Pocahontas 400 – Trading through the centuries
Planning an international celebration in Gravesend to mark the 400th anniversary of Princess Pocahontas’ visit to and demise at this historic Thameside port, it is time to focus on early settlements in North America and the migration of English folk under the leadership of the Virginia Company to establish a trading base in a very competitive new world. Times don’t change!
For years, Gravesend was the first port of arrival into England and likewise for departure and arrival of passengers bound for the new world. About 25 miles downstream from London, here ships replenished their stores and took on board the necessary ‘vitals’ for their ocean voyages. Water is still an important factor, and bowsers still supply fresh water sourced from fresh chalk springs to shipping in general.
Special rowing boats speeded passengers to and from the capital, while cargoes were handled alongside ancient quays and warehouses and, of course, in vast London Dockyards of yesteryear. Now days Tilbury, just across the water on the Essex side, is a thriving port and cruise ship terminal, and the new Thames Gateway Container Port is playing a significant role in global shipping. A cross-river ferry of historic foundation still plies between the two communities. The ‘Princess Pocahontas’, a Gravesend-based tripper boat still plies the Thames up to Greenwich and Westminster or Tower Pier, exposing passengers to the secret world of the lower tidal Thames.
The launch of the Pocahontas 400 Programme presentation was held on board ‘MV Balmoral’, where a distinguished gathering of the mayors of neighbouring boroughs and county celebrities gathered to hear about the proposed events. The ‘Balmoral’s’ captain and crew provided an excellent buffet for the eighty or so invitees to hear of the planned events in March 2017.
The town pier’s pontoon has recently been installed to provide access into the historic town centre via the restored High Street. A fine statue of the Indian princess stands in the gardens of St. George’s Church, with an informative visitor centre close by. Gravesend Station provides access to London via the newly-installed express to London’s St. Pancras Station and stopping trains to North Kent. Ebbsfleet International station is served by an upgraded bus service (direct rail links to France and beyond).
Thames trade seems to be booming as the effects of the newish Thames Gateway Container Port seems to be more than flourishing./ I was thrilled by an overview of the low-lying marshes which can be clearly seen from the high ground at Cliffe Church, with a unique panoramic view over Lower Hope Point towards Corringham and downstream towards the port of Tilbury on the Essex side surprises one. Mighty new container cranes are still arriving from the Far East. I spotted a new pair which had off-loaded from a purpose-built freighter with another pair still on board at the Gateway. Recent TV programmes have been highlighting this massive new investment.
Thames Port, just round the corner on the Medway, is also earmarked for expansion. Container traffic on the QE Bridge at Dartford with new interchanges bear witness to the massive increase. Perhaps the newly planned downstream crossing could even have a railway to the nearby tracks which bear not only passenger traffic but also heavy commercial traffic. Alternative crossing routes are in discussion but I feel an iconic bridge, not a tunnel, would provide drama to the inevitable growth in the South East, and perhaps relieve the east-west commuter flow as well. I share Reg Ward’s vision of a new water city as tidal increase will require effective defences, especially as low-lying communication routes will need to be addressed.