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Soldiers were stationed in and around Dartford at various times in the eighteenth century. In 1717, soldiers were billeted in the Market House at Dartford. In 1756 Lord Hay’s regiment was stationed at Dartford, a camp being established on Dartford Heath.


Soldier's neck stock clasp

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In 1779 and 1780 large numbers of troops camped in the local area when Britain was faced with the possibility of invasion by the French and Spanish. Large encampments were established within marching distance of the River Thames. It was important to station troops close to the River Thames so that they could be moved around the country at short notice. Gravesend was to be used as the port of embarkation in the event of an emergency. On 20 July 1780, 5,000 men camped on Dartford Heath marched to Gravesend to take part in a major military exercise aimed at transporting all the troops with their equipment by boat from Gravesend to Tilbury and back. This mass exercise was a resounding success.


Musket balls

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The camp at Dartford consisted mainly of the 52nd, 56th and 65th Regiments of the Line, the North Hants, the Northampton, the Montgomery, the East York and the Hertfordshire regiments of militia, and a ‘park’ of Artillery guarded by a portion of the Rutland and Caernarvonshire militia. The troops were under the command of Lieutenant-General Pierson and Major-General Rainsford and others. The troops lived for two months in long rows of tents on Dartford Heath.

On 6 August 1780 fighting broke out between the soldiers based at the Dartford camp. One man had his ear cut off, another lost two fingers, and some had bad wounds inflicted by swords and bayonets. The troops proved quite a nuisance to the ordinary residents of Dartford. Local tradesmen were threatened by soldiers who ran-up large debts. The military camp had its own shop for supplying the troops with stationery and small stores. The powder magazine was sited near the end of Heath Lane. On the evening preceding the breaking-up of the camp, a select party of officers were invited to take a farewell supper with the ladies of the neighbourhood.

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