Friday, 30 May 2008

Friday 30th May - The Blitz

Although it was overcast, today's weather was quite warm for our walk around sites in Holborn which suffered damage during the Blitz.

The Blitz was the bombing of London between 7th September 1940 and 11th May 1941, although there were of course sporadic attacks until the end of the war. In the old borough of Holborn, 650 buildings (that one seventh) were destroyed, 426 people were killed and 621 were seriously injured. This was the highest rate per capita in the whole of the country. A total of 282 high explosive bombs fell on Holborn and, in 19944 V1 and V2 rockets also fell here. There were no specific targets in the area, but because Holborn is very central, close to Kings Cross and Euston with their rail links to the north, and night bombing was not an exact science, Holborn suffered a great deal of damage. Theobalds Road, Red Lion Square, Red Lion Street and High Holborn suffered the worst of the damage, the worst two raids being on 16th and 17th April 1941 and 10th and 11th May 1941.

Bomb damage in Holborn (picture courtesy JAMD)

Buckea's Bakers on the corner of Boswell Street and Theobalds Rd
(by Reg Speller courtesy JAMD)

We met up as usual outside Holborn Tube Station with our guide Aly. Quite a large group today of about 40 people. We set off turning right into High Holborn and stopping outside Clintons Cards and Blackwells Bookshop. It was on this site that the Holborn Empire stood. The theatre was destroyed on the night of 14th and 15th October 1940. It was only because earlier on 14th October a time delayed bomb had fallen on the theatre but had not exploded, that the performance for the evening had been cancelled. If it had not, Vera Lynn who was due to perform there that evening, together with other artists and hundreds of patrons of the theatre would have been killed. Ms Lynn went to the Palladium instead.

We now crossed over to Proctor Street, and up to Red Lion Square. The square as we see it now has changed considerably. The one way system was built in 1962 and the square was more of a rectangle extending over to Drake Street. St. Martins Art School now stands on the site of St. John the Evangelist church. Built in 1878, the church was destroyed on Blitz Wednesday, by a parachute mine on 17th April 1941. Fisher Street was filled with little shops which were also destroyed that night. Over 40 people died in the raid, and in all over 1000 people died in London that night.

St. John the Evangelist Church

St. Martin's School of Art

The raid of 10th and 11th May 1941 devastated many buildings. Although Victoria House on Southampton Row was relatively untouched, the north side of Theobalds Road down to Lamb's Conduit Street was almost completely destroyed. A few houses on the south side of Theobalds Road remain, showing what was lost. Also destroyed that night were two pubs, The Hole in the Wall on the corner of Old Gloucester Street and The White Hart, together with the Bloomsbury Super, a huge cinema. The MediaCom Building now stands on this site.

The MediaCom Building where The Bloomsbury Super once stood

Surviving shops and houses on Theobalds Road (South Side)

During one raid, Marguerite Crowther was driving an ambulance to Great Ormond Street Hospital, carrying a woman in labour, when a bomb fell. Buildings began to collapse sending her ambulance spinning around and a recently deceased policeman was thrown onto her windscreen.

We now walked down Theobalds Road to and turned into Red Lion Street. walking south towards High Holborn. We stopped opposite Beaconsfield House, to look at the shops and flats, painted a delicate shade of pink, adjacent to it. These were all built in the 1950s following severe bomb damage to the houses and shops there following the raid on 10th and 11th May 1941.
Pink House built in the 1950s in Red Lion Street

This raid was the last major raid by the Luftwaffe before the invasion of Russia - one theory was that it was an attempt to remove rumours that an attack on Russia was imminent, another that if they could finally defeat Britain the war would be won.

We then walked back down into High Holborn. An air raid beginning at 8pm on 8th September 1940 and which lasted until 5.30am the next day and became known as 'Black Saturday' caused devastating damage. Where Mid City Place now stands was a lovely Georgian Terrace called Featherstone Buildings. It was hit by a 250kg bomb and completely destroyed. Another 250kg bomb landed close by (where Matsui now stands). Pictures of the area before and after the damage can be seen at Holborn Library. In one of the pictures a union jack can be seen flying defiantly at No 58 High Holborn (now Phones4u). In the same raid a bomb killed 29 people when it hit the building now known as Penderel's Oak pub by Great Turnstile.

