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

The heart of the Gravesend trade since 1268 AD

Old Town Hall GravesendThe first Gravesend Town Hall was erected in 1573 and the first market, of which we have a detailed description, was held on the ground floor and in the open space behind the building. However, the market had originally been established in 1268 by a grant given by Henry III to his faithful servant Robert de la Parrock of Parrock Manor.

In 1366, a second charter granted by Edward III established a market for the 'Men of the Town' independently from the manor and the day was changed to Thursday. It was this charter that gave the town its coat of arms – a boat with a mast rowed by hooded rowers and steered by a porcupine.

By 1562, it was suggested that the adjoining parishes of Milton and Gravesend were in decline because they did not have a market for both parishes. The response was a new Charter of Incorporation for the two parishes in 1568 which changed the day of the market to Wednesday and stipulated that a three day fair was to be held in January.

The first Town Hall was built five years later, but being in close proximity to the market did not please the Mayor and Councillors. They used oranges placed over their noses to avoid the unpleasant smell of fish and vegetables. The town hall included a ‘cage’ for prisoners and stocks.

Between 1669 and 1710 there are records of trees being planted in the Market yard to give shelter to the stallholders.

The market became the property of the corporation in 1694 when George Etkins sold the manor of Parrock. By the 18th century, it had become an open cobbled way with meat being sold on stalls on one side, cloth and clothes on the other, poultry in the middle and fish at the western end. In November 1817, a report recommended that the market be expanded at the cost of £2000 by a plan put forward by the architect, Charles Fowler.

The new building consisted of two covered colonnades, 80ft (24.3m) long. The Town Hall's impressive entrance was added in 1836. Designed by Amon Henry Wilds, the architect who also designed Harmer Street, it is said to based on the Temple of Minerva in Athens. The ornate Doric columns are 26ft (8m) high. At the end of the 1880s, the market was completely rebuilt in the form you see today.

 

Refs:

Towncentric Discover Leaflet 

Block House

Set within a lawn on the riverside of the former Clarendon Royal Hotel at Gravesend is the foundations of the Gravesend Blockhouse. For over 300 years until demolition in 1844, this building was a prominent feature of Gravesend’s river frontage and a familiar sight to incoming and outgoing seafarers. Throughout this period, the blockhouse was mentioned in the accounts of visitors to the town, in guidebooks and histories and was portrayed in numerous contemporary maps, views and panoramas. The foundations of the blockhouse are important in offering the visitor the only visible remains of the first system of artillery defence established for the River Thames by Henry V111 in 1539/40. It is a scheduled ancient monument.

The remains of the blockhouse are a reminder in brick and stone, of an age in which England and the states of Continental Europe settled their disagreements with each other by force of arms. The risk of raiding or invasion during a period of war led to a need to provide ports, coasts and strategic rivers with land based defences, as a second line behind the Navy. Foremost among the rivers was the Thames.

Block houseThe Thames was the most important river in the Kingdom. As the maritime route to the capital in which the political and economic life of the country was centred, its security involved vital national interests. Indeed, by the reign of Henry V111, around 80% of English exports passed out of the river. As well as this, there were the important royal dockyards at Deptford and Woolwich to defend. The arsenal at Woolwich became the central store for England. The banks of the narrowing stretch of water known as Gravesend Reach were important for the siting of defences to oppose the way upstream to an enemy fleet and to prevent a landing.

The Thameside Archaeological Group excavated the remains of the blockhouse in 1975/6.

A lavishly illustrated and detailed description of the blockhouse can be found in a publication by Victor Smith and Eric Green: The Gravesend Blockhouse, Defending London’s River 3

Refs:

A more detailed history of the Blockhouse can be found in ‘The Gravesend Blockhouse’ by Victor Smith. See publications page.

The story of the largest canal tunnel in Britain

Thames and Medway CanalThe idea for building the Thames and Medway Canal sprang from fears that enemy ships might venture into the Thames estuary and attack the naval dockyards at Deptford, Woolwich and Chatham. A canal linking the Thames and Medway would provide a vital, inland emergency supply route between the dockyards. The Tilbury and New Tavern Forts would protect the entrance at Gravesend. The journey for water-borne transports would be shortened from 46 miles to just 7 miles.

The original scheme was abandoned, but revitalised in 1799 when engineer Ralph Dodd put forward another plan to build a canal 48 ft (17.4m) wide by 7 ft (2.5m) deep. He estimated that it would take two years to build and cost £40,000. Many local people subscribed to the new venture and in 1804, 1810 and 1818, bills were passed in Parliament to raise further money.

In 1809 work on the lock to the canal basin at Gravesend began. The lock was 109 feet (33.2m) by 23 feet (7m) and enabled craft of up to 200 tons to enter the basin to offload cargoes onto the barges working the canal itself. The canal included a tunnel that would be Britain’s largest in diameter at 26.5 feet (9.6m) wide including the towpath. The tunnel is 2.5 miles (4.5km) long. The final building cost of the canal was £300,000.

