Dartford Church, Kent

Dartford’s Holy Trinity Church is one of the few buildings of any age remaining in the town centre which suffered at the hands of post-War developers and subsequently has become tainted by the nearby Dartford Crossing and Bluewater shopping centre, leaving it as a forgotten and slightly uninviting place.

The church was begun on the orders of Bishop Gundulf of Rochester around 1080. It is thought an earlier church stood here, over looking the crossing of the Darenth River, where once a hermit would conduct travellers across the river – presumably it was once more impressive than it is today!

Dartford prospered because of its position on the pilgrimage trail from London to Canterbury and during the 13th Century the church was enlarged to accommodate a chapel for pilgrims. Further extensions happened in the reigns of Edwards I and II and in 1470 a new peel of bells was hung in the recently heightened tower.

Strangely, before the Reformation, Dartford Church had no seats and the congregation had to stand to attend service. However, during the 15th Century the church continued to prosper until, that is, Henry VIII changed England to the protestant faith and pilgrimages to Canterbury were discontinued. The altar to Thomas Becket was removed and the pilgrim trade came to an abrupt end. One of the last great works of the medieval period was a fresco of St. George and the dragon added around 1485 and still visible today.

Dartford then entered a period of decline which did not halt until the arrival of the railways in the 19th Century. This was, presumably, when Holy Trinity Church was heavily restored by the Victorians as the church today looks more Victorian than medieval, although the tower is a giveaway. Sadly, later town planners have stranded the Church at the end of the High Street, cutting it off from its own graveyard and making it feel isolated amongst concrete and tarmac.

Richard Trevithick, the famous Victorian engineer, died in Dartford and is buried in the graveyard at St. Edmund’s Pleasance which is on the summit of nearby East Hill. There is a derogatory rhyme in connection with the odd placement of the graveyard:

“Dirty Dartford, Stinking People, bury their dead above the steeple”.

The church, as it happens, never had a steeple but the rhyme seems to have stuck. Today, Holy Trinity Church is one of the few reminders of Dartford’s great days as one of the key stops of the Pilgrimage route.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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