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A survey completed in 1565-6 records that during the reign of Elizabeth I, Dartford comprised 182 inhabited houses, and four quays or landing-places accommodating seven boats. Dartford’s population at this time would have comprised less than 1,000 people.

Hasted, the Kent historian, writing in the 18th century, reported that in the second half of the 18th century, Dartford’s population comprised 2,500 inhabitants living in approximately 400 houses. Thus, over almost three centuries, Dartford’s population only increased by 150%

Even as late as 1800, Dartford was a small market town restricted to a small geographical area. Hasted described the town as "handsome and wealthy with several good inns".


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Dartford’s economic base altered very little during the period 1500-1800 other than the introduction of a number of industries which included paper-making, brewing, the manufacture of gunpowder, iron-slitting, smelting and textiles. As in medieval times, Dartford was still principally an agricultural community dependent on its markets for prosperity and economic success.

Market gardening and agriculture were carried out close to the town centre. The former site of Dartford Priory was used for growing what were claimed to be the best artichokes in England (known everywhere as the ‘Dartford Artichoke’). Fruit orchards surrounded the main area of settlement. It is recorded that in 1690 Mr. George Rogers owned a ‘cherrie ground’ in Dartford. In 1660, Sir Nicholas Crispe introduced the culture of madder (a root used in dyeing cloth red or violet), said to be "...equal to any grown in the Kingdom". A number of old well-established farms continued to operate close to the town. Natural resources on Dartford Brent and Dartford Heath were exploited by local people. Cottagers from Dartford cut gorse on the Brent for firing their ovens. The gorse was cut by women and children, tied into bundles, and dragged home on hurdles. Dartford Brent was used as a sheep-walk in the summer months; local marshland was used for grazing. Hasted records that turnips were grown in the hilly parts of Dartford.


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Market House

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Dartford’s market was still regarded as one of the most important markets for agricultural produce in Kent. The old Dartford market cross was demolished in 1576 and a new purpose-built market house constructed on the site. The timber-framed Market House was sited in a prominent and somewhat inconvenient position in the middle of Dartford High Street. This Elizabethan structure was supported by pillars. Space below the Market House was usually filled with sacks of corn on market days. A bell-metal corn-measure known as a ‘Winchester bushel’, provided by the lord of the manor of Dartford, was chained to one of the Market House pillars and used to measure our quantities of corn. Part of the area beneath the Market House was used for the sale of butter.



Market House document

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In 1769 it was decided that the Market House proved too great an obstacle to the many carts and stage-coaches that now passed through the town each day. A new market house was constructed by public subscription on a site close to the High Street.

Dartford’s displaced corn traders eventually found themselves a home in the courtyard of the old Bull Hotel. The courtyard was specially enclosed for the purpose. Dartford’s Corn Market was open on Saturday afternoons, trading taking place between 3 and 5.30 p.m. Stands in the covered Corn Market were let out at one guinea a year.

Dartford’s Saturday market continued to be popular with townspeople but experienced hard times at the end of the eighteenth century because very few traders continued to bring goods and produce into town from the outlying villages. Eventually, the person who rented the market tolls from the lord of the manor managed to persuade a group of London traders to bring their goods and produce down to Dartford each week and thus revived the market. In due course, the popularity of the town market grew so much that stalls had to be erected in the High Street, causing an obstruction to both traffic and pedestrians.


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Modest efforts were made in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to improve the environment for people living in Dartford. In 1642-3 an almshouse which stood on or close to the town bridge was practically re-built. Old cobble paving was removed from the High Street and replaced by a gravel road with a handsome pavement of curbed stones on each side. The churchyard around Holy Trinity church had fallen into a state of disrepair, so the land was used "...to make the road more commodious for passengers". Street lighting is recorded as having been introduced in Dartford as early as 1771 when a public lamp was set-up outside Holy Trinity church. Street lighting was extended to parts of the High Street in 1782. Lowfield Street was also illuminated in 1786.

Half-hearted attempts were made to maintain the existence and quality of the town’s water supply. In 1713, the course of Dartford’s second river - the Cranpit - was diverted by John Twisleton. He dammed the stream to provide a water supply for his Dartford mansion house - Horsman’s Place. Dartford’s parish vestry accused him of "...planking, boarding and piling the Cramford; and thereby preventing its running down the said street (Lowfield), according to its antient course, and benefit of the Queen’s highway". The vestry ordered the surveyors of the highway to remove the obstruction and seek compensation from Twisleton.

