“Gravesend-on-Thames”: Time for a rebrand?

09:12 20 August 2012


Students from London South Bank University attended a meeting of the Urban Gravesham campaign group to discuss the future of the area from an urban planning perspective in July.

Within their presentation they suggested an idea that to some may sound absurd while to others may seem brilliant – to rename the town Gravesend-on-Thames.

Due to the obvious connotations of “Gravesend”, many outsiders confuse the etymology of the town’s name with graveyards. So would adding “on-Thames” be a way to boost Gravesend’s riverside location and attract more tourism and business? Surrey town Staines-upon-Thames, made famous by Sacha Baron Cohen’s character Ali G, added its suffix in May this year. The change was made to shake off the links to the spoof rapper and those involved said it was progressive, but many people criticised the rebranding as pretentious.

Here Gravesend man Philip Davies puts the case for the name change and a councillor from Staines reveals how it worked in his area.

Philip Davies, West Street, Gravesend.

I attended the students’ presentation and their thinking for this name change mirrors a view I have held since not long after moving from London to Gravesend in 1991.

I really love Gravesend with all its diversity and in particular its riverside heritage and ongoing relationship with the Thames; the new town pier as an example.

Probably because of the word “grave” in its name and past industrial connections Gravesend is perceived and judged by outsiders negatively and indeed by some residents as not a pleasant place to live.

I am a member of an international organisation helps people to travel throughout the world on a budget. I have hosted people from USA, Australia, Czech Republic, Latvia, Philippines and the UK to name but a few countries and they all genuinely love Gravesend. They love the riverside and its heritage and tell me how lucky I am to live in this town. However I am often told that the town name led them to think that this would not be an interesting town and they ask me if I can explain its origin. They all seem to think the name has something to do with graves, death, the plague of London and Pocahontas’s burial.

It is therefore my opinion that a name change to Gravesend-on-Thames would significantly improve the image of our town in the minds of outsiders and increase civic pride locally.

The Thames flows through the heart of Gravesend therefore I believe we should honour this great river and rebrand the town...Gravesend-on-Thames.

Colin Davis is a councillor at Spelthorne Borough Council and was one of the main voices behind the campaign to rebrand Staines.

“The trouble with Staines was everybody knew the name but nobody knew where it was. Staines is a beautiful, great, leafy riverside town with the Thames running through its centre but nobody knew. We wanted to become the great holiday centre we once were in Victorian England and the only thing stopping us was the name.

And it has worked. I’m now getting major enquiries from developers to finish the job with developments truly worthy of the town Staines-Upon-Thames actually is.

In the meantime other Thameside towns are coming up with the same idea and seem to be following us. I recently spoke to BBC radio about Abingdon which has changed its named to Abingdon-on-Thames. They abandoned the name 100 years ago and it turned really bad for them, so they are going back to it.

The Thames is international credential that you can’t buy. It is pure liquid history and we should celebrate it.

The name change was not easy to do. People have an understandable resistance to change but once we had gone round and talked to people ultimately the local population came out in favour.

We had a fantastic celebration and we have not looked back. Whether it will work elsewhere remains to be seen.


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