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Medieval Period



Dartford would not have developed as a medieval market town had it not been for the fact that the settlement was sited at a communications crossroad where the main London to Kent Coast road met the fording-place over the River Darent. Roads were the arteries of medieval trade. The road guaranteed a steady stream of human and vehicular traffic passing through Dartford, bringing commercial prosperity to the town. The River Darent, navigable from Waterside to the mouth of Dartford Creek, gave boats direct access to the River Thames and all points beyond. The town wharves on the River Darent provided ideal facilities for the loading and unloading of goods. Surprisingly, Dartford’s economic links with the River Thames were fairly minimal. There was no fishing fleet based in or near Dartford, nor is there any evidence of ship building as a local economic activity.


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The traditional method of crossing the River Darent was by ferry. It is recorded that an anchorite or hermit was based in Dartford as early as 1235 to ferry passengers by boat across the River Darent. The river would have been a lot wider and deeper in medieval times, particularly when the river was in full flow. Even when a proper stone bridge was built, the hermit stayed in Dartford to collect alms for the pigrims and donations for the repair and upkeep of the town’s pedestrian bridge. In the reign of Edward III, rent of the passage of the River Darent was 13s.4d which was payable to the lord of the manor. The town hermit lived in a hermitage sited close to the river bank, adjacent to the bridge. The first recorded hermit was John Soderman (1438). The post of hermit survived until 1518. A small window in Holy Trinity church commemorates Dartford’s hermits. A ford across the River Darent was constructed at Dartford in Roman times. Slabs laid as a platform on the river bed enabled carts and horses to cross from one side of the river to the other with ease.



Medieval bridge, Central Park

Medieval bridge

The bridge over the River Darent was constructed some time during the reign of Henry IV (1399-1413). It was designed solely for the use of foot passengers. The bridge survived intact until the mid-eighteenth century. One of the arches from the old medieval bridge is displayed in Central Park, Dartford.



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