We went to Gravesend to get familiar with the place prior to meeting up with friends next month. Our perception of the place before the visit was that of a town best left unseen but as we had a purpose we decided to bite the proverbial and have a look. We parked the car at West Street under the shadow of St George’s Church, and walked from there to find the Tilbury Ferry. We found a typical working riverside pontoon and ramp with a neat looking boat that seemed to fit the scene. We liked it.
I chatted with a young woman who said she used the ferry most days getting aboard shortly before it left. Two people approaching the ferry down the ramp may have missed it if a crew member had not stopped the boat and dropped the gangplank again to allow them on. A nice touch of public duty. Once a crossing for vehicles there is now a regular service for foot passengers only, including cyclists, and it is good that it is still working.
I loaned my Sister a small camera so she too was able to join in with the snapping pictures activity and we had some fun. You have to adjust your ideas from looking at the excruciatingly pretty gardens and lovely villages to looking at a town with a maritime history linked to London and the Thames. The town is large, the approaches busy but at this time of the year gardens are resplendent with roses, the newer places on the
outskirts giving way to the older terrace house of the 19C and 20C to arrive in the town centre. The centre seems like a mess of railway station, civic centre and tatty shops but in fact it is a mixture of clean and tidy, old and new and tatty with a charm of its own that when we walked through we quite liked what we saw.
However, the attraction was to walk along the riverside and see if we could get on to the piers and view the town from the water. Gravesham council has made an effort to present a pleasant waterside, an attractive park and to present the place as a good place to visit. Litter was cleaned up. Places of interest signposted properly and despite the busy one way system there were places that were quiet. The shopping centre is busy but we were not there for that although the older, heritage quarter is attractive.
We were standing beside the Port of London Authority (PLA) buildings admiring the pier when a man, breaking off work for a smoke, chatted with us. It turned out he was prominent in the Gravesend Rotary Club and was helping to arrange and set up a Jubilee dinner in the Pier that evening. He invited us to have a look. It turned out that he was a local historian (belonging to the Gravesend Historical Society) and put us right on a few things.
From the Town Pier, close to the shopping centre, there is a walk past the Arts Centre, the Clarendon Hotel and where once was a Blockhouse to the Pier owned by the PLA. On the way we saw a couple with their dogs sitting and enjoying the view. We did not know we could get on to the Town Pier so we headed for the PLA pier thinking we could walk on to that.
It appears that the pier is used as an access to the PLA boats and is not open to the public. However, he kindly showed us into the pier which was decorated in red, white and blue, and allowed me access to the ramp leading to the PLA pontoon from where I took some pictures. Thanks Alan! And I will post acknowledgements for his kindness to the other organisations involved and hope the event was as good as it looked.
Did you know that Gravesend is not named after the plague bodies supposedly sent there but after Grave (with the accent on the e) meaning Grove – as in orchards etc. and being close to the river was the last, or end, of them. Hence, it could be Grove’s End. Not a lot of people know that.
We had a lunch at The Three Daws Inn, an ancient hostelry with the right sort of rambling rooms and a wonderful view over the river – good ale, good food, friendly service and, with a little imagination one can picture Pickwick and his friends arriving in such a place. From the window we saw the barge, Thistle, arrive and tie up at the pier. After lunch, armed with cameras, we waddled over and took some snaps.
We took a stroll into the town, and saw Pocahontas’ memorial, as you do, and from there walked past the clock tower to the fort and the riverside gardens. Interesting. On the way we caught glimpses of the Sikh Temple, admired the architecture of the town centre that reflects a more affluent era, or maybe more opulent, large bank buildings, a circle of retailers under a colonnade, and some excellent residences. Some were not so good and as in many towns we found some ghastly fifties and sixties architectural graffiti, satisfyingly tatty and falling apart as a testament to our past mistakes.
We enjoyed the visit and once again was able to appreciated what a Kent town has to offer having avoided the place. We missed out on some history and of course a surprise in seeing some of the beauty of the place.
That the council has made some effort to regenerate the town (as the current catch phrase seems to be) goes a long way to disperse the bad impression and we can look at Gravesend with a different point of view.
No old town will be all charm nor will it be all grot and will naturally reflect the tastes of people down the centuries as long as their efforts have been preserved. Gravesend suffers a little from a lack of care for the really old buildings but benefits from the preservation of much of the more robust town buildings. We cannot have it all and modernity for all its faults will prevail.
However, the fort was terrific and a place we should revisit just to see the Chantry in full and to visit the Sikh Temple. It will depend on what else we want to see in the area.