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Swanscombe

Swanscombe is a small town, part of the Borough of Dartford on the north Kent coast in England. It is part of the civil parish of Swanscombe and Greenhithe.

History

Prehistory

Bone fragments and tools, representing the earliest humans known to have lived in England, have been found from 1935 onwards at the Barnfield Pit about 2 km outside the village. This site is now the Swanscombe Heritage Park. Swanscombe Man (now thought to be female) was a late Homo erectus or an early Archaic Homo sapiens. The c. 400,000 year-old skull fragments are kept at the Natural History Museum in London with a replica on display at the Dartford Museum. Lower levels of the Barnfield Pit yielded evidence of an even earlier, more primitive human, dubbed Clactonian Man.

Nearby digs on land for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link revealed a c. 400,000 year old site with human tools and the remains of a Straight-tusked Elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus), and evidence of water vole, pine vole, newts, frogs etc., indicating a site with standing water. (See below for discovery details).

Viking era

During archaeological work undertaken at Ebbsfleet, before construction of High Speed 1, an Anglo-Saxon mill and a Roman villa were found near Swanscombe.

From Crayford to the Isle of Thanet, the Danes occupied the land and terrorised the Saxon inhabitants, giving rise to the appearance of Deneholes, of which many have survived to this day. These were wells, cut deep into the chalk landscape, thought to be for concealing people and goods. They have a simple vertical shaft with short tunnels bearing horizontally from the base.

The Vikings settled throughout the winter along the Thames estuary with their ships, and established camps in Kent and Essex. In surveying the distribution of the many deneholes along the Thames corridor it would appear that Essex, on the northern shore of the Thames, sustained a greater influx of Vikings than did Kent, there being considerably more recorded deneholes in Essex, particularly around Orsett and Grays - see Hangmans Wood.

Archaeological digs and centuries of tilling have revealed a Danish castle and settlement, with pottery, anchors, weapons and some ships' timbers. The settlement was later variously called Suinescamp (in the Domesday Book), Sweinscamp and Swanscamp, the name deriving from the Viking king Sweyn Forkbeard, who landed in East Anglia, and became King of England in 1013. Father of Canute, Sweyn died at Gainsborough on the Trent in 1014. Canute (Cnut) died in 1035 his sons were unable to hold on to his empire, he was king of England, Scotland, Norway and Denmark.

Other research suggests that deneholes might have been dug as a method of extracting chalk for use on the fields above, or the mining may have been a by-product of defence. In any case, the practice reached a peak around the 13th – 14th centuries, long after the Viking raids had ceased.

Norman Conquest

In 1066 Swanscombe locals massed an army in defiance of William I, and so won the right to continue their ancient privileges, including the tradition of passing inheritance by gavelkind. The men of Kent met William near Swanscombe, where the Saxons concealed their number with branches, thus intimidating the Norman army. They were offered a truce that left Kent as the only region in England which William did not conquer, and leaving William known as William the Bastard (never conqueror) in this area of England alone. Kent County Council have inherited the motto Invicta, meaning unconquered.

Churches

Richard Norman Shaw (commonly known as Norman Shaw) built a church at Swanscombe for the workers of the cement industry, and it survives as a rare example of his design.

The flint-built parish church of St Peter and Saint Paul, partially Saxon, had a spire on its tower until 1902, when the church was struck by lightning causing extensive damage. The parish register dates from 1559.

Second World War

Just after 8 O'clock on the evening of Sunday 10 November 1940 a German bomb crashed down directly into The Morning Star Inn, causing in a single explosion, Swanscombe's worst wartime disaster. All that was left of the after the explosion, where the pub had stood was a "heap of bricks and twisted rafters"¹ surrounding the smoldering pit that had been the cellar, although the staircase leading to the clubroom upstairs extended up out of the wreckage. Distressed families of those known to be in the pub at the time gathered at the streets corners awaiting news of the casualties as bodies were gradually recovered from the ruins.

The official casualty lists revealed the death toll to be 27, with six others seriously injured with five people slightly hurt.

"The landlord was amongst the dead, although his wife and Son survived. The barmaid who was killed had given notice the week before the raid but had stayed on that evening because of the match. One of the other victims was a merchant seaman on seven days' leave who had spent two days travelling from Scotland to see his wife and children and was having a drink with his father in the pub at the time of the bombing: both were killed."¹

On 30 July 1940 another, attack by the Luftwaffe led to the death of over a dozen civilians, with 22 others seriously injured. Its proximity to London and position under the German flight path to the city meant that Swanscombe fell victim to this kind of damage several times during the war.

