Wilmington Heritage Trail
Wilmington Parish Council hopes that with the aid of the Wilmington Heritage Trail Guide, available from The Heritage Centre or the Parish Council Office, you will take the time to walk around the Village of Wilmington to learn something of its history. As you follow the Guide you will see the following symbol ●which indicates that you will find one of the Parish’s Green Plaques at that point (See below)
A word about the Green Plaques (●) - During 2010 the Chairman and Members of Wilmington Parish Council were delighted to launch one of the most exciting projects the Parish Council has embarked upon – namely to erect Green Plaques to commemorate sites of interest or places where important events have taken place in the Parish. The first of the Plaques erected marked the site of the Village Pound since when many more have been added and will continue to be added…so keep your eyes open!!
The Parish Council hopes you enjoy the Wilmington Heritage Trail
The Trail starts in the centre of Wilmington at the Memorial Hall in the High Road which, thanks to various grants and financial support from Village Clubs, Societies and residents of the Parish, was extended in 2013 to provide additional space in which can be found a Heritage Centre housing papers and artefacts reflecting the history of Wilmington.
The Memorial Hall ● is on the site of the former Village Fire Station adjacent to which was the old Police House and Station. The Hall also contains the Village Memorial to those residents of the Village killed in the World War I and World War II.
On the green space in front of the Memorial Hall is the Village Horse Trough which stands roughly on the site of what was a dangerous and allegedly smelly pond. The trough was presented to the Village by Sir James Whitehead in memory of his wife Lady Mercy Whitehead and to commemorate the Coronation of King George V. It is fitting that even today local residents help maintain the memorial in a style of which Sir James would approve ….a glorious display of flowers
Beside the trough which carries the inscription ‘The horse is man’s good friend, good men befriend horses’ you will see the old Village Shelter
The trail now takes you across the High Road to Barn End Lane where on the Left-Hand side you come across a new housing development, Brewers Field, built on the site of the Wilmington Brewery which was established in 1874 due mainly to the availability of some excellent well water. In 1898 the premises were converted to a laundry by James Bentley.
Further along Barn End Lane on the Right-Hand side is Lower Barn End Farmhouse, a 15th Century timber-framed building, whilst on the left, at the corner of Shirehall Road, stands The Mount (originally called Mount Pleasant) which was built in the 18th Century. Also on the site was Stanley Morgan House (now demolished to provide new sheltered accommodation) which was named after a Kent County Councillor who died in 1951.
Returning to the junction trail turns left right on to High Road where immediately on the right-hand side, can be seen the old National School ● (now named The Rosemary Centre) built in 1850 to replace the Village ‘Dame School’ held in Coombe Cottage, a building that no longer exists.
In front of the building stands the War Memorial ● dedicated to the men of Village who lost their lives in World War I, a plaque was added after World War II to recognise those who were killed during that conflict. Wreaths are laid at the Memorial in a ceremony held every year on Remembrance Sunday.
Walking along the High Road you come to The Retreat built between 1851 and 1872 as a home for ‘distressed stock market gentlemen’. The buildings were never used for this purpose, instead they were firstly the homes of ‘distressed governesses’ and in 1921 for farm workers.
Opposite the Retreat you will see Post War Council Housing. This site, before it was built on, served as a Prisoner of War Camp firstly for Italian then later German Prisoners of War ●
Continue up the hill (formerly known as Cock Hill) where you will pass Stock Lane and the old village shop and butchers now converted into flats.
Behind the Green Barn the McGowan Brothers Garage was situated. It was they who donated the large meadow (next to the cricket field in Oakfield Park) to the Parish and it now forms the part of Oakfield Park known as McGowans Meadow
Next we come to The Plough Public House which the oldest pub in the Village appearing in the 1851 directory. The now converted building next to The Plough is believed to be the oldest in the Village
Continue on, passing The Close, where Sir Mick Jagger lived as a child, you cross the A2 bridge to St Michael & All Angels, the Parish Church, on the left. A church has stood on this site since Saxon times. The only remaining portion of the original Church is the base of the tower with its Saxon windows. In the churchyard can be seen the memorial of Sir Edward Hulse (1682 – 1759). He was a Royal Physician and lived the latter part of his life at Baldwyns Manor. Also buried in the churchyard, in an unmarked pauper’s grave, are the remains of Robert Pocock a biologist of some renown who is famous for writing a history of Gravesend in 1790 and who in 1803 published ‘Reading Made Easy’ possibly the first child’s reading book. The lych gate was donated to the church by Sir James and Lady Whitehead to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. The lych gate carries a quotation ‘Death is the gate to life’, whilst the Yew tree in the churchyard was brought as a sapling from Horton Kirby and planted in 1731 and is registered as an ‘Ancient Tree’.
Opposite the Church is Wilmington House. This was the site of a farmhouse with many acres of land. It was owned by the Nuns of Dartford Priory but they never resided there with the land being rented out to local farmers.
