History Of Dartford, Kent
Geological history of Dartford
During the Cretaceous Period (70 - 100 million years ago), the Dartford area was under 700ft of water, part of a sea covering Northern Europe and reaching as far south as Turkey, which means that Dartford and the surrounding area is rich in chalk and flint deposits, which have been mined in the area immediately east of Dartford for many years, including the quarry in which Bluewater Shopping Centre has been built.
The chalk deposits are hundreds of feet deep, and soft near the surface. Chalk and flint played a vital part in the early development of the area, used for building as well as for trade, and both materials can now be seen in the walls of Holy Trinity Church.
Early history of Dartford
The first people appeared in the Dartford area around 250,000 years ago, a tribe of prehistoric hunters called Swanscombe Man (a piece of skull from Swanscombe Man can be seen in the Horniman Museum, Forest Hill, South East London), and the town's situation has meant that many people have lived there through the ages: there have been finds from the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. The Romans engineered the Dover to London road (afterwards named Watling Street) which crossed the River Darent here; there was also a Roman villa. Noviomagus (Crayford) is close by. Dartford is mentioned in the Domesday Book, written after the Norman invasion in 1086.
The town became a market centre during the Middle Ages, and two groups of friars - the Domicans and the Franciscans - built hospitals here for the care of the sick, especially those wayfarers on pilgrimage through the town.
Wat Tyler's 1381 Poll Tax Revolt is believed to have been started in Dartford. It is said that a tax collector called on Tyler's house in Dartford and indecently assaulted Tyler's adolescent daughter whilst demanding payment. Wat Tyler who was working nearby came back and when he found out took a hammer and beat the tax collector's brains out.
News of this quickly spread to Gravesend and Canterbury and the local population was in uproar. 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 the 12 June 1381, and much rioting took place. 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 a group of the King's courtiers, and the peasants were soon routed.
Before the Battle of Agincourt in November 1415, Henry V marched through the town with his troops. In 1422 Henry V's body was taken to Holy Trinity Church by the Bishop of Exeter who performed a funeral. In March 1452, Richard the Duke of York 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 highly 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 specators on Dartford Brent in 1555. The Martyrs Memorial on East Hill commemorates Waid and other Kentish Martyrs.
17th & 18th centuries
Iron-making on the Weald was in full operation at this time, and iron ingots were sent to Dartford, to England's first iron-splitting mill, set up 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 the 18th century, on a site near Powder Mill Lane, and soon some 600 employees worked there, providing an invaluable source of local employment. In 1785, a blacksmith from Lowfield Street began to make engines, boilers and machinery. Some of that machinery was for the local gunpowder factory.
Due to Dartford's status as a market town and its proximity to the Hops fields of Kent, it has a long history of brewing traditional beers and ales.
Dartford Cricket Club was in the 18th century a national fore-running parish team, home to players such as William Bedle.
19th & 20th centuries
Dartford paper mills were built in 1862, when excise duty on paper was abolished. Engineering, especially heavy engineering, both in Dartford and the surrounding area expanded. The demand created by World War I meant that output at the local Vickers factory multiplied, with a positive effect on the local economy. Burroughs-Wellcome chemical works (now called GlaxoSmithKline) made Dartford a centre for pharmaceutical industry.
Stone House, formerly known as the "East London Lunatic Asylum", was built in the 19th century on spacious grounds with a large castellated structure, to house and treat the mentally ill. It remains one of the largest and most visible structures in Dartford, is currently operated by the NHS to manage regional health care delivery, and is also home to a nursing school.