Mid City Place stands on the site of Featherstone Buildings

We now moved further down east along High Holborn and stopped outside First Avenue House on the corner of Brownlow Street. Here stood a huge 300 bedroom hotel, the First Avenue Hotel which was destroyed on the night of 8th and 9th September. The same bomb also hit Lincoln House on the other side of the road, killing 7 people.
First Avenue House now stands on the site of the First Avenue Hotel

Continuing east we stopped outside Dorothy Perkins and Thorntons. Matsoni's Restaurant was destroyed on 8th October 1940 killing 21 people. This was the first and last daylight raid on Holborn. The slow German Heinkel 111 twin engined bombers could carry 13,000 kg of bombs and were being more and more easily caught by Spitfires and Hurricanes, so the Germans sent Messerschmitt 109s which were much faster and carried one large bomb to be dropped and then the plane would quickly turn for home.

Dorothy Perkins High Holborn (where Matsoni's once stood)

A Hurricane

A Messerschmitt 109

A Heinkel 111 flies over London during the Blitz

The Blitz came to an end on 11th May 1941. It failed because the Luftwaffe lacked enough bombers to wipe out an entire area. Never before had a country attempted to destroy their enemy entirely by bombing. Britain learnt from this and when the time came to invade France and Germany the Avro Lancaster would drop 40,000kg of bombs destroying many German cities, including Hamburg, Cologne, and Dresden. After May 1941 Hitler concentrated on the Russian front.
Avro Lancaster

Holborn Circus ablaze in 1940
(picture US National Archives)

The Blitz left a lasting legacy on the layout of both buildings and roads in Holborn.

I hope you found this interesting. Until next time when we look at Holborn's Horrible history.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Wednesday 28th May 2008 - Holborn at War

Holborn Tube Station
Continuing the theme of war, we now move onto the Second World War, which began in September 1939, and today's walk, under the threat of rain which never came, was about Holborn during the Battle of Britain. The Battle of Britain officially started on 10th July 1940. There had been a number of successful bombing raids over southern England, focusing on airfields but in July the attacks spread to London. This eased the pressure on the airfields in the south east, which enabled the RAF to fight back until the Germans abandoned their invasion plans in the autumn of 1940 and the Battle of Britain came to an end on 31st October 1940.

We met outside Holborn Tube Station as usual. The tube station was of course used as an air raid shelter during the war, when hundreds of people would spend the night in the shelter which is still there, below the level of the current platforms. Aly led us across to the opposite side of the road and we walked down Kingsway towards Aldwych. Our first stop was outside 75 Kingsway. It was here Donald Soper, a Methodist minister would provide breakfasts for those people who had spent the night in Holborn Tube Station in the air raid shelter.

Donald Soper
Families shelter in the underground

We then walked on down Kingsway and crossed over to Bush House, which now houses the BBC. During WWII the nightly messages and propaganda were broadcast to Europe. Military music was followed by propaganda in German, and were aimed particularly at German soldiers. It was so successful that Joseph Goebbels, the German Minister of Propaganda actually praised it.

Bush House

We then looked back towards No.1 Kingsway. The Air Ministry was housed here. At the end of 1918 the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service joined forces to become the Royal Air Force. In 1919 the Air Ministry moved to No.1 Kingsway and using their motto of Per Ardua Ad Astra gave their new home the name of Adastral House. They remained there until 1952 when they moved to Whitehall.

No 1 Kingsway (formerly Adastral House)

An aerial observer scans the skies during the Battle of Britain

We now walked down through India Place to the Strand and along to Aldwych Tube Station which closed in 1994., Originally opened in 1907 as Strand Station, it later became Aldwych Station a spur of the Piccadilly line. As most tube stations were, Aldwych was used as an air raid shelter , but also housed treasures from the British Museum such as the Elgin Marbles, a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures. They even held concert parties there. The station has also been used for films and television programmes, and continues to be so even now. Some of the famous movies filmed here include 'The Battle of Britain' (1969) (rather appropriate really!) Patriot Games (1992); V for Vendetta (2006); The Good Shepherd (2006) and Atonement (2007). Its is also featured as a level in the video game Tomb Raider 3.

