The Dover Road by Charles G. Harper
Pursuant to the will of John Huggens born 1776
Electric tramcars now rush and rattle through Northfleet and Rosherville, and no one contemplates journeying to these scenes with the object of spending a "happy day." The great group of semi-ecclesiastical looking buildings on the left is "Huggens' College." Almshouses continue to be built, for the fountain of benevolence is not yet dried up. It was in 1847 that this foundation came into existence, pursuant to the will of John Huggens (born 1776), who was a barge-owner and corn-merchant of Sittingbourne. Looking upon a world rather astonishingly full of almshouses for people of humble birth, he conceived the somewhat original idea of founding what, with extreme delicacy, he termed a "College" for gentlemen reduced to poor circumstances. The establishment, strictly secluded behind enclosing walls, in well-wooded grounds, houses fifty collegians. Huggens himself, in stony effigy, is seen over the gateway, seated in a frockcoat and an uncomfortable attitude, and displaying a scroll or the charter of his "College." The bountiful gentleman is sadly weatherworn, for the factory fumes of this industrial district have wrought havoc with the Portland stone from which he is sculptured. Huggens was wise among the generation of benefactors: he founded his charity in his own lifetime, and personally supervised it. He died in 1865, and his body lies
We will now proceed to Gravesend, noting that in 1787 the slip road between the "Leather Bottle" at Northfleet and the beginnings of Chalk, two miles in length, was made. It would, in the language of to-day, applied to incandescent gas-mantle burners and to avoiding roads alike, be called a "by-pass."
Gravesend was at one time a place remarkable alike for its tilt-boats and its waterside taverns. The one involved the other, for the boats brought travellers here from London, and here, in the days of bad roads and worse conveyances, they judged it prudent to stay overnight, commencing their journey to Rochester the following morning. To the town of Gravesend belonged the monopoly of conveying passengers to and from London by water, and it was not until steamboats began to ply up and down the reaches of the Thames that this privilege became obsolete. Thus it will be seen that, besides being a place of call for ships, either outward bound or proceeding home, Gravesend was in receipt of much local traffic. The railway has, naturally, taken away a large proportion of this, but has brought it back, tenfold, in the shape of holiday trippers, and the continued growth of the town is sufficient evidence of its prosperity. One first hears of Gravesend in the pages of Domesday Book, where it is called "Gravesham"; but the difficulty of distinctly pronouncing the name led, centuries ago, to the corrupted termination of "end" being adopted, first in speech, and, by insensible degrees, in writing. It has an interesting history, commencing from the time when the compilers of Domesday Book found only a "hyhte," or landing-place, here, and progressing through the centuries with records of growth, and burnings by the French; with tales of Cabot's sailing hence in 1553, followed by Frobisher in 1576, to the incorporation of the town in 1568, and the flight of James the Second, a hundred and twenty years later.
Gravesend was not, in the sixteenth century, a model town. Its inhabitants paved, lighted, and cleansed their streets, accordingly as individual preferences, industry, or laziness dictated. Spouts, pipes, and projecting eaves poured dirty water on pedestrians who were rash enough to walk those streets in rainy weather, and people threw away out of window anything they wished to get rid of, quite regardless of who might be passing underneath; and so, whether fine or wet, those who picked their way carefully along the unpaved thoroughfares, stood an excellent chance of being drenched with something unpleasant. An open gutter ran down the middle of the street, full of rotting refuse; every tradesman hung out signs which sometimes fell down and killed people, and in the night, when the wind blew strong, a concert of squeaking music filled, with sounds not the most pleasant, the ears of people who wanted to go to sleep.