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Gravesend heritage: The Thames and Gravesend

PUBLISHED: 18:00 12 May 2014

The Pamir, a 3,200 ton barque, is towed up to Gravesend as dusk falls on the Thames. Picture: PA

The Pamir, a 3,200 ton barque, is towed up to Gravesend as dusk falls on the Thames. Picture: PA

PA Archive/Press Association Images

The Thames has long been an important feature in Gravesend life and may well have been the deciding factor for the first settlement there.

One of the town’s first distinctions was in being given the sole right to transport passengers to and from London by water in the late 14th century. The “Tilt Boat” was a familiar sight on the river.

The first steamboat plied its trade between Gravesend and London in the early 19th century, bringing with it a steadily increasing number of visitors to The Terrace Pier Gardens, Windmill Hill, Springhead Gardens and Rosherville Gardens. Gravesend soon became one of the first English resort towns and thrived from an early tourist trade.

Gravesend “watermen” were often in a family trade; and the town is the headquarters of the Port of London Authority Port Control Centre (formerly known as Thames Navigation Service), supplying both river and sea pilots. Today radar plays an important part in the movement of shipping on the river.

Gravesend also has one of the oldest regattas in England again showing its strong links to the river. Although the origins of the regatta are shrouded in mystery it dates back to at least Tudor times. The races are traditionally done with Gravesend Skiffs, 21-foot-long oak-built clinker-built boats.

For some years after the war steamer excursions were run on the MV Royal Daffodil down the Thames from Gravesend to France, but they ceased in 1966. Cruises are now operated by the Lower Thames and Medway Passenger Boat Company up the river to Greenwich.

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