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Twentieth Century


The period 1900-2000 saw the introduction of an extensive range of leisure, recreational and entertainment facilities in Dartford for the benefit of local people, and for people outside the local area. A gradual reduction in working hours and a higher level of disposable income for many people throughout the twentieth century created the demand for places and facilities where people could relax, enjoy each other's company and actively pursue mutual hobbies and interests. The days when leisure and entertainment could only be found in Dartford's pubs and church halls were long-since gone. Variety was the keynote of the leisure revolution.

Leisure became an increasingly important component in people's lives and there were growing expectations that basic leisure and recreational facilities should be provided by local employers and the local council. Local firms such as J. & E. Hall and Burroughs Wellcome already provided extensive sports and social club facilities for their workers and their families. There was a demand for the recreational use of parks, allotments and open spaces; the construction of sports pitches and swimming pools; the opening of libraries and museums, and the provision of community halls, community centres, and sports and social clubs. Special interest clubs and societies developed all over Dartford as people with similar hobbies and interests met together on a regular basis.

Acacia Hall
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Not all demands for leisure facilities came solely from local people. The invention of new technologies and new forms of entertainment at a national and international level created, at various times, a local demand for fashionable leisure venues and facilities such as cinemas, theatres, roller-skating rinks, sports centres, water parks, coffee bars, theme pubs and discos. Some leisure facilities came and went as fashions and commercial opportunities changed. An increasingly mobile population meant that people could travel further afield by car, bus or train, to be entertained. Many people from Dartford travelled to London for their entertainment. People from the surrounding villages were able to travel to Dartford to attend the cinema or the theatre.

The rapid rise of youth culture from the 1950s onwards generated demands for particular types of leisure venues where youngsters could share their own brands of music and the latest fashions. Response to local demands for youth-orientated leisure venues was exceedingly slow in Dartford leading to boredom and frustration and the emergence of an alternative street culture. Teddy Boys, Mods and Rockers, Skinheads, Punks and many other manifestations of youth culture were seen in Dartford. Many youngsters, too young to drink in the town's pubs, had no real alternative but to hang around on street corners or in shopping centres. By the 1980s Dartford was a well-known night-time centre for 'boy racers' who drove cars at great speed around the town's one-way system. Street-based youth culture sometimes led to vandalism, petty crime, drug-dealing and alcohol abuse in the town.

As the twentieth century progressed, there was greater emphasis on home-based leisure and recreation. The invention of radio, television, video-players, hi-fi sound systems and personal computers meant that people could experience entertainment in the comfort of their own homes at little or no extra expense. The coming of television heralded the rapid decline in attendance at Dartford's various cinemas and eventually led to their closure. Perhaps the biggest revolution in leisure was generated by the emphasis on sports and personal fitness from the 1960s onwards, leading to a huge demand for sports facilities of every description and a renewed interest in both personal and team sports.

Throughout the twentieth century the people of Dartford continued to enjoy large-scale leisure events in the town, circuses and fairs, the Dartford Show and Festival, national celebrations, fireworks displays, pageants and carnivals, open-air concerts and sports events. Many of these events were centred on Central Park.

Next topic: Dartford's parks


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