Aldwych Station (previously Strand)

We then walked towards Fleet Street and crossed over to St. Clement Danes Church , which is the central church of the RAF. Before going inside we stood before a statue of Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding who was the commander of RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. In the years leading up to the war, he introduced the 'Dowding System' an integrated air defence system of radar, raid plotting and radio control of aircraft which was a vital tool during the Battle of Britain. He also oversaw the introduction of modern aircraft into service such as the Hawker Hurricane and the eight gun Supermarine Spitfire. But perhaps it was his unwillingness to sacrifice aircrafts and pilots to aid allied troops during the battle of France, which turned the tide of battle in our favour. Sir Winston Churchill repeatedly requested he send precious squadrons to France. Any planes and pilots lost at this time would have had a severely detrimental effect on the RAFs ability to defend England during the Battle of Britain. Together with Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park he organised cover for the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk.
Air Chief Marshal Dowding

We then walked over to the church of St. Clement Danes. There has been a church on this site since the ninth century and the time of Alfred the Great. At that time Danes were expelled from England unless they had married an English wife. The church was rebuilt during the reign of William the Conqueror and then again by Sir Christopher Wren. During WWII the church suffered massive damage in May 1941 during the Blitz. It was restored in 1958 and reconsecrated and dedicated to the RAF.
St. Clement Dane at night

Inside the church there is a very peaceful atmosphere. Various RAF flags from different squadrons adorn the walls. To the left of the entrance are two photographs, one showing the church before the bomb and the other showing the damage inflicted. Under the pulpit is a chair donated by Sir Douglas Bader in memory of his wife Thelma, and to either side of the altar are plaques listing, on the left hand side all RAF personnel to win the Victoria Cross, and on the right all RAF personnel to win the George Cross. Included in the list of Victoria Cross winners are two well known names, Guy Penrose Gibson (of 'Dambusters' fame) and Leonard Cheshire who founded the Cheshire Homes. There are glass cases around the walls which hold large books inscribed with the names of all who have served in the RAF.

Interior of St. Clement Dane

I also found on a table the following famous nursery rhyme - although it included a number of lines which I had never heard before.

Oranges and Lemons

Oranges and Lemons say the bells of St. Clement's
Bulleyes and targets say the bells of St. Margaret's
Pokers and tongs say the bells of St. John's
Pancakes and fritters say the bells of St. Peter's
Two sticks and an apple say the bells of Whitechapel
Old Father Baldpate say the slow bells at Aldgate
Maids in white aprons say the bells of St. Catherine's
Brickbats and tiles say the bells of St. Giles
Kettles and pans say the bells of St. Anne's
You owe me five farthings say the bells of St. Martin's
When will you pay me say the bells of Old Bailey
When I get rich say the bells of Shoreditch
Pray when will that be? say the bells of Stepney
I'm sure I don't know says the great bell at Bow
Here comes a candle to light you to bed
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head
Chip-chop, chip-chop the last man is dead.

Well that's all for today. Do try and visit St. Clement Danes Church if you can - it's well worth a visit.

The next walk continues the war theme and will centre on the Blitz.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Friday 23rd May 2008 - Zeppelin Attack!

Well this walk is back in Holborn where, thankfully, the weather although overcast, was quite warm. We met as usual outside Holborn Tube Station - Aly's walks are getting very popular and we always seem to have quite a large group now.

We set off down Gate Street and into Lincoln's Inn Fields, going into the central paved area of the fields. Our first proper port of call was in New Square, but Aly didn't want to been seen to disturb any of the many law firms or chambers situated there, so decided to give us a brief background to today's walk. World War I was the first war fought partly in the air. It began in 1914 and fighting on the Western Front was between Germany and Austria against England and France, much of which was fought in the trenches. Before this war balloons had been used during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s for reconnaissance and also during the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870s, but in 1900 all this changed when the first dirigibles appeared (which could be steered via four engines, one of each side, in any direction).

It was Ferdinand Von Zeppelin, a German army officer, who began developing his ideas on airships in 1897. His first 'Zeppelin' flew on 2nd July 1900. In March 1909 the LZ-3 was accepted into army service and by the start of WWI the German army had seven military airships. A new ship designed in 1914 could reach a maximum speed of 136 kph and reach a height of 4250 metres. It carried five machine-guns and could carry 2000kg of bombs (that's 4,400 lbs!). The airships were filled with Hydrogen, which is of course highly flammable, and when during 1915-16 new biplanes with front guns and incendiary devices were introduced, the zeppelins became increasingly vulnerable to being shot down. After 1916 they were no longer cost effective and Germany turned to the new Gotha bombers. These were countered by the Sopwith Camels which were very adept at shooting down these bi-planes.

