Northfleet Harbour a Heritage to be truly proud of.                                               

 

 

Northfleet Harbour is formed from a natural river inlet of the River Fleet into the Thames, parts of the harbour would have been on solid chalk forming a very usable marine facility from a very early time, just a mile or two upstream on the River Fleet we have evidence of Roman Temples, a Roman Burial Ground, Roman Villas and later a thriving Saxon community which left behind a rare water wheel which was excavated as part of the Ebbsfleet International Railway works.

 

 

 

The harbour then was site to Orme House which was possibly 16th Century situated to the East, the River Fleet by the 18th Century was no longer navigable as a watermill and weir had been created for flour production, parts of this may still survive a full archaeological study is needed, this flour mill was then superceded by a watermill for cement production parts of which still survive.

 

 

 

More recently and a history which seems to dominate the harbour is the development of the cement industry which is of major significance as this would have been one of the earliest sites for cement exporting.

 

 

 

The birthplace of modern cement

 

 

This picture clearly shows the beehive bottle kilns producing cement in the centre of the picture and this cement being exported by sailing ship from the quays in Northfleet Harbour, to the right of this picture is a small building which is the cooperage where they made the wooden barrels first used for transporting cement.

 

 

 

Northfleet Harbour in the early days of modern cement exports, note the barrels and cooperage

 

 

 

These two exciting recent discoveries shown below would date back to the early cement production, the narrow gauge track, can be seen on early maps leading from the site of the beehive kilns one of which still survives as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, the wheels would have been from a cart that would have ran on the tracks probably pushed by a couple of yard hands, the two cement barrels to the left have long since solidified and over the best part of a hundred years the wooden barrel has simply disintegrated around them leaving a fossilised remnant of the cement industry with the grain of the barrel staves clearly engrained in the cement, it is amazing that such early remnants of this world changing industrial innovation are simply strewn across Northfleet hidden in tunnels and buried in the undergrowth.

 

 

 

Historic track and cart wheels           Cement barrels stored in brick kiln tunnels

 

 

 

The following two pictures are of the Aspdin Kiln which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, the underground picture is underneath in the tunnels that would have been used for stoking the fires and cleaning our after the cement has been prepared.

 

 

 

Aspdin beehive kiln, a Scheduled Ancient Monument   In the catacombs under the kiln

 

 

 

The Roman period

 

 

 

This picture is of the Roman settlement at Springhead, this was just a 10 minute walk up the River Fleet from Northfleet Harbour, at the time the river would have been navigable to this point, we know that in the late 18th Century navigation was lost totally because we see maps showing the watermill sluices across the harbour entrance.

 

 

 

Roman Settlement just upstream from the Harbour

 

 

 

Saxon times

 

 

 

Settlement continued after the Romans left as was evidenced by finds of a Saxon settlement with a rare water wheel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discovered in advance of building the new Ebbsfleet railway station, the timbers of this structure were almost perfectly preserved. They have been dated to around AD 700, and are amongst the earliest examples of their kind found in Britain, although it is possible that the structure may have been built slightly later with reused timber. Two enclosed funnels, known as ‘penstocks’, directed jets of water onto a pair of horizontal wheels with paddles. The mill was located in the tidal zone of the River Ebbsfleet and it is likely that the ebb and flow of the waters were harnessed.

 

 

 

 

 

This part of the site is still in construction but to follow later will be an account of the sites a rich history covering;

 

 

 

  • The serving of several manor houses inlcuding the suspected Elizabethan Orme House.
  • The harbour was in use during the 18th Century as the pictures on the Gallery page show.
  • The harbour entrance for the River Fleet has a history of watermills dating back to medieval times.
  • More recently the harbour has seen brickworks, boat building, armaments and had a pivotal role to play in the early development of the Cement industry, the scheduled ancient monument Aspdins Kiln would have produced cement that probably made part of the harbour, the harbour would also have played a pivotal role in the kiln being sited here and the early export of cement, if not the earliest.

  Medieval and Elizabethan times

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Georgian painting would have been representative of the harbour through the ages from prehistory, note the ships in the background entering the harbour round the peninsular.
Another early painting, the building in the background could well be an early Orme House which could date this picture any time from 1537 onwards. (Note the wharf to the left of Orme House, is this a small chalk cliff, or an early wharf?)

The medieval, Georgian and Victorian Water Mill site

 

 

The mill pond and exit, this would have been full to the brim when the mills were in operation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The extensive remains on the watermill site seem to be forgotten and ignored, much more research is needed to fully understand this complicated site, we certainly can't let this piece of heritage be lost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mill pond sluice, note the post which would have been part of the mechanism for controlling the flow.

 

The above picture is where the water flow would have been controlled and levels maintained in the mill pond, the sluice gate would have been controlled by a pully of some description operating in conjuction with the cast iron post to the left of the picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As part of our research we desperately need early pictures

 

 of the harbour and the watermill, please help us with our

 

research and send any copies to broadley@btinternet,com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Northfleet Harbour Restoration Trust 
 A Company Limited by Guarantee
Company Number 7909171
Registered Charity Number 1158702
Registered office 80 Dover Road, Northfleet, Kent. DA11 9QD