Riverside - south bank east of the Tower. Northfleet

Riverside – south bank east of the Tower. Northfleet

A strip of an old village and industrial suburb surrounded by deep chalk workings and riverside dereliction - the biggest cement works in the world demolished less than thirty years after it opened ending cement manufacture in the area where it was developed. The Kimberley Clark tissue mill keeps the paper making tradition alive.  Northfleet remains, with the most respectable local pub recommended as 'a good place to go if you want a punch-up' - however, and amazingly, it has the two most important churches in Gravesend, right next door to each other.

Post to the east Rosherville
Post to the north Tilbury Ness
Post to the west Stonebridge
Post to the south Springhead Road

Church Path
St Botolph's National School was on this path behind the church. It opened, in 1838 with the infants’ school following in 1869.  In 1936 it became a Primary (Mixed) School and in the 1980s the  school moved to a different site in Dover Road.
Vicarage. This was built on the site of the school in the 1970s

Council Avenue
26/27 St Peter’s Nursing Home.  This was Northfleet House built by Thomas Sturge for himself with his sister Esther. Later occupied by Alfred Tolhurst, who had entrance gates with polished whale harpoons on them.  Became offices and Town Hall for Northfleet Urban District Council. It is now a nursing home.
Council houses. In the grounds of Northfleet House the first council houses in Northfleet were built in 1926.

Crete Hall Road
This area of Northfleet between the London Road and the river had been acquired by members of the Calcraft family in the early 19th. A description of the site from 1818 says that 17 lime kilns were burning here on land rented from John Calcraft.
Pitcher Shipyard. The area between the road and the river was the site of Pitcher's dockyard. It was laid out by Thomas Pitcher in 1788 on ground levelled as a result of chalk workings. The first launch, that of The Royal Charlotte 123 tons took place on 2 November 1789. In 1813 the Russian fleet was refitted in this yard. The yard was closed in 1825, but re-opened by William and Henry Pitcher, sons of the founder, in 1839, and became one of the largest yards on the river. For some years steamships were built here for the Royal Mail Packet Co., as well as for the government during the Crimean War. The yard finally closed in 1861. A scheme for much larger docks, including a dock large enough to take the Great Eastern was featured in the Illustrated London News in April 1859, but nothing came of it. Largest dock of 500 ft x 74ft and could take Brunel’s Great Western.  Ultimately however the yard was too far from the new engine builders and had no engine maintenance facilities. They also lacked some of the skills as iron hulls became more usual. Mare ran the yard for the Receiver
Northfleet Castle.  Pitcher built a castellated house and gate using material from Old London Bridge. It was a feature of the waterside and was used as offices by Bowater’s in 1926. It was demolished in 1934 although some walls remained.  Illustrations also show an area surrounded by a castellated wall to the east of the gateway and grand buildings facing the river.
Bowater’s Thames Paper Mills, The Company was founded by William Bowater who was a City paper wholesaler. Their first paper manufacturing site was at Northfleet in 1914 but because of the war and design flaws it did not open until 1925. The firm was then led by Eric Bowater and following a deal with Rothermere the firm expanded and opened other mills. By the end of 1930 the output of Bowater's mills was 22 percent of the UK's total output, soon it was 60 percent and they had become the largest newsprint undertaking in Europe and were expanding worldwide. During the Second World War the Northfleet mill closed down completely. But after the war they became the Bowater Paper Corporation and by the mid-1950s were the largest producer of newsprint in the world. They then began to move into tissue production as Bowater-Scott Corporation, with the Scott Paper Company of Philadelphia and a new tissue mill was built at Northfleet designed by Farmer and Dark in 1956.  Expansion world wide continued. After Eric Bowater died over capacity in U.K. newsprint was tackled by the conversion of machines to other types of paper making, and eventually by closures, including Northfleet paper mill in 1973. 
Kimberley Clark Tissue Mill. In 1986, Bowater sold Bowater-Scott to Scott Paper, and in 1995, the US giant Kimberly-Clark purchased them. The Northfleet site continues to manufacture Andrex bathroom tissue
Water tower. Designed by Farmer and Dark and built in 1957. For this they won the Royal Society of British Architects Bronze Medal for 1956-59. The contractors were Higgs and Hill. Said to be still in use despite apparent poor current state.
Caley Bank. Until 1955 there was a column of chalk and clay some 80 feet in height, which had been left by the early chalk diggers. When the dockyard was in operation a flagstaff stood on the top and small cannon which was fired when launches took place. It was demolished by Bowater’s to make space for new buildings but one of the Kimberley Clark buildings is ‘Callybank House’.
Northfleet Thames Terminal. Owned by Kimberley Clark. This is a Deep Water Jetty with a barge bay and an open storage area. It has approval for forest products and is used by Kimberley Clark and customers.

