The capital of Kent, on the Medway, and in a tract of land of great fertility, among orchards, hop grounds, and woodlands.
Gravesend is one of the most pleasantly situated, and most easily attained, of all the places thronged upon the margin of the Thames. It is, moreover, a capital starting point for a series of excursions through the finest parts of Kent, and has, besides, in its own immediate neighbourhood, some tempting allurements to the summer excursionist in the way of attractive scenery and venerable buildings. The Terrace Gardens, on each side the entrance to the pier, are really very creditably and tastefully laid out, and as a day-admission-ticket can be had for twopence, expense is no obstacle to the public frequenting them. Directly you traverse the streets of Gravesend you see at a glance for what the town is famous. Shrimps and water-cresses tempt the visitor in every possible variety of supply, and places where both are obtainable, with “Tea at 9d. 2-head,” are in wonderful numerical strength. Taverns and tea gardens are abundant, and most of them have mazes, archery grounds, and “gipsy tents” attached. There is an excellent market, held every Wednesday and Saturday; a Town Hall, built in 1836; a Literary Institution, with a Library, Billiard-rooms and Assembly Rooms inclusive, built in 1842; churches and chapels in abundance; numerous libraries and bazaars; water-works on the summit of Windmill Hill; baths by the river, and a commodious Custom House near the Terrace Gardens.
Windmill Hill is, however, the magnet of the multitude, and is crowned by an excellent tavern, called “The Belle Vue,” to the proprietor of which belongs the old windmill — the first erected in England, and as old in its foundation as the days of Edward III. Here refreshments are provided on the most liberal scale, and an admirable Camera, together with some pleasure-grounds, and a labyrinth of ingenious construction, offer the best and most captivating allurements to visitors. The moderate outlay of one penny entitles the visitor to a telescopic view from the gallery, where the horizon forms the only limit to the vision. There is, on a fine day, a magnificent prospect of the river Thames, as it winds towards the Nore, a distinct survey of the counties of Kent and Essex, and even glimpses of the more distant ones of Surrey and Sussex, including the most noted eminences in each. The shipping at the Nore can be clearly distinguished, although thirty miles distant; Southend in Essex, Hadleigh Castle, the village church of Leigh, a place renowned for its shrimp and oyster fisheries, the isles of Sheppey, Grain, and Calvey are all visible to the east; north and north-west are the Laindon Hills on the opposite shore, farther westward High gate and Hampstead Hills, with a portion of Epping Forest; south-west, Shooter’s Hill, with its commemorative castle of Severndroog, appears rising from a woody undulation; Knockholt Beeches, verging on the very borders of Sussex; and nearer to the hill the sequestered villages of Swanscombe — where Sweyn, the Danish king, encamped, and the “Men of Kent” ably resisted William the Conqueror — Springhead, of water-cress celebrity, Southfleet, and Northfleet.
Looking in a more southerly direction, and beyond the fertile parishes of Wrotham, Ifield, Singlewell, and Meopham, the extensive plantations and sylvan glades of Cobham Park rise on the left, surrounding the ancient hall of the old Lords of Cobham, and now the property of the Earl of Darnley; whilst immediately beneath the eye of the spectator ranges over the unbroken line of picturesque buildings that comprise Rosherville, Gravesend, and Milton, with (on the opposite coast) Tilbury Fort and its extensive moat, the Ferry-house, the villages of the East and West Tilbury, Stanford-le-Hope, Horadon, Shadwell, East and West Thurrock, and a castellated mansion called Belmont. The fertile valley, seen from this height, looks like a Brobdignag estate on a Lilliputian scale; the smoke seems to stand still in the air, the reapers in the field look like Dutch-clock automata, whilst the cattle that here and there dot the plain appear as if some holiday Miss had emptied out the contents of Noah’s Ark. The hedges shrink to rows of boxwood, and the gigantic oaks dwindle to diminutive shrubs. But of all the places round, none should neglect an excursion to Cobham, four miles distant, where, in the old wood and hall, a day’s enjoyment can be most fully insured. There are several vehicles always ready to be hired, that will take the visitor at a reasonable rate by the road; but as those who can appreciate a delightful walk will not find the distance too fatiguing, we shall proceed to indicate the route for the pedestrian. The Hall and Picture Gallery are open to the public every Friday; admission is by tickets, price one shilling each, supplied at Caddel’s Library, and the proceeds thus resulting- are applied to the school and other free institutions of the neighbourhood.
