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Twentieth Century


The years between 1900 and the First World War saw a steady increase in the population of Dartford. By 1902 the town's population had reached 21,564. The Edwardian age marked a new stage in the growth in size and significance of towns like Dartford. With the introduction of a proper system of local government attempts were made by the newly elected town council to solve many of the long-standing problems inherited from Victorian times. The great industrial and technological innovations of the nineteenth century were put into practice as the council pressed for the introduction of electric street lighting and the installation of a tramway system. For much of this period, horse-drawn vehicles, trams and cars brought chaos to the streets unsuited to heavy traffic.

Over £2500 was spent on improvements to Hythe and Spital Streets. Public conveniences and drinking fountains were installed. The council proposed laying the roadway in the High Street with wood paving in an attempt to keep the road cleaner. Two mud carts were purchased to collect mud, refuse, and manure from local streets. A new fire station opened in Dartford in 1902 and a new fire engine purchased. Land was purchased for the opening of a new town cemetery. Street lighting was improved on West Hill, East Hill, and Lowfield Street.

In 1900 Dartford's Medical Officer of Health wrote "Of the inhabited dwellings in Dartford it may be said generally that the two extremes are seen of old, damp, defective cottages, and of an increasing number of well-constructed residential villas". Improvements in local sanitation were long overdue. In 1900, flushing toilets had been fitted in 466 Dartford houses. Gipsy vans were accused of being a potential source of danger to local inhabitants because of the lack of proper sanitation. Regular disinfection of the River Cranpit in Dartford did little to prevent the outbreak and spread of illness. The Cranpit was described as "dirty, rotten, stagnant and putrid...a receptacle for dead rats, cats and dogs". Waste from Dartford Brewery in Lowfield Street emptied straight into the river. The Stanham River was polluted by factories in Crayford.

Many people still lived in dirty slums where potentially fatal illnesses such as diphtheria and chicken-pox were common. In 1901 there was a great increase in the number of smallpox cases in Dartford spread by the workmen building a temporary smallpox hospital at Joyce Green. These workmen lodged in the town.

Crime was on the increase in the early years of the new century. Problems were experienced with loiterers on the town bridge spitting and using foul language. The council drew attention to 'the distracting noises and disorderly scenes in the main streets of our town on Sundays'. A formal request was made for more police officers to patrol the town.

Dartford's shops did well as mass-advertising and mass-marketing techniques encouraged ordinary working-class people to buy more. Consumer advertising was targeted at Dartford's middle classes who lived in West Dartford. Dartford's lower middle class grew as industry and commerce and the availability of white-collar jobs in London expanded.

Two problems were of particular concern to Dartford, high unemployment and the risk of flooding. A Distress Committee was formed to tackle unemployment. Jobs were found for 178 people during the harsh winter of 1907. There was extensive flooding in central Dartford in 1900 and on many occasions right through to 1968 when boats were rowed up the High Street. The great flood of 1900 was caused by snow melting rapidly higher up the Darent Valley. The following account paints a graphic picture of the damage and chaos caused as a result of the flood.

Document 5: Click the link below to view the document

Floods in Dartford, 1900


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