Turning left at the junction with Hawley Road you will come to The Orange Tree Public House a building which is known to have existed in 1841 as part of Orange Tree Farm but, if you have the time before turning left, then briefly cross over Hawley Road where, immediately opposite, you will find a pedestrian entrance to Powder Mill Lane ●. In 1885 a well was sunk by Kent Water Works Company and a pumping Station has been in operation since then. The Lane runs parallel to the River Darent the flow of which saw a large number of mills being established one of which was a paper mill run by John Spilman, whose use of a jester’s head as a watermark introduced ‘foolscap paper’ into the English language. This mill was eventually to become a gunpowder mill which flourished to such an extent that. by the early 19th Century, it was amongst the largest in Britain. In 1833 a really massive explosion occurred which destroyed several of the mills and killed at least seven workers and several horses. The manufacture of explosives had ceased by the start of the 20th Century.
Returning to Hawley Road, beyond the Orange Tree PH and just past the Sure Start Centre and Oakfield Community Primary School turn, the Trail turns left on to Oakfield Lane, once called Tinkerpot Lane. Continue up to the top of the hill and turn left into Oakfield Park Road which will lead you, via Carsington Gardens into Oakfield Park● where the Parish Council Office is situated. The Park was part of the grounds of Oakfield Lodge and it was in Oakfield Park that Lord Randolph Churchill made a famous speech in 1886 to an audience of 20,000 people. This speech was quoted throughout the whole of the English speaking world as well as in every foreign country – it was known everywhere as ‘The Dartford Speech’. The Park not only provides a large open space but also contains a Children’s Playground; adult outdoor gym equipment; a Nature Trail and Allotment Gardens. The Park is one of Dartford Cricket Club’s Home venues during the summer months whilst, during the winter, football takes over.
Retrace your steps and turn left to continue along Oakfield Lane where at the brow you will see Clock House converted from the old stables of Oakfield Lodge
On your right you will see a striking new building which is an addition to the Dartford Campus of the North West College. This site was formerly the home to Madame Osterberg’s Physical Training College which was founded in Hampstead in 1885 but transferred to Dartford in 1895 where it operated as a ‘Specialist College’ until 1986. Crossing over the A2 bridge you will reach Hulsewood Close. The area was originally part of the grounds of Hulsewood, a large mansion taking its name from Sir Edward Hulse a Royal Physician who died in 1759 and who, as previously mentioned, is buried in St Michael’s churchyard. Hulsewood was demolished in 1962 but the modernised Coach House and Lodge still remain.,
At the Lodge turn left into Parsons Lane where you will walk between Wilmington Manor on the left and Wilmington Grange on the right. Both buildings now form part of The Grammar School for Girls Wilmington (formerly The Dartford Technical High School for Girls) but The Manor ● was originally the home of Sir James Whitehead.
On exiting, a slight detour can be made by turning right into Common Lane and then left into Leyton Cross Road to see The Horse and Groom Public House. The Horse and Groom, opposite the Heath, is an early 20th Century building. There is a local myth that Dick Turpin drank there but, as he had met the hangman long before the pub was built, this was highly unlikely if not impossible!! The land to the left of the pub was the site of two 18th Century cottages, one of which was formerly a bakery now unfortunately demolished to make way for houses.
Retracing your steps back to Common Lane the building on your right is Manor Gate. It was used in later years as a retreat for the mentally handicapped but is now a Nursing Home owned by BUPA with some of the grounds recently developed for housing.
Continuing down the hill just past a house named ‘Broomfields’ you will see the start of the grounds of Wilmington Hall. Originally built in 1743 by Sir Edward Bathurst, the Hall had several owners until around 1907 when it was bought by Sir James Whitehead for his eldest son George. As has been said, Sir James lived in the Manor and so to obtain access between the gardens of the Manor and the Hall he erected a bridge over Common Lane, then known as Sherwood Hill. The brick supports can still be seen each side of Common Lane and at the foot of the one in the Hall was an Ice House ●.
The grounds of the Hall are now the sites of Wilmington Grammar School for Boys and Wilmington Academy, formerly Wilmington Hall School. Opposite the Schools you will see Wilmington Common
The Common is lined with magnificent Lime trees planted by Sir James Whitehead in the late 1800s. A flight of steps between two of the houses along the unmade stretch of road that faces the Common leads up to Dartford Heath. The steps, known as Peep Bo Alley, were installed by a John Hayward who lived in Heath House (now The Manor) for easy access from the Common to the Heath. Its original name was Bo Peep Alley but it is not known why the name was changed and when.
Adjacent to the Common you pass the Wilmington Primary School which relocated from the old National School building in the early 1970s. On the other side of the road, opposite the School building, you will see a drinking fountain erected in 1906 in memory of Emily Lumb who was for many years a Governess at Wilmington Hall and a prominent resident of the village who did many good works.
Continue up hill, turn left and on your right you will see The Forresters Public House which was built in 1932 on the site of two demolished cottages to replace the old building. Immediately adjacent is the Village Pound ●, often used to impound stray donkeys from the Heath, In Medieval times the animals would be enclosed by a wattle fence but is now marked by a wall and a bench.
And with the hope that you have enjoyed your walk around Wilmington you will find yourself back at The Memorial Hall