Are you curious about the statue of the attractive young Red Indian girl on the front page?
Well we are based nearly three miles from St George's church in Gravesend where this statue stands in the churchyard, about 200 yards from the waterfront (the River Thames at this point is quite wide and is rapidly turning into the estuary).
The statue commemorates Princess Pocahontas who was buried in the chancel of the church on March 21st 1617 (just over 400 years ago - see www.pocahontas400.co.uk). Although made more famous today by the Disney cartoon film she was in fact a real person, a native American Indian and a daughter of a great chief. As a very young teenager she fell in love with a 27 year old adventurer, Captain John Smith and undoubtably saved his life. This Captain Smith had left London in a tiny 100 ton ship with two other even smaller vessels on December 19, 1606 passing Gravesend just a few hours later. The weather was absolutely atrocious and for almost six weeks the ships had to shelter from wind and storm in "The Downs" the sheltered area just around the heel of Kent at North Foreland where even today the huge cross channel ferries still shelter from bad weather (between the Goodwin Sands and the Kent coast). After crossing the Atlantic these vessels landed in the New World on May 13, 1607 and established the first English settlement in Virginia calling it Jamestown after King James. Pocahontas was later deceived by the settlers into believing that John Smith had died. She subsequently married John Rolfe and she came to England with him where she was fêted by London society. Intending later to return to Virginia, she took ill with pneumonia or possibly tuberculosis and unfortunately she died soon after boarding ship and was buried in the chancel of St George's church (the chancel was normally reserved for the clergy or very notable parishioners). She was only 21 or 22 years old when she died, still a very young woman. Gravesend was an important port at this time (it still is the home port for all the pilots in the Thames Estuary and is the site of the Port of London Authority). As Gravesend churches come within the diocese of Rochester cathedral the register of Pocahontas burial at St George's is available on Medway City Archives ( http://cityark.medway.gov.uk/).
There is a very good account of the life of Pocahontas on www.apva.org/history/pocahont if you are interested.
Another very interesting and informative account written by one of her descendants is on http://pocahontas.morenus.org/.
The website of St Georges church also has a good account of her life together with a photo of the Burial Register on http://www.stgeorgesgravesend.org.uk/history/pocahontas.php
The statue on the front page was presented to St Georges church by the Governor of Virginia in 1968 and is a replica of the statue in Jamestown, Virginia, USA. Also in this church are a memorial tablet and memorial windows. It is always a little strange when standing in this churchyard to be seeing massive ships passing just 200 or so yards away.
A bit more about Gravesend and environs.
Gravesend is in the county of Kent, the bottom right-hand corner of the UK, the most south easterly county in England and the one nearest France and the rest of the continent of Europe. Prior to AD 43 and the arrival of the Romans this was not just a county but was a kingdom in its own right, ruled as a completely separate nation by its own Celtic king. Even the name of its border to the north, the river Thames is Celtic and thus is very old, in fact it is considered to be the second most ancient name in England - the only more ancient name is? - "Kent". Even after the fall of the Roman Empire (around AD 400) the county of Kent reverted to being a kingdom. The king was of the Anglo-Saxon peoples of Kent and this kingdom existed for well over 600 years until the arrival in Sussex during October 1066 of Duke William of Normandy and his Norman cavalry when all of the regional counties were amalgamated into one large kingdom of England under the rule of the fierce 28 year old William and his French nobles.
Although usually called "The Garden of England", with all the fruit orchards, hop gardens and horticulture, most people (including many of those that actually live in Kent) are surprised to find that there were deep mines producing high grade coal in this pretty county. These mines were located about seven miles from Dover and the coal seams extended out under the sea but the last of these coal mines closed nearly 30 years ago in 1989. Kent also had heavy industry in the form of a large railway works at Ashford which employed many for well over a hundred years, building steam locos, trucks and passenger carriages, including the Royal trains. The steam hammer that was located in the east end of the works was reputedly the largest in the whole of the UK and shook the village of South Willsborough every time it was operated. These railway works were finally closed in 1984 although most of the buildings were present until very recently. The very first production run of motor cars in the world was in 1886 at East Peckham, near Paddock Wood in Kent. This production line was of a car chassis based on the Benz Velo but with the engine made by Arnolds. Two of these Arnolds still survive. Many of Kent's orchards have now gone and very few of the hop gardens still survive although the majority of the very attractive oast houses, so reminiscent of Kent are still there, many converted into large houses. Those nearest our home are mostly of circular shape and occur every mile or so but in other parts of the county there are some of a square shape (as is that of Pop and Ma Larkins in the TV series "The Darling Buds of May"). If you would like to see a working hop garden there are several large ones adjacent to the eastern end of the M2 motorway but you may be disappointed to see the work done to the overhead support wires by men on cherry pickers not farm labourers striding around on tall stilts as they used to do only a few years ago. Kent is still nevertheless principally very rural with more ancient woodland than any other county in the UK.
The county town of Kent is Maidstone which lies fairly central to the county boundaries. The towns of Canterbury and Rochester have been perhaps the most historic towns in this county probably because of their ecclesiastical association and their presence right on Watling Street although lying much nearer the northern boundary of the river Thames. Canterbury has St Martin's church, the oldest church in the English speaking world and of course Canterbury Cathedral which was originally founded in 597 AD just after St Martin's. Rochester holds some very important historical manuscripts including the earliest copy of written Anglo-Saxon English or any other Germanic language (part of Textus Roffensis) which dates from AD 604 and contains the Laws of King Aethelberht of Kent. As from the end of 2014 this can now be read online - see http://www.rochestercathedral. org/news/categories/cathedral-news/288-textus-roffensis-online . Rochester Cathedral was founded in 604 AD as was Rochester School.
On the main website for Rochester cathedral is a fascinating section on translating Old English, in other words the written language of the Anglo-Saxons. Written by a very clever man, a real scholar it makes the rest of us struggle to follow his instructions but is well worth the try. With just a basic knowledge of, say, German and French it is quite possible to see the way our language has originated from a Germanic language but has been vastly simplified over the centuries.
