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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  1. A familiar story indeed. Just fill in the gaps. "London X Company operated from Y Mill. The company was formed in the 1880s and initially produced Z tons per week. Pre-WW1 the company was taken over by B and production increased to Z+ tons per week. The company mainly specialised in the manufacture of C. The mill remained open until the 1960s."

    Now I absolutely do understand that needs change, as do technologies. And we need to move to non-polluting industries that don't create climate change. But closing industry after industry after industry creates nothing but mass unemployment. What are the next generations going to do? Move home?

  2. I may have asked this before, but is there a source for the post card above the line 'Raw materials for the factory were transported up the Creek by barge and the company had it's own wharf' as it shows the back of what was T H Saunders' Phoenix Mill [18 Darford Creek ...].
    Cheers, CC

    1. Thanks for your comment. These pictures were from an old book I borrowed from Gravesend Library. Unfortunately I can't remember the name of the book :-(

  3. Thanks for the reply. Is this too new a title to be it? Dartford: a century of change, 1910-2010: a book of photographs compiled by Dartford Historical & Antiquarian Society 2013.

  4. I also found Kent in old photographs, Dave Randle. Stroud, c2005

    1. The book I found was old, probably from the 50's I reckon.

  5. Thanks again, one last question to aid my search: do you remember if it was just a book of old photos, or was it specifically PCs and all of Kent or more specific?

  6. If I remember rightly the book was about Dartford in general and mainly text with a few photos.

  7. Thanks for that. It prompted me to get out in the Bodleian all the books with Kent/Dartford + photos/postcards in the title and it was not in any of them [though I found others of interest], so I'll ask Gravesend library what they have, minus those I've looked at

  8. I worked for Wiggins Teape from 1970 until 1975 at the Greaseproof Mill. At that time they were making glassine mainly but also the black paper for the Polaroid film cassette so I don't understand that its states that the Greaseproof Mill shut in 1957. I do remember years later driving passed and seeing a housing estate on the site. Dartford Mill was still running with No3,4,5 and 6 machines.

  9. The nice people at the Greaseproof Mill once cut me a 100 or so sheets of dark brown glassine [think 'After Eight'] for a booklet I was printing about John Tate who was England's first papermaker and whose mill was thereabouts