Gravesend (St. George)

GRAVESEND (St. George), a market-town and parish, having separate jurisdiction, in the union of Gravesend and Milton, locally in the hundred of Toltingtrough, lathe of Aylesford, W. division of Kent, 15½ miles (N. W. by W.) from Maidstone, and 22½ (E. by S.) from London; containing, with the parish of Milton, 15,670 inhabitants, of whom 6414 are in Gravesend. This place, called in Domesday book Graves-ham, and in the Textus Roffensis Græves-ænd, appears to have derived those names from the Saxon gerefa, a greeve or reeve; implying either the habitation of the portreeve, or the limit of his jurisdiction: by some antiquaries the name is derived from græf, a coppice, denoting the situation of the place at the extremity of a wood towards the sea. In the reign of Richard II., the French laid waste many of the adjacent villages, plundered and burnt the town, and carried off several of the inhabitants prisoners. It was soon afterwards rebuilt, and to indemnify the inhabitants for the loss they sustained upon that occasion, Richard II. granted them the exclusive privilege of conveying passengers to and from London, which right is still exercised under regulations adapted to the present times. In the reign of Henry VIII., two platforms were raised for the protection of the town, and a blockhouse was erected at Tilbury, on the opposite bank of the Thames, for the defence of the river. In 1727 the greater part of the town was destroyed by a fire that broke out near the church, which edifice, with more than 100 houses, was burnt down. George I. landed here on his first arrival from Germany, and Gravesend has been frequently distinguished by crowned heads landing and embarking at the pier.

The town is in the two parishes of Gravesend and Milton, which are separated by the High-street. It is pleasantly situated on an acclivity rising from the south bank of the Thames, and is paved and lighted under the provisions of an act which was extended by another passed in 1840; in 1846 an act was obtained for better supplying the town with water. It has been much improved within the last few years, principally owing to the introduction of steam navigation on the river; and there are now several piers or landing-places, one of which, erected under an act obtained in 1833, was opened on July 29th, 1834: it is composed of iron and timber, is 160 feet in length, and has two flights of stairs for landing. The Terrace pier, situated in front of the Terrace gardens, and in a line with Harmer-street, is wholly of cast-iron, and was completed in the spring of 1845, from the designs of Mr. Redman; it is 250 feet in length, and supported on Doric columns. The salubrity of the air, the beauty of the surrounding scenery, the short distance from the metropolis, and the facility of conveyance by steam-boats, have, within the last few years, greatly contributed to render Gravesend a place of resort; and in proportion to the increase of visiters, preparations have been made for their accommodation. At the east and west ends of the town are convenient bathing-houses, fitted up with warm, cold, vapour, and shower baths; and bathing-machines are kept at the water-side. Adjoining the bathing-house at the west end, Mr. Palliser, the proprietor of the Falcon tavern, has built a splendid hotel, called the Clifton, at a cost of upwards of £10,000. An elegant building, erected for a literary institution and as assembly-rooms, was opened in March, 1842, at the north end of Harmerstreet; it is in the Grecian style, with a portico supported by columns of the Ionic order, and contains a fine organ presented by Mr. Harmer. A theatre is occasionally used. In the 35th of Henry VIII., a blockhouse was erected at Milton, upon ground conveyed to that monarch by William Burston: it remained in the possession of the crown till 1835, when the board of ordnance sold the land adjoining it to four of the inhabitants, who afterwards disposed of the same to a company; and some gardens, called the Terrace Gardens, have been laid out there under the able direction of Mr. Loudon. Milton, within the last few years, has undergone great changes, and is now the best part of the town; the new street called Harmer-street opens an approach to the Terrace Gardens from the new London road. At the eastern extremity is the parsonage-house of Milton; and near it New-Tavern Fort, mounting 16 pieces of ordnance, with accommodations for a commandant and some veterans of the artillery: of late, however, the commandant's house has been leased to the town-clerk of Gravesend, under a covenant that he shall quit in the event of a war. A company was formed some years ago, with a capital of £30,000, and took about 17 acres of ground in the vicinity, which they laid out at a great expense, as botanic and zoological gardens, and in which they erected a handsome banqueting-room, capable of accommodating 600 persons; the place is called the Rosherville Gardens, and is now only resorted to for purposes of amusement.

