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Dartford Industrial History

Did you know that some features of Dartford Industrial History had a significant influence on the way we live today? Some of the innovations in products and services first built and used in Dartford changed the way things were manufactured in England and the rest of the World.

To prepare this article, we researched the information available at Dartford Library and also Dartford Borough Museum. We also spoke to the people of Dartford.

SS Selembria

The Times ran an article in 1886 regarding the transport of 30,000 mutton carcasses from the Falkland Islands to Britain. The ship, named SS Selembria, was fitted with pioneering cold air machines. These were manufactured by J & E Hall Ltd and the entire cargo arrived in perfect condition after its long crossing. The technology discovered in Dartford opened a long chapter in the story of food refrigeration.


Spilman’s Paper Mill

Sir John Spilman, a German from Lindau, also contributed to Dartford industrial history. Here he set up the first commercially successful mill in England for producing a white paper in 1588. In 1589 he was granted the monopoly for building paper mills. Spilman produced paper and bought old rugs and paper for recycling.

He used an image of foolscap as his watermark and company logo. This later became the word used to describe all paper of this kind. Barges were used to transport goods and materials between the riverside factories and the docks of London a few miles up the Thames.


Applegath’s Vertical Printing Machine

Augustus Applegath’s vertical printing machine first appeared in the 1840s. It revolutionised the speed at which newspapers can be printed. Applegath ran silk, and calico printing works near the river Darent with his brother John. His former factory in Crayford went to become David Evans Silk. It is still in business today.


Lighting the Gas Lamps

Dartford was one of the first towns to use gas lights in its streets and homes. The full survey of the town was commissioned in 1825. This was followed by the foundation of the Dartford Gas Company in 1826. By the end of 1827, there were 68 street lamps and 55 private lights in use.


Donkin’s Cannery

The resourceful Bryan Donkin was apprenticed to John Hall of Dartford in 1792. He learnt many of his skills there. He went on to play the leading role in the establishment of the world’s first food canning factory in 1811. This major advance revolutionised the long term preservation of foodstuffs. It is still one of the most important ways of storing food, from baked beans to caviar.


Donkin’s Continuous Roll Paper Machine

The Fourdrinier Machine is a continuous papermaking machine. It was perfected in 1806 by Bryan Donkin, the brother-in-law and one-time employee of John Hall. It radically advanced paper production by allowing large, easily transportable rolls to be manufactured.


Godfrey Box’s Wire Slitting Mill

Godfrey Box’s Iron Slitting Mill was set up in 1595 to cut bars of iron into long square rods which could then be drawn out to make wire. Box probably worked in one of the four iron slitting mills which had been established in that city in the 1580s.


Vickers Vimy

Vickers Ltd chose an area of Dartford Salt Marches to test various types of aircraft which were manufactured at the local factory between 1911 and 1919. These aircraft ranges in size from single seaters to one of the world’s first passenger aeroplanes. This fighter aircraft was a version of Vickers Vimy which was used to make the first transatlantic non-stop flight. This is one of many highlights of the Dartford Industrial History.


Trevithick’s Locomotive

The Catch-me-who-can locomotive was designed in 1808 by Cornish engineer Richard Trevithick. Trevithick is also the designer of the world’s first railway locomotive. He came to work in Dartford in 1832 following an invitation from John Hall, the founder of J & E Hall Ltd. Unfortunately, he died a year later and is buried at St. Edmund’s Pleasance on East Hill. Memorials to him can be seen at his burial place and in Holly Trinity Church on the High Street. There are also reminders in the Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel. He died while staying in one of the rooms here.


Maxim’s Flying Machine

Hiram Maxim, whose most important innovation was a machine gun, carried out experiments with heavier-than-air flying machines on land. These experiments took place on the grounds of Bexley Hospital. On 31st July 1894, his steam-powered flying machine successfully flew 100 feet at the impressive altitude of almost 2 feet before crashing. In 1908 he built a second aircraft; however, the project was beset with problems, and consequently, it was abandoned.


J & E Hall Lifts

John Hall founded his company know as J & E Hall Ltd in 1785. A huge variety of engineering was carried out at the Dartford works since its foundation, including the manufacturing of booth lifts and elevators. Although this particular branch of their work has ceased producing, some of their products can be seen in the country and overseas. One of their lifts is still operating in Dartford Cooperative Store in Spital Street, and a small lift for transporting books still exists in Dartford Library.


Freeze Dried Blood

During the Second World War, J & E Hall Ltd perfected equipment for the freeze-drying of blood. It was one of the earliest uses of freeze-drying techniques which are now standard procedure. Consequently, this enabled blood for transfusions to be easily transported and distributed -, particularly to the Western front.


Hazeline Snow

Hazeline Snow was an excellent product manufactured by Burroughs Wellcome. It was used to whiten dark skin during the age when that was seen as socially advantageous. The product was hugely successful when it appeared and was produced in Dartford from 1892 to 1970. It is still produced in South East Asia today.


QE2 Bridge Dartford Crossing

The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge was opened in October 1991 by Her Majesty The Queen. The grand opening took place three years after work commenced.

The Bridge is 2872 metres long, including the approach viaducts. Traffic has since increased by 75% after the bridge was opened.


Applegarth’s Banknotes – the most unfortunate part of Dartford Industrial History

The printing machine designed by Augustus Applegarth of Dartford was used to produce millions of £5 and £1 notes at the Bank of England between 1818 to 1821. Applegarth’s machine could churn out 1200 notes per hour. However, these notes were never issued. This is because the proposal to issue paper money had been scrapped. Also, the superintendent of the printing office was able to forge them, even though they were printed in six colours. The bank spent almost £40,000 on the project and was left with over 4,000,000 useless notes. Examples of these notes exist in Dartford Borough Museum.


The materials for this article about Dartford Industrial History have been prepared by Dartford Removals using the resources available from Dartford Library, Dartford Borough Museum and the interviews with the local people of Dartford.