Archive for November 14th, 2016

Since moving to Broadstairs, and as part of my ongoing venture; in the footsteps of Geoffrey Chaucer and my Canterbury tales, I have wanted to visit Gravesend. Last week I had the opportunity.
From what I have seen of Chaucer’s apparent route, although he did stop at Dartford, he didn’t stop at Gravesend, but it was close enough for me…..

Although recorded as Graveham in the Domesday Book of 1086, its earliest known historical record, its name probably derives from “graaf-ham”: the home of the reeve or bailiff of the lord of the manor.
A variation, Graveshend, can be seen in a court record of 1422, attributed to where the graves ended after the Black Death.

where the gravesend

…..where the graves end. Cemeteries I have visited around the UK

An ancient town in n-w Kent, Gravesend has a strategic position on the Thames and as such has played an important role in the maritime history of the country and London.
Besides the more modern aspects of its history, stone-age implements have been found in the area, there is evidence of an Iron Age settlement, and extensive Roman remains have been found. Gravesend lies just north of the old Roman road, now called Watling Street that connected London with the Kent coast. The Domesday Book recorded fisheries, hythes and mills in the area.
I usually do some research before visiting a new place, to see what’s of interest in the area. Sometimes I might actually try to determine the location of such places, but mostly I just head in and around and stumble upon the treasures quite by accident. However there was once place I definitely wanted to see: Milton Chantry, one of the oldest remaining buildings in Gravesend. On my meanderings I inadvertently managed to visit quite a few famous sites.
I left the station and headed along Stone Street and into Princes Street towards the river front and on the way I happened upon the Parish Church of St George and the statue of Pocahontas.

where the graves end gravesend

Princess Pocahontas died at Gravesend in 1617

Princess Pocahontas – In 1616, after being presented to English society at the Court of St James as an example of the “civilized savage”, she became something of a celebrity, was elegantly fêted, and attended a masque at Whitehall Palace. In 1617, she and her husband John Rolfe and son Thomas set sail from London headed for Virginia USA. She became ill on the way and died at Gravesend of unknown causes. Buried in the Parish church of St George in Gravesend, the original location of her grave was under the church’s chancel. Since that church burnt down in 1727 the exact location of her grave is now unknown. As part of my exploration this was my first ‘port of call’ 😉
This statue was presented to the British people in 1958 by the Governor of Virginia as a gift; a gesture prompted by Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the USA in 1957.

Delighted to have discovered this, I continued on my way towards the river. Just past The Rum Puncheon pub I followed a narrow lane that opened up to the river! Just across from me was a huge tanker offloading at Tilbury. Wow.

where the graves end gravesend

view across the River Thames from Gravesend to Tilbury

I stopped to find out more about the Gravesend Ferries and then continued on my way towards the Town Pier; the oldest surviving cast iron pier in the world and a Grade II* listed building. Between 1835 and 1842 over 3 million passengers were served. Around 1900, the pier fell into disuse and in 2000 the site was restored with funding from various organisations. It’s a beautiful structure and quite photogenic.

where the graves end, gravesend

Gravesend – Town Pier

Located right next door on Town Pier Square is the oldest pub in Gravesend; The Three Daws, an historic riverside inn dating back to the early 1500’s it is steeped with tales of hauntings, smugglers and Press Gangs. Converted from 5 traditional styled wood fronted cottages, the general structure is older than its history as a Thames tavern. Opened in 1565 during Elizabeth I’s reign, it was originally named as ‘Three Cornish Chough’s and renamed The Three Daws in 1745, large sailing merchant ships used to anchor off on returning from long overseas voyages or while awaiting supplies and a fair wind.
Located at the foot of the old High Street and the river edge, this pub has for centuries been the haunt of smugglers and raided by the old naval press gangs.

where the graves end, gravesend

The Three Daws, Gravesend

One of the oldest taverns in the country, it’s older than Shakespeare’s house, older than many well-known ancient buildings, The Three Daws is almost 450 years old.
Obviously I had to step in and inspect this ancient site. Unfortunately I didn’t see any ghosts 😉

From there I continued along the walkway along the riverside where I came to the Elizabeth Gardens; a small green space overlooking the river, it’s main feature a memorial commemorating those around the world who served alongside Britain in all conflicts 1914-2014. This memorial is topped by a beautiful statue of Squadron Leader Mahinder Singh Pujji DFC.

where the graves end, gravesend

Elizabeth Garden – Mahinder Singh Pujji DFC

Continuing on my way I walked along Royal Pier Road where I found what looked like a church. It is the St Andrews Art Centre and Gallery alongside The Mission House, a rather fine Georgian building.

where the gravesend, gravesend

scenes of Gravesend’s history

I was ambling along having just photographed a row of ships anchors when I happened to look over the wall and saw the remains of the Gravesend Blockhouse; a Tudor Fort: built in 1543 by command of Henry VIII on the river front. Just wow. I didn’t know about that!

