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Medieval Period

INTRODUCTION

DARTFORD'S POPULATION IN 1301

Documentary sources relating to medieval Dartford are comparatively scarce. However, from the sources that do exist, it is possible to gain some impression of the type and social status of people who were resident in, or associated with, medieval Dartford. Rich and poor people lived side-by-side in the medieval town.

The town valuation of 1301 lists 218 people owning property in Dartford. Property held by eighteen individuals was valued at over 5. Property which provided homes for over fifty families was not even assessed; the dwellings occupied by these families were probably regarded as too poor and humble to be included. The total population of Dartford at this time would probably have been between 800 and 1,000.

 

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DARTFORD COMPARED WITH OTHER MEDIEVAL TOWNS

Even as late as 1500, only 5% of England’s population lived in towns like Dartford. Most towns in southern England had an average population of 500-600 residents. Dartford, with its population approaching 1,000, was larger than average. Market towns like Dartford still managed to retain strong links with the surrounding countryside. By twenty-first century standards, medieval Dartford was more like a village than a town; the countryside penetrated almost into the town centre. There were orchards, fields and gardens surrounding the settlement.

 

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LIFE EXPECTANCY IN MEDIEVAL DARTFORD

All of Dartford’s residents, whether rich or poor, faced the same general environmental conditions and threats, including the constant fear of sickness and life-threatening diseases. Average life expectancy for all groups was low. Archaeological evidence shows an average adult life expectancy of thirty-five for males and thirty-one for females. England’s infant mortality rate was extremely high.

The plague was to visit England at least thirty times between 1348, the year of the Black Death, and 1485. Other common urban diseases included tuberculosis, dysentry and smallpox. Dartford’s residents faced famine in 1391 due to an acute shortage of corn. Townspeople were forced to make bread from fern roots; their survival depended on an emergency diet of nuts and apples. All sections of Dartford’s community were economically inter-dependent. If trade slumped or crops failed everybody was affected.

 

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DARTFORD'S ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS

Even as late as 1500, only 5% of England’s population lived in towns like Dartford. Most towns in southern England had an average population of 500-600 residents. Dartford, with its population approaching 1,000, was larger than average. Market towns like Dartford still managed to retain strong links with the surrounding countryside. By twenty-first century standards, medieval Dartford was more like a village than a town; the countryside penetrated almost into the town centre. There were orchards, fields and gardens surrounding the settlement.

 

 

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