Dock Row
Dock Row originally ran from the site of the Crete Hall roundabout north towards the river. The first houses here were built in about 1789/90 by Thomas Pitcher as accommodation for the workers in his ship yard. The row included the Royal Charlotte inn, and it was later extended. The houses were demolished in the 1930's.
Weslyan Chapel
29 Royal Charlotte Inn. This pub was named after first East Indiamen built by Pitcher. An annual fair and sports known as Royal Charlotte Fair were held here in the 1830s. A new inn, also called the Royal Charlotte was added at the end of the row in 1830/35., but the pub remained until the 1950's

Dover Road
Ye Olde Leather Bottle. Said to be a ghost in the bar every night. The first record of this pub is 1706.  It has acted as a local landmark – where the trams, or whatever, start and finish.

Granby Road
For most of the length of the road this is a footpath only with barriers at either end.
Gay & Blackman brickworks. Northfleet brickfield which in the 1870s was worked by Messrs. Gay and Blackman. It later belonged to George Austin and had a small wharf at the foot of Granby Road.
Engine House. At the bottom of the road was a building called the Mill House. Demolished in 1954, it was apparently erected as an engine house for a stationary engine used to haul trucks.
Tunnel under the road. This runs under from the cement factory site to the 19th shooting range. It has a high flint wall to stabilise the cliff and prevent chalk falls. It is also usually high inside because it was extended down as the pit was dug deeper.

High Street
From the 16th, this was known as Bow Street,
Vineyard Pit. To the west of St. Botolph's Church there was at one time a cherry orchard called 'Vineyard Field', and it is said that the Archbishop of Canterbury had a vineyard here in the 14th.
Church Path Pit. This pit was dug on the site in the 1860s.  An electronic substation was later installed in it. When the new cement works was built in 1968 a rail connection went through to the works via this pit and new tunnels dug under the main road and a double-track loop line laid.
1-2 Granby Place. These houses date from about 1830.  They are on the site of Northfleet's Manor House.  Granby Place was built as two houses but for a while it was used as one.
Northfleet Manor House which stood behind a high wall.  There was originally also a tithe barn and a farm hare, the manor house was used by archbishops for overnight stays. The earliest known date for it is 1726 and in the late 18th it was used as a school. In 1819 it became the Northfleet workhouse until that was moved to Strood in 1836.  It later again became a school and then a private asylum.  It seems to have gone out of use in the 1880s and demolished in 1909. The garden became part of the churchyard
Car repair garage. Part of the wall between the garage and the old vicarage grounds is mediaeval and is the surviving wall of the manor farm
The vicarage. The building was not lived in and neglected in the 17th and 18th and replaced in 1834. This was demolished in 1961 and relocated elsewhere.
Bow House, this was the south side of the road in the early 19th opposite the present site of the Factory Hall. It was intended as a bazaar, but because it was never finished was known locally as a Folly. It was eventually demolished and the land added to the grounds of Northfleet House by Thomas Sturge.
Lawn House or Northfleet Lodge was built on the corner of Lawn Road and High Street in the early 19th. It was later used for Mechanics Institute meetings and social events. Northfleet Local Board used it from 1876 for their monthly meetings. It was demolished in 1900.
Den's Diner. On the Lawn Road corner. Open air eating.
Edinburgh Castle pub. On the other corner of Lawn Road, probably dates from the 1870s. Probably still open.
Cinema. The Astoria Cinema opened in 1929, replacing the Northfleet Cinema which dated from 1912. And which had closed the previous day. The Astoria Cinema, was run by Lion Cinematograph Ltd.  It had a dance hall and café. The building ran parallel because otherwise it would have fallen into the pit to the rear. By 1936 it had been re-named Strathconia Cinema, and in 1940 it was re-named Star Cinema, and was soon after it was re-named Wardona Cinema. This closed in 1957. The Astoria Dance Hall continued until around 1960 run as a dance school by Miss Marjorie Shade. The building was demolished and there is now a petrol station there, the Astoria garage
Factory Hall. Once called the Blue Circle Club and most recently called Portlands.  It was opened in 1878 and built at the expense of Thomas Bevan by architects Parr and Strong for Bevan's eldest son, Robert's, coming of age. Before 1945, the club was open to all members of the public and was a cultural centre for Northfleet. The building has a grand frontage and the roof lies behind a tall, elaborately decorated parapet with a central coat of arms. It also has early examples of Portland cement decoration. It had two halls, games room, sports facilities, a library and the headquarters of the Northfleet Choral Society plus numerous other local societies were all accommodated. Outside were a bowling green and an outdoor swimming pool opened in 1907. The pool was on the site of the current car park
Lawn Schools.  The Northfleet Primary School or Lawn Road School was the first Board School built in Northfleet. Within two months of the first meeting of the School Board in 1884 they had purchased land between Lawn and Factory Roads, including the sites of the King's Head and Marquis of Granby. Lawn Road School opened in 1886 designed by James Walford in 1893. New buildings included a clock tower - the first public clock in Northfleet – it was demolished following damage in the 1987 storm. There is a plaque to ex-pupil Ted Ditchburn who played football for England
90 Kings Head Pub. This dated from 1710 and was demolished in 1885 for school building.