A Zeppelin
Graf von Zeppelin

Anyway, we now walked on across the Fields and through the large gateway to Lincoln's Inn and New Square, turning left towards Stone Buildings and stopping outside No. 10. Here we found a plaque which read as follows:

"The round stone in the middle of the roadway marks the spot where, on 18th December 1917 at 8 - 10pm a bomb from a German aeroplane struck the ground and exploded, shattering the windows in Stone Buildings and doing other material damage".

The round stone is no longer there, but the considerable damage to the stone of the buildings here can still be seen. It was thought that to leave the damage unrepaired would show a defiance to carry on in the face of war. Fourteen people were killed and eighty five injured in this attack, by a Gotha.

Outside No. 10 Stone Buildings
Damage to the stone of No. 10 Stone Buildings

We now walked up into Chancery Lane, across High Holborn and turning left continued on until we turned right into Red Lion Street and continued down to the Dolphin Tavern.

Originally a Victorian pub, approximately half had to be rebuilt following a Zeppelin raid on 9th September 1915. Inside on the wall is an old clock under which is a plaque which states:
"Hit by explosive bomb dropped from Zeppelin L.13 on 9th September 1915. 3 men were killed. The old clock was recovered with the hands stopped at 10.40 pm, the time the tavern was hit."
The raid dropped a series of bombs in a line from Euston to Liverpool Street and it was the same raid that also hit our next stop.

We walked on up to Theobalds Road turning left, and right down into Boswell Street and along to Queens Square.
Queen Square

Towards the far end of the gardens a plaque is set into the grass which reads:

"On the night of the 8th September 1915 a Zeppelin bomb fell and exploded on this spot. Although nearly 1,000 people slept in the surrounding buildings no person was injured."

During this raid a Leutnant Heinrich Matte was killed when his Zeppelin came down in Potters Bar. A piece of metal from the wreckage was used to make an altar piece for the Church of the Virgin and All Saints in that town.

We now left the gardens and walking through Cosmo Place came to Southampton Row. We crossed the road to the Bedford Hotel where we found another plaque. This one reads:

"24 September 1917. 13 people were killed and 22 injured near this spot on the steps of the old Bedford Hotel by a 112 lb bomb dropped by a Gotha in one of London's first night air raids. "
In this raid over London and the South East a total of 21 people were killed and a further 48 were injured.
Damage done during a Zeppelin Raid

The Germans used 115 Zeppelins and carried out approximately 150 Zeppelin raids during WW1. 77 of these were either destroyed or so damaged they could not be used again. Altogether Zeppelins caused 557 deaths, but the cost of building them was nearly five times as much as the cost of damage caused. No bombing raids using Zeppelins were carried out over London after June 1917.

The Zeppelin raids forced Britain to use Royal Flying Corps squadrons to protect London and so they were less actively involved in the war over the trenches. Holborn was one of the most densely hit areas during WW1.

This plaque is from Farringdon Road close to Holborn

Saturday 17th May 2008 - Pocahontas Promenade

I have missed a couple of walks due to a nasty virus, but managed to go on this walk, in Gravesend, which was fascinating, although accompanied by constant rain. Our guide was Sandra Soder from the local Historical Society, who was a fount of knowledge!

Firstly we discovered the origins of the name 'Gravesend' - and it has nothing to do with graves! It literally means 'at the end of a grove'. In Saxon times if you stood by the edge of the river and looked inland you would see a large grove of trees descending down towards you. There is of course the Victorian and Edwardian version - they believed it meant the home of the headman who collected tithes from the local villagers and tribes. In the 1300s there was certainly a local searcher for King Henry living here, and Gravesend has long been associated with the collection of taxes.
St. Georges Church, Gravesend

