Ordnance Survey
OS grid reference: TQ595745
Parish: Swanscombe and Greenhithe
District: Dartford
Shire county: Kent
Region: South East England
Country: England
Ceremonial county: Kent
Historic county: Kent
Police force: Kent Police
Post office and telephone
Postal district: DA10
Dialling code: 01322
UK Parliament: Dartford
European Parliament: South East England

Swanscombe is a village, part of the Borough of Dartford on the north Kent coast in England. It is part of the civil parish of Swanscombe and Greenhithe.



Bone fragments and tools, representing the earliest humans known to have lived in England, have been found from 1935 onwards at the Barnfield Pit about 2 km outside of the village. Swanscombe Man (now thought to be female) was a late Homo erectus or an early Archaic Homo sapiens. The 200,000 to 300,000 year-old skull fragments are kept at the Natural History Museum in London with a replica on display at the Dartford Museum. Lower levels of the Barnfield Pit yielded evidence of an even earlier, more primitive human, dubbed Clactonian Man.

Viking era

During archaeological work undertaken at Ebbsfleet, before construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, an Anglo-Saxon mill and a Roman villa were found near Swanscombe.

From Crayford to the Isle of Thanet, the Danes occupied the land and terrorised the Saxon inhabitants, giving rise to the appearance of Deneholes, of which many have survived to this day. These were wells, cut deep into the chalk landscape, thought to be for concealing people and goods. They have a simple vertical shaft with short tunnels bearing horizontally from the base.

The Vikings settled throughout the winter along the Thames estuary with their ships, and established camps in Kent and Essex. In surveying the distribution of the many deneholes along the Thames corridor it would appear that Essex, on the northern shore of the Thames, sustained a greater influx of Vikings than did Kent, there being considerably more recorded deneholes in Essex, particularly around Orsett and Grays.

Archaeological digs and centuries of tilling have revealed a Danish castle and settlement, with pottery, anchors, weapons and some ships' timbers. The settlement was later variously called Suinescamp (in the Domesday Book), Sweinscamp and Swanscamp, the name deriving from the Viking king Sweyn Forkbeard, who landed in East Anglia, and became King of England in 1013. Father of Canute, Sweyn died at Gainsborough on the Trent in 1014. Canute (Cnut) died in 1035 his sons were unable to hold on to his empire, he was king of England, Scotland, Norway and Denmark.

Other research suggests that deneholes might have been dug as a method of extracting chalk for use on the fields above, or the mining may have been a by-product of defence. In any case, the practice reached a peak around the 13th14th centuries, long after the Viking raids had ceased.

Norman Conquest

In 1066 Swanscombe locals massed an army in defiance of William I, and so won the right to continue their ancient privileges, including the tradition of passing inheritance by gavelkind. The men of Kent met William near Swanscombe, where the Saxons concealed their number with branches, thus intimidating the Norman army. They were offered a truce that left Kent as the only region in England which William did not conquer. Kent County Council have inherited the motto Invicta, meaning unconquered.


Richard Norman Shaw (commonly known as Norman Shaw) built a church at Swanscombe for the workers of the cement industry, and it survives as a rare example of his design.

The flint-built parish church of St Peter and Saint Paul, partially Saxon, had a spire on its tower until 1902, when the church was struck by lightning causing extensive damage. The parish register dates from 1559.

Second World War

Just after 8 O'clock on the evening of Sunday 10 November 1940 a German bomb crashed down directly into the Star Inn, causing in a single explosion, Swanscombe's worst wartime disaster. All that was left of the after the explosion, where the pub had stood was a "heap of bricks and twisted rafters"¹ surrounding the smoldering pit that had been the cellar, although the staircase leading to the clubroom upstairs extended up out of the wreckage. Distressed families of those known to be in the pub at the time gathered at the streets corners awaiting news of the casualties as bodies were gradually recovered from the ruins.

The official casualty lists revealed the death toll to be 27, with six others seriously injured with five people slightly hurt.

"The landlord was amongst the dead, although his wife and daughter survived. The barmaid who was killed had given notice the week before the raid but had stayed on that evening because of the match. One of the other victims was a merchant seaman on seven days' leave who had spent two days travelling from Scotland to see his wife and children and was having a drink with his father in the pub at the time of the bombing: both were killed."¹

On 30 July 1940 another, attack by the Luftwaffe led to the death of over a dozen civilians, with 22 others seriously injured. Its proximity to London and position under the German flight path to the city meant that Swanscombe fell victim to this kind of damage several times during the war.

¹ Andrew Rootes (1980) "Front Line County".

Cement industry

The southeast of England has abundant resources of clay and chalk. The first mining activity known in the area was for flint, a rock commonly found across the North and South Downs and in the Weald. This was used for tools.

The first cement manufacturing works near Swanscombe were opened at Northfleet, around 1792. James Frost was the first to establish production, having patented a new cement mix called British Cement. By 1882 several cement manufacturers were operating across the north Kent region, but the resulting dust pollution drove the people of Swanscombe to take legal action against the local cement works. Despite various technological innovations, the problem persisted into the 1950s, with telegraph lines over an inch thick in white dust. Modern cement kilns in Kent using chimneys 170 m (550 feet) in height are now said to be the cleanest in the world. However, the neighbouring Medway towns are reported to be the most polluted inhabited area in the UK, and the cement industry contributes to acid rain in Scandinavia.

Blue Circle

Image:Blue-Circle Barge, Thames Barge Race at Gravesend.Gif
Blue Circle Barge in the Thames Barge Race at Gravesend

The APCM, or Blue Circle, came to the area in 1900 and by 1920 owned four factories located at Swanscombe, Northfleet, Greenhithe and Stone.

By 1970 the North Kent cement industry had evolved to become the largest centre for the production of cement in Europe, supporting a long tradition of research and development to perfect the processes used in the manufacture of chalk-based products.

Bluewater shopping complex

One of the large quarries created as a legacy of the cement industry, between Watling Street and the village of Stone, is the site of the Bluewater shopping complex, one of the largest such centres in Europe. [2004] It has been announced that an adjacent quarry is to be given up for housing — more than 700 houses will be built there.

Palaeoloxodon antiquus

The skeleton of an ancient species of elephant has been preserved in the sediment near what was once the edge of a small lake. The skeleton was surrounded by flint tools. Only a few elephant skeletons have been found in Britain. The Swanscombe example was discovered by geologist Dr Peter Allen and has since been identified by the Natural History Museum as the straight-tusked Palaeoloxodon antiquus, which became extinct over 100,000 years ago.

Most of Wikipedia's text and many of its images are licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC BY-SA)

Return to Main Index