¹ Andrew Rootes (1980) "Front Line County". On 30 July 1944 a V1 rocket landed on Taunton Rd. Half of one side of road was wiped out. 13 were killed and 22 seriously injured.I was evacuated 2 days before with my Mother and elder Brother,my Father survived under the kitchen table. "Gravesend Reporter" Aug. 6th 1944 "Front Line County" Andrew Rootes (1980) Page 157.

Cement industry

The southeast of England has abundant resources of clay and chalk. The first mining activity known in the area was for flint, a rock commonly found across the North and South Downs and in the Weald. This was used for tools.

Swanscombe was important in the early history of cement. The first cement manufacturing works near Swanscombe were opened at Northfleet by James Parker, around 1792, making "Roman cement" from cement stone brought from the Isle of Sheppey. James Frost opened a works at Swanscombe in 1825, using chalk from Galley Hill, having patented a new cement called British Cement. The Swanscombe plant was subsequently acquired by John Bazley White & Co, which became the largest component of Blue Circle Industries when it formed in 1900. It finally shut down in 1990. Between 1840 and 1930 it was the largest cement plant in Britain. By 1882 several cement manufacturers were operating across the north Kent region, but the resulting dust pollution drove the people of Swanscombe to take legal action against the local cement works. Despite various technological innovations, the problem persisted into the 1950s, with telegraph lines over an inch thick in white dust. Modern cement kilns in Kent using chimneys 170 m (550 feet) in height are now said to be the cleanest in the world. However, the neighbouring Medway towns are reported to be the most polluted inhabited area in the UK, and the cement industry contributes to acid rain in Scandinavia.

Blue Circle

The Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers (APCM), later known as Blue Circle Industries, came to the area in 1900 and by 1920 owned four local factories located at Swanscombe, Northfleet, Greenhithe and Stone.

By 1970 the North Kent cement industry had evolved to become the largest centre for the production of cement in Europe, supporting a long tradition of research and development to perfect the processes used in the manufacture of chalk-based products. Since then the industry has declined considerably due to the potential for more economic manufacture elsewhere, and currently (2007) only two operational kilns remain, both at Nothfleet.

Bluewater shopping complex

One of the large quarries created as a legacy of the cement industry, between Watling Street and the village of Stone, is the site of the Bluewater shopping complex, one of the largest such centres in Europe. [2004] It has been announced that an adjacent quarry is to be given up for housing – more than 700 houses will be built there.

Palaeoloxodon antiquus

The skeleton of an ancient species of elephant has been preserved in the sediment near what was once the edge of a small lake. The skeleton was surrounded by flint tools. Only a few elephant skeletons have been found in Britain. The Swanscombe example was discovered by geologist Dr Peter Allen and has since been identified by the Natural History Museum as the straight-tusked Palaeoloxodon antiquus, which became extinct over 100,000 years ago.

Cricket club

There is one cricket club with its home in Swanscombe, Swanscombe and Greenhithe CC. Its home ground is at Broomfield Park. The club dates back to 1880.

Demography

Swanscombe compared
2001 UK Census Swanscombe Dartford District England
Total population 6,418 85,911 49,138,831
Foreign born 3.4% 5.8% 9.2%
White 96.6% 94.5% 90.9%
Asian 1.2% 3.2% 4.6%
Black 0.8% 0.9% 2.3%
Christian 72.7% 73.3% 72%
Muslim 0.2% 0.7% 3.1%
Hindu 0.3% 0.8% 1.1%
No religion 17.3% 15.1% 15%
Unemployed 3.8% 2.5% 3.3%
As of the 2001 UK census, the Swanscombe electoral ward had a population of 6,418.

The ethnicity was 96.6% white, 1.1% mixed race, 1.2% Asian, 0.8% black and 0.3% other. The place of birth of residents was 96.6% United Kingdom, 0.5% Republic of Ireland, 0.5% other Western European countries, and 2.4% elsewhere. Religion was recorded as 72.7% Christian, 0.3% Buddhist, 0.3% Hindu, 0.3% Sikh and 0.2% Muslim. 17.3% were recorded as having no religion, 0.2% had an alternative religion and 8.7% did not state their religion.

The economic activity of residents aged 16–74 was 46% in full-time employment, 11.9% in part-time employment, 6.5% self-employed, 3.8% unemployed, 1.4% students with jobs, 2.5% students without jobs, 11.1% retired, 8.7% looking after home or family, 5% permanently sick or disabled and 3.2% economically inactive for other reasons. Of the wards's residents aged 16–74, 7.7% had a higher education qualification or the equivalent, compared with 20% nationwide. The industry of employment of residents was 21.6% retail, 9.3% health and social work, 15.7% manufacturing, 10.5% construction, 10.4% real estate, 4.7% education, 8.6% transport and communications, 4.7% public administration, 3.7% hotels and restaurants, 4.4% finance, 0.7% agriculture and 5.7% other.

References

See also

External links

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