We set off from Towncentric the local tourist information office and our first port of call was right next door - St. George's Church - the burial place of Pocahontas. This is the parish church of Gravesend although in medieval times the parish church was originally in the Pelham Road area, together with the Manor Farm. But as people moved closer to the river, they felt they needed a church in that area, it was too far for the old and infirm and pregnant women to walk so people began leaving money in their wills to a fund to build a new church and eventually in 1480 permission was granted for a new church to be built. There were obviously a number of people who were making a very good living from the river if they could afford to leave monies in their wills for the building a new church. A Chapel of Ease was built, but when the old parish church lost it's roof, and then following repairs was badly damaged in a fire, the parish status was removed to St. Georges. In 1727 during the great fire of Gravesend, the church was destroyed along with many homes. The current church was rebuilt between 1731 -1733 by the architect Charles Sloane, a well known architect who also worked on Rochester Cathedral. There is an engraved stone tablet near the entrance which has an unfortunate spelling mistake - instead of 'Here no envy dwells' it reads 'Here no envy swells'. In 1952 the church lost it's parish status to St. James and was closed. However, one of the church wardens moved in and built a flat in the north aisle to protect the building from falling into disrepair and to save it from vandals. In 1958 the church was re-opened as the Pocohontas Memorial Chapel and Gardens and then in 1962 was fully re-opened as a church when Holy Trinity church was demolished and then St. James was also demolished and so St. George's regained it's parish status.

As we stood in front of the statue to her we now heard more about Pocahontas. She was born in 1595, in what is now Gloucester, Virginia, the daughter of a chief - her birth name was Matoaka but her father gave her the nickname of Pocahontas which means 'dancing little princess'. At that time numerous explorers, leaving from Gravesend were searching for the infamous 'North West Passage'. One of these expeditions included Captain John Smith. He was captured by indians and Chief Powhatan ordered his execution - it was as he was about to be killed that a young girl ran out and placed her heard over his telling her father he must talk and make peace with the explorers or he must kill her too. That young girl was Pocahontas. John Smith was later gravely injured and returned to England - Pocahontas believed him to be dead. As relations between the two sides worsened Pocahontas was captured and used as a pawn. Whilst in captivity the Reverend Whittaker, converted her to Christianity, and she took the name of Rebecca. She met John Rolfe, fell in love with him and married him and gave birth to a son, Thomas. Pocahontas then travelled to London with her husband and son on what was effectively a publicity tour, to encourage new colonists. She became famous, and was presented at court. She also met John Smith again, at first refusing to speak to him, because he had never tried to contact her, and she had believed him dead, She did eventually become friends with him again. Just as she and her family were preparing to travel back to America, she became ill. She was brought ashore at Gravesend where she sadly died in 1617, aged just 22. She was afforded the honour of being buried beneath the chancel in St. George's Church, something only usually given to people of rank or note. In the burial register it notes Mrs. Rebecca Rolfe, a Virginia lady born lies buried here. Her husband was persuaded to leave his son Thomas behind in England to be raised by his family in Norfolk and to return to America. His father having died in about 1722. in his late teens or early twenties Thomas travelled to America and became a defender of the fort built by the first settlers at Jamestown, and ended up fighting against his own uncle and cousins. His uncle, Powhatan's brother, had never agreed there should be peace with the settlers, and when Powhatan died, he led his people in battle against them. Thomas Rolfe married twice and there a large number of people, including such famous names as Mrs Woodrow Wilson and Lady Mountbatten who claim descent, through Thomas, from Pocahontas.
Statue of Pocahontas
Marriage of John Rolfe and Pocahontas

Inside the church there are two Pocahontas windows - one is called the Rebecca window (where she wears a red dress) the cartouche in this window is a copy of a picture in the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. of her baptism. There is a plaque noting that she is buried here. Unfortunately no one now knows the exact spot, as the church she was buried in was destroyed in the fire of 1727. The replacement church has an extended chancel and is larger than the original church. There was also a small exhibition of Pocahontas memorabilia.
The Rebecca Window
The Pocahontas Plaque (apologies for poor quality)

St. Georges also has a memorial tablet for General Gordon who has many links with Gravesend, of which more later.
The Gordon Plaque
We now left the church and walked down towards the river, passing the end of the High Street and West Street. In the 1300s, there were many alleyways linking these streets. As we look from outside the church we can see Hole in the Wall Alley. Chapel Lane led down from the Church gate to the river, and it here was that the first Post Office stood.

We walked past the New Falcon pub - on it's side window is a sign etched into the glass for the Russells Brewery, one of the local Gravesend breweries of which there were a number at one time. We went down to the ferry crossing point, where you can still catch a ferry across the river.
Russell's Gravesend Brewery sign

We then walked back down past the pub and along the road towards the pier to where the ferry originally crossed in medieval times. Essex had the side rights for their side of the river, which went to Tilbury Fort, which was originally one of the five blockhouses built on this stretch of the river. The governor of the fort built a public house for the use of his men, and travellers and you can still see the white painted pub called The Worlds End today.