Lawn Road
Sure Start Centre. Little Gems
31 Dorset Arms. This pub opened in 1851 and closed in 1952.
Flint retaining wall to hold the houses with tunnels built into then.  There are about 30.some are modern and the earlier ones have had many uses.

London Road
1 Library. The building, now flats, was a public library run by Kent County Council. Earlier there had been a sawpit and carpenter's yard in the field here. The building has a perimeter flint wall with a blocked older gateway – which was presumably a garden entrance.
Northfleet County Youth Club. This was in the house next to the Library from the late 1940's to the 1970's. It was originally for boys, but in 1956-1957 it was opened to girls.
Viewing platform on the north side of the road overlooking the river
Electricity junction box cabinet from the early 20th stands on the corner with The Hill.

The Hill
This area is the historic centre of Northfleet with the church and the village green,
Toll Gate. This would have stood roughly where Church Path leaves to the south. It was set up by the Turnpike Trust in 1860 as an additional gate to try to increase the tolls for the road which had been falling since the opening of the railway. The gate was financially successful, but only lasted until 1871 when the Trust was wound up. It was on the site of the village stocks and parish pound
Village pound and stocks. These would have stood in front of the Catholic Church
Northfleet Horse Tram depot. Catholic Church was built on its site. This dated from 1881. The line was extended in 1889 to Huggen's College in 1889 when there were 5 trams and 14 horses operating a half-hourly service on a single track line. It was followed by a short experimental electric line which also ran from the Leather Bottle to Huggins College in early 1889 built by Brush. Two cars were built and the system was electrically arranged to operate in series, as opposed to the parallel method that became normal. There seems to be some doubt as to whether this was ever a true public service since it had ceased by late 1890. The tramway was taken over by the Gravesend and Northfleet Electric Tramways Ltd. in 1901 with a new depot in Old Dover Road.
Our Lady of Assumption. Roman Catholic Church.  Dramatic building a bleak brown brick monolith known locally as ‘the square church’. It replaced Our Immaculate Mother & St Joseph in Rose Street.  It was built in 1914 on the site of the horse tram depot as a memorial to Alfred Tolhurst, solicitor and cement manufacturer. The architect was Giles Gilbert Scott, and the builder was J. B Lingham who lived locally. It is seen as an important building foreshadowing some of Scott’s more famous works – Bankside Power Station/Tate Modern in particular.
Wooden staircase. This was on the other sides of the road to the church leading down to the Volunteers Rifle Brigade practise grounds.
5-6 Alma Cottages built about 1860 and replacing weatherboarded buildings.
7 in the 19th this was a butchers shop with a slaughterhouse to the rear.
14-15 Dove. This was burnt down in 1906
Village Green. This is the area now used as a car park which between the wars was a site for the War Memorial. In the north west corner was a well. Fairs were held here until the early 19th. There was also a wooden weighbridge here for cattle to be taken through the tollgate.
War Memorial, This was erected on the green in 1923 surrounded by railings. It has now been moved to near the lych gate
Northfleet Veterans club. The club is used by the council for voluntary service as well as many local organsiations.
25 Coach and Horses –This is said to date from 1572 and together with the shop next door made up a house, It was known as the Three Horse Shoes 1686 - 1764
Car Park. This is on the area of what was the council yard and fire station
Pit. The pit to the west of the church was at one time a cherry orchard and a field here was called Vineyard Field, a reminder that the Archbishop of Canterbury had a vineyard at North fleet in the 14th century
Forge. This is where horses were shod until the 1930s.  It was on the north side of the road east of Granby Road
St Botolph’s. This is a big church on a Saxon foundation and there is Roman material in the walls. Its massive Norman tower collapsed in 1628 – it was built without proper foundations - and a new one was built using the original material and has eight bells. The church is a virtually complete structure of the early 14th on an impressive scale. There were 13 ancient brasses although only three are left. There is however a model of the Royal Charlotte.
Churchyard. There is an obelisk to almshouse builder Huggins. Ship builder William Pitcher is buried in the northwest corner.
39 Queen's Head was The Crown which dated from 1626 and had extensive grounds with a bowling green to the rear. It was burnt down in 1830 and rebuilt and rebuilt again in 1909.
31 The Heritage. This is thought to be the oldest house now standing here which was formerly the White Hart, later called the Plough Inn
29 Marquis of Granby this was at the top of Granby Road, built in 1886 and closed 1925
Labour Board office built on the site of the Marquis of Granby in the 1950s
Deaves. This building was built by the Local Board as local authority offices in 1884.  In 1920 Northfleet Urban District Council left these offices and sold it to the co-op. They built a new frontage out into the road and used it as a shop with a hall above let out for hire.

