The history of Dartford

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Dartford High Street in the Mid Nineteenth Century

(c. 1840-70)

Dartford in the mid nineteenth century was a growing town, with several fledgling industries. It was prosperous, based on coaching and its market. In 1849, the railway came to Dartford, increasing its economic impact. Its appearance was varied, with a range of Elizabethan, Georgian and Victorian buildings.

1851 Census

The census was a record of everyone living in Dartford on 31 March. This source is good as it provides mainly factual information, and it provides good information on the function of Dartford. As the government backed the census, people were less likely to lie, though the census was confidential: the information was inaccessible until 1951. The census shows that the main areas of employment were Shopkeepers, Tradesmen, Transport, Inns, Agriculture and Craftsmen. This tells us that, as 30% of people recorded were Shopkeepers and Tradesmen, shops dominated the high street.

However, the census doesn't explain any high street appearances. Additionally, some living in Dartford wouldn't have been recorded due to travel. Furthermore, errors may have been made when officials misheard.

Dunkin's History of Dartford, 1844

The fact that Dunkin was a local man and a part-time historian gives this source some reliability, as well as the fact that he mentions several specific places and streets, such as the Bull and Victoria Hotel - also confirming that it was an inn. However, he may be exaggerating: use of words such as "very respectable", "excellent establishment", "noble appearance" and "abounding with handsome shops" shows the town in a good light - too good. When we consider the audience of the book, we can see that the book may have been aimed at upper class citizens, who would take any insult to their town badly. The book was also written in 1844 - before the introduction of the railway to Dartford. This shows that Dunkin would not have known about the impact this would have.

Existing buildings of Dartford

This source contains quite reliable information about the appearance of the high street when it is there, but since many buildings have changed since the mind nineteenth century, the information is often quite hard to find - Bulls Head Yard has been completely repainted, and parts have been bricked up, whilst the Bull and Victoria Hotel had the entrance refaced. A building that has nearly retained its original appearance is the Ellenor Hospice/Wat Tyler Inn building, which we can tell is Elizabethan. Additionally, the function isn't always evident, although some can be deduced from their outward appearance - the Bull and Victoria Hotel was a coaching inn, whilst Bulls Head Yard was probably a storehouse of some kind. Also, the Boots shop used to be an inn by the name of the Bull and George, though it has changed now. However, some buildings along the high street weren't there in the nineteenth century, such as Iceland, which was clearly a more modern building due to its steel and glass construction. Some of these buildings clearly existed in the 1840s, as they are mentioned in Dunkin's History of Dartford, such as the Bull and Victoria Hotel. Unfortunately, all of the buildings cannot be accurately dated, as their appearance has been changed, such as Bulls Head Yard.

Public Health Report - 1849

This extract from a public health report, conducted by the government, is mainly factual, and shouldn't be biased - it is an official enquiry. It concentrates on the working class and their environment, such as "Clark's Alley", which had one "privy for all the houses". It contains some aspects of the appearance of Dartford High Street, and these are mainly focused on how dirty everything is. It generally doesn't mention any function of the street, apart from mentioning that the Prince of Wales is a "beer-house". However, this source isn't the whole report, only an extract of it, so we can't be sure whether the scenes in the source are typical. Additionally, the appearance doesn't include many architectural points, unlike the existing buildings, and the extract doesn't go into detail on the main street itself, but more on lanes just off the street. Also, the report may be overly harsh on Dartford to try to get something done about the problems. Moreover, it was written in the year following the 1848 Public Health Act, so this probably influences the report's harshness. This source is contradicted by Dunkin's source, which describes the town as having a "noble appearance", and the engraving, which seems to contradict the filth described in the report, though this may be bias.

Engraving of Dartford High Street

This source, c1860, is pictorial, and has lot of detail within it. It confirms some existing buildings, as the Bull and George can be seen on the right of the engraving. Additionally, it shows that Dartford High Street was paved, and had gas lamps, showing prosperity. This source is very good for showing appearance, and shows a range of construction times for buildings - mainly Victorian on the right, with Elizabethan buildings on the left, and some of Georgian construction further down the street. It also shows some functions, as there are many shops on the street - this agrees with the data from the census. However, the motive - to sell the engraving - probably influenced the artist, as his audience didn't want to buy an ugly picture, but something quaint or picturesque. Although we do not know who the artist is, and the street appears to have been cleaned up - in contrast to Ranger's Report - the source is still quite accurate as several buildings can be identified, such as the Bull and George and the church.