In addition to the churches, Kent is also well supported with many castles to protect England from the most common entry point of aggressors. Dover castle is mind-blowing and must still form a very strong deterrent to aggressors but there are many others built over the centuries which look and behave very differently - for example Leeds Castle next to the M20 near Maidstone is still very strong as a fort as it is built on an island in a lake thus forming a very wide moat making it useful for guarding against terrorism (used around the millennium for conferences with important world leaders present) but must also be one of the most picturesque castles in the whole world.
Kent 1600 years ago - in AD 368 in the dying days of the Roman empire in Britain a very mysterious people, the Attacotti plundered much of Kent. This tribe was reputed to include cannibals and to speak a language quite unrelated to any other European language but very little seems to be known about them. The Romans had brought mercenaries over to Britain before this time mostly of Germanic origin but from the north and what is now Denmark and these Jutes and Angles and Saxons must have liked what they had seen and obviously encouraged others from their homeland that Britain was a good place to be and for the next few years many Jutes from Jutland and Angles and Saxons arrived in England. The Jutes settled initially in AD 449 on the Isle of Thanet in East Kent (where Margate and Ramsgate are now but back then was a complete island) and also in the Isle of Wight, driving out the Celts before them. They brought their flag of a prancing white horse with them; this symbol is still used as Kent's flag. Other similar peoples, the Saxons settled in West Kent, the other side of the River Medway and the Angles settled mostly well north of the Thames. Kent in those days was still considered a kingdom and the King of Kent would frequently be sufficiently powerful to govern London as well and in AD 604 King Aethelberht of Kent erected St Pauls Cathedral in London (not the beautiful Wren Cathedral but an earlier version which was burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666). Gradually London, doing what it has always done well, trading, became more rich and powerful and became a virtual State within a State. The Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Kent gradually became amalgamated into other kingdoms and gradually the Anglo Saxons of Kent became part of the kingdom of Wessex and perhaps 300 years after king Aethelberht were under Alfred the Great, based down in Winchester, the king who virtually brought the England we know today and our language into reality. The Anglo Saxons were very organised and this local area of Northfleet became part of the Hundred of Toltingtrough but this name virtually disappeared after the Normans took over and is almost unknown now.
The Celtic tribes in Kent were a warlike lot and put up a stout defence against Julius Caesar in 55 BC and then again the following year in 54 BC. Gaius Julius Caesar had put down the Celtic tribes in much of Europe including the Gauls in France, Belgium and Switzerland and must have thought it was going to be easy to repeat that this side of the Channel, he was not expecting the sophisticated military tactics the Celts of Britain used with their fast two-wheeled chariots. It was 100 years before the Romans tried to raid England again, under Emperor Claudius, but they did succeed this time because in the intervening years the Romans had seduced the southern English iron-age tribes (the Cantiaci) with the luxuries of Mediterranean lands and convinced them that if they accepted the Romans they could have those luxuries forever, as a result they were almost welcomed in. Basically Britain contained the valuable metal Tin and the Romans wanted a share of that. It is fashionable today to think of the Celts as a romantic people who inhabited just Britain. This is only partly true. Over two thousand years ago north western Europe did not consist of the countries that are here now. It was populated by very many Iron Age tribes who had spread all over the Europe we recognise today, these were the Celtic peoples. There was no Italy as we know it. The area around Rome had become strong and civilised after copying from the areas around the Mediterranean populated by a people that we now know of as "The Greeks" who had a mostly civilised mode of life (these peoples may not be the same as those who now inhabit Greece and they certainly had some practices that modern Europeans would regard as savage). From the area that has now become Switzerland and Austria (Hallstatt) through the area of later Germany and France these Celtic tribes lived in separate areas. These tribes had frequent wars, often with much brutality and in 387 BC actually conquered Rome. As such the Romans considered all Celts as northern savages although the Celts also had a highly developed artistic side with beautiful decorative work on metal-work ornaments, principally gold. The Celtic tribes were diluted by the arrival of the Gauls who came in from Eastern Europe bringing with them the basis of the languages that we Europeans speak today and which most of the Celts adopted for themselves.
After six years of ruling Britannia the Romans almost came unstuck however when they hugely under-estimated a woman Celtic leader. Boudicca (we always knew her as Boadicea) was a highly intelligent lady and also had red hair, surely this should have been a warning to the Romans. They flogged Boudicca and raped her two daughters in trying to humiliate her. Boudicca however waited her time and then gathering her warriors, the Iceni tribe from Norfolk and other local tribes she raided the capital of England which was at that time the town of Colchester. She put to the sword a huge number of legionnaires and their wives and slaves and burnt Colchester to the ground. She then went for London and St Albans and possibly killed around seventy thousand people in all, very brutally, as she almost completely destroyed all these towns. Emperor Nero was so shocked he even considered withdrawing the Roman Legions completely from Britain. The Legionnaires regrouped however and defeated the Celts but Boudicca had made her point very clear. The Romans conquered and civilised the vast majority of Provincia Britannia but found the tribes in the far north too difficult to deal with and civilise so built a defensive wall across the shortest distance from west to east coasts and by so doing effectively created a new country as those tribes north of the wall then considered themselves different to those south of this wall (Hadrians Wall).
After the fall of the Roman empire Kent had its own Anglo-Saxon king and became a rebellious kingdom and then subsequently a very difficult county with the motto "Invicta", which means 'Unconquered'. This refers to the very difficult time the Kentish Men and then the Men of Kent (there is an important difference) gave to William the Conqueror (Guillaume de Normandie) after he had vanquished King Harold Godwinson near Hastings on 14th October 1066 and then followed the coast towards Dover before turning towards London. William eventually had to sign a peace treaty with the men of Kent in 1067, quite possibly on the site of the later Stone Castle (a couple of hundred yards north east of BlueWater Shopping Centre) but if not there almost certainly within about 2 miles of there. William also had to give some concessions to the Kentish Anglo-Saxons, allowing them to use some of their ancient traditions including the Jutish law of succession to property called Gavelkind which meant that a person could leave his property after death to almost anyone he wished whereas the rest of England was forced to use the French system of leaving everything to the eldest son (Primogeniture). This concession lasted over 850 years until less than a century ago when a new law of inheritance was brought in for the whole country. Kent remained the only county never to be conquered by William.