Gravesend had the side rights for this side of the river, but they also had another very important ferry - the long ferry - which took passengers between Gravesend and London. All ships would stop here and it could take ten days to get into London because of the tides and the amount of traffic. However, you could get off at Gravesend and catch the long ferry which could take you into London on the same day. This was a very lucrative means of income for the ferrymen of Gravesend. The ship would lay anchor, the passengers would come ashore , eat at the inn and then catch the long ferry into London. Even Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey made this journey albeit in their own boats. It is said Cardinal Wolsey's retinue consisted of 30 barges to bring him to Gravesend.

For centuries the men of Gravesend made a very good living from the river but then in the 1800s the introduction of steamboats and pleasure boats slowly killed off the long ferry - why pay to be rowed to and from London when a steam boat would be much faster. The steamer owners bought out the river rights from the men of Gravesend so bringing to an end hundreds of years of profitable employment. An example of how profitable can be seen from a case dating back to the 1200s. Some ferry men were accused of overcharging passengers (one penny rather than a halfpenny) and were found guilty. They were fined the then huge sum of forty shillings which they were able to pay immediately!

The High Street (looking towards the Pier)

As we walked towards the pier we stopped to look up the High Street. At one time the boundary between Gravesend and Milton next Gravesend ran right down the centre of the High Street, continuing up along Windmill Street and into Singlewell Road. The two parishes were brought together into one Borough by Elizabeth I.

Gravesend Pier
The steps where Pocahontas was brought ashore
We now turned towards the pier. There is a small square in front of the pier entrance. On the left hand side were shops providing fruit and vegetables for the ships and an Inn called The Christopher, where no less a personage than Sebastian Cabot stayed there albeit in his 80s. On the opposite side is the Riverside Inn built in 1490, and also called the Three Daws (originally Choughs) The shops were demolished in the 1800s and a gate was installed and then it was decided that a pier should be built. As you can imagine this did not go down very well with the riverboat men who charged to bring passengers and goods to and from the shops moored in the Thames - now ships would be able to stop at the pier for passengers to disembark. In the 1830s a million visitors a year were coming to Gravesend. An Act of Parliament was required to get permission to build a pier and although this was initially refused a temporary pier was built. The local watermen attacked the pier in 1832 and soldiers were called over from Tilbury Fort to read the Riot Act. To keep the pier in good order a charge was made for those landing and boarding. The charge was 4d per head, a proportion of which was paid into a fund to compensate the watermen for loss of earnings.
The Three Daws

Permission was finally given for a proper pier and this opened in 1834. It is now the oldest cast iron pier in the world. A day of festivities was organised to celebrate the opening led by Lord Darnley, with a huge banquet for 300 people and a fireworks display.

In 1835 another temporary pier. also originally of case iron, was built by some entrepreneurs and former councillors from Gravesend. They had bought up the land cheaply from the War Department, and as it was outside the area included in the Act of Parliament the corporation were unable to charge passengers and ships. The legally rivalry that ensued actually bankrupted the corporation. The mayor was actually chased by men with writs, hiding in the Old Falcon pub, and the mayoral finery and the Town Hall were taken and had to be leased back for civic events. The problems were not properly sorted out until 1875. The pier and the ferry were bought by the local railway company and became a railway station, with the ferry now running from the pier.

We now walked along to St. Andrew's Arts Centre which was originally the St. Andrew's Mission Church. Many people emigrating to Australia and New Zealand would often have to wait up to three weeks while a full complement of passengers were aboard. The Reverend Robinson decided to open a Seaman's Mission to prevent the sailors, whilst waiting to ship out, from spending all their money on drink and other pursuits. It was also helpful to the waiting passengers and many were baptised on board ship before leaving on their voyages. Revd Robinson later took over the Spread Eagle pub and General Gordon taught classes there. The widow of Rear Admiral Beaufort (the Beaufort Wind Scale) agreed to fund the building of the St Andrews Church if the town would fund the foundations. The roof resembles an upturned boat.
We were unable to go in as a meeting of the local embroiderers guild was being held, but hopefully I will get a chance to look inside at another time.

Gravesend played an important role in the defence of London at the time of Henry VIII. We now walked along to one of the blockhouses that was built as part of the defences. There were five altogether, two in Gravesend, one at Tilbury Fort, one at Higham and one at East Tilbury.
Here outside the old Royal Clarendon Hotel, now empty but currently the subject of possible redevelopment and restoration to a top class hotel, we can see studs in the road which outline the actual extent of the blockhouse, underground. The entrance is still visible and troops and guns would be stationed there to protect the approach to London.