Just along the road, overlooking the river is the rather fine looking The Clarendon Royal Hotel. The main building dates from 1665, originally built as a residence when the Duke of York, later James II was appointed to the post of the Lord High Admiral.

where the gravesend, gravesend

Royal Clarendon Hotel, Gravesend

I continued on my way and came upon the Royal Terrace Pier. Built in 1844, the prefix ‘Royal’ was added in honour of Princess Alexandra of Denmark who landed at Gravesend on her way to marry Edward, Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VIII. Now part of the Port of London Authority’s main operations, public access is limited but I did get to see the rather marvellous sculpture of Poseidon; sculptor Sean Price, that stands out front.

where the graves end, gravesend

Port of London Authority and Custom House Gravesend

I then headed up Royal Pier Road towards The Terrace and turning left, on my way I passed the Old Customs House and right next door saw what I thought was a park…..I had in fact stumbled quite by accident, upon the New Tavern Fort and Milton Chantry.

where the graves end, gravesend

Bandstand in New Tavern Fort

Milton Chantry, built c1320. Re-founded as a chapel in 1320/21 on what was the site of a former leper hospital founded in 1189. I had heard about this being the oldest building in Gravesend and had added it to my list of things to see in Gravesend but when I asked where it was, I just got a shake of the head…..then as I neared the New Tavern Fort voila, there it was.

Milton Chantry, Gravesend

Milton Chantry, Gravesend

Built circa 1320 it is now mainly encased in a 19th century exterior, but still has its 14th century timber roof. Unfortunately it was all closed up so I couldn’t go in. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/milton-chantry/
New Tavern Fort: wow, right up my alley so to speak.

New Tavern Fort, Gravesend

New Tavern Fort, Gravesend

This fantastic site, part of a military presence established in the town in 1862, sported any number of awesome and fearsome looking guns pointing out over the river. Gravesend is/was located in a very strategic position on the River Thames and as such has come under attack any number of times. I had a most enjoyable time clambering about and viewing the different guns, from different ages.

New Tavern Fort, Gravesend

New Tavern Fort, Gravesend

Afterwards and in the waning light, despite the freezing cold I strolled along the promenade enjoying the scenes of the river, the sunset colours on the horizon and watching an old man feeding the seagulls that shrieked, fought and squawked over the food he was offering.

where the graves end, gravesend

Promenade, Gravesend

Making my way back to the town centre I visited the famous clock tower; Gravesend Clock Tower – okay this was easy to find, but to my dismay it was covered with scaffolding…..which is of course a good thing since that means it is being preserved, but obviously I couldn’t get a decent photo of it, so I’ve borrowed one off Wikipedia. The clock tower, dedicated to Queen Victoria to commemorate the 50th year of her reign, was erected by public subscription and the foundation stone laid on 6 September 1887.
From there I made my way back along Milton Road to King Street and then to the High Street to see the Heritage Quarter.

where the graves end, gravesend

Clock Tower at Gravesend and various scenes around town

Gravesend has one of the oldest surviving markets in the country; the earliest charter granted by Henry III, dates from 1268. Gravesend was sacked and burned by the Castilian fleet in 1380, and in 1401 a Royal Charter was granted that allowed the men of the town to operate boats between the town and London; the Long Ferry became the preferred form of passage….travel by road between London and Gravesend was perilous due to highwaymen.

Gravesend Heritage Quarter

Gravesend Heritage Quarter

In 1840 there were 17 coaches per day setting down and picking up passengers travelling between London, Canterbury, Dover and Faversham.

As I was walking down the High Street and photographing the buildings, I saw to my utter amazement the quite surrealistic sight of a huge tanker sailing past!!! As you can well imagine I ran down to the riverside to see this amazing sight.

Gravesend Heritage Quarter

a tanker sails by at the end of High Street..quite surrealistic

Of course it was well on its way by the time I got there, so instead I ambled along the pier to take a more close up pic of the gorgeous red boat moored alongside and then since I was there I popped into The Three Daws again…just in case I might see a ghost….

Gravesend and the River Thames

Gravesend and the River Thames

Talking of ghosts, as well as the link to Princess Pocahontas, Gravesend can boast links to a number of famous and well-known persons in its turbulent history. Although I didn’t get to visit any other sites with links to famous people, there are a number of names you would probably recognise:
Samuel Pepys – records having stopped off at Gravesend in 1650 en-route to the Royal Dockyards at Chatham.
Charles Dickens – found inspiration for the Pickwick Papers here, and lived at Cobham. In David Copperfield Mr. Peggotty, Ham and the Micawbers say their goodbyes and sail away from Gravesend to begin a new life in Australia.
Sir Edwin Arnold (1832–1904), English poet and journalist, whose most prominent work as a poet was The Light of Asia (1879)
Major-General Charles Gordon (1833–1885), lived in the town during the construction of the Thames forts…although I did get to visit the forts I don’t know where he lived.
I was delighted to discover that Gravesend is twinned with four foreign towns:
flag_of_france-svg Cambrai, France
flag_of_the_united_states-svg Chesterfield, Virginia, United States
125px-flag_of_germany-svgNeumünster, Germany
flag_of_australia_converted-svgBrunswick, Victoria, Australia

Finally I conceded that it was now too dark to explore any further and certainly too dark for photos so I made my way to the station. But first a drink to warm me up. I popped in at Costa for a hot chocolate to go. The contrast between outdoors and indoors was so marked that my glasses misted up LOL

Gravesend and the River Thames


And so goodbye to Gravesend. I’ll probably visit again in the summer. I love the Thames and there are areas further downstream that I’d like to explore.

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