Main Births etc
Coordinates: 51°27′50″N 0°15′14″E / 51.464, 0.254
Holy Trinity Church, Dartford High Street

Dartford is located in Kent

 Dartford shown within Kent
Population 85,911 (2001)
OS grid reference TQ538739
    - London  18.8 mi (30.3 km) 
District Dartford
Shire county Kent
Region South East
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town DARTFORD
Postcode district DA
Dialling code 01322
Police Kent
Fire Kent
Ambulance South East Coast
EU Parliament South East England
UK Parliament Dartford
List of places: UK • England • Kent

Dartford is the principal town in the borough of Dartford. It is situated in the northwest corner of Kent, England, 16 miles (26 km) east south-east of central London.

The town centre is situated in a valley through which the River Darent flows, and where the old road from London to Dover crossed: hence the name, from Darent + ford. Dartford became a market town in medieval times and, although today it is principally a commuter town for Greater London, it has a long history of religious, industrial and cultural importance. It is an important rail hub; the main through-road now avoids the town itself.


In prehistory, the first people appeared in the Dartford area around 250,000 years ago: a tribe of prehistoric hunter-gatherers whose exemplar is called Swanscombe Man. Many other archaeological investigations have revealed a good picture of occupation of the district with important finds from the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.

When the Romans engineered the Dover to London road (afterwards named Watling Street) it was necessary to cross the River Darent by ford, giving the settlement its name. Roman villa were built along the Darent valley, and at Noviomagus (Crayford), close by. The Saxons may have established the first settlement where Dartford now stands. Dartford manor is mentioned in the Domesday Book, written after the Norman invasion in 1086. It was owned by the king.

The Library and Museum with the war memorial in front

During the medieval period Dartford was an important waypoint for pilgrims and travellers en route to Canterbury and the Continent and various religious orders established themselves in the area. In the 12th century the Knights Templar had possession of the manor of Dartford;[1] the National Trust property at Sutton-at-Hone, to the south of the town, is a remaining piece of that history. In the 14th century, a priory was established here, and two groups of friars — the Dominicans and the Franciscans — built hospitals here for the care of the sick. At this time the town became a small but important market town.

Wat Tyler, of Peasants' Revolt fame, might well have been a local hero, although three other towns in Kent all claim the same, and there are reasons to doubt the strength of Tyler's connection to Dartford though[2] the existence of a town centre public house named after him gives some credence to Dartford's claim.

The gatehouse of Henry VIII 's Royal Manor

In the 15th century, two kings of England became part of the town's history. Henry V marched through the town in November 1415 with his troops prior to fighting the French at the Battle of Agincourt; in 1422 Henry's body was taken to Holy Trinity Church by Edmund Lacey, 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.

The sixteenth century saw significant changes to the hitherto agricultural basis of the market in Dartford, as new industries began to take shape (see below). The priory was destroyed in 1538 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and a new manor house constructed by King Henry VIII. In 1576 Dartford Grammar School was founded, part of the Tudor emphasis on education for ordinary people.

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 at the stake in front of thousands of spectators on the Brent in 1555. The Martyrs Memorial on East Hill commemorates Waid and other Kentish Martyrs.

Industrial history[]

The earliest industries were those connected with agriculture, such as the brewing of traditional beers and ales. Lime-burning and chalk-mining also had their place. Fulling was another: the cleansing of wool needed a great deal of water, which the river could provide. This led to other water-based industries, using hydropower to operate machinery.

Sir John Spilman set up the first paper mill in England at Dartford in 1588 on a site near Powder Mill Lane, and soon some 600 employees worked there, providing an invaluable source of local employment. Iron-making on the Weald was in full operation at this time, and iron ingots were sent to Dartford, to England's first iron-slitting mill, set up by the Darent at Dartford Creek in 1595 by Godfrey Box, an immigrant from the Low Countries. In 1785, a blacksmith from Lowfield Street began to make engines, boilers and machinery. Some of that machinery was for the local gunpowder factory run by Miles Peter Andrews and the Pigou family. In 1785, the firm of J & E Hall was set up, specialising in heavy engineering, and later refrigerating equipment, and, by 1906, vehicle production.

