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Twentieth Century



The story of Dartford in the twentieth century is the story of the gradual decline of the old community that existed in the town in Victorian times and earlier, and the growth of a new town community at the centre of an administrative borough housing a population of over 80,000. The 20th century was to bring unprecedented social, economic and demographic changes to Dartford as society itself changed out of all recognition.

Many of the people who lived in Dartford in the 20th century were 'in-comers' from south London, the East End of London and further afield. The town developed small Irish and Asian communities who brought their own vibrant cultures to Dartford. Most of the in-comers had no ancestral roots in the local community, and therefore had no burning desire to see the town preserved as a museum to the past. Small long-established family businesses, quaint shops and inns soon gave way to multiple High Street retail outlets, shopping malls, and large-scale corporate businesses.

Long-established residents and in-comers alike wanted Dartford to have all the modern benefits and attractions of twentieth century life. Reliable train services to London, an environment free of cement dust, and decent local shopping facilities became the focus of community aspirations. Artificial new communities were planted in and around the town with the coming of both private and council housing developments to Dartford. It sometimes took at least a decade for them to become functioning communities in their own right.

The most significant feature about twentieth century Dartford was the fact that the town was no longer in control of its own destiny. Local politicians and planners could only react to economic and social forces exerted at a regional, national and international level. Dartford experienced mixed fortunes as it responded to the tides of change imposed by these external forces. Wars, strikes, industrial unrest and the changing face of industry threatened the pillars of the local economy. Some of the industrial giants of Dartford's past disappeared almost without trace or were forced to play a diminished role.

Change and modernisation also brought many opportunities and challenges to the town. As new industries disappeared, others took their place. Dartford constantly sought to attract new commerce and business to the town. Firm links were established with Europe and European business. Economic survival depended on being able to compete on an equal footing with other rival towns in North Kent. Government backed initiatives in the 1980s and 1990s brought new hope and opportunities to Dartford, thanks mainly to its geographical position in relation to the Thames Corridor, an area designated for full-scale development in the twenty-first century. New roads, the Bluewater shopping development, and the building of trade and business parks on the outskirts of Dartford promised to bring prosperity to the borough as a whole, but in reality did little to encourage the further expansion and development of the town centre.

At the threshold of the new millennium Dartford's town centre was under threat. Local press reports were making the gloomy prediction that Dartford town centre had no future and was in a state of terminal decline. Dartford had been in this position at various stages throughout its long and illustrious history but had always managed to bounce back as new opportunities arose. Time will tell whether the optimists or the pessimists are correct.


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