and three underground tunnels to enable smugglers to escape from the revenue men and sailors from press gangs. Its earlier name was the Cornish Chough, and before that the Three Cornish Choughs. It was associated with pilgrims crossing the river on their way to the shrine of St. Thomas with the three Cornish Choughs appearing in the arms of Canterbury. It can be reached by walking down the High street towards the Thames River. The Three Daws is to the right of the Town Pier.

The Ship and Lobster Pub is known as the first and last pub on the Thames, being along the sea wall just as you reach the marshes from Gravesend. It has altered its name a number of times, firstly being called The Ship, then The Chalk Wharf followed by The Lobster before finally becoming The Ship & Lobster in 1832. This indicated the rise of the shrimping and shellfish trade which developed on the river as Gravesend became a fashionable resort for day trippers on paddle steamers from London. People claim it is the pub that appears in Dickens' 'Great Expectations' as 'The Ship'.

Providing river trips to Greenwich, London & Southend and leaving from West Street pier with car parking nearby, the MV Princess Pocahontas (named after the famous Indian Princess) is operated by Freemen of the River Thames who have spent their working lives on this historic waterway. What better qualifications could anyone ask for to guarantee that passengers have a safe and enjoyable cruise for either pleasure or business. For details visit Princess Pocohontas

Shorne Wood Country Park in Brewers Road covers some 174 acres and is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The area has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its wildlife value. It is open from 9am to dusk or 9pm. Check details at Shorne Park

The historic tiny Bawley Bay, adjacent to St. Andrews Church, was named after the countless shrimp boats which used to moor there in the 19th century. Many families set sail from there hopeful of starting a new life in Australia and New Zealand. It is not unusual for descendants of these families to come back to Gravesend when tracing their family. Bawley Bay was previously the centre of Gravesend's fishing town, with over 100 Thames Bawley shrimp boats working from this one tiny stretch of river. Bawley Bay is also the point from where the local Thames watermen maintained the ships in Gravesend Reach off the Thames. Cargoes and passengers were transferred to and from the shore in the celebrated wherry boats.

Taxis
369 Taxis, 2-4 Pelham Rd South 01474 369369
1st Choice Taxis Ltd, 43 Windsor Road 01474 329329
B & R Cars Ltd, 93 Kitchener Av. 01474 323706
Abacus Taxis, Tanyard House/Parrock St. 01474 535455
Millennium Taxis, Clive Rd. 01474 363636

Market
Gravesend Market General Indoor Mon-Sat, Outdoor Sat.

Hospital
Gravesend Community Hospital, Bath Street, Gravesend

Dentists
Photay S S & Associates, 30 Old Road West. 01474 352732
The Parrock Street Dental Practice, 191 Parrock St. 01474 537191
Fresh Breath Health Centre, 51 Bath St. 01474 364405
Chopra & Associates Dental Surgery, 109 Rochester Rd. 01474 535342
Gravesend Dental Surgery, 79 Leander Dr.01474 352990

Banks
Halifax, 165 Windmill St. 01474 597641
Halifax Plc, 4 Kempthorne Street, St Georges Centre 08456 074810
HSBC Bank plc, 84 New Rd. 0845-740 4404
NatWest, 30 King St. 0845-600 2803
Abbey, 4 King St. 0845-765 4321
Nationwide Building Society, 167 Windmill Street 01474 592100
Kent Reliance Building Society, 12 Windmill Street 01474 327830
Lloyds Bank, 78 New Road 0845 300 0000

Public conveniences
St George's Centre, Clive Road, The Borough Market, The Promenade, Windmill Gardens on Windmill Hill, Woodlands Park.

Please check details given above at Gravesend Tourist Information Centre, Towncentric, 18a St George's Square, Gravesend DA11 0TB


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