Origin of the name "Gravesend"
The town is recorded as Gravesham in the Domesday Book in 1086 as belonging to Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and called "Gravesham": a name probably derived from "graaf-ham": the home of the Reeve, or Bailiff, of the Lord of the Manor. Another theory suggests that the name Gravesham may be a corruption of the words grafs-ham — a place "at the end of the grove". Myth has it that Gravesend got its name because, during the outbreak of Bubonic Plague in the 1600s.
Extensive Roman remains have been found nearby, at Vagniacae (today’s Springhead). Gravesend lies immediately to the north of their road connecting London with the Kent coast — now called Watling Street.
In the Fort Gardens is Milton Chantry, Gravesend's earliest existing building of the late 13th century. It was refounded about 1321 on the site of a hospital founded in 1189. At the time it was supported by lands in Essex.
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, the Charter of Incorporation being received in that year. The first Mayor of Gravesend was elected in that year, although the first Town Hall was in place by 1573: it was replaced in 1764. A new frontage was built in 1836. Although its use as a Town Hall came to an end in 1968, when the new Civic Centre was opened, it continued in use as the Magistrates' Courts. At present (2004) it is disused, and discussions are being held with a view to its future.
On the river front is recorded the archaeological remains of a riverside fort built at the command of Henry VIII in 1543. At Fort Gardens are the archaelogical remains of the fort built during the Napoleonic Wars: they are now a museum, partly open-air under the care of the Gravesend Local History Society.
Khartoum place in Gravesend
Gravesend is associated with General Gordon (1833–1885), who lived in the town during the construction of the Thames forts. For six years. He was In command of the Royal Engineers from 1865 to 1871, he was responsible for the forts that guard the Thames downstream from Gravesend, New Tavern Fort in the town, Shornemead Fort on the south bank, and Coalhouse Fort on the north.
Gravesend clock tower, Harmer Street
the clock tower in Gravesend
The town’s clock tower was built at the top of Harmer street. The foundation stone was laid on 6 September 1887. The Clock Tower was dedicated to Queen Victoria, to commemorate the 50th year of her long reign.
St George's church
St George's church, just opposite the pier, was restored in 1731 in the Georgian style of the period, after having previously burnt down in August 1727 when a great fire consumed much of Gravesend destroying about 110 houses and the parish church, services being transferred to the town hall until the church was rebuilt. 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.
the statue of Pocahontas in St George's church
Pocahontas was to become the first Native American to visit England, and so Europe.
It is reported she met up with John Smith in London and that the shock broke her heart. She later died on board a vessel at Gravesend in March 1617, before her homeward journey, and is buried in the parish churchyard of St George's, although the exact location of her grave is unknown.
Gravesend Hospital was opened in 1854, following the donation of a site by the Earl of Darnley in 1853; it had its origin on 2 December 1850, as a dispensary on the Milton road "to assist the really destitute poor of Gravesend and Milton and vicinities ... unable to pay for medical aid". By 1893, 4,699 such people had benefited by its presence.
Windmill Hill named for its erstwhile windmills, offers extensive views across the Thames, and was a popular spot for Victorian visitors to the town, because of the Camera obscura installed in the old mill and for its tea gardens and other amusements. The hill was the site of a beacon in 1377, which was instituted 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 erected and lit during 1988, the 300th anniversary.
It was during the reign of Elizabeth I that the first windmill was placed on top the highest point in Gravesend, 179 ft (55 m) above the high water mark of the river. One mill burnt down in 1763, but was replaced the following year and that too demolished in 1894. The last surviving windmill was destroyed by fire during Mafeking Night celebrations in 1900.
During World War I A German airship passed over Windmill Hill and dropped bombs on it. Today there are three markers indicating where these bombs struck.
The River Thames has long been an important feature in Gravesend life and may well have been the deciding factor for the first settlement here. One of the town's first distinctions was in being given the sole right to transport passengers to and from London by water in the late 14th century. The "Tilt Boat" was a familiar sight on the river. The first steamboat plied its trade between Gravesend and London in the early 19th century, bringing with it a steadily increasing number of visitors to The Terrace Pier Gardens, Windmill Hill, Springhead Gardens and Rosherville Gardens. Gravesend soon became one of the first English resort towns and thrived from an early tourist trade.
Gravesend "watermen" were often in a family trade; and the town is the headquarters of the Port of London Authority Thames Navigation Service, supplying both river and sea pilots. Today radar plays an important part in the movement of shipping on the river.
Until the building of Tilbury Docks on the opposite side of the river, between 1882-6, Gravesend was the first port of entry. Thousands of emigrants, as well as large numbers of troops, embarked from here. Tilbury Docks have expanded considerably since with the closure of all the London Docks. The entrance to the Docks is somewhat awkward, situated as it is on the sharp bend of the river, and often need tugboat assistance, as do the larger ships moored at Tilbury landing stages. There have been many tug companies based at Gravesend: among them the Sun Company, the Alexandra Towing Company and, today, the Smith Howard Towing Company.
Also on the river front is the world's oldest surviving cast iron pier, a unique structure with the first known iron cylinders used for its foundation. From here the steamboat services had begun from London in 1815. The pier has recently been completely refurbished (2004) and now has upon it a Bar and Restaurant.
The river still plays a vital part in the life of the community today, providing an important link for industry and jobs to the benefit of many people. The cross-river passenger ferry to Tilbury provides a long-established route to and from the neighbouring County of Essex. Before the Dartford Crossing came into being there was a vehicle ferry here as well.
Thames and Medway Canal
The Thames and Medway Canal was opened for barge traffic in 1824, but after only 20 years it had proved too difficult a route for navigation between the Thames and Medway and was left to silt up. From 1844, the canal's tunnel was used to provide a route for the railway. This change of use arose due to the difficulty of keeping water levels high enough: a steam engine often had to be used to pump water into the Higham tunnel to compensate for low tides. A steam tug was also used to assist with the pulling of the barges through the tunnel.
Today the canal basin at the Gravesend end of the Canal is used for pleasure craft. Gravesend Sailing Club is based here. The lock has been dredged and restoration and strengthening works have been carried out to the basin walls as part of regeneration of the area.
Other notes of interest
Gravesend is very well known for its Traveller and Romany connections, it has one of the largest Gypsy sites in Kent, and most of the residents of West Gravesend Romany origin.
During the time General Gordon was in Gravesend (1865-71) the composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was an officer in the Russian Navy and was posted to Gravesend, where he wrote part of his first symphony, said to be the first ever such style of composition attempted by a Russian composer.
By the river close to Northfleet, on what became the property of the imperial paper mills there was once a pond which had the curious tendency of draining when the river was at full tide and filling again when the tide subsided. This strange behaviour was explained by the submerging of the springs that fed the pond with the tidal waters, when the tides receded the springs were once again able to drain into the pond.