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History of Gravesend

Gravesend comes from the Old English ‘grāf’ meaning a ‘grove, copse’ with ‘ende’ as an ‘end, the end of something’; therefore, ‘end of the grove’. The Domesday Book records Gravesend as Gravesham and the Textus Roffensis as Gravesaende.


The Saxons built the first church in Gravesend, dedicated to Saint Mary the Virgin and situated near the old road. However, as Gravesend became more river orientated the population centred on the developing port, making maintenance of the church difficult. A serious fire in 1508 caused a great deal of damage to the church, with few repairs made. By 1529, it had become a ruin, and in 1544, St George’s replaced it as parish church. King Henry VIII had the ruins removed and used in the building of an artillery blockhouse, with the foundations going for road repairs in 1797.


By 1497, a Chapel-of-Ease existed closer to the town, near a royal manor house. In 1510, it received a dedication to Saint George, by John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester - beheaded at Tower Hill in 1535 for refusing to accept the king as Supreme Head of the Church of England, and canonised in 1935.  St George’s became the parish church in 1544.


In 1732, Charles Sloane rebuilt St George’s, following a fire in 1727 that destroyed much of Gravesend. Funding came out of dues on coal going into London as part of the 1711 Fifty New Churches Act. In 1736, Richard Phelps cast and hung a ring of eight bells. The Victorians carried out major restoration work in 1892, by extending the church eight feet and adding a north aisle. In 1923, John Taylor removed the bells and cast a new ring of eight, which Richard Lane and George Smith hung, and the Bishop of Rochester dedicated in May of that year.


Steam packets first appeared on the river Thames in 1815. Passengers would be carried by rowing boats, known as ‘wherries’, between the shore and steam vessels. When a jetty opened at London Bridge, in 1830, the advantages a pier could bring to Gravesend became obvious, and consideration to the proposal took place at a public meeting in September of that year. The watermen objected, and the idea stalled. However, the following year a jetty opened in Northfleet - just a mile away - and with 40,000 passengers using it in the last six months of 1831, members of Gravesend council felt steam packets would be driven away if the town did not have a landing pier. Further discussion took place and finally, despite opposition, a bill received Royal Assent in June 1833. The Town Pier finally opened, to much ceremony and excitement, on 29 July 1834.


The first railway to reach Gravesend appeared in the form of the Gravesend and Rochester Railway (G&RR) with services commencing on 10 February 1845 between Gravesend and Strood. South Eastern Railway, having purchased G&RR connected the line at Gravesend, via Dartford and Lewisham, to London with services commencing on 30 July 1849. On 1 July 1899, they changed the station name to Gravesend Central…. more


On 10 May 1886, the London Chatham and Dover Railway opened a branch line at Gravesend from their London to Dover route. The line extended further onto a pier, giving passengers direct access to a cross Thames ferry. In 1889, they renamed the station ‘Gravesend West Street’, with the ‘street’ suffix removed in 1949. Passenger traffic declined to such an extent that it ceased in 1953, and on 24 March 1968, the station closed to all traffic…. more