Gravesend being within the jurisdiction of the port of London, all outward-bound ships, until recently, were here obliged to undergo a second clearing; but this practice has been disused. Outward-bound vessels take in their pilots at Gravesend, and also all vessels entering the port of London, for the navigation of the river. The outward-bound Indiamen, likewise, receive their supplies of fresh provisions, vegetables, liquors, ammunition, and stores, at the place. A considerable number of vessels is employed in the cod and turbot fisheries; and fine shrimps are caught here in great abundance. There are extensive lime and brick works, and a manufactory for ropes and twine; and shipbuilding has been carried on largely in a yard to the north-west of the town, where several men-of-war and frigates, exclusively of smaller vessels, have been built. The principal trade arises from the supply of the numerous ships which, on their passage outward, stop to take in stores, &c., and from the number of seamen who furnish themselves with slops, for the sale of which there are numerous shops in the town. A considerable quantity of ground in the neighbourhood is appropriated to the cultivation of vegetables for the use of the shipping, and of asparagus of superior quality for the London market, for the conveyance of which, and for the promotion of the general trade, great advantages are afforded by the Thames. The Gravesend and Rochester single-track railway, formed for the most part along the bank of the Thames and Medway canal, was opened in February, 1845; it was subsequently sold to the SouthEastern Company, who filled up the canal, and laid down a second line of rails. This latter company obtained an act in 1846 for a railway from Gravesend to Greenwich, 22½ miles in length. The market-days are Wednesday and Saturday, the former for corn; the fairs are on May 4th and October 24th, for horses, cloth, and various sorts of merchandise. Between Gravesend and Tilbury Fort, is a ferry.

The inhabitants, with those of the parish of Milton, were incorporated by charter of Queen Elizabeth, under the designation of the "Portreeve, Jurats, and Inhabitants of Gravesend and Milton;" and this charter was ratified and extended by Charles I., who enjoined that the mayor and jurats should attend all foreign ambassadors, and other illustrious visiters who landed at the place, and conduct them in their barges to London; or, if they preferred proceeding by land, escort them to Blackheath. By the act of the 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76, the corporation now consists of a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 18 councillors, and the borough is divided into two wards; the mayor and late mayor are justices of the peace, and the total number of magistrates is eight. The corporation hold a court of record, under the charter of Charles, every third Tuesday, for the recovery of debts to any amount, the mayor and three of the aldermen presiding; and petty-sessions are held three times a week. The powers of the county debt-court of Gravesend, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Gravesend, and part of the districts of North Aylesford and Orsett. The corporation of London, as conservators of the rivers Thames and Medway, hold courts for the county of Kent twice in the year. The town-hall, rebuilt by the corporation in 1836, is a handsome edifice, supported on four columns in front, and having underneath it, and at the back, a spacious and convenient market.

The rural district of the parish comprises by computation 496 acres, of which about 300 are arable, 100 pasture, and 80 garden-ground. The living is a rectory, valued in the king's books at £15, and in the patronage of the Crown: the tithes have been commuted for £284. 10. 6., and the glebe comprises 22 acres. The church, built under an act passed in the 4th of George II., by which the sum of £5000 was granted to defray the expense, is a neat and spacious structure of brick, with quoins and cornices of stone. A proprietary chapel for Gravesend and Milton, erected at a cost of £7500, was completed in 1834; it is dedicated to St. John, and is a handsome edifice of grey brick. There are places of worship for Independents and Wesleyans; and a cemetery has been formed by a company, under an act of the 1st of Victoria, for the convenience of all denominations, at a short distance from the town: it comprises six acres of land ornamentally laid out, and substantially walled in, with catacombs, chapels, a board-room for the directors, and other buildings. The free school was founded by the corporation, and in 1703 Mr. David Varchell, one of the body, endowed it with tenements producing at present about £70 per annum: the endowment, in 1710, was augmented by Mr. James Fry, with a rent-charge of £14. 10. On the enlargement of the market-place, provision was made for the erection of a more commodious free school, which was completed in 1835, and is now united with a national school. The almshouses of the charity estate of Henry Pinnock and James Fry, also, have been rebuilt in the Elizabethan style, corresponding with the free school opposite, by aid of the Commissioners of Pavements, and by subscription. The poor law union of Gravesend and Milton is limited to these two parishes, and is superintended by eight guardians.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.