Within two hundred years of the Conquerer's arrival the south of England had lost virtually all tribal influences and had become a unified country but still was an Anglo-Saxon community under a Norman-French King. We in England still use the Norman-French language, even in 2018, for our Queen to give her Assent to a bill passed by the Houses of Commons and Lords before it is passed into Law. A rebellion by some of the Norman-French nobles in 1215 forced King John to sign Magna Carta and led to the king having to share some of his absolute power with the aristocracy but the common man was still very down-trodden. Just over a hundred years after Magna Carta plague reached England from Europe and "The Black Death" killed off roughly half of the population of these islands. Now suddenly there was a serious shortage of labour. The shortage of the skills and muscles of the common man made them so much more valuable and their wages were increased to try to fill vacant positions caused by so many deaths but the young King Richard II (only 14) very unwisely tried to limit the wages of all the Anglo-Saxon common people and it was the people of Kent and the neighbouring counties of Essex and Sussex who revolted against this unfair law. Although now generally called "The Peasants Revolt", these were not just peasants and labourers but many were skilled trades-men like millers, wheelwrights, bakers, stonemasons, carpenters and blacksmiths, all trades essential to civilised daily living. The revolt started just north of the Thames in Essex at the end of May 1381 then spread in a few days across the Thames to Gravesend where an escaped serf was hiding. A priest, John Ball, and a blacksmith, Wat Tyler, both from Kent were the most influential and although the king and aristocracy won the immediate battle it sent a signal to the ruling classes that the skills of the common man are essential and important. We, the common people, had rights that could not be ignored and thus started the gradual movement that over several centuries led to full democracy in much of Europe and to the English speaking world. We in England had cut off the head of our king Charles 1st long before the French had guillotined king Louis 16th, and we had also revolted against authority much before either the Americans or the French. I wonder why we stopped there.
Just a hundred years after the plague devastated not only England but most of the the world and certainly all of Europe, an invention in Germany was to radically change the world. So successful was this invention that it spread rapidly to the Low Countries, Italy, France and England. Westminster had a printing press about 30 years after the development in Germany. This transformed the supply of books from hugely expensive written copies produced by scribes into easily affordable mechanical copies which encouraged the education of children - at first only boys. Educated boys grow into educated men who pass this learning on to their children and the thus educated daughters start their own children off with their education on mother's knee, both girls and boys. This growth in education not only for the aristocracy but for the many with the provision at this point of Grammar Schools and the influence of the Humanists and Erasmus of Rotterdam gradually led to a re-thinking of religion. More than almost anything else this invention assisted the Reformation started by Martin Luther (it was stated that "Erasmus laid the Egg that Luther hatched") and transformed much of Europe to Protestantism. Henry VIII also broke England away from the Catholic Church at this time and thus completely changed our country. The introduction of the printing process made pamphlets available very cheaply and also removed from the catholic monastries their most important source of income (the copying of manuscripts).
Gravesend is on the southern bank of the River Thames approximately 22 miles from central London and about 55 miles from Dover. On the other side of the Thames just opposite Gravesend lies Tilbury where from the fort on the river bank Queen Elizabeth I on August 18th 1588 made her famous speech as she rallied her troops after the Armada and just before the Spanish invasion was expected when, dressed with an armoured breastplate over her clothes, riding a white horse, she said "I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman: but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too".
Gravesend lies very close to the Roman road Watling Street which travels from Richborough (on the East coast of Kent near Ramsgate) to Canterbury and then in a pretty straight line right into London roughly at Westminster where the river Thames could back then be forded at low tide and where, not too far upstream, was a wooden bridge built around 1500 BC probably by "Beaker People". Once north of the Thames, the trackway travelled past where Park Lane and Marble Arch is now and then up what has now become the Edgeware Road and so on via St Albans right through to Holyhead in North Wales. This route is still called Holyhead Road or Watling Street. Although usually referred to as a Roman Road, Watling Street is actually a very ancient trackway far older than the Romans, used by the Celts and possibly five or ten thousand years before the Romans, but it was the Romans who paved it over and got the credit for it. I hope that I have not dismissed the Roman's achievement of the road built on this ancient route as in fact all Roman roads were an incredible improvement over the ancient trackways with a decent metalled surface laid down allowing swift and reliable transport for the Roman Legionnaires and transport of goods over the whole empire. The Legions were the Heavy Infantry of the Empire - consisting of very fit, long-serving men of between 20 and 45 years of age, all were considered Roman Citizens regardless of their nationality (a huge advantage) and remained unmarried whilst they still served. These Roman roads contained large stone mileposts at every Roman Mile giving not only the distance to the nearest towns but also the distance to Rome.
The main Dover to London road that was used for centuries until the 20th century actually veered off this Roman road near Gravesend to pass closer to the older part of the town of Gravesend based on the river front. Travellers on horseback or travelling by stagecoach towards London diverted off Watling Street a mile after crossing Rochester bridge over the River Medway. After climbing the ridge of the North Downs at Strood they took the direct route towards Gravesend where perhaps horses might be changed, soon to rejoin Watling Street a few miles further on at Dartford although the aristocracy and the king would continue their journey to London by river from Gravesend using the Thames to avoid the footpads and highwaymen that used to raid travellers crossing Blackheath. For the majority of travellers there must have been a very distinct advantage to make this diversion as this road through the southern part of Gravesend was a Turnpike (a toll road). Right on this road was the very old church of St Mary the Virgin next to Chalk village (now part of modern Gravesham) where one of the bells in the tower was cast in 1348, the year the Black Death arrived in England. This road through Gravesend is still called Old Road and Dover Road and there is one old pub which used to be a coaching inn where horses could be changed. The original roman road, Watling Street just south of Gravesend became for some centuries just a very straight country lane. This changed around 1922 when as a result of Gravesend's growth this straight country lane was upgraded to become a bypass for the town (it was also a labour project for the many unemployed Londoners at this time, soon after the first World War).
