“You live in Gravesend? What a macabre sounding place!” people often comment when they hear where I live. Well, if you originally come from a place called Helsinki it doesn’t seem too bad! “Where is Gravesend and where does the name come from?” are the most common questions I then get asked, so here are some answers!
Gravesend is an ancient town first mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086, situated on the south bank of the River Thames in Kent less than 35 km from central London. In fact, the Gravesend area carries evidence of both Stone Age and Iron Age settlement and extensive Roman remains have been also been found, which is no surprise as Gravesend lies immediately to the north of the Roman road connecting London with the Kent coast!
Quite wrongly, it is commonly assumed that the name Gravesend or Gravesham (the name of the Borough) has something to do with graves, but historians claim that the name most probably derives from graaf-ham, the hamlet of the Reeve (greve in low Saxon language). Today, Gravesend is a thriving multicultural town with just over 100,000 inhabitants out of which about 10% are Sikhs.
One of the bonuses of living in Gravesend is that the town has an Oceanic Climate, being accorded Köppen Climate Classification-subtype of “Cfb” and is often recorded as the hottest place in the UK! The highest ever temperature in the UK, 38.1 °C was recorded in Gravesend in 2003 as was the highest ever temperature for October 29.9 °C, in 2011. So a great place for someone like myself who loves sunbathing and history!
Speaking of history, when hubby and I moved to Gravesend, we were told that an Indian Princess was buried in town. “Ah”, we thought, “no wonder there is a big Sikh community here, they obviously have heritage in the town!” We are still today thankful to the person who prevented us from further embarrassment and kindly enlightened us that it was not a Sikh princess but a Native American Indian princess! Yes, Pocahontas was a real life person, who when leaving London with her husband John Rolfe in 1617, fell fatally ill on the ship and her body was consequently carried ashore and buried in Gravesend.
Today, whenever we have visitors from Finland, we always tell them the story and take them to see Princess Pocahontas’ grave and statue, situated in the grounds of the St George’s Church.
Other famous people associated with Gravesend are Charles Dickens who lived in one of the villages nearby as well as the Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov who was posted to Gravesend with the Russian Navy in 1862.
So there you see, Gravesend has nothing to do with graves and is a great place for a girl from Helsinki who loves sun, history and pubs!