The Shore
This is essentially a public footpath crossing a wide expanse of derelict open space with some riverside activity to the north.
Northfleet Cement Works. This opened in 1970 and was on the now derelict site. It was the biggest cement works in Europe. By 1960, the Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers had many cement making plants in this area, in 1967 it was decided to consolidate them into one large works on site of Bevan’s Works. Construction began in 1968 for a cement plant with six kilns with an output of four million tonnes of cement a year of which 20% was for overseas markets. In 1969 the first kiln became operational. Despite impressive figures, the export market was slowing down, and to cut costs half the number of kilns at the Northfleet Works were closed down by 1980.  As costs continued to rise kilns were modified which led to increased energy costs. Economic recession in 1991 led to a fall in output and by 1993, Northfleet Works was working with just one kiln. A second kiln reopened at Northfleet in 1994 in response to demand, but rail operations and excavation at Western Quarry ended. In 2001 Blue Circle Industries was purchased outright by the French Lafarge Group. Northfleet’s long association with cement production ended in 2008, when the works closed. The chimneys were brought down in 2010. There is now a large empty space.
Rail links. In 1969 plans were made for a direct connection between the new cement works and the North Kent Line via a chalk pit on the south of the London Road. A double-track loop line would curve around the perimeter of the cement works, in a continuous loop which meant that trains could exit without the need to reverse. This came into use in 1970. As the works began to close down cement delivery ended and by 1993 the loop line and sidings went out of use. All this was cut back and abandoned when Lafarge took over Blue Circle and the CTRL was built.
Bevan’s Works. This plant was the fifth on the Thames, second only in size during the 19th and early 20th, It was set up when William Aspdin fell out with his partners at Robins Works. Bevan’s was built on identical lines on what had been a brickfield adjacent to Robins.  There was little innovation before APCM took over using wet process bottle kilns throughout. In 1864 there were 17 kilns and another ten had been added by 1903, when some were demolished to make way for the rotary kilns which followed shortly after the formation of APCM . The original rotary kilns were cleared in 1922 to make way for what was the the largest APCM installation of the time, in the 1920s. Demolition of the previous kilns, took five years, and Blue Circle found it difficult to maintain supply. Bevan’s was then until 1929 the largest UK plant. The plant was shut down in 1970, with much of the cement handling and wharfage incorporated into the adjacent Northfleet site. The river was used for most of its transportation with the best deep water jetty on the south bank and it was Blue Circle's main exporting plant. A late 1950s kiln stack remained until demolished in 2010.
Bevan’s Wharf. Until the early 1980s this was busy loading bulk carriers with cement and clinker. This is said not to be in use and Lafarge intend to demolish it
42 Wharf. So named because of its 42 feet depth. Until the early 1980s, this was busy loading bulk carriers with cement and clinker. It is jmo0re modern that the Bevan’s Wharf and uses for it are planned.
Lafarge riverside office block. This has the PLA scanner on it.
London Portland Cement Works. This works was to the east of the Bevan works. It was opened in 1868 by J.C. Gostling and solid in 1876 to the London Portland Cement Co.  It became part of APCM in 1900 but closed in 1908. This works had a private siding from the West Street main rail line and a tramway to pits south of the London Road.
Northfleet Upper lighthouse. This was on the west end of the Associated Portland Cement Company's jetty in 1926 and maintained by Trinity House and was 29 feet high. In 1972 it was replaced with a modern light contained in a room on the roof of the 8 storey office block which now belongs to Lafarge Cement UK Ltd at Bevan’s Wharf. It is still used.
Northfleet Lower lighthouse Trinity House established a light here in 1859 to guide inward bound vessels around the bend from Gravesend Reach to Northfleet Hope. In 1883 the current lighthouse was placed on India Arms Wharf near the pub and was a white occulting light of 10 seconds visible for 6 miles. A red painted iron framework tower is 53 feet high with the light at 48 feet above High Water.  This was unmanned and was inspected three times a fortnight by Trinity House officer. It was originally lit by acetylene while sun valve ensured that the light was off during daylight hours.  It was later converted to town gas and in 1975 converted to the shore electricity supply,
7 India Arms. This was at the foot of Lawn Road and was built by 1780. It was a large and impressive building facing the river. It closed in 1978
Small fort. This was adjoining the pub and built by Major Birch in 1795. It had four guns manned by the Northfleet Volunteers, who also at the time of the Nore Mutiny manned the Gravesend blockhouse.
Howard House.  On the waterside was a red brick Queen Anne house, so named after Jeremiah Howard, a lime merchant. It was built about 1717 for Francis Mackreth, himself a lime merchant.
Howard Square, to the east was a small square of late-18th houses occupied mostly by customs officers and watermen.
Bevan’s war memorial. This stands isolated in the middle of the dereliction. It was designed by Francis William Doyle-Jones, it is a concrete memorial with a seated art deco Britannia in robes and armour with crested helmet, her cloak draped over the back of her throne. The throne stands on a cubed plinth with a bronze plaque which says 'GREAT WAR 1914-1918/EMPLOYEES OF BEVANS WHO MADE THE SUPREME SACRIFICE THEIR NAMES LIVETH FOR EVERMORE' and it lists the names and occupations of the fallen..