When I first moved to Kent from my birthplace and youth in East London, Watling Street from Canterbury as far as Greenwich was also virtually the same as the A2 trunk road which was by now the main Dover Road. Over the years the trunk road has been completely upgraded and often moved a few yards or sometimes a little more, from it's original route as Watling Street, although the route of the original straight Roman road can be seen quite clearly on a map right up to about Blackheath (where the Meridian is and the London Marathon is started). Each time the road is moved the excavators unearth more ancient remains. Several years ago they moved the section of the A2 nearest to our home, less than a mile away. This section has been moved about 100 yards to the south to avoid disturbing a known Neolithic enclosure and the team of 50 archaeologists have unearthed many interesting finds during the project. Evidence of settlements from up to 4,200 years ago just a mile away makes you wonder just what life was like around here back at the end of the Stone Age. This settlement on this ancient track were not the stone-age men who lived locally at this time but were what are now called "Beaker People", they did not use stone tools but arrived from mainland Europe with the first metal-working skills, they brought the Stone Age in England to an end and started what is now referred to as the Bronze Age. They made tools and weapons from bronze and they also had the ability to make beautiful decorations of copper and gold. Interesting "High Status" Roman burials were also discovered complete with a wide range of interesting articles buried with the dead. As the main road has been moved so the existing ancient trackway has now been restored as a track for feet so that human feet and animal hooves that have trod this path for thousands of years can now do so again (together with cycles it has to be admitted - National Cycle Network Route No.177) but now it is reserved for walkers, dogs, horses and cyclists. Right alongside this ancient trackway lies the new cycle sports centre www.cyclopark.com reputedly the largest cycle park in Europe and seems to be very busy, often with races.
On the left is the original track of Watling Street, now a path again. On the right is the new A2 roadway built about 150 yards south of the original track. On the other side of the eight lanes of traffic can be seen the rail-line High Speed 1 with a Eurostar hurrying on towards London. The Eurostar trains (a modified TGV) going past just here are travelling relatively slowly at around 135 mph to negotiate a sharp bend but within a mile or so they have sped up considerably (up to 186 mph or 300 km/h) as they travel towards the Tunnel under the English Channel (or La Manche if you are looking at it from the other side). Once past the 23 miles of sea there is about 180 miles of Northern France to cover to the Gare du Nord in Paris. In just two hours and one minute from when I see these stylish trains passing locally they are arriving in Paris or Disneyland or even less time to Brussels or if their destination is Lille they will be there in only about an hour and a quarter. Although these times seem quite fast, on March 3, 2007 the French made a record speed attempt on their new TGV line from Paris to Strasbourg with a souped-up TGV and achieved an incredible 574.8 km/h which is 357 mph and is the fastest yet obtained for a railway on wheels (the Japanese magnetic levitation train managed 4 mph faster but doesn't travel on wheels). To put this achievement into perspective, just consider this - at approximately half the speed this TGV achieved a passenger jet airliner would be leaving the ground.
Our local interest in this continental link is strengthened by Ebbsfleet International Station about three miles from here and two miles from Gravesend (and only half a mile or so from our workshop). To enter this site the railway line had to burrow under the existing A2 trunk road which is right on the route of Watling Street at Springhead (a Roman settlement - Vagniacae). This was an absolute goldmine for the 30 archaeologists who found more than 150,000 objects during the period of just over two years. A beautiful Roman brooch of a hare (the fastest land animal in England) is the inspiration for the designs on the side of two pedestrian bridges over the A2. There was also 80 Celtic coins, 2000 Roman coins, a large amount of Saxon and Jute jewellery and a huge Saxon sword on the site of a Saxon cemetery. This spring at Springhead is the source of the Ebbsfleet and still flows strongly, beautiful crystal clear water flowing down the mile or so to enter the Thames. The Romans developed Vagniacae but the Saxons also used what the Romans had provided. There was a large brewing centre here in Saxon times.
Just the other side of Ebbsfleet International Station lies Greenhithe and in one of the many chalk pits in this area were found the remains of what has become known as Swanscombe Man. Although now generally acknowledged to almost certainly be the remains not of a man but of a young woman in her twenties, her fossillised skull is one of the oldest human finds in Europe and is around 400,000 years old and it seems to suggest that she had close links to Neanderthal relatives. Another skull of a Neanderthal woman was found in a cave in Gibralter, recent evidence including DNA of other Neanderthals suggests that she was probably wholly Neanderthal (they frequently had ginger hair). When she was living here, England was not even an island but was still part of the northern European mainland so she and her tribe must have wandered over from what is now France, possibly also using this ancient trackway that became known as Watling Street. These chalk pits were an extremely good source of flint for stone tools and around 100,000 stone hand-axes have been found in this area. In 2004 whilst excavating for the Eurostar station, many flint tools were found surrounding the skeleton of a mammoth with straight tusks which became extinct over 100,000 years ago. This carcass had evidence of butchery so presumably stone-age man was eating mammoth locally. These mammoths were massive animals which were over twice the size of the largest modern African elephants. About only 400 years ago a new firing system was developed for guns called the Flintlock. The flints in our local chalk deposits were found to be ideal for this use and the area was famous for Gun Flint manufacturing.
The High Speed line through Ebbsfleet Station and then under the Thames, travelling through East London, passes close to the site of the 2012 Olympics and then into a completely renovated St Pancras Station in London. With the arrival of this High Speed 1 line a new domestic high speed service using Hitachi Javelin trains travelling from St Pancras Station to various destinations in Kent, down as far as Dover has speeded up the journey to many towns in Kent. They are not quite as fast as the Eurostar trains but these Javelins still speed past cars on the M2 on the adjacent bridge over the River Medway as though the motorway traffic was crawling. Journey times from London to Ebbsfleet of just over 15 minutes are making this area of Kent very desirable for those seeking a country environment with fast and easy access to town.
