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THE RIVER DARENT AND ITS VILLAGES

 

 

May 2015

 

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).

Shoreham And District
Historical Society
Affiliated to
The Shoreham Society
The Kent History Federation and
The Kent Archaeological Society

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Last Updated

October 30, 2015

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Shoreham And District Historical Society