Square mile – The River Cray
There is a river which cuts through the heart of our town running west to east.
Almost parallel to this runs a line of pylons and a train line follows suit, all running west to east, east to west.
The river has a history steeped in old mills and industries, in my younger years it was used by children having fun, catching minnows and shimmying the pipe as a dare. Now it is a footpath used by those walking their dogs or interested in natural habitats as well as a shopping trolley or two.
Crayford’s first mention was in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle when the Britons were defeated by Hengist at the Battle of Crecganford in 457AD. The remains of an Iron age settlement were discovered around the Norman Church of St Paulinus and are dated to be around 30BC – 40AD.
It is often claimed that the Roman town of Noviomagus was at Crayford, Crayford sits on the roman main road from London to Dover. I was once told that Dick Turpin robbed stagecoaches along this very stretch, obviously at a later point in time.
Crayford is also connected to London by the River Cray which used to be tidal and is connected with the Dartford Creek and the River Thames.
St Paulinus Church was built in 1100 and the Doomsday book lists Crayford as having 27 villagers, 2 small holdings and 3 mills. My own connection to St Paulinus was cutting through the graveyard as a child on my way to and from school, there was also a myth that if you walked around the angel in the graveyard three times and stared into her eyes something bad would happen. A silly myth really as no-one would choose something bad to happen by choice but it always intrigued me and I could never look her in the eye (Just in case).
The area also used to have manor houses and large estates although little of these exist other than in road names such as Mayplace, Shenstone and Oakwood. There is a story of a ghost that exists at Hall Place, A headless horsemen no less, I vaguely recall a romantic story surrounding this local legend.
Crayford was an industrial town, it used to have an iron mill, saw mill and flour mill as well as silk printers, linen and brick factories. The growth of Crayford is largely due to these industries and primarily due to the arrival of Vickers to the town.
Vickers was to become an armaments factory which played a major role during the first and second world wars. Many of the houses in Crayford including my childhood home were built for the workers of Vickers. The factory built cars, planes and later guns. The planes were flown from Joyce Green airfield which later became Joyce Green Hospital which has now been demolished and made way for new housing.
The worker’s canteen later became Crayford Town Hall which has been saved twice from demolition and is no longer a Town Hall but a doctor’s surgery with flats above.
Vickers even built a theatre for its workers, Crayford was really shaping up to be a Vickers community town, this no longer exists but there are still signs of its existence.
Because Crayford was close to the Royal Arsenal and perhaps due to Vickers it was greatly affected by bombs during WW2, in fact a stained glass window in St Paulinus pays tribute to three people who died in a V1 explosion and there is also a memorial on Iron Mill Lane following the destruction of a school.
Crayford’s centre of town has changed and most people would regard the Crayford Road junction with the retail park as its centre. The true village centre is the ‘Waterside’ area of the town.
Crayford is mainly a retail area with Sainsbury’s and the Tower retail park at its core, industrial warehouse buildings sit behind these retail frontages with a trade park just beyond. Residential homes are scattered around the areas, intersected by the river and the railway.
Thoughts on the ‘Square mile’:
Thinking of Crayford from a non-personal viewpoint:
- Historical markers denoting Crayford’s past history
- The River Cray which runs through and is a link to its past, the waters forever moving and changing much like the town.
- The railway and pylons that also dissect the town
- Explore the ‘new arrivals’ the artwork and new buildings.