Housing and trees in Bexley Road, Erith town centre
Erith shown within Greater London
|OS grid reference|
|- Charing Cross||13.3 mi (21.4 km) WNW|
|Ceremonial county||Greater London|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|UK Parliament||Erith & Thamesmead|
|Bexleyheath & Crayford|
|London Assembly||Bexley and Bromley|
Erith i// is a district of South East London within the London Borough of Bexley. It lies north east of Bexleyheath and north west of Dartford. Erith's town centre has undergone a series of modernisations and increase in dwellings since 1961. Its centre is of quite high density with a curved riverside high street that consists of one listed building and two others (its Church of England church and the Carnegie building). Otherwise its buildings are primarily suburban homes. Erith's railway station and its dual carriageway link it to Central London and Kent.
Work at the former British Gypsum site in Church Manorway by the Museum of London Archaeological Service shows that the area was covered by a dense forest of oak, yew, and alder during the Neolithic Period, which by the Bronze Age had given way in part to sedge fen.
Their work at the former site of Erith School in Belmont Road revealed the presence of prehistoric settlement, and of a substantial settlement or farmstead dating from the first century.
Following the collapse of Roman rule at the beginning of the 5th century, Britain was colonised by Anglo-Saxon invaders from northern Europe. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that they won the Battle of Crecganford (Crecganford is thought to be modern Crayford) in 457 and shortly after claimed the whole of Kent. Their different way of life was reflected in their pattern of settlement. The town and country estates of the Roman bureaucrats gave way to a network of villages, occupied by warriors and farmers. Erith was one of these villages, and has a Saxon name, thought to have been derived from a word meaning `muddy harbour' or `gravelly landing place'. There was probably a church on the site of the present St John the Baptist church during Roman times and almost certainly a Saxon building. The early settlement was based around this church, meaning that the centre of Erith was once west of its current location.
The earliest reference to the area is in a Latin charter of 695 recording a grant by the Bishop of the East Saxons of certain lands at Erith. In early times, the area may also have been known as Lesnes or Lessness. After the Norman Conquest in 1066, Erith passed into the possession of Bishop Odo and is mentioned in the Domesday Survey. In 1315, a Royal Charter was granted for a market to be held in Erith every Thursday. However, it was noted in 1776 that the market had long been discontinued.
Erith owes its existence to the Thames and was, until the 1850s, essentially a small riverside port, given prominence by King Henry VIII's decision to open a naval dockyard in the town. The position of the dockyard was approximately where the 'Riverside Gardens' are now. Henry's famous warship, Henri Grace à Dieu, was fitted out there in 1515. At that time, and until the 19th Century, Erith was a popular anchorage. Ships often discharged some cargo here before proceeding through the shallows upstream.
In 1797 Edward Hasted described Erith as 'consisting of one small street of houses, which leads to the water side', and mentions two annual fairs, on Ascension Day and Michaelmas Day. In 1831 Erith's population was 1533 people, and it was described (in 1840) as being 'composed chiefly of two streets, one leading down to the water side, the other branching off to the left towards the church'.
In 1849, Erith enjoyed a short time as a riverside resort. Its pier and nearby hotel gave hospitality for the many day-trippers who visited the town via the Thames pleasure boats or via the railway.
Engineering became an important industry around Erith, with armaments and cable production being the main supplies. Vickers was a major employer and was linked to the Royal Arsenal at nearby Woolwich. Another local firm, Callender's Cables(later British Insulated Callender's Cables), supplied the world with high-class cable and also laid an underwater pipeline across the English Channel (see Submarine communications cable). Fuel supplied through this pipeline was used by Allied vehicles during the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944.
The town was bombed heavily during the Second World War, mainly due its position both on the riverside and near to the Royal Arsenal. Because of the bomb damage during the war, and the gradual decline in local trade, there was a major redevelopment of the town in the 1960s.
- Intensification of development and demolition of poorer buildings
In 1961, plans were put forward by local planners to redevelop Erith into a modern, sleek shopping and working environment. This involved clearing the substandard housing by the riverside and altering the old street layout in order to accommodate more cars. Elements of the buildings erected, particularly the social housing tower blocks are of the brutalist form which typified the overspill estates adopted by almost all councils in England's major cities as taxpayer affordability was accommodated, in a compromise connected with the clearance of the slums (see also slum clearance).
In 1965, under the London Government Act 1963, the Erith Municipal Borough was abolished and its area transferred to Greater London to form part of the present-day London Borough of Bexley. The new boundary of the city went far beyond the original London postal districts. However, for efficiency reasons, the Royal Mail decided not to expand the London postal district. Therefore, Erith (along with the majority of Bexley Borough) adjoins the SE postcode area and continues to be serviced from Dartford, Kent, hence acquiring DA postal codes.