From those beginnings in the 18th century was to come the industrial base on which the growth and prosperity of Dartford were founded.

In 1840 the mustard factory of Saunders & Harrison was described as being 'perhaps the largest in the kingdom'.[3] Dartford Paper Mills were built in 1862, when excise duty on paper was abolished. Between 1844-1939 the fabric printing works of Augustus Applegath were in being in Bullace Lane: again a firm using the waters of the river.

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 (later incorporated into GlaxoSmithKline) made Dartford a centre for the pharmaceutical industry. During the war, many Belgian refugees arrived in the town. Unable to accommodate them all, many people were housed with volunteers.

Dartford Civic Centre

There has been a large power station at Littlebrook on the Thames, to the north of the town, since 1939. The current station, which features one of the tallest chimneys in the UK, dates from about 1978.

The Mazda motor manufacturer has its UK head office at the large Thames-side Crossways Business Park.

In early 2006 the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) purchased a 2.6 hectare site on the edge of the town which had been used by Unwins, an off licence chain that went into administration in 2005. They also purchased the neighbouring Matrix Business Centre to protect its future. They intend to develop the site as 'Dartford Northern Gateway' with a mixture of retail and other businesses and housing.


The quarry at Bluewater, showing the underlying Chalk

Dartford lies within the area known as the London Basin. The low-lying marsh to the north of the town consists of London Clay, and the alluvium brought down by the two rivers - the Darent and the Cray - whose confluence is in this area. The higher land on which the town stands, and through which the narrow Darent valley runs, consists of chalk surmounted by the Blackheath Beds of sand and gravel.

As a human settlement, Dartford became established as a river crossing-point with the coming of the Romans; and as a focal point between two routes - that from west to east being part of the main route connecting London with the Continent; and the southerly route following the Darent valley. As a result the town's main road pattern makes the shape of letter 'T'. The Dartford Marshes to the north, and the proximity of Crayford in the London Borough of Bexley to the west, mean that the town's growth is to the south and east. Wilmington is to all intents and purposes part of the town to the south; whilst the almost continuous Thames Gateway development means that there is little to show the town boundary in an easterly direction.

Within the town boundaries there are several distinct areas: the town centre around the parish church and along the High Street; the Joyce Green area; Temple Hill estate constructed in 1927; the Brent; Fleet Downs; as well as two important areas of open space and several industrial estates. The open spaces are Central Park alongside the river; and Dartford Heath (see below).


Like most of the United Kingdom, Dartford has an oceanic climate.

Climate data for Dartford
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 6.7
Average low °C (°F) 0.4
Precipitation mm (inches) 79
Source: [4]

Dartford Heath[]

This area to the south-west of Dartford covers some 314 acres (127.1 ha) of open space. Historically it has always been of importance: prehistoric barrows and Bronze Age artefacts having been discovered here. The first recorded cricket match took place here in 1723; and the Society of Royal Kentish Bowman were briefly established here between 1785-1802. The nearby area is still known as Bowmans.

The Heath is an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It contains three ponds (Donkey Pond, Woodland Pond and North Pond) and a variety of habitats: including acid grassland, broadleaved semi-natural woodland, heather and gorse, as well as other plant life.[5] It is common land and therefore escaped being enclosed during the late 18th and the early 19th centuries. It is also the original source for the name of the Dartford Warbler. Dartford Heath is used as a local recreation and dog walking area, but suffers from being close to the local recycling centre which sometimes leaves windblown rubbish along proximal roads. picture.


In 1801, Dartford’s population was c.2400; by the 2001 census it had increased to 85,911.[6] Much of this growth can be apportioned to the fact that Dartford became, for some time in its existence, an industrial town. Unemployment levels, taken from the 2001 census, were at 3.8%. By 2006 this had decreased to 2.2%, somewhat below the national average.[7]


Low cost shopping units in the Priory shopping centre

Some of Dartford's most prominent industries suffered extreme decline in the 20th century, causing redundancies and unemployment. Brewing, paper-making, flour milling and the manufacture of cement were the main industries to suffer extinction or significant decline. Nearby Swanscombe Cement Works (now redeveloped into Bluewater shopping centre) was closed by Blue Circle in 1990. This industry had brought great prosperity to the companies involved in cement manufacture, but left a legacy locally of despoiled derelict land and pollution. In 1990 Dartford contained some 1,700 acres (6.9 km2) of spoiled land resulting from extractive industries. Cement-dust pollution from local cement works was a regular subject of complaint in the local press throughout the 20th century.

