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Twentieth Century


No town can call itself a proper town unless it receives a full written Charter of Incorporation approved by the monarch. It seems somewhat amazing that the busy and prosperous town of Dartford did not acquire a Charter of Incorporation until 1933.

The campaign for a town charter began as early as 1856. It was felt at this time that Dartford should apply for full borough status. Unfortunately the campaign was not successful. Opportunities were missed in 1894 when the Urban District Council was appointed to supervise the local government of the area. The first definite move was made in 1902 when there was strong feeling in the town that a charter of incorporation should be obtained. A vote was taken in 1903 but the idea was rejected. In 1919, the incorporation of Dartford was proposed as a peace memorial. The idea was well supported but did not mature.

At the end of 1925, the Dartford Traders' Association took the initiative and passed a resolution in favour of a town charter. Shortly afterwards, in 1926, all the householders of Dartford were canvassed for their view. 3,626 out of the 4,924 householders signed a formal petition requesting borough status for the town. This petition was presented to the king via the privy council and an enquiry was held to discuss Dartford's application.

On Tuesday 8 August 1933, at a meeting of the privy council, Dartford's Charter of Incorporation was approved by the king. On Wednesday 13 September 1933, the Charter of Incorporation was presented to the Charter Mayor of Dartford (Alderman A. J. Penney) by Sir Percy Greenway, the Lord Mayor of London.

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Borough of Dartford Charter Day
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Dartford's Charter Day celebrations were probably the biggest and the best that the town had ever seen. The day was declared a public holiday and all the residents of Dartford were invited to join in the celebrations. Shops were decorated especially for the occasion and the main thoroughfares of the town were bedecked with flags and bunting.

Sir Percy Greenway, the Lord Mayor of London brought the Charter of Incorporation to the town. He arrived at the Borough boundary on Dartford Heath soon after 2.30 pm. The Lord Mayor travelled to Dartford in a splendid stage coach. He was met by the Charter Mayor's procession from the town, consisting of the High Sheriff of Kent and other county and local worthies. There was a brief but impressive ceremony. Six trumpeters with the guard of honour sounded a general salute of welcome. The procession formed up once more and began their ceremonial entry into town.

The processional route into Dartford was along the Bexley by-pass into Shepherds Lane, on through West Hill, Spital Street and High Street, ending up at the Market Square. The Lord Mayor of London stopped to lay a wreath on the town's War Memorial, and then proceeded to the Rialto Cinema in Lowfield Street where over eight hundred guests were seated to observe the handing-over of the Charter of Incorporation to Dartford's first mayor. After the ceremony, the Lord Mayor of London was presented with a gold cigarette case decorated with the new Borough Coat of Arms.

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Unfortunately, on the day of the charter celebrations, the weather was bad. An open-air tea for local schoolchildren had to be cancelled. Tea was served instead to children in their own schools. A spectacular procession of carnival floats stretching over two miles paraded around the town. Many local groups and societies, companies and individual tradespeople had spent many hours building and decorating floats for the procession. A celebratory banquet was held at the Bull Hotel, at which a telegram from the king was read to the assembled guests.

The festivities and celebrations continued long into the evening. A pageant play entitled Dartford in the Making compiled and written by Arthur. H. Botten and produced by Norman Paine was performed in Central Park. This pageant play charted the origins and subsequent development of Dartford from Prehistoric times to the 1930s. Many ordinary townsfolk participated in the pageant. The pageant was followed at 10.30 pm by a grand display of fireworks, but owing to the rain, it was not possible to stage a planned open-air Charter Day dance.

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The newly incorporated town and Borough of Dartford needed to acquire distinctive regalia for use on important civic occasions. Fortunately, most of the regalia required was presented to the town by local worthies and individuals, not least a silver-gilded mace, 3 ft. 6 inches long, embellished with the new Borough Coat of Arms. Alderman. A. J. Penney, the Charter Mayor, purchased and donated to the town the Mayor's Chain and Badge of Office as well as the Mayoress's Chain, all in 14 carat gold, together with the Mayoral robes. Councillor Alec Webb presented a robe for the Deputy-Mayor and Mr. F. W. Blay donated a robe and wig for the Town Clerk.

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Every incorporated borough has to have a coat of arms which is granted by the College of Heralds in London. A civic coat of arms is rather like a badge which summarises the main geographical, historical and economic features associated with a particular town or city. Every geometric shape, colour or feature incorporated within a coat of arms has a specific meaning in the language of heraldry.

Dartford's first borough coat of arms was described as follows by the College of Heralds. This coat of arms can still be seen above the main entrance to Dartford Borough Museum in Market Street.

Document 2: Click the link below to view the document

A description of the 1933 Dartford coat of arms

With local government re-organisation in 1974, the administrative functions were consolidated and the borough boundaries enlarged to incorporate both the former urban and rural districts. Dartford was granted a new coat of arms to reflect the increased status of the newly consolidated borough. The new coat of arms can be described as follows:

Document 2: Click the link below to view the document

A description of the 1974 Dartford coat of arms

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The Dartford Urban District Council held its last meeting on 4 October 1933. It was replaced by the new Dartford Borough Council. The new borough council had eighteen seats instead of fifteen. There were three seats each in the six wards of Brent, Heath, Highfield, Priory, St. Alban's and Town wards. It was not long before five aldermen were elected to serve on the new borough council. In 1936, plans were discussed to build a £90,000 municipal building, town hall and assembly hall in Central Park. Local protest and opposition led to the abandonment of the scheme.

November 1945 saw Labour win Dartford Council for the first time, taking all nine seats available. Charles Bareham, a trolleybus driver, became Dartford's first Labour mayor. In 1951, Miss. Margaret Roberts (later to be Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) addressed her adoption meeting as Conservative candidate for Dartford. Labour held on to the Dartford parliamentary seat. Fierce local opposition was generated in 1957 to proposals to include Dartford in the Greater London area in connection with the review of local government by a royal commission. The council was united in its view that Dartford did not belong to London and should remain in Kent. By 1965 there were 32 seats on the council.

In the 1970s, the Dartford area was to see radical changes as the rural district council was disbanded and a new Dartford District Council formed to include some of the rural district parishes. The next ten years were to see far-reaching political changes as the Conservatives took control of Dartford District Council for the first time and then lost to Labour when the District Council was formed with local government re-organisation in 1974. Dartford once more regained borough status.

Next topic: Local government at the end of the 20th century

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