INDUSTRY AND CRAFTS IN DARTFORD, 1500-1800
Dartford experienced a mini Industrial Revolution during the period 1500-1800. All sorts of factors encouraged the emergence of industrial and craft activities, not least the reliable source of water-power offered by the River Darent and the River Cranpit and the proximity of Dartford to the River Thames and the fast-growing London market. Nearly all the industries established in the town relied on water-power to drive simple machinery.
Dartford attracted a number of leading innovators and entrepreneurs who pioneered new techniques and manufacturing processes. Martin Frobisher, John Spilman and Godfrey Box were perhaps the most innovative. Later commentators were able to report that "There is about Dartford a strong spirit of industry" and "The establishment of the different mills on the River Darent, in the neighbourhood of Dartford, has greatly contributed to the present flourishing state of the town". Paper mills, corn and flour mills, the gunpowder mills, iron-slitting and brass mills, breweries, a cotton mill, and a smelting works all made use of local labour, local resources and local raw materials.
There were doubtless many smaller-scale home and workshop-based crafts and industries in the town which have escaped mention in the parish records. It is known, for example, that there was a clay pipe maker working in Dartford in the eighteenth century and that the town supported a modest but locally important watch and clock-making industry. Known watch and clock-makers include Robert Cornish (working 1721-1762), Stephen Butterly (1728-1759), Gabriel Fowkes (c.1750-1808), and John Lowe (c.1790).
The Rope Walk in Bullace Lane was where rope-makers came annually to Dartford to make the bell ropes for the church.
The importance of cottage-based textile industries should not be underestimated. Spinners and weavers were clearly at work in and around the town, but are hardly mentioned at all in official documents.
It is somewhat surprising that Dartford had very few links with the River Thames. There was for example no local boat-building industry, and little or no evidence of commercial fishing.