The opening of the International station has prompted a change of name for the local football team. In 1890 Northfleet United fooball club was formed and 3 years later another club, Gravesend United started. Just over 50 years on the two clubs amalgamated at Northfleet, using the existing Northfleet colours of red and white and now known as Gravesend and Northfleet FC but always known locally as "The Fleet". This was of course an abbreviation of the name "Northfleet" but was particularly appropriate as the football pitch lies adjacent to the River Fleet only yards away from Ebbsfleet where it runs, or ebbs, into the Thames. The new International station is so close to the football ground it must have been obvious that a change of name to Ebbsfleet United was imperative - but it will still be known as "The Fleet". The change of name has obviously made an impact on the team - The Fleet played at Wembley in the 2008 cup final on May 10, 2008 - and WON THE CUP - really well done lads! After the success of 2008 the club entered an experimental period and results declined. Lets hope that new ownership who are currently building a brand-new stand, revives the former performance.
Alright then, it's not too bad and I'm not sleepy yet, maybe I'll read a bit more
The continental connection for the area was further strengthened in 2007 by being a small part of the largest annual sporting event in the world. On Saturday July 7, 2007 the Tour de France started in London. The first day, called The Prologue was around a circuit of central London roads. The second day (Sunday the 8th) was Stage 1 of the race proper and started from The Mall, zooming through the Square Mile of The City, past the Tower of London then over Tower Bridge, through Greenwich and on through Dartford, then half a dozen miles to Northfleet and Gravesend and on to a total of 130 miles around the county of Kent to finish the first stage at Canterbury. As both Rochester and Canterbury cathedrals were built about 900 years ago by the Normans both were virtually on the race line so that the French riders could see the influence their forebears have had on us. The Tower of London, which they also flashed past, also reminds them that at one time they, in the person of William, Duke of Normandy, had their foot firmly planted on the collective English neck. William the Conqueror also called Guillaume le Bâtard (William the Bastard) - referring not to his personal qualities but to his parentage was actually a very good man. He was a tall, powerfully built man, physically very strong and mentally gifted and was a fair and wise king. He brought the Anglo-Saxon age to an end even though the current French media prefer to refer to us, and other English speaking populations, as "les Anglo-Saxons". All subsequent monarchs of these shores carry his blood and are direct descendents of William, including of course our present Queen. Incidentally William's wife Matilda was the complete opposite of this tall Duke as she was tiny at only 4' 3" although she produced 9 children for William.
The route through the Medway Towns passed the old Navy dockyard at Chatham where, 250 years ago, the massive 104 gun First Rate Ship-of-the-Line "Victory" was built and launched in 1765 . HMS Victory (now residing in drydock at Portsmouth of course) was highly instrumental in restoring England's pride at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 by finally destroying the last hope that Napoleon had to invade England. In this battle the English navy led by Nelson proved their absolute superiority over the combined French and Spanish fleets. This naval battle turned England from a fairly significant European country to the world's first superpower. Within five years of the 1805 victory at Trafalgar the navy had grown to about 1000 warships and the "Senior Service" was thus to ensure that England was now impossible to invade and for well over a hundred years until the early 20th century was completely world dominant. With Napolean now confined to the European mainland he so worried the European aristocracy that they searched for a safe haven for their riches, which was of course England so with money pouring into London from all over Europe it confirmed London as the financial capital of the world. I expect Boney's ashes are rattling with frustration in their box at Les Invalides in Paris now.
Le Tour 2007 is now just a vivid memory. I went down to Northfleet to watch it flash past up the hill about 100 yards from where my wife Jenny was born and then drove down to Canterbury to see the finish of the first stage next to the old city wall. Very exciting and great to see. I have every admiration for those riders climbing the steep hill at Northfleet so fast yet knowing that there is still well over 2000 miles to go before they can stop pounding the pedals once they reach Paris. I found the experience really interesting. Although no cyclist myself (I'm too fat and lazy) the whole spectacle was great to watch but tricky to understand, the Beeb have a really good explanation here. The race is accompanied by hundreds of cars, both official and team, many with their roofs packed with spare bikes. The racers are shaperoned around very efficiently by a large contingent of French motorcycle policemen. These are delightfully different from our British police. I'm sure that they must be quite a hit with the ladies, for they seemed to be picked for their good looks, and they ride in well-fitting breeches, short shirt sleeves, open face helmets, sun glasses and usually big smiles. These motorcycle police are the elite corps that usually escort the French President around safely. Not a single ugly fluorescent jacket visible on them - 'ealth and safety is obviously not allowed to spoil anyones enjoyment in France.
On 5th July 2014 "Le Tour" again started in the UK but this time showing off the wonderful hillsides of Yorkshire before heading south again to Cambridge and thence to London. The crowds were immense and extremely enthusiastic and the weather was absolutely superb. In fact the weather in Yorkshire was better than almost everywhere else until Le Tour neared the Mediterranean so showing off gloriously the county of Yorkshire with up to 3 billion people watching The Tour de France both live and on TV. To many people in the UK we are constantly surprised that we have some extremely talented cyclists of various disciplines that the continentals have recognised for some years.
Back to Gravesend - the town was a particular favourite for Londoners after 1815 when a steam packet service was started to Gravesend from London each weekend. This was the paddle-steamer Marjory, built in 1814 up in Scotland on the Clyde, the first steam powered vessel on the Thames. By 1840 Gravesend had some 20,000 visitors each weekend and over a million visitors had enjoyed it's gardens and baths and entertainment. By 1870 there were also some 37 stage coach lines passing through Gravesend and pleasure boat trips from London were taking place every day of the week. For some strange reason Gravesend is frequently the hottest place in the UK, possibly to do with the winds blowing up and over the North Downs which lie eight or nine miles to the south of the area and then increasing in temperature as they descend (perhaps a mini Föhn effect wind). The Victorians must have been a lot smarter than we think.
