The history of Northfleet Harbour
Northfleet Harbour is formed from a natural river inlet of the River Fleet into the Thames. Parts of the harbour grew over solid chalk, forming a very usable marine facility from a very early time. A short distance upstream on the River Fleet (now known as the River Ebbsfleet) is evidence of Roman Temples, a Roman Burial Ground, and a Roman Villa and related buildings; and later a thriving Saxon community which left behind a rare water wheel, excavated as part of the Ebbsfleet International and High Speed 1 railway works.
The River Fleet was no longer navigable in the 18th century, as a watermill and weir had been created for flour production. Parts of this may still survive - a full archaeological study is needed - but this flour mill was then superceded by a water mill for cement production, parts of which do still survive.
More recently the harbour was home to the development of the cement industry, which is of major significance as this would have been one of the earliest sites for cement exporting.
Northfleet Harbour in present times
A large part of the Trust's work is about raising local awareness with residents and users of the Thames about its potential.
Despite its huge size, there has been little activity in the area since the Harbour was sealed off by a flood defence wall built across the entrance. The harbour itself is virtually intact with all of its walls being preserved in time as they were prior to WW2.
In this picture, the harbour walls can be seen surrounding the silted over harbour. Factories to the left of the image have recently been demolished and will be a £0.5bn mixed development site as part of the regeneration of the area. The bottom left hand corner of the image shows the access point to the harbour cut off by a flood wall. The Trust's aim is to have this obstacle removed and an alternative flood strategy created that allows this historic harbour to provide a desperately needed maritime resource for the Thames.
The Harbour walls are in good condition and need little work to bring the Harbour back into use.
The Trust's Objectives
Northfleet Harbour Restoration Trust is a registered charity. Its aims and objectives are:
- Restore full use and access to the Historic Northfleet Harbour and its historic slipway
- Re-introduce spawning fish into the River Fleet and re-open the culvert along Thames Way between Ebbsfleet FC Football Ground and the Railway line
- Create a centre for sporting activity and a birthplace for future champions
- Celebrate the very rich and hidden heritage of Northfleet Harbour area by opening it up to the public and providing interpretation an educational resources. To enable this, they will ensure a full archaeological investigation to explore the potential Roman and Saxon use of the harbour associated with the recent finds at Ebbsfleet, as well as to fully understand and interpret the modern industrial history from armaments and cement through to shipbuilding
- Restore the Northfleet Mill Pond to create a vital environment to promote biodiversity, fish spawning, as well as increasing the flood storage capacity of the River Fleet in the rare (and possibly unlikely) event that it should be needed
- Restore the 18th century tidal mill. This will perform several functions: it will aid the migratory fish transit, control water levels, provide interpretation for a valuable heritage asset and allow electricity to be generated for the use of the harbour and to feed into the national grid
- Provide a base for organisations like The Marine Volunteer Service, and Sea Scouts to operate from, promote educational resources for both heritage marine and boat building skills
- Create a base for historic vessels and ship builders and repairers, The Kenya Jacaranda and Vigilant have expressed an interest as I am sure would the many other sailing barges and steam ships that struggle to find a base on the Thames with the lack of space available
- Create much needed employment for the residents of Northfleet, there are no end of studies demonstrating the amount of work generated by ship and boat repairs and other marina service industries
- Create a marina the size of Gillingham Marina with pretty much full tidal access 24hrs of the day (the Gravesend Canal Basin is only accessible 2hrs a day and is less than a fifth of the size of the huge Northfleet Harbour)
- Provide the only such facility between Ramsgate and London Docks (not even Greenwich has such an exciting and useful offer) and thus a much welcomed and much needed stop off point
- Provide an attractive destination for restaurants, shops, pubs and clubs and a major tourist destination as part of the neighbouring regeneration scheme.
The Future for Northfleet Harbour