Where Pocahontas came to die

We had two chores to do this weekend, firstly, the usual one of shopping and, secondly, the more intermittent but equally pressing one of the laundry. Which should we do today, either, neither or both? It was a fine day, so we were keen to get off on a ramble somewhere.

A view from the bridge
A view from the bridge
At London Bridge, the cruise ship Fram from Narvik was paying a visit, moored to HMS Belfast

In the end, the shopping won. We trundled the trolley round to the Alpino for breakfast, and then set about ransacking Sainsbury for the things we like. At home, we put away the shopping, had a little rest while catching up on things going on online, and then…

“What about Gravesend?” said Tigger.

“Um…?”

“There’s some sort of festival on there. Have you been to Gravesend?”

“Erm… not knowingly.”

So we went to Gravesend, which is a town in the borough of Gravesham (concentrate: you’ll get the hang of it) on the south bank of the Thames. You’ll find a map here.

The beachcomber
The beachcomber
This hardy soul was beachcombing. Along the Thames, among the dead bicycles, old tyres and other city detritus, there are treasures to be found

Going to Gravesend involved getting a bus the London Bridge, and there taking a train to our destination, first checking that the dreaded weekend rail works were not interfering with travel.

New Road Town Arms
Bunting in New Road & Town Arms
New Road and other streets were decorated with patriotic bunting though we never discovered for certain why

We walked up the hill from Gravesend station and came to the pedestrianized New Road. It was decorated with bunting and the shops and cafes were open. In the absence of vehicles people could move about freely. I do wish towns provide more of these traffic-free areas. If there was indeed a festival taking place, we never found it.

Bank doorway
Bank doorway
This large bank building dated 1899 had a lot of elegant carving and mouldings

Not knowing Gravesend or what might be found there, we set off and followed our noses. A number of pretty things soon came to light such as this bank on a corner of King Street and another building (currently being refurbished), a gift of Andrew Carnegie in 1905.

Carnegie mermaid Carnegie mermaid
A handsome pair of mermaids
The Carnegie building (was it once the library?) was inaccessible behind a building works fence but this pair of graceful mermaids could be seen

We walked up Manor Road, hoping to find a cup of tea. We discovered more bunting but of a slightly different kind.

Paulines Manor Shades
Pauline’s Manor Shades
Where the heart of Gravesend beats (allegedly) and the tricolour flutters (visibly)

We were rewarded by finding a cafe called Snack Attack where we stopped off for refreshments.

Stopping off for tea
Stopping off for tea
I sometimes think these honest backstreet cafes are not appreciated for the service they provide

After tea we carried on into Harmer Road, passing a notable structure, which I shall come back to. I was intrigued to find a doorway with an escutcheon over it.

Decus et Tutamen
Decus et Tutamen
This is the coat of arms of Gravesend and the Latin motto is sometimes translated as “Glory and Defence” and sometimes otherwise

It turns out that the coat of arms you see next to the photo of New Road is that of Gravesham, the borough, while the coat of arms shown above is that of Gravesend, the town. (I said you should concentrate.) It shows a castle with, superimposed upon it a fire-breathing bull’s head resting on a crown. What would Freud make of that?

Queen Victoria's Jubilee Clock
Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Clock
As Jubilee clocks go, this one is impressive for its size alone:
Gravesend did Victoria proud

Returning to Milton Road, we find the notable structure that I mentioned above: an impressive clock tower in honour of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, dated 1887 in rather small digits below the clock face. This elegant structure not only tells the time but also chimes it on a set of bells donated, according to a bronze plate, by Alfred Tolhurst in 1891. For more information, see here.

Portrait alcoves
Portrait alcoves
As is usual in this kind of design, there are arched alcoves on all four
sides but only three contain royal profiles

As is to be expected, there is a likeness of Queen Victoria and, not unusually, one of King Edward VII, unveiled by him in 1912. What is less common is that there is also a profile of the present Queen, added in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the accession of Queen Victoria (1987).

Queen Victoria Edward VII Elizabeth II
Clock Tower Portraits
Three monarchs are represented, the third of which, that of Elizabeth II, was added only in 1987

Walking and exploring, we gravitated naturally towards water and open sky. At last, we came to this agreeable place.

Beside the water
Beside the water
Water, sky, ships and a beach: are we at the seaside?

This may at first sight look like the seaside but it is in fact the Thames. Opposite are the docks of Tilbury. The water seems vast until one of the heavy tankers or container ships comes by and makes it look small again.