One Victorian of note was a certain Charles Dickens who lived and wrote locally
in Chalk, Cobham and Higham (all part of modern Gravesham) and indeed died
at home in Higham at Gad's Hill Place, right on the old Dover Road. Whilst
there Dickens completed "Great Expectations" and "A Tale of
Two Cities" and died in the dining room in 1870 with "The Mystery
of Edwin Drood" still unfinished. Charles never expected to be quite so
famous and thought that he should be buried locally without ceremony however
he was so incredibly famous that he was buried, against his wishes, in Poet's
Corner of Westminister Abbey, surrounded by the remains of greats like George Frideric
Handel, David Garrick and Samuel Johnson.
The city of Rochester, just a couple of miles to the east of Higham celebrates Dickens presence locally and has colourful Dickens weekends (which are free) where many locals attend in Dickensian costume. The next one is Saturday and Sunday June 2nd and 3rd, 2018. The next Christmas Festival is on Saturday and Sunday, December 1st and 2nd, 2018. Jenny and I usually go to the Christmas festival and enjoy the "Christmas Carol" atmosphere but are usually far too busy during the early summer festival. In his heyday Dickens was by far the most famous man in the world almost like a modern-day rock star, his writing were translated into many languages. Dickens spent much of his childhood just a mile or so from Rochester. A number of the buildings in Rochester High Street feature in Dickens' stories. In middle age Dickens fell desperately in love with a much younger woman Ellen, usually called Nellie, which eventually broke up his marriage. Dickens would have known well the remote marshes at Higham and Cooling and these were used as the setting for the dramatic start of "Great Expectations". The church of St James at Cooling was only 5 miles from his home and has the 13 tiny memorials for babies. One can easily imagine Magwitch the escaped convict creeping up on young Pip out of the persistent fog. These marshes change very little although there are no prison hulks moored there today, Dickens would have no difficulty in recognising these marshes - all mist and mud with cattle grazing although in Dicken's day the mud would have been deeper than today. Modern drainage of the marshes has ensured a firmer ground and fewer places for mosquitos to breed. Only 100 years ago this was a serious problem for these North Kent marshes with many people dying from malaria (called "aigue" then). The village of Cobham near to Higham is a beautiful little place with plenty of ancient history, a thirteenth century church, some picturesque almshouses and a lovely little pub called the Leather Bottle. Dickens used to walk the short distance across the valley to this pub from his home in Higham and and give readings in the Leather Bottle and indeed featured this pub in "Pickwick Papers". Just up the road from the village is Cobham Hall, an impressive red brick building (that phrase doesn't do it justice), which for 200 years was the home of the Earls of Darnley and was once also the home of "The Ashes". On this huge parkland estate is the Darnley Mausoleum which featured on the BBC2 program Restoration Today and has now been fully restored - a very impressive but rather weird building. Still within the same borough of Gravesham lies the village of Meopham (pronounced Meppam). Originally it was held as the longest village in England at 7 miles long and although the southern end has now become a parish in its own right the remaining part of Meopham is still over five miles long. The main village green has a cricket pitch where the sport has been played every year since at least 1776, this village green is roughly central to Meopham. The windmill almost opposite to the green was built in 1801 possibly from the massive timbers of an old naval ship being broken up at Chatham dockyard only about 6 miles away. Recycling of old materials is not just the preserve of the current generation. Meopham is a very old village, there are records of land being been given to a worthy person in AD 961 but in fact the oldest Saxon will of its kind in the British Museum archives mentions Meopham and is dated AD 788. Only about 2 miles from the south end of Meopham is the Coldrum Neolithic Tomb which is about 1000 years older than Stonehenge. Meopham was willed to Christ Church, Canterbury.
Another Victorian, General Charles Gordon, probably best known for his exploits in the Sudan (Gordon of Khartoum), first made his name in China (where Britain was trying to force China to LEGALISE trade in Opium !!! ) and after a successful war there, came to Gravesend to command the Royal Engineers in erecting a fort to defend the Thames. He lived here in the town for six years and being a very devout man ran Sunday School classes locally, his Sunday School still stands on the riverbank. He was an incredibly generous man and out of his £3000 annual salary gave the majority (£2700) of it to the pensions of local poor people, even for several years after he left Gravesend. Posted back to Africa, Gordon was instrumental in helping to suppress the slave trade there, particularly in Darfur. After many successful travels Gordon finally was sent back to sort out the problems of Africa and eventually met his fate at Khartoum, being killed and beheaded only two days before help arrived from England. "Chinese Gordon" was incredibly popular in Victorian England and was seen as a real national hero, comparable to Nelson. Another example of a physically small man having a huge influence on the world in which he lived (he was only five feet five inches tall but a giant in stature). So important was Gordon that his statue stands right outside the MoD building in central London in the lovely gardens of the Victoria Embankment.
During Victorian days London was virtually capital of a quarter of the planet and the port of London was by far the busiest in the world. It is difficult to visualise now just how important was Britain's place in the world in Victorian times. In the 1850's 98% of the world's trade in cotton goods was British. Around 1860 Britain produced more coal than the whole of the rest of the world put together. The same was also true for iron. These facts seems inconceivable today. Gravesend's importance grew as it was such an important stopping point on the Thames which was by now receiving ships from around the globe into the London Docks. The Thames itself is very interesting and there are a number of fascinating websites on it (I particularly liked www.thames.me.uk). There is a RNLI station in Gravesend covering the Thames from the Thames Barrier right downstream to Canvey Island. It is the busiest RNLI station in Kent and one of the busiest in the whole country. It is manned 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. Strangely Londoners, especially East Londoners, hardly ever refer to "The Thames" - it is always referred to as "The River" as though there is no other river of note.
