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Gravesend in the spotlight

PUBLISHED: 16:34 14 December 2010 | UPDATED: 17:52 20 February 2013

Gravesend in the spotlight

Gravesend in the spotlight

With superb transport links, a scenic riverside area and a colourful history, Gravesend combines the best of the countryside with the convenience of town

Gravesend in the spotlight


With superb transport links, a scenic riverside area and a colourful history, Gravesend combines the best of the countryside with the convenience of town


The Thames appears to be so all encompassing when you visit Gravesend that theres a distinct seaside feel to this riverside town, with several piers to support the image. With its literary and artistic traditions, links to the native American princess Pocahontas, General Gordon of Khartoum and Charles Dickens, plus excellent shopping facilities, Gravesend is a town where you can never be bored.



AROUND TOWN



The waterfront area is probably the most interesting area, easily explored on foot. The best of the many car parks to use is either West Street or that for St Georges shopping centre.


After picking up leaflets at the excellent Towncentric tourist information centre, cross the road to St Georges church and pass beside it through the churchyard, where you cannot miss that lovely bronze statue of Pocahontas.


Cross the car park and the road below it to reach West Street. Turn right and soon you come to the Riva Waterside Restaurant and Bar, an interesting glass-fronted building set back from the road. This splendid place is built on the old Town Pier, and affords panoramic views out across the Thames.


To the left is a pathway which leads alongside the pier and turns to the left, following the river. Continue down this path as it changes into a wooden bridge, allowing you a view across the river and to the old jetty which is the Gravesend and Tilbury passenger ferry departure point. Retrace your steps to the Rivas restaurant.


Soon the road becomes Crooked Lane, and you come to the historic Three Daws pub (see below). Next on your left are St Andrew Gardens, then youll see the Victorian church premises of St Andrews Art Centre and the adjoining Mission House below you to the left, accessible by a path that cuts across to Royal Pier Road.


Pass these two buildings and youll find an tiny plot of railed-off land called Anchor cove containing two large anchors and impressive black memorial plaques. Shortly beyond here youll see an unremarkable area of brickwork, mostly level with the earth, all that remains of one of five defensive artillery blockhouses built by Henry VIII.


On the other side of the road is the magnificent Clarendon Royal Hotel, a long cream-coloured building, with striking green-painted panels; at the time of writing it was obviously unoccupied, but was being renovated. Continue along this road and you come to the Royal Terrace Pier. Here, too, is London River House, the Port of London Authority offices, outside which is an interesting golden sculpture of a figure holding a three-pronged spear.


Turn right into Harmer Street, which leads up to main road, The Terrace. Ahead, you can see the towns impressive clock tower. Turn left onto Terrace Road, follow it to the end then turn right into Milton Place. In front of you is the Riverside Leisure area, which encompasses the Riverside Walkway and the Fort Gardens and Gordon Gardens and New Tavern Fort.



MAJOR ATTRACTIONS



Places




  • Towncentric (01474 337600) is the excellent, award-wining Tourist Information Centre. Help, advice and booking services for virtually everything, including shopmobility scheme for those with mobility problems (T below means that Towncentric is the booking contact)

  • Milton Chantry (01474 337457) is Gravesends earliest existing building (late 13th century) built on the site of a previous hospital. Part is preserved as a historic military barracks, the rest is the Heritage Centre (closed in October).

  • New Tavern Fort (01474 365984) Remains of an 18th-century fort built to repel the feared French invasion. Extensively rebuilt by General Gordon, whose statue is in The Gordon Gardens area. Excellent river views, guns and information panels. Subterranean earth ramparts with brick tunnels and magazine storage changers, restored to their 1850 heyday.

  • Gravesend Blockhouse. Brick foundations of Henry VIIIs artillery defence.

  • St Georges Church. A Georgian church with a beautiful spire and clock, pretty corner stone quoining, and stained-glass windows donated by the Society of Colonial Dames of America in 1914. The bronze statue of Pocahontas in the churchyard was a gift from Virginia, unveiled by the governor of that state in 1958.

  • Riva Waterside Restaurant and Bar (01474 364694), built on the original Town Pier (see below). Fine modern Italian cuisine with panoramic views out across the Thames. Also a venue for live music (jazz and individual artists).

