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Northfleet Hill and the cement plant chimneys
Grid reference: TQ6274
Location: 51°26’51"N, 0°19’29"E
Population: 13,300  (2005 est.)
Post town: Gravesend
Postcode: DA11
Dialling code: 01474
Local Government
Council: Gravesham

Northfleet is a town in Kent, on the coast of the Thames Estuary, in the lathe of Aylesford and the Toltingtrough Hundred of Kent.

Its name is derived from being on the northern reach of what was once called the River Fleet (today known as the Ebbsfleet) there is a village at the other end of the river named Southfleet.

This has been the site of a settlement on the shore of the River Thames adjacent to Gravesend since Roman times. It is recorded as Fleote c. AD 600, Flyote c. AD 900, and Flete c. AD 1000. It was recorded as Norfluet in the Domesday Book, and Northflet in 1201. By 1610 the name of Northfleet had become established.

A battle took place during the civil war at the Stonebridge over the Ebbsfleet river. Northfleet House was once the home of Mr. Sturges a local landowner, and later the headquarters of the local borough council.

Looking up Northfleet Hope from the Shore

Romans lived in the area now known as Springhead, which they called Vagniacae. A Roman road, which forms the basis of the A2 Watling Street, divides the area.[1]


Rosherville Gardens

In 1815 the first steamboat started plying between Gravesend, and London, an event which was to bring much prosperity to the area. The number of visitors steadily increased, and in the course of the next ten years several new and rival steam packets were started. The regular service given by the steam packets led entrepreneurs to establish amenities for the entertainment of visitors, one of which was Rosherville Gardens.

George Jones laid out the gardens in 1837 in one of the disused chalk pits, covering an area of 17 acres. Their full title was the 'Kent Zoological and Botanical Gardens Institution'. They occupied an area in what was to become Rosherville New Town (see below).

Robert Hiscock, in his A History of Gravesend (Phillimore, 1976) describes them thus:

They were a place of surpassing beauty and a favourite resort of Londoners. Adorned with small Greek temples and statuary set in the cliffs, there were terraces, and archery lawn, Bijou theatre, and Baronial Hall for refreshments, and at one time a lake. At night the gardens were illuminated with thousands of coloured lights and there were fireworks displays and dancing. Famous bands such as the American Sousa were engaged during the season. Blondin, the trapeze artist, performed … In 1857 as many as 20,000 visitors passed through the turnstiles in one week. By 1880 the gardens had reached the peak of their popularity … in 1901 they were closed. During a brief revival 1903-1911, they were used in the making of early films.

A pier was built to carry these crowds ashore, and a railway station opened on the Gravesend West branch railway. It was one of the steamboats from Rosherville Gardens that was involved in a horrific accident in 1878. The SS Princess Alice passenger steamer, after leaving Rosherville pier, was in a collision with the collier Bywell Castle, from Woolwich. 640 people died from the collision, 240 being children. An inquest was held at Woolwich, but no conclusive reason was ever established as to the cause of the disaster at the Devils Elbow on the Thames.

Rosherville New Town

New builds in Rosherville in 2008

Joseph Rosher gave his name to a building scheme which began with the building of new houses in 1830. A prospectus states that ' this spot will ultimate become to Gravesend what St Leonards is to Hastings and Broadstairs to Margate'. That grandiose scheme did not materialise in quite that way, but the area of Northfleet still bears that name.

Northfleet during the Second World War

On Friday, 16 August 1941 150 German aircraft flew through the Kent skies, to deal the worst blow to civilian life the county had experienced to that point in the war. With the formation splitting into groups to be variously challenged from Manston, Kenley, Hornchurch, Biggin Hill and Hawkinge airfields, a group of Dorniers made it to Northfleet a little after midday. They dropped about 106 bombs ranging from 50-250 kilos over the town. The bombs killed 29 people, injured 27, and badly damaged two schools.

Industry and commerce

Cement works on the Thames estuary

With its situation on a busy waterway such as the River Thames, at a point where higher land came close to the river, it was an obvious place for industry to be located. The river provided water supplies and the means whereby raw materials and products could be transported. The forests of the area provided timber for various aspects of most industries. It was an area famous for Gun Flint manufacturing as Flint is found in amongst the Chalk. Flint was also used as a local building material. Flint walls can still be found in the area. The Springhead/Ebbsfleet Valley area was used for the growing of Watercress much of which was supplied to the London market.


On the quay at Northfleet Cement Works

The Romans first began to dig chalk from the area, but the making of cement came later. The industry requires plentiful water supplies, and chalk as its main ingredient, both of which were to hand. When in 1796, James Parker set up kilns on Northfleet creek to make his Roman cement, it was the beginning of a large complex of cement works along this stretch of the river.[2] The manufacture of Portland cement began in April 1846 when William Aspdin, son of Joseph Aspdin, its inventor, acquired Parker's works and built new kilns.

