#132: Dartford 25/01/2022

Dartford Station

The first station opened in 1849, extending the North Kent line from Gravesend to London. The station acts predominantly as a commuter hub, with TfL’s Oyster card and contactless payments introduced in 2015.

The original Victorian station was rebuilt in 1972 and again redeveloped more recently in 2013. The recent redesign resulted from Network Rail and Dartford Borough Council identifying that significant works to create a ‘landmark structure’ as a new gateway to Dartford Town were needed.

Southwestern operates the station and provides services for its network and Thameslink. Trains that stop here serve North Kent from London, Bexleyheath and a loop line through Sidcup. The introduction of the loop line was to help ease congestion on the main London to Dartford route.

The station approach has been remodelled as a transport hub, but I have to admit that it was devoid of any real-life during my visit. The area in front of the station is a large swathe of concrete and tarmac with an almost unused ‘Donkey Republic’ bicycle hire rack. The space feels almost unfinished.

There are empty shops and unloved buildings nearby which add to the sense of economic hardship. But, alas, Scott’s Skin Works is no more as the building has been repossessed, according to the sign on the door. It’s unclear whether this is the effect of Covid lockdown or another cause.

The station is north of the town and adjacent to the Civic Centre. Pedestrian access into the town is by a footbridge across the by-pass ring road that leads to the Orchard Theatre and Orchard Shopping Centre.

Before I leave the station, there’s a modern pop-culture event to acknowledge. Platform 2 has a plaque signifying where Mick Jagger and Keith Richards met on the 17th of October 1961, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Dartford

The town gets its name from the River Darent, as it was the place where the Romans crossed the river by ford. Dartford has a rich history, and the Dartford Archive website can do a far better job than I in retelling the town’s story. So I will focus on what I saw.

My early and lasting impression is of a town struggling with long term recession, although there are signs of regrowth. I’m trying to put a positive spin on what I saw, but in reality, the town seemed a mishmash of identities, and no doubt retail has been hit heavily by the opening of the Bluewater shopping centre a few miles away.

The town centre feels as if it should have more character. Instead, it’s an area of two halves. To the east, High Street is now pedestrianised. To the west, Spital Street feels a little forgotten.

There are open spaces where buildings have been demolished, but nothing has been built to replace them, and inevitably the land has been given over to parking. But you don’t have to look too far to see how slow the town progresses. By way of example, the Two Brewers Pub in Lowfield Street closed its doors for the last time in 2015. Alas, this Grade II listed building is somewhat symbolic of the town centre’s fate despite valiant efforts to redevelop and regenerate the local shopping experience.

And why is there a random mosaic of Karl Marx on a disused building on Market Street? According to Google Maps, this appears between May 2019 and January 2021. It’s a curious oddity and one I’m unable to trace its origins. Do you know anything about it?

Like bookends at either end of the High Street, there are buildings of interest. For example, as you enter the High Street from Hythe Street, the Royal Victoria & Bull Hotel is there. The hotel is a former coaching inn that has been here since 1703. It’s also where Richard Trevithick, the pioneering inventor of the world’s first steam-powered railway locomotive, lived until he died in 1833.

You’d have thought there would be some interesting facts on the pub’s website about its history, but there aren’t. So it’s unexpected that I find historical references for this pub on the Dartford Removals website. However, there are two interesting facts.

The first is that the ‘Bull’ in the name refers not to the animal but ‘bulla’ – a seal or a papal edict secured by a seal. Indeed the Inn’s early name was the ‘Holy Bull’ – the holy seal or holy order.

The second was The Battle for Bull Centre – a clash between the local Salvation Army and town officials. The area opposite the hotel was traditionally used as a meeting place for religious and political groups. 

Things came to a head in 1908. The town council ruled that these meetings caused an obstruction, and therefore local religious figures were imprisoned. However, following a public outcry, they were soon released and given a heroes’ welcome. I wonder whether the timing is significant as there are dates of July 1912 on the Salvation Army building at the far end of Hythe Street.

On the eastern end of High Street, the dominant Holy Trinity Church is there. It was built in the late 11th Century and extended many times during the reigns of several Kings. This view of the south side shows the effect of some of those earlier building works.

You can follow St Saviour’s Walk from the church. It’s a footpath that runs behind the church and the County Court and under the railway line into Mill Pond Road. The footpath is part of the 19-mile long river Darent Valley Path that runs from The Thames to Sevenoaks. Or you could also stretch your legs a little further and head for the river’s source near Westerham?

At the other end of Dartford, the former police station and magistrates court have been redeveloped into a shared workspace for small businesses and entrepreneurs. The main entrance on Highfield Road close to the junction with West Hill is no longer used, but the striking use of black paint makes this an attractive feature.

Picture of the Day – Romeo! Romeo! Wherefore art thou?

Whilst chatting with local residents, they tell me this is the old Co-op department store that has stood here since the mid-1930s. The Co-operative Movement in Dartford began in 1888 with a small shop on Spital Street and employed over 400 staff by the late 1930s.

Unfortunately, the building has been abandoned for many years, although the facade retains conservation status. As soon as I saw it, the solitary balcony on the front of this imposing building made me think about Shakespear’s famous scene.

The blue hoarding at street level seems to elevate the building, which I’ve emphasised with this ground-level shot. The scene, for me, symbolises how I felt about my day in Dartford – a town with unfinished business.

  • Location: Dartford Spital Street
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 25/01/2022 1:30 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ3.5; Shutter Speed – 1/60; Focal Length – 18mm; Film Speed – ISO100

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