  • Three Daws pub (01474 566869) More than 500 years old, claimed to be the oldest pub in Kent. Underground tunnels leading from its cellars were used by smugglers and press gangs.

  • St Andrews Art Centre. Consecrated in 1871 as a mission church, and since 1976 used as a centre for Arts. The adjoining Mission House was originally the Spread Eagle Tavern.

  • Clarendon Royal Hotel is a magnificent building, built in the 1600s as a residence for the Duke of York, more recently a palatial hotel, and now empty and apparently being renovated.

  • New Gurdwara. Place of worship for Gravesends sizeable Sikh community, its design is based on the Golden Temple of Amritsa. This magnificent marble-clad temple is also used by arrangement as a meeting place for Gravesend people of all denominations. Tours on request (T).

  • Woodville Halls (01474 337774) theatre for concerts plays and pantomimes.



Activities




  • Pocahontas Promenade: two-hour guided walk of Gravesend spiced up with colourful characters and anecdotes (T).

  • Riverside Tours by boat (T).

  • Riverside walkway, starting at pier road Northfleet and ending at the Riverside Leisure area. You can see views across to Essex, including Tilbury Fort and the Docks.

  • Cascades Leisure Centre (01474 337471) to the east of town. Leisure pool, sports hall, basketball, squash courts. Cricket, soccer and golf in grounds.

  • Cygnet Leisure centre (01474 337484) in neighbouring Northfleet. Fitness centre, health suite, steam room, sauna, swimming pool etc.



PAST AND PRESENT



Gravesend was called Gravesham in the Domesday Book, whereas this name now refers to the entire surrounding borough, incorporating Gravesend and its environs to the south (including Singlewell and Christian Fields), plus Northfleet, Denton and Chalk.


The settlements main economy has traditionally been based on shipping and the Thames and in 1401 a Royal Grant was issued allowing local men to run boats from to and from London. In the ensuing centuries it was the embarkation point for agricultural workers emigrating to Australia, as well as that for the founders of first US settlements, in 1607.


The first steamboat travelled from Gravesend to London in the early 1800s, which paved the way for Gravesends emergence as one of the earliest tourist spots for London holiday-makers, this visitor trade boosting its fortunes rapidly in Victorian times. In 1932- 56 there was an airport to the east of town, which became RAF Gravesend in World War Two: this land became Riverview Park when it was taken over by the council in 1956.


The town achieved beacon status in 2001 for work done in its town centre regeneration. At around this time there arose a Gravesend Town Centre Initiative strategy, which culminated in the idea for a 120m redevelopment scheme. Plans were prepared and discussed for building more then 13,000sq m of retail and office space, a 51-room hotel, 400 new homes and 1000 underground parking spaces, two new public squares, a new hall for St Georges church and improvements to the surrounding gardens.


However in April this year Urban Gravesend, a pressure group that opposes these changes, won a temporary victory when the applications were deferred by the council, who said the plans needed adjustment.



FAMOUS FOLK




  • General Gordon, who was famous for his military, engineering and diplomatic service, is remembered by Gravesend for his tireless charity work with the poor and needy, and described as a great Christian gentleman and benefactor and honoured by a memorial statue in the Gordon Promenade Recreation Grounds.

  • Charles Dickens lived in nearby Gadshill Place. The town and its surroundings are featured in David Copperfield and Great Expectations.

  • Pocahontas. This beautiful native American princess has been described as Friend of the earliest struggling colonists and was feted by the English royal court. Daughter of a native American chief, she married an influential colonist in America, was entertained at the court of Queen Anne, but died on her return voyage and is buried in the churchyard of St Georges.

  • Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. When he was in the Russian navy this famous composer was posted to the town in 1862, where he wrote part of his first symphony.

  • Gemma Arterton the actress who played an MI6 agent in the film Quantum of Solace attended school in the town.

  • Katherine Hamnett. This talented fashion designer, who won Designer of the year award in 1984, was born in the town .

  • Paul Greengrass, famous film director, was educated in Gravesend.