- Specific developments
Demolition of the old town started in 1966, when the Mayor of Bexley smashed Headley Mitchells shop window, and continued in phases until 1980, leaving few reminders of the old town centre (viz. Queens Church, The Cross Keys pub, the police station, the Carnegie Library and Christ Church). Christ Church with rare murals, is the highest-ranked listed building in Erith (Grade II*). Many of the original Victorian buildings were lost but some of the original townscape remains, from the White Hart in the High Street through to St John's Church in West Street.
Near the river promenade are two residential tower blocks, which were opened in the early 1970s, the Playhouse (begun in 1973), and two shopping centres (1969 and 1973). Recently, these shopping centres have been refaced and extended to provide new social housing and better quality shops to complement the Morrison's supermarket to the east of town, making central Erith safer and more attractive. The site formerly used for outdoor markets became a car park serving the improved pedestrianised centre.
In 1975-76, everything to the south of Pier Road was swept away for more modern housing and a straight dual carriageway, which forms an important divide and is directly alongside the railway.
In 1996, the two sites of Erith School, the East and West buildings, merged onto one site on Avenue Road. In 2005, the school was awarded Specialist Schools status by the government, recognising its excellence in PE, Maths, and ICT. A new sixth form block opened in 2007. Its Community Sports Centre is used during the evenings and weekends by a variety of teams.
Since the late 1990s Erith has been undergoing significant changes with the Erith Western Thames Gateway project being the culmination of a number of years of regeneration.
Since 2000 a significant number of new flats have been constructed by the river by private companies such as George Wimpey. It is expected that the Erith Western Gateway, which will include a significant number of new riverside flats, will continue to regenerate the area. The area under consideration in the Erith Western Gateway is a large, underused area of the town centre. Bexley Council is seeking to provide a mixed-use development with the potential for 6,000 square metres of new commercial space and over 500 new homes.
The London Borough of Bexley announced the selection of Crest Nicholson/Orbit South to take forward the Erith Western Gateway regeneration scheme. The timing and construction of the gateway is uncertain.
Erith Iron Works was established in 1864 in Anchor Bay by William Anderson. From 1881 Erith was home to a large cable works founded by William Callender. This became British Insulated Callender's Cables (BICC), and eventually Pirelli, which announced its partial closure in 2003. The remainder became Prysmian.
During the First World War Erith was an extremely important area for the manufacture of guns and ammunition, largely due to the presence of the large Vickers works in the Fraser Road area. In the Second World War, Erith found itself in the thick of the conflict, being directly on the German bombing routes from continental Europe to London, and also because of the nearby armament factories.
For many decades Erith has been the site of the Erith Oil Works, originally British Oil & Cake Mills (BOCM) and now owned by ADM, which processes various seeds into vegetable oils.
A new swimming pool was recently built adjoining the sports centre and the David Ives Stadium, which is home to Bexley Athletic Club and Erith Town F.C. ('The Dockers'), who play in the Kent League. (Note Erith & Belvedere F.C. play in Welling.) Erith Rugby Club play at Northumberland Heath Recreation Ground.
In 2007, the Tour de France passed through Erith during the London leg of the Tour.
The Erith Symphony Orchestra ceased to exist in 1972 and it was almost 30 years before another orchestra was heard in the town, when the Dartford-based, Orchestra of the Thames Gateway gave a concert there in 2004 and in subsequent years.
Erith is the location of the longest pier in London. The pier has recently been adapted from commercial to leisure use, and is popular with anglers. The annual Erith Riverside Festival has been held for a number of years in Riverside Gardens alongside the Thames. Erith Rowing Club is located in former police premises on the waterfront, accessed from Erith High Street. Downstream, Erith Yacht Club is very active in both competitive and social sailing, based on the edge of Crayford Marshes with a new clubhouse.
Erith is the starting point for the LOOP (London Outer Orbital Path) and one of the starting points for the Green Chain Walk. The Thames Path National Trail, which runs to the source of the River Thames at Kemble begins at nearby Crayford Ness.
The initial broadcasts of pirate radio station West and North Kent Radio (WNKR) took place at Norvic House, Larner Road, Erith, during the bank holiday weekend in August 1987, on a frequency of 91.8 FM. The station now transmits pre-recorded music shows on the medium wave (198 metres/1512 kHz) at weekends, with some internet streaming options offered since 2000.
- A rhyme by William Cosmo Monkhouse has it that:
- "There are men in the village of Erith that nobody seeth or heareth,
- and there looms on the marge of the river a barge, that nobody roweth or steereth". 
- Philip Absolon, Stuckist artist.
- Sir William Anderson, engineer and philanthropist
- Tony Brise, motor racing driver.
- Edward Butler, inventor
- Wendy Cope, poet
- John Downton, artist, poet and philosopher.
- James Leasor, author.
- Anthony Reckenzaun, the 19th century engineer, worked at the Erith Ironworks and set up evening classes for the workmen.
- Linda Smith, comedian and writer, came from Erith. She joked it was not twinned with any town but did have a suicide pact with Dagenham.
- Denis Thatcher, husband of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, headed the family-owned Atlas Preservatives, based in Erith, until 1965.