Since the closure of Dartford's major employers: Seagers, J. & E. Hall, Vickers, the reduction and subsequent closure of Burroughs Wellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline), and the re-development of nearby Bexleyheath as a shopping town in the 1970s (and the more recent development of the Bluewater Shopping Centre), Dartford lost a significant number of its rising Generation X demographic to more economically viable jobs, towns and cities. Dartford is still home to major brands such as Sainsbury's, W.H. Smiths, Boots and Marks & Spencer food. With the opening of the Major Bluewater regional shopping centre just outside of the town the high street has seen a growth in cheaper brands such as Primark and Wilkinson taking over empty premises.

In 2007 Dartford saw an increase in the number of visible household brands in its environs as B&Q, Marks & Spencer food, TK Maxx and Asda Living opened new outlet stores in the town centre. Before this Safeway had taken part in the development of Dartford's second shopping centre, The Orchards, located next to the Orchard Theatre. The Safeway's site was eventually taken over by Waitrose and continues to be only one of a few major brands visible in, or just off the high-street area of the town. The historical and once bustling main High Street and adjacent shopping centre, The Priory, continues to fall into a decline, and the large building previously occupied by the Co-Op Department Store is also standing empty, presumably awaiting a buyer. The problems with obtaining planning permission for the Lowfield centre superstore development and associated residential units have been compounded by the recession. This has created further delay in resolving the dereliction of the town.

Culture and community[]

The River Darent in Central Park

Dartford has two major buildings concerned with performance art. The Orchard Theatre, located in the town centre, is a fully professional theatre, providing audiences with a large range of drama, dance, music and entertainment. The Mick Jagger Centre (built in the grounds of Dartford Grammar School) in Shepherds Lane was completed in 2000 and provides facilities for community arts across a wide region. The local museum in Market Street is housed in the same building as the library.

Central Park is a formal park in the town centre. It comprises 26 acres (105,000 m2) of land.


Dartford is the home of one football club, Dartford F.C., who play home matches at Princes Park Stadium and compete in the Blue Square Bet South.


There are, or have been, many hospital buildings in Dartford, the majority of which have been closed since the opening of Darent Valley Hospital. One of the best-known, Stone House Hospital, in Cotton Lane to the east of the town, was opened on 16 April 1866 as the "City of London Lunatic Asylum". It was, and still is, a large castellated structure built in spacious grounds. It remained under the direct administration of the City of London until 1948, when it was transferred to the National Health Service (NHS). It remains one of the largest and most visible structures in Dartford, and was until recently operated by the NHS to manage regional health care delivery, and was also home to a nursing school, Livingstone Hospital on East Hill. The main buildings of this facility are now closed, and are slated to be turned into luxury flats.[8]


The route of a Celtic ancient trackway which the Romans later paved and identified as Iter III on the Antonine Itinerary, later to be called Watling Street, and which the current A2 roughly follows, passed close to the town. After the Romans left Britain, it fell out of use, as the town itself developed and traffic went into the town itself, the name Watling Street transferring to the new route. The introduction of stagecoach services increased the amount of traffic through the town, so that by the 18th century it had become necessary to control the upkeep of such a heavily-used road. Turnpike Trusts were set up by Act of Parliament. Dartford was served by two: that for Watling Street; and the road south to Sevenoaks, both brought into being between 1750 and 1780.

From 1925 the A2 main road took traffic away from Dartford town centre via the Princes Road bypass. Today the original main road through the town is the A226. The erstwhile turnpike road south to Sevenoaks is now the A225). A newer by-pass is the A206, which skirts the town to the north. Its prime purpose is to carry traffic from the riverside industrial developments on to the Dartford Crossing from both west and east. Dartford is perhaps most well known for the latter, the main mode of crossing the River Thames to the east of London, where the southbound A282 (part of the London Orbital) crosses the river via the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge toll bridge, opened in 1991. The northbound carriageway crosses via the twin bore Dartford Tunnel. The first tunnel was opened in 1963, its twin in 1980.[9]

Dartford railway station is a busy junction serving three routes. The first railway from London to reach Dartford was the North Kent Line via Woolwich in 1849, connecting at Gravesend with the line through to the Medway Towns. Later two more lines were built, the Dartford Loop Line through Sidcup which opened in 1866, and the Bexleyheath Line which opened in 1895. All the lines were electrified on 6 June 1926.