DID YOU KNOW




  • Gravesham was officially twinned with Chesterfield County, Virginia in 2005, and is coupled in this way with Neumnster in Germany and Cambrai in France

  • In July 2006 Gravesham welcomed eight tribes of Native American Indians who were visiting the UK

  • Shopping facilities are fantastic: the town centre retail area is one of the largest in Kent plus theres the huge St Georges shopping centre. It has one of the oldest Charter markets in the county, and there is also the famous Gravesend market that is held six days a week in a covered 18th-century building. Nearby is Bluewater, Europes largest shopping centre

  • Gravesham coat-of-arms depicts an East Indiaman ship, windmill, crossed pens indicating the Dickens connection, and the White Horse of Kent

  • Royal Terrace Pier used in the late 1800s by day-trippers from London was named Royal in 1863 after Princess Alexandra arrived there from Denmark to marry the Prince of Wales

  • Town pier, now occupied by Riva restaurant, is the oldest remaining cast-iron pier in the world, built in 1834

  • The Clocktower at the end of Harmer Street has a sealed bottle under its foundations containing copies of local papers and coins minted specially for the Queen Victoria Jubilee celebrations in 1887

  • The town is the headquarters of the Port of London Authority Port Control Centre

  • William Aspdin, inventor of Portland cement, set up his kilns in neighbouring Northfleet and exported his products globally



CONSIDERING A MOVE?



Prices have been bucking the national trend and have risen substantially in the past year, perhaps reflecting the recently improved transport links to London. A one-bedroom flat costs around 92,000, a two-bedroom one 129,000 and a three-bedroom semi can be yours for in the region of 211,300. For a four-bedroom house, expect to pay approximately 326,000 or higher.



GETTING THERE


The international and domestic passenger rail station of Ebbsfleet International is nearby, with high-speed rail links to London (24 minutes) and the continent. Also the railway station in the town centre is on main (frequent) rail routes to London, taking 45 minutes, with good rail links to other Kent towns. For train information, tel. 0845 748 4950. Comprehensive bus services, contact Traveline 0871 200 2233. By road Gravesend is about an hour from central London and is signposted from the A2 and is only 4 miles from M25 junction 2.


Satnav postcode: DA11 0TB.



MY TOWN



Sandra Soder, Hon. Secretary of the Gravesend Historical Society and Chairman of the Gravesham Arts Council



Tell us about your work with the GHS


Gravesend Historical Society was founded in 1924 and we have just under 200 members. There are subcommittees for records, survey, archeology, footpaths, publications, programmes, and each has its own ongoing projects. We also have an archives room which is open to the public by appointment and we work with Gravesham Borough Council, support it whenever we can, as well as providing guides for Towncentric. Being secretary is like being a general manager of a business, reporting to our committee, which we call a council. Since it is registered as a charity based in education, I am also a trustee. Currently were involved in lobbying for a new museum and we also work with schools.



Are any events planned?


Were involved each year in the Discover Gravesham fortnight, Gravesham's Big Day Out on the promenade and other local events. In winter we hold monthly lectures at the Chantry School. Our open evening is on 8 November, when Helen Allison will talk about Life in the workhouse, part of Gravesham Arts Council Arts Festival, which will start on 23 October at 7pm at St Georges church, with Alison Neil in a one-woman show portraying Charlotte Bronte, called Truly Yours, CB. Other festival events will be finalised nearer the time.



What is the Gravesham Arts Council?


Its an umbrella organisation for any group or individual interested in the arts and culture of Gravesham. The Arts Council holds an annual Art competition and exhibition and an annual Music and Speech festival and annual Arts Festival. It lets out the Arts Centre at St Andrews Waterside church to members or group members, who use it as rehearsal rooms or for their own art exhibitions, meetings or classes; we have 30 such member groups.



What got you interested in the history of Gravesend?



My grandmother used to tell me wonderful stories about my family, for instance a canal where they all learnt to swim and shed talk about the Roman finds at Springhead. This stimulated my fascination with all areas of Gravesends history, and its evolution and development.



What do you like about Gravesend?


Its traditional character, the waterside, the old buildings and diverse architecture. Im also passionately interested in the towns future: I want to see it succeed and to preserve its own unique identity. My favourite places are the waterside, New Tavern Fort, St Georges church, and of course St Andrews Art Centre. I also love the surrounding countryside.



Anything youd like to see added?


Id like to see more places for families to go, plus a museum and art gallery for local artists.


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