Today's casual observer would be astonished to discover the very long and rich history that lies behind the current fa├žade of modern Crayford.  There are still clues to that history, such as the Town Hall (originally built by Vickers in 1915 as a canteen for the company's workers), and St Paulinus Church looking over the town from the top of Crayford High Street.

The earliest indications of local activity are prehistoric finds estimated at about 200,00 years old.  The first settlement is thought to be from the Iron Age (c30BC-40AD);   remains of this were discovered in two excavations in 1936 and 1993 in the area of St. Paulinus.

It is claimed that the Roman town of Noviomagus was at Crayford, as Crayford is situated on the Roman London-Dover road of Watling Street, which originally ran over the old ford of the river, up the steep High Street and along Old Road. In the 1850's a Roman galley was unearthed from Marshland near the David Evans printing works, and in 1878 a Roman coffin was excavated from a site approximately where the junction of London Road and Bourne Road is today.  According to The Anglo Saxon Chronicles,  Crayford is also the site of the Battle of Crecganford in 457AD when the Britons were defeated by Hengist, leader of the Jutes.

Although St. Paulinus Church was built around 1100AD it probably occupies the site of an earlier Saxon church.  In mediaeval times it was popular with pilgrims, travelling to the shrine of St. Thomas a Becket at Canterbury, who would pray for a safe journey across the dangerous heath land between Crayford and London.  The income thus generated enabled the church to build a second nave, making it one of only three churches to have twin naves in the country.

Over the years many notable houses and estates were settled in the Crayford area, most of which now have been lost.  The first manor was established in the 14th century and located probably where Crayford Manor House still stands to the north west of St. Paulinus Church.  The current house is an early 19th century construction, commissioned by the Rev. Thomas Barne, a member of the family who gave their name to Barnehurst, Barnes Cray and so on.

The large Jacobean house of May Place stood where Barnehurst Golf Clubhouse now stands.  This was the principal country seat in the area for many years, and between 1694-1707 was the home of Sir Cloudesley Shovel, Rear Admiral of England and Commander in Chief of the Fleet in the Mediterranean, and MP for Rochester.  Sir Cloudesley lost his life when his ship the Association was wrecked off the Isles of ScillyHis body was recovered and buried in Westminster Abbey under a monument erected to his memory by Queen Anne.

Shenstone was built in the 1820's by Augustus Applegath, inventor and textile printer.  When David Evans bought Applegath's textile printing business in 1843, he also took on Shenstone and its park.  In 1947 the house was acquired by Crayford UDC and used in different ways before being demolished.  The park, however, became a public open space and remains so today.

Despite being a country village for a long time, Crayford played a significant part in various industries.  Iron working was one of the earliest, an iron mill existing during the reign of Elizabeth I, producing plate for armour.  Today's Iron Mill Lane testifies to its existence.  Subsequently it became a saw mill, and there was also a corn mill.

The River Cray, at one time tidal and bigger than the river we know today, provided water power and transport.  This encouraged the growth of industries such as tanning, and textile work which began in the late 17th century when 120 acres of whitening grounds were laid out where fabric was bleached by the sun and washed in the free-flowing clear water.  This led to textile printing being started in the area and a number of business were set up, the last two being that of Charles Swaisland 1814-1963, and David Evans 1843-2001.  Swaisland was famous for furnishing fabrics and Victorian shawls, for one of which they won a Prize Medal at the Great Exhibition 1851.  David Evans printed almost entirely on silk for such notable names as Liberty, Turnbull & Asser, Holland & Holland, Elizabeth Emanuel and so on.

Other industries included barge building on Crayford Creek until the early 1920's, Rutter's brick making which declined after World War 1 due to competition from machine-made bricks and the decreasing supply of brick earth, and of course agriculture.  The major employer, however, was the huge armaments firm of Vickers who arrived in 1897 taking the workforce from 300 to 14,000 during World War 1.  Vickers had the Barnes Cray estate built to house these workers, and The Princesses Theatre in 1916 to entertain them.

The First and Second World Wars were bravely struggled through, and by 1951 the population had reached 27,950.  In 1965 Crayford combined with other local areas to form the London Borough of Bexley.  Today the town revolves around the retail trade with a large Sainsbury's supermarket, and the Tower Retail Park which opened in 1999 on part of what was the Vickers factory site. A new library has been built, as has much new housing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    June 2016

For further information see Crayford - A History by E.O Thomas. Other books and information are available from Bexley Local Studies & Archives above Townley Road Library, Bexleyheath.  Also, Crayford Town Archive (Crayford Library every Monday afternoon 2-4pm except the third Monday of the Month).

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