A few years ago Gravesend amalgamated with it's much larger neighbour, Northfleet and several smaller village areas (including Cobham, Chalk, Higham and Meopham) to become the modern conurbation of Gravesham. This name is actually very old and is the name by which Gravesend was known in the Domesday Book although that was possibly just a scribes transcription error of Gravesende as only 14 years after Domesday it was definitely known as Gravesend. Certainly the name Gravesend was very much older than the Black Death (1349) so the name had nothing to do with the end of the graves from the plague. At the time of Domesday (1086) Gravesham belonged to Odo (William the Conqueror's half-brother), who was Bishop of Bayeux (in Normandy of course) and Earl of Kent. Incidentally Odo (known in France as Odon de Bayeux) is credited by many historians with being the the man who was responsible for creating the Bayeux Tapestry (Tapisserie de Bayeux) in 1070 and as this is not an actual tapestry but is embroidered onto linen and almost certainly was sewn by nuns in St. Augustin's Abbey in Canterbury, so probably by Kentish Anglo-Saxon needlewomen. Three hundred years later in 1380, more French ships sailed up the Thames, sacked the town of Gravesend and took off most of the inhabitants. King Richard II granted the remaining citizens of Gravesend the privilege of being the only people to be able to transport passengers by river into London in an effort to restore wealth to the ruined town. All subsequent monarchs renewed this privilege which exists right to this day. This privilege is called Long Ferry and ran from Gravesend to Billingsgate and back again on each tide. The standard boat was called a wherry. This was a slim craft of twenty two and a half feet carrying up to five passengers and pulled by two oarsmen referred to as wherrymen who had a reputation for being rather uncouth ruffians although I bet they had some pretty impressive shoulder muscles on them. It is known that J.M.W. Turner painted his very famous painting "The Fighting Temeraire" after sketching the old ship being towed to a ship-breakers in Rotherhithe. In the film "Mr Turner" he is shown sitting in a wherry so might quite possibly be on his way back from Gravesend to his home in London.
Modern inhabitants of Gravesend are a pretty cosmopolitan lot. In addition to the Kentish locals there are many, like myself, of Londoners who have moved "out of town". There is also a large number of people of Asian origin, mostly very friendly Sikhs who have been here for several generations. This community has now constructed an extremely impressive new temple (called a Gurdwara) in the town. Also in the past few years there have arrived many young people of Eastern European or of Balkan origin.
Although Gravesend is an old town there are very few really old buildings although one exception is Milton Chantry of 1321 refounded on the site of a Leper Hospital originally founded in 1189. Most of the old town was centred on the river front and the majority of buildings were timber built. Much of the local trade must have concentrated on shipping and would have involved the storage of ropes and sail cloth, pitch and lantern oil and candles, masts and spars and deck timbers, all highly combustible. Gunpowder was also stocked in at least one place in Gravesend. In 1727 a massive fire devastated most of the town including St George's church where Pocahontas was buried and this was followed by a several more, although less serious, fires a few years later. Even today many of the shops in the old High Street have the rear section built in timber shiplap.
Northfleet (adjacent on the river to Gravesend) was heavily associated with shipbuilding and the cement and paper industries. Cleverley's Shipyard was on the river where Gravesend and Northfleet meet. Many of the East Indiamen were built a half-mile further upstream in Northfleet in Pitcher's Shipyard but shipbuilding ceased in the late 1800's. These ships were of great importance to British commerce with India and China; there is a beautiful scale model of the Royal Charlotte in St Botolphs church, on top of the hill just above the ship yard. This church was originally built by the Saxons but there are Roman stones present in the structure - could it have been on the site of a Roman Temple as was St Martin's in Canterbury? Although originally built by the Saxons the current nave of St Botolphs was re-built in 1330 (St Botolph was the patron saint of travellers - St Christopher may not have been a real person. All the gates in the London Wall had a church dedicated to St Botolph). The Royal Charlotte was built as a merchant ship but had 26 cannons to protect itself from pirates. It was later bought by the Royal Navy as a warship - a "Fourth Rate Ship of the Line".
Much of Northfleet is chalk downland and from Roman times this chalk has been extracted and used for making cement. In the mid 1800's a much improved material, Portland cement was first commercially produced at Northfleet Creek and the oldest surviving cement kiln in the world can still be seen at Northfleet Aspdins Beehive Kiln. There was until recently an enormous six-kiln cement mill in Northfleet with the tallest chimneys in western Europe (550 feet high), taking chalk from the hills surrounding the site and the clay from Thurrock in Essex on the opposite side of the Thames through a pipeline to the north bank of the Thames. The large shopping centre BlueWater, surrounded by high chalk cliffs, is built on the area that was the source of much of this chalk.
Paper was also made in a number of mills in the area, from newsprint destined for the presses of Fleet Street just 21 miles away, to specialised wrapping papers and to tissue papers for facial, toilet and kitchen wipes. The well-known Andrex brand of tissue (first produced in St Andrews Road, London, E17) was produced here in enormous quantities.
Nothing to do with car airconditioning of course but hopefully you may have found some of it interesting.
John Orford AMSOE AMIRTE AffIMI
If you have noticed my surname I must have a brief mention of another castle with Norman credentials. This is Orford Castle on the East Anglian coast in Suffolk. Building was commenced in 1165 and was completed just eight years later and was used as a royal residence. At that time it was considered a very strategic part of the defence of England but the sea changed all that by depositing shingle and leaving the castle some way inland. All that remains now is the keep but that is fully 90 feet high and very impressive and is worth a look if you are visiting this fascinating coastline. This small town of Orford itself is well worth a visit as it is very attractive and seems stuck in a timewarp and so is sometimes used as a backdrop in TV period dramas. Also bring your binoculars if you come as this remote part of the coast right up past Aldeburgh and Southwold to Kessingland has lots to see with many exotic sea and wading birds. Interestingly Orford Ness, adjacent to Orford Castle was used in both the First and Second World Wars as a secret development site so the area was still important to English defence even if the castle no longer was.
Using the website www.spatial-literacy.org I can see that the main incidence of my surname in the 1881 census was in Suffolk as expected so presumably my male antecedents came from the town of Orford and may even have helped (probably reluctantly) to build the castle.
