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Twentieth Century


Dartford High Street
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The twentieth century saw a complete transformation of Dartford from being a bustling Victorian market town to a sprawling borough with a population of over 80,000 residents. The town centre retained some of its original features in terms of landscape and basic layout, but quite a few of the town's older buildings gradually disappeared as a result of fire, bombing, demolition, and modernisation. Holy Trinity church, some splendid medieval buildings at the junction of High Street and Bullace Lane, and the Bull and Victoria Hotel, survived as redeeming historic features in a typical twentieth century High Street.

Photographs of Dartford High Street taken in 1900 highlight the existence of a range of ancient buildings and courtyards. Unfortunately, some medieval, Tudor, and later buildings were bulldozed to make way for road improvements and new shopping malls. Inns that had survived since Tudor and Georgian times were razed to the ground. The old heart of Dartford which had evolved over ten centuries was removed to achieve the rapid re-development of the town centre. New road systems were required as a matter of urgency to cope with increasing traffic congestion. Old town centre buildings, including courts and banks, were turned into pubs and offices. Modern new buildings sprung up in their place. Traditional Victorian shop-fronts were replaced by glass and chrome. Large warehouse-style stores specialising in DIY goods and furnishings opened on the edge of the town centre.

Much of Dartford's visible architectural history disappeared in just a few decades. It was ironic that the town centre was declared a conservation area after much of the destruction had already taken place. Imitation Victorian street furniture and bogus historic facades provided a poor substitute for the real thing. Signs heralding Historic Dartford were quickly removed as the local newspapers pointed out that there was very little historic architecture left in Dartford worth seeing. Old Dartford was no more. The old community and its buildings were dead and buried under concrete and asphalt. Dartford strove to discover a new identity for itself on the threshold of the new millennium.

Dartford was almost completely re-built in the twentieth century. Shops, public buildings, houses and housing estates, churches, hospitals, schools, industrial estates and factories were constructed in response to the anticipated needs of the community. There was no overall plan for any of this development. The townscape that emerged by the end of the century was a strange contrast of old and new, a hotch-potch of buildings and developments that co-existed uneasily in an ever-changing landscape.

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Dartford experienced its first housing revolution in the third quarter of the nineteenth century with the development of New Town. A network of new roads leading from East Hill provided relatively cheap and functional terraced homes for Dartford's fast-growing workforce. The demand for housing continued to grow and was partially met in Edwardian times by the development of a number of privately-financed housing estates in Dartford, offering attractive homes to Dartford's ever-increasing army of commuters as well as to those who worked locally.

The Swaisland Estate off Dartford Road was built in 1902. Four years later work commenced on building The Downs, Fulwich and Priory Park Estates. Sussex, Shenley and Norman Roads were made up 1908-10. Shortly after the outbreak of war in 1914 work began on the White Hill Estate and the construction of houses in what was to be Havelock Road. Other major housing developments led to a rapid increase in the size of the town and its outlying suburbs.

The Tree estate
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In 1917 the population of Dartford stood at 25,000 (7000 higher than in 1901). Dartford Council were concerned at the extent of the housing crisis in the town. Dartford still had its slum areas characterised by overcrowding, poor drainage and generally unhealthy living conditions condemned by Dartford's Medical Officer for Health. One of the most pressing problems was the significant shortage of rented accommodation in the town. With the First World War over and the need for housing to provide homes for the heroes the Council energetically set about the task of building houses to let. The Housing Town Planning Act of 1919 provided the opportunity for construction of the Lowfield Estate to begin in 1919. This new estate would house many families requiring accommodation after the First World War. The houses were costly at the time and heavily subsidised. Mistakes were made because local councils like Dartford had little or no experience of building houses on such a large scale. The name of the new estate was later changed to the Tree Estate, reflecting the fact that all of its roads were named after trees.

Many private housing developments took place in Dartford during the 1920s and 1930s. Dartford was advertised as 'London's latest garden suburb'. In the early 1930s, Devonshire Avenue, Windsor Drive, Carrington Road and Sussex Road were made up. In 1934 Dartford Council's Heath Lane Estate was completed. The following year, houses in central Dartford were available at the bargain price of £345. In 1937, the Normans Estate development (just off of Dartford Road) were
advertising houses at £425. By 1938, Cranford and Ingram Roads, Lingfield Avenue and Fairway Drive were ready for occupation.

In January 1945, Dartford Borough Council's Housing Committee approved plans to erect temporary houses or pre-fabs in the borough. The Urban District Council gladly accepted the Government's offer of 150 prefabricated bungalows. Sites were obtained close to the town centre as well as at Stone and South Darenth, and by 1946 the bungalows were erected and occupied.

Council housing on a grand scale was provided in 1947 with the opening of the Temple Hill Estate. Development of the Fleet Estate started in the 1930s as a private scheme. In the 1960s Dartford Council established some council housing on this estate. The Knights Manor Estate was developed in the 1980s.

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Shepherd's Lane
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During the period 1900-14 the Victorian Gothic style of town house gave way to houses inspired by vernacular architecture influenced by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement. A number of larger villa-style houses were built in Dartford during this period; these were constructed in the popular Queen Anne style. Smaller houses were built in the aesthetic style, which incorporated decorative brickwork, complex glazing and the use of coloured glass.

Domestic housing influenced by William Morris had fairly plain facades and a well-balanced design. They lacked the extravagant decoration of earlier Victorian styles. The ornamentation on these houses was usually restricted to small areas. Larger houses that developed in the smarter parts of Dartford reflected social status and the desire for privacy.

Dartford's Edwardian houses emphasised the importance of light and fresh air. The squarer layout of rooms ensured more light throughout the house. With garden access in mind, many Edwardian dining rooms had French doors, a feature that was to become standard in houses after 1920. Larger town houses on the outskirts of Dartford contained some decorative features including elaborate plasterwork on the gable and eaves, fish-scale slates, ridge tiles on the roof, and the occasional timber balcony.

Next topic: The rise of the semi-detached house


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