Dartford to Gravesend

I’ve not been taking many photographs recently, partly because of minor health issues, but also because I’ve been working almost day and night to get another Blurb book finished. I started working on the book ‘Dartford to Gravesend‘ well over a year ago, but it has been slow going, and doing a little bit here and a little there doesn’t really work.

For those who live away from south-east England I should perhaps explain that Dartford and Gravesend are both towns on the south bank of the River Thames, with Dartford just outside the Greater London area and Gravesend a few miles to the east, on the riverside facing London’s port at Tilbury.

My first visit to the area was actually to catch the ferry across to Tilbury in 1981, when a group I was part of had been invited to set up a project there – which never happened. It was 4 years later I returned to the area to take photographs, mainly as a part of a wider project on Britain’s disappearing industries as prime minister Thatcher decided to shift us away from manufacturing. But it was also – as I wrote in South of the Thames in January 2014 – prompted by two books, South East England, Thameside and the Weald, by Roy Millward and Adrian Robinson (1971), which contained a section ‘The cement industry of Lower Thameside’, and the rather more fanciful and poetic ‘Pilgrimage of the Thames’ by writer and illustrator Donald Maxwell (1932) who had begun his own journey up-river at Gravesend. It’s a more satisfactory starting point than the Thames Path which dared not venture beyond the Thames Barrier at Charlton.

Maxwell’s description of the area, written originally for the Church Times and illustrated with his sketches piqued my imagination:
Could our fathers visit Northfleet, Swanscombe and Greenhithe once again, they would simply not recognise them. Modernism has gone mad. Agriculture has fled. The reign of Christ and His saints is over – so he would reason – and Moloch, horrid king, besmeared with blood, reigns in his stead.

He continues in not dissimilar vein, calling it “a Hell that is Dantesque in its picturesqueness and Miltonian in its grandeur” and a page or two later comments “One Day , when the cement industry has left this valley … this district will be called the Switzerland of England, and weekend châlets, each with its aeroplane-landing on the cliff, will look down once again upon green shores and tree-embowered banks.”

After reading this, who could have resisted visiting the area? Back in 1985, the cement industry was still going, but had been rationalised into one giant plant at Northfleet (though that was only working at around a quarter of capacity) and there were yet no chalets.

Now – since 2008 – the cement industry has gone, the chalk worked out. Still no ‘aeroplane-landings’ or ‘châlets’, but there is a vast shopping centre in one disused quarry, a new town slowly appearing in its neighbouring canyons, the high-speed rail between London and Paris cutting through its centre before diving under the Thames and the threat of a vast TV and film them park. Maxwell would still recognise the reign of Moloch.

Of course I’ve been back to the area and taken more pictures since 1985-6 and those in this book. I revisited some parts in the 1990s, and again in the 2000s, with some images in the book Thamesgate Panoramas and in the exhibition Estuary at the Museum of London in Docklands. There are some more recent images on My London Diary, particularly earlier this year from Swanscombe.

As with some previous books, this one is published as a PDF on Blurb. This allows a good image quality (if you own a decent screen) at a price which is fair both for viewers and me at £4.99 – rather than the high cost of on-demand printing which makes a hard copy around £30. On top of that, Blurb uses a high-cost delivery which makes single copies ridiculously expensive. As usual I’ve ordered a small supply for UK customers which will shortly be available to UK customers for £28 including p/p. I’ll post again about these when they are in stock.

I’m also currently working on two further books of pictures from along the south bank of the Thames – and will perhaps later produce some on the Essex bank too. I’ve called this series ‘Thameside’ and although the first to be published, this is Thameside 2. Probably the next to appear – Thameside 1 – will look at the area from Woolwich to Dartford.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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One Response to “Dartford to Gravesend”

  1. […] plus exorbitant postage. You can read more about the book and see some of the pictures in an earlier post on this site. The price will have to go up slightly when present stocks run […]

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