A Virtual Museum - Your Town, the Borough and its History

three-daws-pub.jpgThe Three Daws, a Grade II listed building on the east side of the Town Pier square, is now the oldest public house in the town and probably the oldest pub in Kent with its mixture of timber framing, weatherboarding and tiled roof. The Three Daws and the Old Pilots' House to the rear (now demolished) are reported to have had seven staircases and three underground tunnels enabling sailors to escape the press gang and smugglers to ply their trade.

By some miracle, the Three Daws escaped the many fires, in spite of its wooden construction. Its earlier name was the Cornish Chough (1488 1707), and later the Three Cornish Choughs (1707 1778). In 1582, the innkeeper was Ralph Wellett. It seems to have been associated with pilgrims crossing the river on their way to the shrine of St. Thomas, the three Cornish Choughs appearing in the arms of Canterbury City. A reference to it as the Three Daws appears in the Gravesend Register of 1667.

milton-hall.jpgWhere Pine Avenue and Milton Hall Road are now located, stood the mansion bearing the name of Milton Hall from 1873 to 1930. George Matthews Arnold (solicitor and Mayor of Gravesend eight times) organised the building and the architect was George Summers Clarke. The 'Building News' for 28 August 1874 contains a lithograph of the house and brief description. It had 'a baronial hall, reception room (40 feet by 24 feet and 34 feet high) and the cloakroom was lit by a lancet window'. In its extensive grounds Mr. Arnold established a museum of antiquities in which were housed objects of local interest.
Pine Avenue was the drive that led to the mansion. Pine trees flanked the drive; these were cut down in May 1984. The first house on the west side, now much altered was the Lodge that still has the two Arnold lions (one from each gate pillar) in the front garden. In the back garden of what is now 30 Pine Avenue are the columns of the old Gravesend market, presented to G.M. Arnold in 1898 when the present market hall was erected. Bernard Arnold, his only surviving son, occupied the house from his father's death in 1908 until his own death in 1925.


See also the section on ‘Famous People – George Matthews Arnold’.

A memorial to Rear Admiral Beaufort, Hydrographer of the Navy, who invented the scale for measuring wind speed.

st-andrewsSt. Andrews Church was built to serve Gravesend’s waterside community. In the mid 19th century, the river Thames just off Gravesend was alive with vessels of all shapes and sizes waiting to load cargoes, or passengers and emigrants heading for Australia, New Zealand and the Americas. Smaller boats supplied the everyday needs of the larger ships, and the crews of these boats lived with their families and livestock on board a collection of hulks and old barges moored just offshore. The priest of the local Holy Trinity Church, Rev C E R Robinson, looked upon these people as his parishioners and began visiting them. He also extended his services to the emigrants who lived on board their ship, often in appalling conditions, and often for weeks before they sailed. Over 600 baptisms are recorded for emigrants wanting to be blessed before their departure.

st-andrewsIt soon became necessary to have a headquarters for the mission and the former public house, the Spread Eagle, was taken over. Services were held in the bar and classes taught in a small adjoining hut. Rev Robinson wrote to a London church newspaper asking for donations to help build a mission hall, and the daughter of Rear Admiral Francis Beaufort KBE responded.

Donations were received from other townsfolk including Charles Dickens. On St Peter's day 1870 the foundation stone was laid and the church was finished and consecrated on St Andrew's Day in 1871. Inside, the ceiling is constructed to resemble an up-turned boat, Memorials include one to Sir John Franklin's ill-fated Arctic exhibition on board the Erebus and Terror which set out from Gravesend.


The primary missionary purpose of the church was transferred to Tilbury when the docks were built, but services continued until 1971 despite ongoing problems with damp. The Diocese of Rochester decided to close the church because of the cost of repairs, but it was rescued and purchased by Gravesham Borough Council in 1975 and transformed into an Arts Centre.




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the-promenade-circa-1930.jpgThe Promenade is of comparatively recent construction. Until the late 1880s it was largely a stretch of saltings covered by high Spring tides nearly up to the wall surrounding the New Tavern Fort. At other times the area was a repository for seaweed and flotsam of all kinds. Advantage was taken of the sinking of a schooner called the ‘Spring’, loaded with bags of cement, to purchase the damaged cargo and use it to face an embankment, the ground behind being levelled to the required height.

Some of the built up cement bags remained visible until 1978, when work to strengthen the sea wall was undertaken in connection with the Thames Barrage (flood defences). The Countess of Darnley opened the western section of the Promenade in August 1886. The ‘Spring’ was repaired, refloated and renamed the ‘Gravesend’.

A bandstand was built in 1890 at a cost of £100 (demolished 1933). Further land was bought from the railway in 1902 and in 1906 shelters were built. At the western end of the promenade are the boat sheds and clubhouse of Gravesend Rowing Club, established in 1878. At the eastern end of the promenade is the clubhouse of the Gravesend Sailing Club (founded in 1894 at the Rosherville Hotel and moving to this site in 1905) whose members use the Canal Basin for laying up and fitting out their craft.

Links to relevant websites:

HM Customs and Excise at Gravesend

customs-houseShips passing up and down the Thames today are monitored by radar from the Port Control Centre of the Port of London Authority (PLA) built in 1959. Every year there are approximately 38,000 shipping movements and the Port of London handles over 52 million tonnes of cargo. By combining a network of radar stations, radio communications and remote readings of tidal gauges, the PLA ensures safe navigation from the tidal limit of the Thames at Teddington all the way down river to the North Sea.

However, for many centuries before 1908 when the PLA was established by Act of Parliament, it was the job of the ‘Searcher’ to instigate controls over shipping at Gravesend. All ships had to stop to be searched and to assess the duties payable on their cargoes. John Page was the first person to be appointed to the position by Edward III in 1356.

An Act of Parliament in 1559 prohibited the landing of cargoes at any wharf on the Thames except at ‘legal quays’ on the north bank of the Thames between the Tower of London and London Bridge. Ships were also required to stop at Gravesend for a health check. Captains swore on the ‘Plague Bible’ that there was no sickness amongst the crew or passengers. A customs official known as a Tide Waiter then boarded the ship to make sure that it only stopped at the legal quays. This practice continued until the opening of London’s enclosed dock system in the early 1800s (West India Dock in 1802 and London Dock in 1806).

In 1649, a Customs House was proposed to house the Tide Waiters who were then using several of Gravesend’s inns as offices. However, it was not until 1782 that the first customs house, Whitehall Place, was built opposite the present Customs House. It still stands today in use as the headquarters of the salvage company, WE Cox & Co (Recoveries).

customs-houseIn 1812, changes in the law meant that ships no longer had to stop at Gravesend to pick up a customs official. Consequently, the number of customs officers was reduced and they moved from Whitehall Place to share a building with the Excise Service. This building is the present Customs House built on the site of the ‘Fountain Tavern’ in 1815/6. Its most important features include an unsupported central staircase designed by the famous interior designer Robert Adams, who was the Architect of the Kings Works. There is also a lookout room on the roof giving an unrestricted view of the Thames.

HM Customs and Excise Service at Gravesend is still active in the pursuit of smugglers and the control of illegal imports. The Customs House has a small museum that tells the full story of service and how its operations have changed over the years. It is opened specially for TOWNCENTRIC’s guided walk of the town, the Pocahontas Promenade. Pick up a leaflet at TOWNCENTRIC for more information or ask one of our Tourist Information Officers.



Towncentric Discover Leaflet