SHOPS, MARKETS AND SHOPPING
Shops, markets and shopping were important to the people of Dartford throughout the twentieth century, just as they had been in Victorian times. Shops and shopping brought commercial prosperity to the town centre and gave local people the opportunity to buy a wide range of different goods as society became more and more consumer orientated. The transition from the nineteenth to the twentieth century saw a gradual reduction in the number of family-owned shops in Dartford as national retail firms arrived in the town. The first wave of such shops included David Greig, Liptons, Home and Colonial and Maypole Dairies. Other household name shops to be established in the town at a later date included the Co-op, Woolworth, Marks and Spencer, W. H. Smith, Sainsburys and Safeways.
There was an on-going dispute between High Street market traders and shopkeepers over the obstruction caused by market stalls on a Saturday. The police were informed by the council of the nuisance caused by obstructions placed by traders on the pavement. Pedestrians were occasionally forced into the road as market traders wheeled their barrows on the pavement.
Transport from town the surrounding villages was provided from 1907 when a 30-seater Hallford bus was purchased by Messrs. J. Carpenter and Sons to provide transport between Dartford and Farningham. Advertisements for this service stated that, "The public will doubtless appreciate so great an improvement on the present stuffy, small motors traversing the route".
The question of shop opening hours was regularly discussed in the opening decades of the twentieth century. Some shops were open from 6 am until just before midnight. Shop assistants, many of whom lived above the shop, complained about the long hours and poor pay. In 1908, the council tried unsuccessfully to get local shop keepers to limit their opening hours voluntarily.
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DARTFORD'S CO-OP STORES
The Co-operative Movement in Dartford began in 1888 with a small shop in Spital Street. After twelve years of hard work it built its own premises and in 1900 the Central Stores in Kent Road was erected. Property was later bought in Spital Street. In 1927, several old shops were demolished and the first section of the new premises built. There was further expansion in the early 1930s.
The new Dartford Co-op was officially opened on Saturday July 13th 1935 on land formerly occupied by Kidd's brewery. By 1937, the Dartford Co-op employed over 400 staff and had 13,400 members. The Co-op remained Dartford's only large departmental store until the end of the twentieth century. The Dartford Co-op had a number of smaller branch shops in and around Dartford.
Dartford's general market, which sold clothes, textiles, fruit, vegetables, fish, foodstuffs, and fancy goods, suffered mixed fortunes throughout the twentieth century as it was relocated from place to place within the town centre. Dartford market had the reputation of being one of the largest and best in Kent attracting people from many miles around. The traditional Thursday market was sited at the Baltic Saw Mills site before finding a home under cover in the car park of the Priory Shopping Centre.
Dartford's Saturday market in the High Street, popular in the early years of the twentieth century, was revived in November 1981. Pedestrianisation of the town centre allowed about eighty market stalls to be ranged down both sides of the High Street and around One Bell Corner bringing colour and character to the town on a Saturday. The cattle market ceased to operate in the early 1960s ending centuries of tradition whereby animals were driven through the town on the hoof. The town's corn market also disappeared into obscurity.
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DARTFORD'S 20TH CENTURY SHOPPING CENTRES
The last quarter of the twentieth century saw the development of two American-style covered shopping malls in the town centre as well as several smaller developments. The Arndale Centre (later re-named the Priory Centre) was the first shopping centre to be built in the early 1970s. An extension to this, known as Cleves Court, linking the Priory Centre to the town's market site, was added later.
In September 1985 the council organised a competition to select a developer
for a new High Street shopping centre. They were keen to develop a freehold
site in a prime town centre position next to the existing High Street,
the Orchard Theatre and the Civic Centre. The scheme was finally awarded
to Burton Property Trust. Planning permission was granted in 1987 and
construction began in January 1988. This modern shopping mall, with its
timber, marble and decorative plasterwork, contained thirty-five shop
units, a Safeway supermarket and a 445 space car park.
Construction of Copperfields in a mock Victorian style, linking Hythe Street and Spital Street, provided the town centre with another feature and some more shops. The construction of large retail warehouse stores on the edge of the town centre in the 1980s added yet another dimension to Dartford's role as a town shopping centre.
The most significant retail development at the end of the twentieth century
was the construction of Bluewater, the largest regional shopping and leisure
centre in Europe. Work finally started on the site in the spring of 1996
to transform what was a disused chalk quarry of 240 acres. The development
included plans for over 320 shops and restaurants on two floors, three
large department stores, food courts, three unique leisure villages, public
areas and parking for 13,000 cars.