Taking the footpath at the back of Windmill Hill, the pedestrian will find it traversing a picturesque country, now crossing the sweeping undulation of a corn field, and anon skirting a shaded copse, with bluebells and primroses starting up in prodigal luxuriance through the tangled underwood. We next, pass through a hop plantation, and in summer, when the bine has sprung up to the top of the poles, and the shoots have thrust themselves off to the next, and so joined in a leafy communion of luxuriant vegetation, the scene becomes truly Arcadian, and an excellent substitute for the vineyards of the south. Leaving the little village of Singlewell to the right, we have a finger-post to guide us, and a few minutes after reach the outskirts of this sequestered village. The first object to which the visitor will naturally direct his attention is the old church, occupying rising ground in nearly the centre of the parish, and having on the southern side an extensive view. The antiquarian may here enjoy a great treat in inspecting the ancient monuments to be found in the interior, as there are several brasses of the Cobham family, successive generations of which, from the year 1354, have lived and died in the parish. On an altar-monument, in the middle of the chancel, are two full length effigies, with several children around them in a kneeling position. This was erected to the memory of George Lord Cobham, who had been the governor of Calais in the reign of Elizabeth, and who died in 1558. On the tomb of Maud de Cobham is a curious sculptured rig-ore of a dog, and one similar will be found in the chancel on the tomb of Joan, wife of Reginald Braybroke. They are worthy notice, as exemplifying the attachment felt towards two faithful canine adherents to the fortunes of the family. Outside, on the southern wall, there are some elegant tablets, too, of the Darnley family. In 1714, the Hall and estate came by marriage into the possession of an Irish family of the name of Bligh, one of whom, in 1725, was created Earl of Darnley, and the seat of the Earls of Darnley it has continued to be ever since. The Hall is a massive and stately structure, consisting of two wings and a noble centre, the work of Inigo Jones. The oldest portions are those at the two extremities, flanked with octagonal towers. The Picture Gallery, having a choice collection of paintings by the old masters, and the unique gilt hall, form the most prominent features of attraction in the interior, but the apartments besides are elegantly furnished, and the quadrangle and old brick passages of the outbuildings wear about them an aspect of unmistakeable antiquity. On the south side, leading up to the principal entrance, is a noble lime tree avenue, extending upwards of 3,000 feet in length. In the park, which is nearly seven miles round, there are some noble oak and chesnut trees, many of them measuring twenty feet and upwards in circumference. It has also the reputation of producing venison of superior flavour, derived from the peculiar excellence of the herbage, and it was on this fare probably that both Queen Elizabeth and Charles II. were regaled when they visited Cobham; for the former, according to Styrpe, was welcomed with a “delectable banquet and great cheer.” In a romantic spot, towards the south-cast end of the park, on an eminence called “William’s Hill,” there is a spacious mausoleum, erected in 1783, by the present Lord Darnley’s grandfather. It is built of Portland stone in an octagonal form, after the Doric order, and cost £9,000, but never having been consecrated, it has not been devoted to the purpose for which it was intended.
Cobham Wood is a glorious region for the rambler, and the footpath to Rochester, through the very heart of its sylvan solitudes, a delightful track to follow. The pedestrian can also return, through the wood, Upper Shorne, and Gad’s Hill where Prince Hal and his eleven men in buckram robbed Jack Falstaff, to Gravesend by way of Chalk. Either way a day’s enjoyment is complete.
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This ancient borough town, having been a British town before the Roman invasion, stands in a rich vale on the banks of the Medway.
Nature has eminently favoured this town by the salubrity of its air, the potency of its mineral springs, and the adjacent appendages of romantic and agreeable scenery.