The Fastrack express bus system connects the Kent Thameside area, and was completed by early 2008.

The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge forms the southbound lane of the Dartford Crossing from Essex to Kent.
The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge forms the southbound lane of the Dartford Crossing from Essex to Kent.


Dartford houses several secondary schools, which largely operate within the county council-run grammar school system:

  • Dartford Grammar School
  • Dartford Grammar School for Girls
  • Wilmington Grammar School for Boys
  • The Grammar School for Girls, Wilmington
  • Wilmington Academy
  • Dartford Technology College
  • Leigh Technology Academy
  • North West Kent College

Places of worship[]

The ford, now Dartford Bridge over the River Darent, and Holy Trinity Church

Richard Trevithick memorial at St. Edmund's Park.

The Parish Church, Holy Trinity, is situated on the western bank of the River Darent, from where a hermit would conduct travellers across the ford. The church was originally a 9th century Saxon structure, but gained later Norman additions. In the 13th century a Royal Wedding was celebrated there, thus today the choristers are entitled to wear scarlet cassocks. Also on display within the church is a brass plaque commemorating the work of Richard Trevithick, the pioneer of steam propulsion, who lived, worked and died in the town.

The graveyard is situated in St Edmund's Pleasance on the summit of East Hill (the place Richard Trevithick is buried), which gave rise to a traditional and derogatory rhyme of Dartford's people 'Dirty Dartford, Stinking People, bury their dead above the steeple'. The church actually has no steeple; it has a tower featuring a ring of eight bells.

Notable people[]

The following have, or had, some connection with Dartford:

  • Aaron morris (1991- ), British Comedian
  • Anne of Cleves (1515–1557), fourth wife of Henry VIII, who lived in Dartford after their divorce
  • Peter Blake (1932- ), pop artist.
  • Ivor Gurney (1890–1937), composer and poet
  • Henry Havelock (1795–1857), British general
  • Barry Hawkins (1979- ), Professional Snooker Player
  • Henry Ambrose Hunt (1866–1946), meteorologist
  • Mick Jagger (1943- ), vocalist of The Rolling Stones
  • Keith Richards (1943- ), guitarist of The Rolling Stones
  • Sidney Keyes (1922–1943), war poet
  • John Latham (1743–1837), ornithologist
  • Martina Bergman-Österberg (1849–1915), physical education pioneer and founder of Dartford College
  • Alfred Sturge (1816–1901), Pastor and missionary
  • Margaret Thatcher (1925- ), former British Prime Minister, ran for the Dartford parliamentary seat in 1950 and 1951
  • Richard Trevithick (1771–1833), inventor and mining engineer
  • William James Erasmus Wilson (1809–1884), surgeon
  • Malcolm Allison (1927–2010), football player and manager
  • Andrea Arnold (1968- ), film director 2004 Oscar winner and 2007 BAFTA winner
  • Graham Dilley (1959–2011 ), Kent and England cricketer
  • Topsy Ojo (1985- ), London Irish and England rugby union full-back, attended Dartford Grammar School
  • Min Patel (1970- ), Kent and England cricketer
  • Paul Samson (1953–2002), rock guitarist
  • Malcolm Wakeford, musician, composer
  • Len Goodman, dancer and Strictly Come Dancing judge
  • Mackenzie Crook (1971- ) Actor

International links[]

Twin towns[]

Associated towns[]

  • France Gravelines, France since 1992

See also[]

  • Dartford Cable Tunnel



  • Kent History Illustrated - Frank W Jessup (KCC, 1966)
  • Railways of the Southern Region - Geoffrey Body (PSL Field Guide 1989)
  • Local History - Mark Chatwin (1997)

External links[]

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This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Dartford. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.