An information plaque regarding Gravesend's blockhouses

The Royal Clarendon Hotel was originally built as a banqueting house which was then sold off to a gentleman from Rochester who turned it into a pub and hotel. It was enlarged and even had a ballroom at one time and was a popular venue many years ago, but in recent years had become run down. It closed a few years ago and now waits to be brought back to life.

We now moved on to the Royal Terrace Pier, which is a working pier run by the Port of London Authority who also have a large office building here. It was just across from here that the Terrace Gardens once stood. These pleasure gardens were very popular and a road was built especially for Queen Victoria's carriage to drive through them. You could walk up through the gardens and continue up to the attractions of Windmill Hill, where you could find fairs, silhouette makers, fortune tellers and other pleasures. Now all that remains of the gardens are two small pieces of a stone bridge.

The Royal Terrace Pier

This small portion of bridge is all that remains of Terrace Gardens

If you look towards the Customs House you can see an octagonal building which once housed lookouts - it is the only place you can now see this building from other than the river.
We then walked along The Terrace and came past Cox House which was built for the Customs and Excise officers. The Excise officers then moved across the road and built what is now the Customs House in 1817 - and were later joined the by the Customs officers. The house is listed and boasts a wonderful Adams staircase. Unfortunately it is not open to visitors.

The octagonal lookout post

We now reach our final destination, the oldest building in Gravesend, Milton Chantry. The Chantry (a place where prayers are said for the souls of the departed) was founded by Aylmer de Valence, the Earl of Pembroke. He employed the services of two chaplains to say prayers on behalf of himself and his family as they believed they could avoid ending up in purgatory. It was built on the site of an even earlier hospital (not the modern kind of hospital but a place for travellers to stay). On entering the door immediately to your right is a fine Jacobean staircase . As you continue into the reception area you enter what was the priest's house and this room dates from the 16th century. Passing through a small door way you enter into the old chantry where you can see the original chalk block foundations laid in 1320.

Milton Chantry (The New Tavern)
There are a number of rooms housing exhibits devoted to different aspects of Gravesend - the River Room houses items from the town's seafaring past, and charts the importance of the river in the development of the town over the last eight centuries. There is an Industrial Heritage Room based around chalk and paper, two important industries for the area.

The Civic Room references the two most famous residents, Pocahontas and General Charles Gordon. General Gordon was stationed here for six years, between 1865 and 1871 and left his mark on the town during his time here. He was a soldier of outstanding ability and it was his job to upgrade the fortifications of the New Tavern Fort. The military works and magazines will hopefully be opened to the public again in the near future. Gordon lived at Fort House, in Fort Gardens, but the house was badly damaged by a bomb in 1944 and had to be demolished. Even after he left the town he continued to pay pensions to people in the town from his own pocket.

A plaque in the Civil Room dedicated to General Gordon

The Roman Room is devoted to the excavations at Springhead (Vagniacae) which were carried out between 1950 to the mid 1980s. A huge number of coins and pottery were discovered over the years together with other small objects and some of these are exhibited here. A number of pagan temples and other buildings and shrines were discovered at this Roman posting station, which is recorded in the Antonine Itinerary as being nine miles from Rochester.

One of the exhibits in the Roman Room

There is also a 'Then and Now' Gallery with photographs of various areas in the town and surrounding area show how much has changed.

The building continued as a Chantry until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. The grounds of the Chantry were in Essex on the other side of the river and there was a causeway on the river, where boats could land with the crops. After dissolution the building was allowed to fall into disrepair and then in 1524 was let to a farmer, William Wilde of Milton. In 1697 it became an alehouse later renamed as the New Tavern. Bowls was played on the green. In 1778-1780 the War Department built earthworks and a fort here against a possible invasion by the French and the Chantry was encased in bricks becoming barracks. During building works in 1800 a number of bodies were uncovered which assumed to be monks. Soldiers were stationed here in the New Tavern Barracks for many years. In 1932 the area was opened as pubic gardens. The Chantry is open to the public and entrance is free - it is well worth a visit.

New Tavern Fort

Well I hope you found it interesting - there was a great deal to take in on the walk and I thoroughly enjoyed learning so much about the town of Gravesend.