On 15 May Rod Shelton drew on research for his new
book Darent to trace the river and its history for the twenty-two
miles from Westerham to the Thames. Most unexpected, perhaps,
was the story of the development of Chipstead as a market for
fresh fish, brought in baskets on pack horses from Winchelsea
and Rye to be met in the village by London fish traders.
Even the Lord of the Manor was listed in one census as a fishmonger.
For a time the Rye road was also the main route to the south coast
for the King's post.
When the harbours silted up and the fishing industry dwindled
the fish trade was replaced by smuggling.
At Otford (the site of two medieval battles as well
as the Tudor palace) the river meanders through water meadows
before it runs straight at Shoreham.
This straight stretch, however, was not the original course of
the river but a cutting to provide the required drop in water
level for the Shoreham paper mill.
The original course is still there, now known as the manor drain,
alongside the King's Arms.
Passing over the familiar stories of Wesley, Samuel Palmer, and
Verney Lovett Cameron, Sheldon told of the turncoat Nicholas Heath,
vicar of Shoreham in 1539 and afterwards Archbishop of York and
Chancellor of England.
Outwardly a Protestant under Henry VIII, he became a Catholic
when Mary succeeded to the throne and was responsible for the
execution of many Protestants including Archbishop Cranmer, only
to turn Protestant again under Elizabeth, all the time keeping
his various titles and offices.
On past the sites of paper mills and Roman villas
the river reaches Dartford, where the Queen's jeweller Sir John
Spelman founded the first successful English paper mill in 1588.
It was converted to a gunpowder mill in 1732.
Dartford was the home to a number of pioneers of invention and
engineering: John Hall (marine beam engines, tinned food), Brian
Donkin (continuous wove paper), Richard Trevithick (the steam
locomotive), and other innovations in printing and pharmaceuticals.
Darent: the History and Stories of a River and its
Communities is enormously enjoyable and informative book, with
over a thousand colour photographs. It can be purchased at the
Otford Heritage Centre or the Sevenoaks Bookshop (£25).