Maritime History



Maritime History
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A Rich and Varied History

Gravesend’s strategic importance as the first port of landing from overseas and the last port of departure from London, (it is because of the way the tides work), has resulted in a rich history. Princess Pocohontas, Dickens, General Gordon, Queen Victoria (pictured 1st image to the right), Franklin (pictured 2nd image to the right), each have played a part in the history of the town. The indigenous history includes one of the oldest surviving markets in the country, the charter dating from 1268. Recently completely re-furbished, the market is a treasure of local produce and interest. Bawley Bay, named after the shrimp boats that used to moor there in the 19th Centuary, over 100 of them, is to this day, used to commemorate our seamen who have lost their lives locally and on oceans around the world. Our local river boats use the shingle beach that Bawley offers to beach their boats and do below the waterline repairs.

The history of the Marina, (Gravesend Canal Basin) and the Gravesend – Medway Canal can be found very well described at www.engineeringtimelines.co.uk, search for Ralph Dodd, the engineer.

The Marina Basin was built in the early 1800’s as the western end of the Thames and Medway Canal, the other end being in the river Medway. The Canal was conceived as a wartime, (Napolionic War), route to supply the Chatham Royal Dockyard with munitions from Woolwich Arsenal, avoiding the Thames estuary where French ships were keen to capture or sink our ammunition ships.

Our site is listed and features some fine examples of original Victorian engineering, to this day the lock gates are operated by the original Victorian manual winches. They work perfectly and save us a gym membership.

Gravesend’s Town Pier is the oldest surviving example of a cast iron pier (pictured 3rd image to the right) in the world. Faithfully restored, along with two other surviving piers at Gravesend, it remains a testament to the enjoyment the Victorians experienced getting out of London, going, then, for a day at the seaside and experiencing the delights of the Rosherville Gardens, some say, the 8th Wonder of the World, just up-river from us, sadly, since, converted to industry. The Town Pier remains a stopping and mooring point for craft en-route up or down Thames. The Waverly paddle (pictured 4th image to the right) steamer and the Balmoral visit every year amongst a variety of other interesting craft.

Gravesend town itself is a hugely varied example of architecture spanning centueries, the trick is to look up, above the shopfronts to the original buildings. Not far away, to the east, Rochester Castle is known for amongst other things, it’s odd round tower, Upnor Castle on the Medway famously failed to defend the British Naval Fleet from a Dutch Captain who set fire or captured a significant part of our fleet at Chatham without a defensive shot being fired in return. Alledgedly it is the origin of the saying, “keep your powder dry”. The British Navy at the time, despite Samuel Pepys, he then, responsible for provisioning the Navy, browbeating the Commissioners for more money. Lesson learned! To this day, a yacht race takes place between Upnor and Holland to commemorate, or perhaps, commiserate, that event. This year, 2017, a festival celebrating it's anniversary will take place on the Medway. 

South, and not far from Gravesend are Chartwell, home of Winston Churchill and the beautiful Leeds Castle with 900 years of history. To the north, across the Thames via the Tilbury Ferry, that service having been operating since around 1571, to this day, provides a regular daily service, gives access to Tilbury Fort, the earliest version of which was consructed by Henry VIII. Not, probably, the one he marched his men up and down, bit flat in Essex, but noteable, nonetheless.

To the west, Bluewater Shopping Centre, a modern arcitectural feat, built in an abandonded chalk quarry, chalk and associated cement  were big around here, is a stunning example of how modern architecture can transform a derelict site. It also happens to be one of the biggest shopping centres in Europe.