Walk Through History in Greenhithe and Stone

Chances are you’ll be heading to Bluewater at some point this January for a spot of bargain hunting (if you haven’t already overspent there at Christmas)! However, as anyone who’s explored its historic high street will know, Greenhithe and the surrounding area has a rich history steeped in shipping rather than shopping. Thanks to its naval heritage, this part of North Kent has played a vital role in both military training and international trading over the years. So, put those shopping bags down and let’s go for a walk through the history of Greenhithe and Stone…

Did You Know?
‘Hithe’ was old English for ‘landing place’ – hence, Greenhithe meant ‘green landing place.’

Set along the route of Roman road Watling Street, Greenhithe was a popular stopping off point for pilgrims heading to Canterbury and Dover. Neighbouring village, Stone, has Saxon roots, with its church St Mary the Virgin being built around 970. Mariners on the Thames apparently referred to it as the ‘lantern of Kent’ due to its high position and another landmark, Stone Castle, was originally built in the eleventh century, mainly from local flint.

The church owned much of Greenhithe, too, during the 14th century, when King Edward II gifted Ingress Estate to Dartford Priory nuns. The area at this time was mainly farmland, although it soon became clear that more precious (and more profitable) resources were lurking underground…

Great Excavations!
Which natural resources have been quarried in the Greenhithe area?
A) Flint
B) Chalk
C) Lime
Answer: All three! Flint, Chalk and lime have all been sourced locally and used in the brickmaking / building industries.

Greenhithe’s fortunes really improved in the 18th century, as river trading took off and its wharves opened from the early 1700s. Not only was chalk and lime in demand but corn and wood were also exported, with the High Street growing out of this boom in local trade. Even now, some properties still exist from this period, including the White Hart pub which dates from 1799.

‘Except as a yachting station, Greenhithe itself offers but little to notice.’ Charles Dickens 1880, Dictionary of the Thames.

Okay, so Dickens wasn’t terribly impressed – although many other visitors were, as Greenhithe became a tourist resort in the 19th century with its very own pier! The 1800s also marked a new era of military training in the area, as the Worcester committee was founded in 1861. Focused on increased trading opportunities alongside naval excellence, this led to the opening of the Thames Marine Officer Training School. Providing officers for the Royal and Merchant Navy, its legacy lives on today with a number of local roads having ‘Worcester’ in the title.

Residents of the Ingress Park Estate will be familiar with Ingress Abbey, originally built in a Tudor Gothic style and designed by the architect Charles Moreing. During the 1800s, a series of follies and grottoes were added (some of which remain today). The Abbey has had its fair share of colourful residents, as well as being commissioned as an Army hospital and Naval training facility. Rumour has it that the original ragstone walls were built from remnants of old London Bridge!

Did You Know?
The Cutty Sark was moored at Greenhithe during the 1930s before being moved to dry dock at Greenwich.

Although tourism and trading has declined along the Thames Estuary, Greenhithe continues to redevelop and reinvent itself in the 20th and 21st centuries. Alongside Ingress Park, house building has boomed (often controversially – Stone’s village no longer exists in its true sense and the much loved Stone Lodge Farm Park is a distant memory for the many local children who enjoyed school trips there). Then, of course, there’s Bluewater, which was opened in 1999 after an arduous ten year building project set against fifty-metre high chalk cliffs. There’s no denying it’s an impressive feat of architectural engineering – and has really put the area on the map. Maybe even Charles Dickens would be keen to stop and have a wander if he chanced upon Greenhithe now…

Clair Humphries is a freelance writer and Content Partner for Ordnance Survey.
Website: www.clairhumphries.com
Twitter: @clairhumphries
Instagram: clair_humphries

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