A large part of Erith is in the Erith ward of the London Borough of Bexley. The local councillors are Chris Ball (Labour), Edward Boateng (Labour), and Margaret O'Neill ( Labour). The eastern part of Erith is in North End ward, and the southern part in Colyers ward.
Most of Erith lies within the Erith and Thamesmead constituency. The current M.P. is Teresa Pearce (Labour). The eastern part of Erith is within the Bexleyheath and Crayford constituency. The M.P. is David Evennett (Conservative).
Community interests are represented by Erith Town Forum. In the eastern part of Erith (in North End ward) community interests are also represented by Slade Green Community Forum.
- For education in Erith see the main London Borough of Bexley article
Places of worship
- Christ Church, Victoria Rd. Erith
- Christadelphian Hall, Lesney Park Rd. Erith
- Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witness, Fraser Rd, Erith
- Northend Baptist Church, Larner Rd, Erith
- Northumberland Road Baptist Church, Belmont Road, Erith
- Our Lady of the Angels, Carlton Road, Erith
- Queen Street Baptist Church, Erith
- St. Augustines Church (Slade Green), Slade Green Rd, Erith
- St. Johns the Baptist Church, West Street, Erith
- St. Paul's Church, Mill Road, Erith
- The Treasure House, Bexley Road, Erith
Transport and locale
Erith is in Travelcard Zone 6.
The A2016 road bisecting Erith, is a dual carriageway, one end of a dual carriageway stretching across the Erith Marshes and intervening parts of London as far as Greenwich. Here a further one can be used through the Blackwall Tunnel to Canary Wharf and the East End of London, or a single carriageway through Deptford and Southwark. As such the network vies with the railways for work and leisure related transit.
- Abbey Wood
- Northumberland Heath
- Slade Green
Erith railway station is less than 500m from all parts of the town centre. Peak service includes trains to Charing Cross Station and Cannon Street Station, via Woolwich and Greenwich, every 10 minutes. Peak service to the east includes trains every 10 minutes to Dartford and a more limited service operates to Barnehurst, Crayford, Gravesend or Gillingham. Trains on a Sunday run twice an hour.
Nearest railway stations
- Erith railway station - North Kent line (central to the town/district)
- Slade Green railway station - North Kent line
- Belvedere railway station - North Kent line
- Barnehurst railway station - Bexleyheath line
- 99 - Bexleyheath Town Centre and Woolwich Shopping Centre
- 229 - Thamesmead Town Centre and Sidcup Queen Mary's Hospital
- 428 - Erith Town Centre and Bluewater Shopping Centre
- 469 - Erith Town Centre and Woolwich Common Queen Elizabeth Hospital
- B12 - Erith Town Centre and Joydens Wood
- N89 - Erith Town Centre and Trafalgar Square
Notes and references
- Museum of London summary of archaeological work carried out in 2001 accessed 6 April 2008
- Museum of London summary of archaeological work carried out in 1996 accessed 6 April 2008
- Good Stuff IT Services (20 May 1953). "Parish Church of St John the Baptish - Bexley - Greater London - England". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 2012-08-24.
- Bexley Local Studies Note 51 - Historical References to Erith Market accessed 6 June 2008
- "History of Erith | History of Bexley and Districts". Ideal Homes. Retrieved 2012-08-24.
- 'The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 2' (E.Hasted), on british-history.ac.uk accessed 6 March 2008
- 'Pigots 1840', on website freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~shebra/pigots_1840 accessed 5 December 2007
- Urban regeneration: the essentials The Guardian
- [dead link]
- "London - Places - Why Thames Gateway is good for Bexley". BBC. 15 May 2008. Retrieved 2012-08-24.
- http://www.thamesgateway.gov.uk/index.html?rm=news&article=22&PHPSESSID=986aa54265aa061b23cb5883448aae85[dead link]
- Bexley Local Studies Note 66 'Sir William Anderson' accessed 6 June 2008
- Bexley Local Studies Note No. 11 - Erith accessed 6 June 2008
- "Erith Stadium". Runtrackdir.com. 31 March 2005. Retrieved 2012-08-24.
- "Erith Playhouse". Playhouse.org.uk. 21 January 2012. Retrieved 2012-08-24.
- "Managed on behalf of Bexley Council by the Erith Museum Group". Erith Museum. Retrieved 2012-08-24.
- "Explore South East London's Green Chain". Greenchain.com. Retrieved 2012-08-24.
- Ramblers. "Thames Path National Trail | Paths by name | Ramblers, Britain's Walking Charity". Ramblers.org.uk. Retrieved 2012-08-24.
- Nonsense Rhymes, Cosmo Hamilton, R. Brimley Johnson, London, 1900
- Bexley Local Studies Note 76 'Two Local Inventors' accessed 6 June 2008
- Christopher Winn: I Never Knew That about the Thames (London: Ebury Press, 2010).
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Erith.|
- erithtown.net - an introduction and guide to Erith, with comprehensive directory
- Bexley Local Studies Note 11 - Erith - gives a good outline history of the area
- North West Kent Family History Society - Erith Parish Page
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