Aspdin's works became Robins & Co in 1853, sold on to the Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers (Blue Circle Industries|APCM) in 1900, which was taken over by the Lafarge Group in 2001. By 1900, there were nine cement works operating on the Thames between Swanscombe and Gravesend. The last cement plant in Northfleet ceased operation in 2008.

Now under water, one of the largest chalk pits, known locally as Sawyers Lake, can be found between the A226 and the North Kent Railway line. It is about 200 yards south of the access tunnel to the old (now demolished) Lafarge cement plant, that runs under the North Kent / Channel Tunnel rail-link railway lines.


Northfleet is the location of a large Bowaters (later Bowater-Scott and Kimberly-Clark) paper mill built in 1923 and makes all of the main - line Andrex toilet tissue.[3]


Britannia Refined Metals (now part of the Xstrata group) has a refinery producing lead and silver.

Northfleet Dockyard

Northfleet was by 1800 the home of numerous shipyards which had produced many fine vessels, but the docks were in decline by 1843. One such yard was owned by Thomas Pitcher, a shipwright, laid out in 1788. A list of merchant vessels built at his yard included at least 25 ships for the East Indies and West Indies services, and about the same number for the Navy. There is a fine model of such a ship in St. Botolph's Church. The first was the |Royal Charlotte, an East Indiaman of 1252 tons burthen (Builder's Old Measurement), built for the Honourable East India Company.[4] In 1839 the company was in the hands of Pitcher's sons William and Henry. The yard finally closed in 1860.

Cable works


Another large employee of labour in Northfleet was the cable works. Originally Henley's, now AEI, they occupied the land originally once used by the Rosherville Gardens. The PLUTO pipeline used in WW2 was built here.

AEI Cables closed in 2005 and Henley moved in 2006. The Henley works as of 2010 is completely demolished, and currently an entirely empty site.


St Botolph's

The ancient parish church of Northfleet (dating from the 14th century, but with work from earlier periods) is dedicated to St Botolph. Its tower was built in 1717, after the original had fallen. The church contains a 14th-century carved oak screen, which is thought to be the oldest in Kent. Rosherville St Mark's Church is now part of the Team ministry with St. Botolph's church. The other active church in Northfleet is All Saints, Perry Street.

There a United Reformed Church (URC) on Dover Road in Northfleet. The Dover Road Chapel was opened on Wednesday the 20th of June 1850 as a Congregational Church. Northfleet URC is grouped with three other churches in the North Kent URC group. These are St Paul's URC, Singlewell Road, Gravesend; Hartley URC and Southfleet URC.

Culture and community

Rotary Club in Northfleet

The Rotary Club of Northfleet was founded in 1954 and chartered as the Rotary Club of Northfleet - Club No 793 in R.I.B.I. District 1120. The club originally had members from many local industries (cement, engineering, paper making etc.), but as these industries declined along the river front, so membership changed. The club used to meet at lunchtime for many years, but this changed to evening meetings a few years ago. Northfleet Rotary Club, like most Rotary clubs also voted to accept women into Rotary membership, which is by invitation.

The club's name was changed in 2005 to Northfleet with Ebbsfleet Rotary Club, to reflect the emerging growth of nearby Ebbsfleet area, with its developing infrastructure of Bluewater shopping complex, new High Speed Rail terminal at Ebbsfleet Station, and commercial and residential properties being developed as part of the wider development the Thames Gateway project.

Northfleet Urban Country Park

The park sits on the eastern side of Northfleet, on Thames Way opposite the new police station, bounded by Springhead Road & Vale Road. The site is 26 acres and provides a variety of wildlife habitats.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Northfleet)


  1. Jessup 1966, p. 16
  2. A J Francis, The Cement Industry 1796-1914: a History, David & Charles, 1977, ISBN 0-7153-7386-2
  3. "Bowater-Scott". Grace's Guide. Retrieved 2011-02-10. 
  4. Lewis (1831), Vol. 3, p.403.
  • Hiscock, Robert H (1796) A History of Gravesend, Phillimore. ISBN 0-85033-242-7
  • Lewis, Samuel (1831) A Topographical Dictionary of England: Comprising the Several Counties, Cities, Boroughs, Corporate and Market Towns, Parishes, Chapelries, and Townships, and the Islands of Guernsey, Jersey, and Man, with Historical and Statistical Descriptions; Illustrated by Maps of the Different Counties and Islands; a Map of England ... and a Plan of London and Its Environs ... :in Four Volumes. (Lewis)
  • Jessup, Frank W. (1966) Kent History Illustrated, Kent County Council. ISBN 0-900947-06-3