The guy who did build this castle was Henry II who must surely have been one of the most important monarchs we ever had. This French-speaking Norman king (although born at Le Mans) spent most of his life in what is now France as he reigned over a vast territory of what is now modern France mostly to the west, extending right down to what is now part of Spain, as well as the whole of England and part of Wales. Called the Angevin Empire it stretched from the Scottish borders right down to the Pyrenees. The southern part of his domain was acquired partly by his marriage to his extremely feisty wife Eleanor of Aquitaine - "by the wrath of God, Queen of England, Duchess of Normandy, Countess of Anjou" as she described herself (definitely one of the most influential women of all time) but in this age when marriages were frequently for family advancement and political gain these two actually fancied each other, at least at first, and together were an extremely powerful combination. Known as Aliénore in her homeland this very beautiful, auburn haired woman of 30 years married Henry of Anjou who was only 19 years old at the time. They definitely wanted each other as this marriage was taking a big risk but she recognised in Henry a young man of enormous energy who was going places. With such a huge, powerful kingdom he was not very popular with the French king (Louis VII) who had a very much smaller territory based in Paris. Louis really expected Henry, as his vassel, to be subordinate to him so Henry had to humour him a bit, especially as his wife Eleanor had previously been married to the French king. Henry was in France as usual when he perhaps accidentally precipitated the murder of the brilliant Archbishop Thomas à Becket in Canterbury Cathedral and had to return to England and Canterbury to beg forgiveness for this dreadful deed. Nevertheless he is chiefly memorable as one of the founders of English Common Law with magistrates, juries and judges and by the time he died in 1189 England was the best governed state in Europe. Henry's son Richard the Lion Heart (Coeur de Lion) was another king who although born in England was hardly ever in this country after his eighth birthday and yet Richard has had great PR, it is his statue on horseback which stands in the courtyard outside the Houses of Parliament and he pops up in every Robin Hood film as a hero but then in the Middle Ages when few people grew tall Richard at six feet five inches must have seemed almost super-human. As Richard could scarcely speak English (he spoke only French and Occitan the language used in the south of France) and in his whole reign he spent only about 6 months in England most of those tales of him must be based on myth and not real facts. He was an exceptionally talented soldier, a real military genius, but he was really just a blood-thirsty warrior and not a very nice person and it was his father, Henry II the first Plantagenet King who was the superstar. Henry was physically very strong, highly intelligent, a good linguist, enormously energetic, almost hyper-active, forever hunting with falcons or hounds or involved in other sports. He could cover unbelievable distances by horseback in a day, the French King Louis thought Henry must almost be able to fly. He had the ability to inspire people, and Henry had the first stone bridge built over the Thames (Old London Bridge) that survived all the fires in London and became the longest surviving bridge in Europe when it lasted 622 years until just 5 years before Victoria came to the throne. Henry virtually rebuilt the enormous Dover Castle which has the largest keep in the country, with walls twenty feet thick. And he commissioned Orford Castle.
The stone effigies of Henry II and his Queen Eleanor on their tombs in Fontevraud Abbey next to the river Loire in central France. This is right on the northern end of Eleanor's inheritance which extended right down to Spain and the southern end of Henry's domain as Duke of Normandy and of course they were King and Queen of England as well. Henry died in 1189 aged 56 and Eleanor in 1204 (at the grand age for the Middle Ages of 82 years old). At this time everyone just assumed that England and Wales were both part of a larger Normandy as they seemed just a continuation of the land over the water that stretched from the coast right down to Spain.
Just a thought - if we hadn't lost virtually all of Henry II's continental possessions in the later Middle Ages what a great soccer team England would have now, but it would have been called Greater Normandy or something like that.
I have one final puzzle about Kent. I have lived in this county for over 50 years and have travelled to virtually every town and village in that time. As I used to deliver bread flour many years ago I have met very many bakers, quite a few of whom could bake a really lovely loaf. However I have never met a baker who could turn out a French stick - ficelle, baguette, flute, or Parisien - to compete in taste, crust and texture with those turned out routinely just 23 miles away in Calais, even those from the French supermarket bakeries.
Now, who would have thought that reading a website about car air conditioning would give you ammunition to correctly answer the very first one million pound question on 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire'?
I wrote the majority of the above a few years ago but a chance discovery which brought a personal connection was found in February 2013. As mentioned just a few lines above, Old London Bridge, started by the Norman King Henry II in 1176 and used for over 600 years was dismantled after a new granite bridge was built in the mid eighteen hundreds. The stones from the old bridge were then put up for sale. A Northfleet businessman bought enough of them to build a distinctive house, looking like a castle but it was so distinctive that his wife refused to live in it as she said it looked too much like a prison. This building was known locally as "Pitcher's Folly". After ship building finally finished here the site (part known as Caleybank) was sold to The Bowater Paper Corporation and this iconic building right on the riverside was used by them as offices. This "castle" was finally demolished around 1935 (Jenny's dad would have known this building as a young man as he lived only half a mile away). I have met locals who can remember the lower part of the walls still standing in the 1960's. I worked on this site for Bowater-Scott from 1966 until 1973 but cannot remember seeing these remnants of the walls myself, however a pretty little telephonist who was also working there for the same company caught my eye and as the old saying goes "I chased after her until she caught me".
What a blessing that England could rely upon the brilliance of someone like Tommy Flowers just when the country most needed him. It is a pity that he was not adequately recompensed for his outstanding contribution to the WWII war effort and because of The Official Secrets Act never had his original work recognised until another country had claimed to be the inventor.
Quote: "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." Mark Twain
It is unwise to pay to much, but it worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, all you lose is a little money - that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.
The common law of business prohibits paying a little and getting a lot - it can't be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is as well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better
Wise words from JOHN RUSKIN
I do wonder if Rudolf Diesel was murdered back in 1913. His brilliant invention must have created enemies and also the German government would not have welcomed the possible release of this invention to the British at this time.
And from Voltaire regarding England and Admiral John Byng - "Dans ce pays-ci il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres" In this country it is good to kill an admiral from time to time in order to encourage the others.
"This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."
Good advice to any young person but written 415 years ago, by the bard of course (who died 400 years ago last April).
If any of this strange page interested you then you might find something to interest you just here. We all know that the world is heating up right now - I just find the reasons given for this a bit too far-fetched.
The Last Word
Kids in the back seat cause accidents but then it is accidents in the back seat that cause kids