A container ship passes
A container ship passes
and makes the channel seem small again

This is Riverside Park, a broad green space beside the river and on a day like today, a very pleasant place to be. There is a cafe and public toilets, everything you need to spend the day here, should you wish to do so. We spread a rug in the shade of a tree and ate a picnic lunch.

Swans
Swans
A flock of swans floated beside the bank, to the delight of children and adults, and obligingly ate the food thrown to them

After our picnic and our meeting with the swans, we moved away from the water, through the park where there is a pretty lake with fountains.

Lake with fountains
Lake with fountains
There were moorhens on the lake and, less happily, people fishing.

Pleasant as this place was, we now turned back towards the town to explore further.

Uncle Sam comes to Gravesend
Uncle Sam comes to Gravesend
We passed by Uncle Sam’s American Circus without stopping to enquire further. Is an American Circus different from the traditional kind?

We walked back into town by a different route, passing Uncle Sam’s American Circus, and, once more, the Jubilee Clock Tower. This time, however, we encountered another historic institution.

The Borough Market
The Borough Market
The Market was founded in 1268 by a charter from Henry III

The Borough Market was first founded in 1298 when Henry III issued a charter to Robert de la Parrock. It has continued since then, adapting and reorganizing as necessary. The current building dates from the 1890s and is incorporated into the old Town Hall.

Classical colonnade
Classical colonnade
This rather startling classical colonnade is the entrance to the relatively narrow passageway leading to the market and the old town hall

From the market, you pass along a fairly narrow passage and out through the above colonnade into the High Street, otherwise known as the Heritage Quarter.

High Street
High Street
Also known as the Heritage Quarter, this is a sloping street, closed to traffic, containing old shops

The High Street, closed to traffic, gives an impression of Gravesend in times past. During the day, it is probably busy with shoppers but at this time in the evening, the shops were closed and all was quiet, making it resemble a recreated street in a museum. It only needed a few people in Victorian costume to complete to scenario.

Three Daws
Three Daws
This pub in Pier Square is said to be 500 years old

The High Street leads down to Pier Square. These days it seems a quiet place but, according to an information board, it would once have been a very lively place where many of the town’s activities took place. Not least, a ducking stool was in operation here. The Three Daws pub stands where a waterside pub is said to have existed for 500 years. The pub’s history can be found here, provided you can read the olde worlde fonte.

The Town Pier
The Town Pier
The town pier is said to be the world’s oldest remaining cast iron Pier. I think that today it is entirely occupied by a restaurant and is no longer accessible to the public

From here we walked along the riverside path, giving views of the waterway and the ships on it. It also reminds one of how many different environments one encounters along the Thames.

Cross-river ferry port
Cross-river ferry port
This somewhat cluttered bridge and platform is the port for the cross-river ferry linking Gravesend with Tilbury

We watched the ferry come across from Tilbury and waited to see it depart again. The crossing probably takes only about ten minutes but in times past this link was vital to Gravesend and its economy.

Church of St George
Church of St George
A church has stood here since 1485 but the present building dates
from 1732, the original having been destroyed by fire

We turned inland again, and came to the parish church of St George. It has an unusual and attractive white top to the tower, which I suspect is an addition to the original plan. The church is for ever connected in the popular imagination to an historic – or perhaps, legendary – figure.

Pocohontas
Pocohontas
The legendary Pocahontas, having been presented at the court of
James I, died in 1617 as she was about to sail home and was
buried in the church

The church is the burial place of Pocahontas, whose somewhat romantic statue stands in the grounds. Her story is too long and involved to be told here and, in any case, there are many bitter disputes over the facts. To discover the truth (if that is possible at this late date) one must dig deep. Two somewhat conflicting accounts may be found here and here.

SilverTiger meets Pocahontas
SilverTiger meets Pocahontas
(No comment!)

The churchyard was quite a pleasant and peaceful place and we found we were sharing it with others, some human, some a lot smaller.

Ladybird larva
Ladybird larva
Among the creatures sharing the agreeable place with us were
ladybird larvae like this one

Beautiful as the day had been, evening was now coming on and the sun was declining. It was time to be thinking about returning to the station. We passed along cobbled Jury Street on the way.

Jury Street
Jury Street
A picturesque narrow cobbled street

I had not known what to expect when going to visit Gravesend so I was surprised by what I found. Our visit was short – just an afternoon – so we obviously could do no more than sample what it had to offer. I am sure we missed as much, or even more than, we saw. Gravesend revealed itself as a place of hidden depths and a character all its own.

 Face  Face
 Face  Face
Four faces
A set of successively more scary faces on a building

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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