In 1756 Robert Saxby was fined 40 shillings for polluting the Cranpit with soil from the local lime-pits. Six years later, Thomas Glover was prosecuted for killing calves in the  in the High Street, thereby polluting the Cranpit. Slaughter houses in central Dartford were sometimes prosecuted for polluting the Cranpit and the Darent with offal and blood.

Environmental improvements included the planting of lime trees around the churchyard and elsewhere. Lime trees were reputedly first introduced to Britain by Sir John Spilman who established Britain’s first commercially successful paper mill at Dartford.

Flooding was a real problem in eighteenth century Dartford. Floods which occurred in 1766 were particularly bad. Holy Trinity church and local houses were submerged under more than a foot of water. A clay seal was applied to the door of Holy Trinity church in 1795 in an attempt to keep out flood water.


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Dartford attracted a number of rich families who set up home in the town in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, among these families were the D’Aeths, Vaughans, Tookes, Beers and Twisletons

The D’Aeth family’s links with the town can be traced back to the beginning of Edward VI’s reign, when William D’Aeth, Attorney of the Common Pleas at Westminster, acquired the manor of Charles in Dartford. Early in the reign of Elizabeth I he built a new manor house (demolished c.1814) in Dartford High Street. D’Aeth was one of the founders of Dartford Grammar School. He died on 1 March 1591 and was buried at Holy Trinity church. William Vaughan, another founder of Dartford Grammar School and benefactor of the poor, was one of the Gentlemen of the Wardrobe to Henry VIII. Vaughan obtained a grant of the Dartford manor of Bignores in 1536.



Twistleton Almshouses sign

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John Beer or Byer rebuilt Horsman’s Place in the sixteenth century. Under the terms of his will in 1572, he founded nine almshouses in Lowfield Street for use by the poor.

In Holy Trinity church there is a memorial commemorating Nicholas Tooke and his three wives. Tooke was Lord of the Manor of Charles in Dartford. He was known for his generosity and his benefactions to the poor of Dartford. Tooke died on 22 December 1672 at the age of 90.

The Twisletons were also leading gentry family of Dartford who played a philanthropic role in the local community. In 1704, John Twisleton re-built Horsman’s Place and constructed the town’s Spital Almshouses.


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With the decline in the role of the Church, it became common for ordinary lay-people to make donations and benefactions aimed at improving conditions for the sick, poor, and unemployed. Some local philanthropists paid for the building of almshouses for the poor, others donated land or property, the income from which could be used to buy food or clothing for the deserving poor of the parish.In 1523, William Reynolds and William Harrison left a capital sum, the interest from which was to be used to buy bread for distribution to the poor every Sunday in the year. Thomas Auditor (alias Barnard), by his will of 15 April 1536, gave land and a sum of three shillings to buy peas for the poor. The peas were distributed to the poor during the first week of Lent "for ever".

Jerome Warram and Mrs. Catherine Bamme gave money and land in the 1570s for the benefit of the poor. Some bequests were quite specific. For example, the Rev. Charles Chambres left a sum of money, the interest from which was to be distributed by the vicar of Dartford on Christmas Day morning each year. It was specified that twenty out of the twenty-four recipients should be widows.

Wills make interesting reading. They demonstrate contemporary attitudes towards wealth, philanthropy, religion and kinship.


Document 1: Click the link below to view the document

The will and last testament of William Kingham of Dartford, yeoman.


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A Dartford lease of 1720 provides details of some of the different crafts, trades and professions represented in the early 18th century town. The following are listed:-

Tobacconist Brewer Barber-surgeon Carpenter
Paper-maker Wharfinger Miller Glazier
Collar-maker Apothecary Salesman Surgeon
Baker Innkeeper Tallow-chandler Gardener


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Local court records demonstrate the range of crimes the Dartford area faced in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including burglary, highway robbery, assault and even murder. The following cases illustrate some of the offences committed and in some cases the punishments imposed by local courts.


Document 2: Click the link below to view the document

An abstract of criminal cases tried at the Dartford assizes in the sixteenth century.


Next topic: Industry


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