Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dartford Creek in Old Pictures

This post follows on from my last which covered the final leg of my Darent Valley Walk from Dartford town centre through to the mouth of Dartford Creek.

I came across these old photographs of Dartford Creek which I guess were probably taken in the early 1950's or possibly a bit earlier.

Above is an aerial shot of the Burroughs Wellcome & Co pharmaceutical factory in the foreground and London Paper Mills in the background.

Burroughs Wellcome & Co through various mergers and acquisitions finally evolved into Glaxo Smith Kline and was once one of the biggest (if not the biggest) employers in Dartford.

Burroughs Wellcome & Co was founded in 1880 by two London based American pharmacists, Silas Burroughs and Henry Wellcome. In 1889 they purchased the site of the Phoenix paper mill in Dartford and set up their own factory which went from strength to strength with up to 1300 employed at it's peak.

Raw materials for the factory were transported up the Creek by barge and the company had it's own wharf.

Over the years many important drugs including insulin for the treatment of diabetes, Zovirax for the treatment of herpes and Retrovir used by HIV/AIDS sufferers around the world were developed.

Unfortunately pharmaceutical manufacturing in Dartford ceased a few years ago and the factory site has now been demolished and is awaiting redevelopment.

London Paper Mills operated from Riverside Mill. The company was formed in 1889 and initially produced 250 tons of paper per week. In 1909 the company was taken over by Albert Reed and production increased to 400 tons per week. The company mainly specialised in the manufacture of printing paper. The mill remained open until 1968.

In the picture above barges are seen on the Creek loaded with wood pulp and esparto grass. The esparto grass came from the Mediterranean by ship to the London Docks and was then put into barges and towed up to Dartford Creek.

The esparto grass was then transported by lorry to the Horton Kirby Paper Mills (mentioned in My Darent Valley Walk Part 4). It was used to manufacture fine quality writing paper.

Further down the Creek, the Ettrick Forest Mill was established in 1862. In 1868 this was taken over by the Daily Telegraph and known as Dartford Paper Mills. Newsprint was produced for the Fleet Street presses and in it's heyday 700 staff were employed.

The mill later passed into the ownership of Wiggins Teape and paper production continued on the site until 2009 when it was closed and demolished. The site is currently waiting redevelopment (a familiar theme).

The Greaseproof Paper Mill seen above was established in 1933. At this time greaseproof paper was used extensively to wrap foodstuffs such as cheese or meat which were weighed and sold loose in small local shops.

The mill only had a short life operating until 1957. Demand for greaseproof paper presumably plummeted with the establishment of supermarkets in the 50's and the introduction of packaged foods.

J & E Hall Ltd was another major employer in Dartford. They were involved in engineering but I will write more about them in another future post when time permits.

In the late 1970's ships were broken up in Dartford Creek below the lock. One of these ships was the Royal Navy Type 41 frigate HMS Leopard. She was built in Portsmouth in 1955.

In October 1977 she was sold for scrap. At 100 metres in length she was too long to navigate Dartford Creek. To get around the problem the breakers towed the Leopard from the Naval Dockyard at Chatham to Beckton on the Thames were the stern section was removed.

The remaining forward three quarters of the ship could then be towed down to Dartford Creek for demolition.

The Leopard was the largest ship to be scrapped at Dartford. The breakers mainly disposed of trawlers and Thames barges. The business later transferred from Dartford Creek to Gravesend - probably a good thing for the water in the Creek.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Darent Valley Walk Part 6 - The Final Leg

Readers of this blog will know that I have been walking the long distance Darent Valley Park in handy bite sized chunks as and when time permits.

I am pleased to report that I have finally completed the last section from Dartford Central Park where my last blog post finished off through to the River Thames at the mouth of Dartford Creek.

After passing by the Dartford War Memorial I walked through the centre of Dartford to the church and then along the River Darent once more.

At this point I should warn you that this is definitely not the most scenic part of the Darent Valley.

The path passes by the delightful Wickes D.I.Y superstore and emerges at the demolition site of the former Glaxo Wellcome pharmaceutical factory.

From here I walked along to Lower Hythe Street. This dead end road once contained two pubs - the unusually named Huffler's Arms (more about that later) and the Phoenix.

Now only the Huffler's Arms remains open. The area is currently earmarked for regeneration...

The Phoenix pub was named after the Phoenix Mills which manufactured paper until 1889 on the site later occupied by Glaxo Wellcome.

The pub now appears to be used as a private residence. I took the adjacent path which leads to a footbridge across the Darent. From this point on the Darent is known as Dartford Creek.

The view looking back towards Dartford town centre and the footbridge.

In the 18th century the Creek could be navigated for 3.5 miles by barges of up to 50 tons on Spring tides. At other times cargo had to be transferred to smaller craft of only 10 to 12 tons capacity.

Where there were no tow paths suitable for horses, men known as hufflers were employed to pull the barges along the Creek up to their respective unloading wharves. Very laborious and thirsty work - hence the need for the two pubs!

Due to the increase in river traffic in the 1840's it was decided to canalise the Creek. This enabled navigation for barges of up to 150 tonnes. In 1895 a lock was built to maintain a constant water level at the top end of the Creek making it easier to unload cargo.

Barge traffic peaked in the mid 1930's but the lock is now disused and the Creek is once more tidal. The whole area has an air of dereliction and abandonment. All the riverside industry has disappeared no doubt soon to be replaced by yet more housing.

Cargoes handled on the Creek included esparto grass and wood pulp for the paper mills.

I have some old pictures of the Creek in it's heyday which I will put in a future post.

A little further along the Creek is crossed by a modern road bridge (Bob Dunn Way). Nearby I saw two bright green ring necked parakeets sitting in a tree - not really what I was expecting but they are apparently quite common in Kent nowadays.

Beyond the bridge the Creek meanders it's way slowly through the Dartford Marshes, a desolate flat landscape. Due to it's remote location the Marshes were used for the storage of ammunition during World War II.

A number of the concrete bunkers are still standing. Interestingly they have no roofs presumably to ensure that blast would be directed upwards in the event of an explosion.

A fireworks factory also operated on the Marshes for many years but has now closed.

The River Cray joins the Creek at this point. It was also navigable and barges would transport wheat transshipped from vessels in the London Docks up to the flour mill at Crayford.

Here I saw a heron doing a spot of fishing. An indication that the water must be getting less polluted.

The Marshes (and indeed Dartford itself) are dominated by the 705' chimney of Littlebrook Power Station.

It seems hard to believe now but the damp fields in the foreground were used as an airfield in the early days of aviation and during World War I. The airfield has an interesting history and I will write a separate post about that another day.

The Dartford Creek Barrier was built in 1981 and is a defence against flooding. Two steel gates each weighing over 160 tonnes can be positioned to withstand flood waters up to 6 metres above local ground level.

In 1953 there was terrible flooding along the Thames Estuary including the Dartford Marshes and many people lost their lives. The Barrier marks the official end of the Darent Valley Path.

The Thames looking downriver. Littlebrook Power Station to the right, the QEII bridge in the background and ships at Purfleet (Essex) to the left.

A bit superfluous.... since construction of the barrier effectively put paid to navigation on the Creek!
The Thames looking upriver towards London.

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