Vicarage Drive
A small housing estate on the site of was the vicarage, built in 1834, on the site of an earlier one.  Demolished in 1961 when the present houses were built.

British Listed Buildings. Web site
Bygone Kent
Cement kilns. Web site
Cinema Treasures. Web site
DoverKent. Web site
GLIAS Newsletter
Grace’s Guide. Web site
Gravesend Historical Society, Transactions
Gravesham Borough Council. Web site
Hiscock. A History of Gravesend
Historic England. Web site
Kent Rail. Web site
Lighthouse compendium. Web site
Northfleet Heritage Trail. Web site
Northfleet History Group. Web site
St.Botolph's Church and Team Ministry. Web site
Our Lady of the Assumption. Web site
Smith. Defending London’s River
Stoyel and Kidner.  The Cement Railways of Kent
Tolhurst and Hudson. Alfred Tolhurst


Unknown said…
Well done for a very useful piece of work.
I was born and raised in NE London - Walthamstow but moved to Northfleet in 1962 and finally met a pretty girl from Northfleet and was eventually married here (in 1970). Her father was a Kilnburner in the huge Six Kiln Cement works half a mile from where he was born and lived.
Jenny and I both worked for Bowater-Scott. The Andrex brand that was made here was first produced in St Andrews Road, Walthamstow, right next door to the infants and Junior schools I attended just after WW2, hence the name Andrex. I knew a man who was a foreman at that mill and he gave me an unofficial visit around the paper mill which was almost unique as it was based on a massive artesian well (paper mills are virtually exclusively based on rivers)
I learned to ring church tower bells at the very ancient church of St Botolph's in Northfleet and still practice regularly there although I join the other ringers pulling for Sunday Service at Shoreham church near Sevenoaks, Kent. The church of St Peter and St Paul has some interesting history (it is also a grade 1 listed building as is St Botolph's in Northfleet) but their locals have some quite interesting history themselves - well worth a look.
If any of your other readers like history there is quite a bit of mostly local history on www.ac4cars.co.uk/kent.html
Jean Hendy-Harris said…
A fascinating read and even more so for me because I grew up in Northfleet and rather deplore some of the changes that have taken place since I left (to live in New Zealand). My father worked at Bevan's cement works and I went to St Botolph's school. In recent years I have written a number of books about growing up in the area the most recent one is MORE THAN JUST SKELETONS - link to my Amazon author page is https://www.amazon.com/Jean-Hendy-Harris/e/B00P4OL64Q
I love reading about Northfleet and the people who lived there all those years ago.
I grew up in York Road Northfleet and love reading about the area and those who lived there - so much has changed in recent years or so it seems when I go back. I now live in New Zealand but really do miss Northfleet. In recent years I have written several books about the area - link to my author page at Amazon is https://www.amazon.com/Jean-Hendy-Harris/e/B00P4OL64Q
I really enjoy other people's memoirs - an interesting one I read recently about a boy growing up in Waterdales was called `About A Boy' I think the author is John Irwin.

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