The commercial success of the canal was affected by the fact that the lock could not be extended into the river to enable the entrance to be used at tidal state. In addition, the canal tended to lose 4ft of water between the tides and hence a steam pumping station had to be installed at Gravesend to top the water up. Tolls also had to be set at a high level to try and re-coup some of the costs of the building. In 1825 it cost 2s 6d per ton to transport hops or wool and 1s 2d per ton to transport hay, oats, straw, etc. By 1840, the shareholders decided that would be more profitable to build a railway. The canal basin continued to be used as it was just outside the limit of the Port of London and so it was not necessary to pay the heavy London dues on coal. Several coal wharves were built and an electricity station and gasworks situated nearby. The canal was finally abandoned in 1934 and the basin was bought by Gravesham Borough Council in 1970 with a view to restoration.


Ref:

Towncentric Discover Leaflet

Gravesend Clock Tower

Gravesend's tribute to a Queen

The year was 1887, and up and down the country Victorians were thinking about ways in which they could celebrate the Golden Jubilee of their Queen. In Gravesend, a committee was formed to consider a variety of proposals ranging from a public landing stage close to Town Pier to the endowment of the hospital. The committee's vote was unanimous in favour of a clock tower.

The sum of £679 14 shilling (£679.70) was eventually raised and architects were invited to submit designs under pseudonyms so that there could be no bias in the judging. The winning architect used the name 'Experience' and was Mr John Johnson. The building of the tower was put out to tender and Mr W H Archer's costing of £675 to build a Portland Stone tower was accepted. The end of Harmer Street was the site chosen for the clock tower. The street itself is lined with impressive four-storey terrace buildings that are part of the ‘new’ Gravesend started in the 1840s. The architect Amon Henry Wilds (who also designed the Town Hall) planned a grand route leading from the riverside at the Royal Terrace Pier right up to Windmill Hill. At the riverside end, there were pleasure gardens designed by J C Loudon, a well-known landscape designer of the day. The clock tower was constructed on the centre point of the route at Berkley Crescent. The foundation stone was laid on 6 September 1887 and was the highpoint of the Queen's Jubilee celebrations with over 6,000 people attending the ceremony.Clock Tower Gravesend

Under the foundation stone in a sealed bottle are copies of local papers and coins minted specially for the Jubilee. The money to pay for the clock itself still had to be raised and it was the 5 June 1889 before the Mayor started the clock for the first time. The dial was lit by gaslight which turned off automatically at daylight. Contemporary sources suggest Smith & Son of the Midland Clock Company made the clock and the bells were cast by Warner & Co, Cripplegate, London. The total cost for the clock and tower was £1,097. It stands over 50ft (18.2 m) high and each clock face is 5 ft 6in (1.6 m) in diameter.

 

 

 

Refs:

Towncentric Discover Leaflet

new-tavern-fort.jpgBristling with heavy guns, New Tavern Fort is located on the south bank of the River Thames in the Fort Gardens at Gravesend. It is a reminder in brick, earth, concrete and steel of an age in which Britain and the states of Europe settled their disagreements with each other by force of arms. For Britain, the risk of raiding or invasion during a period of war lead to a need to provide ports, coasts and strategic rivers with land-based defences as a second line behind the Navy. Foremost among the rivers for protection was the Thames.

As the maritime route to London, in which the political and economic life of the country was centred, the security of the Thames involved vital national interests. By the 1530s around 80% of English exports passed along the river. As well as commercial interests there were the important royal dockyards at Deptford and Woolwich to defend. The arsenal at Woolwich became the central store for England. By the 19th century London and the Thames had evolved into the hub of a burgeoning worldwide empire.

Defence of the Thames in time of war was, therefore, bound up with the security of the nation. The banks of the narrowing stretch of water known as Gravesend Reach became important for the siting of defences to oppose the way upstream to an enemy fleet. Artillery forts were first established here in 1539/40 under Henry V111’s national scheme of defence against a feared continental invasion. These were improved and supplemented by other works during the following centuries.

It was not until the 1780s that New Tavern Fort was added to this network of defences. The Fort was retained as an active element of these defences until the early years of the 20th century. Its several stages of rebuilding and rearming allow us to trace the evolution of the defensive systems in response to international tensions and the developments in the technology of war over a period of 150 years.

The Fort, its magazines and these changes are presented in an ongoing programme of restoration, rearmament and display to visitors. Volunteers of the New Tavern Fort Project in partnership with Gravesham Borough Council have undertaken this work since 1975. The aim of this work is to promote an understanding of the Fort as both a defensive organism and a military community as well as to explain its historical context.

Visitor Information 2013

Opening Times
Weekends only April - September 12noon - 5pm

Ticket Price
£1 per person

headphones sml.jpgFree adult and children's audio tour available from Reception

This guide will reveal the fort’s fascinating history, from its beginnings in the 1780’s to what we believe was its use for Civil Defence in the Second World War. You will learn about life inside the fort – from the soldiers’ living conditions, the operation of the heavy guns and the use of the zigzag ramparts outside. As you follow the tour you will hear from some of the people who work here as volunteers.

 

School Group Visits
Group visits are available outside of the normal opening times, please contact Towncentric for further information. Education packs will be available early 2013.

 

Location
Fort Gardens, Commercial Place, Gravesend, Kent DA12 2BH

Contact us
Email:
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Useful websites
www.thamesdefenceheritage.org.uk
www.gravesham.gov.uk
www.gogravesham.co.uk

Refs:

Defending London’s River – The Fortification of the Thames 1380 – 1956 by Victor Smith
Defending London’s River 2 – New Tavern Fort, Gravesend by Victor Smith
Defending London’s River 3 – The Gravesend Blockhouse by Victor Smith and Eric R Green

See Publications page.