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Gravesend Princess

Mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) Gravesend in Kent has been on the map for quite sometime. Back then it was in the hands of Bishop Odo of Bayeux, the half brother of William The Conquer. Gravesend is located near the route of the old Roman road of Watling Street, linking London and south eastern Kent. One theory behind the name ‘Gravesend’ is its likely to have originated from ‘grafs-ham’—the home of the reeve of the bailiff of the Lord of the Manor. Another, that ‘graf-ham’ means ‘at the end of the grave’ and derives from the Saxon ‘Gerevesent, the end of the authority of the Portreeve (which was the Chief Town Administrator).

Although this is all interesting, what drew us into Gravesend? That’s simple.

Pocahontas.


Princess Pocahontas Statue, St George's Church, Gravesend

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Yes, you read correctly. A statue Princess Pocahontas stands proud at St George’s Church in Gravesend, erected to mark the four-hundred-year anniversary of her death. But why the Gravesend connection to Jamestown princess?

Pocahontas had saved the life of her colony leader, Capt John Smith by pleading with the people to spare his life. Converting to Christianity and marrying another settler she changed her name to Rebecca Rolfe. During a propaganda tour to England designed to raise much required monies for their struggling colony Pocahontas fell ill. It’s believed she had either tuberculosis or flu and when the ship she was travelling on docked at Gravesend she was taken ashore. Such diseases were unknown to the colony and thus their people had no immunity to them. Pocahontas, it’s believed, was only around 23 when she died.

Buried at St George’s Church in Gravesend, Pocahontas’ grave was lost during the fire that destroyed the site in the 18th century. The statue that stands in the grounds of the new church echoes the one in honour of her in Jamestown and was built in 1975.

A second memorial to the settlers, in the form of a brass plaque, was on the dockmaster’s house at Blackwall Quay. It commemorates the 105 settlers who left for Virginia in three small ships: The Susan Constant, The Godspeed and Discovery, 1606. Struck with famine and disease along with battles with the native Americans. Just sixty remained after three years. James Rolfe, with seeds of the tobacco plant arrived in 1610, which would become Virginia’s most famous crop. Rolf became Pocahontas’ husband.

Destroyed in the blitz, the plaque is now fixed to a stone monument.


by Donna Siggers and David Last

Pyramid in the Park

Situated in parkland that contains Cobham Woods, Darnley Mausoleum is a striking surprise when you’ve never seen it before. Now owned by the National Trust, this building was designed by James Wyatt for the Forth Earl of Darnley of Cobham Hall in Kent, as detailed in precise instructions of his predecessor, the Third Earl of Darnley. Surprisingly, this structure has never been used for its intended purpose of interments.

Using the architectural style of a grand classical temple of Roman Doric Order, most recognisable by the simple circular capitals at the top of the columns, this isn’t what struck me when Dave took me here recently.


Darnley Mausleum (pictured looking out from woodland)

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Symbolism emits from every part of this incredible building that stands in the middle of the countryside, and anyone that's read my novels might know that I understand it . Most notable is the pyramid (a symbol for strength a duration) atop of it which then made me look for other signs: nine steps lead up to the entrance; nine vents in the form of flowers, each with eight petals, that allow air flow through three windows.

Let’s talk numbers—Masonic numbers. The number three was celebrated among ancient sages, the sum three times three (nine) has no less celebrity. Representing each of the elements which constitutes our bodies—water, earth and fire—are thus tripled. The flowers each have eight petals: eight was esteemed by Pythagoreans as the first cube being formed by the multiplication two by two by two. It signifies friendship, prudence, council and justice. Reduplication of the first even number it was made to refer to the primitive law of nature, supposing all men to be equal. Christian numerical symbologists consider the number eight the number for resurrection—here goes—Jesus rose on the seventh day. In Greek numerals, corresponding to its Greek letters this is represented as 10, 8, 200, 70, 400, 200. These numbers added is 888, the Dominical Number. (Number source: Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry).

Unfortunately, the building was locked so it wasn’t possible to gain entry, but I’m now intrigued as to what symbolism might lay within it.

Returning home with questions as to who might have wanted this important structure built in the first place, I got to researching who the Third Duke of Darnley might have been and the family connections he had were remarkable! Esmè Stewart, 3rd Duke of Lennox (1579-30 July 1624) KG, Lord of the Manor of Cobham, Kent, a Scottish nobleman and second cousin of King James VI of Scotland and I of England was also 3rd Duke of Darnley. Interestingly, his son, the 4th Duke of Darnley, served as Lord Warden of the Clique Ports based in Dover Castle (also in Kent).

Further research has revealed that both King James VI of Scotland (later I of England and Esmè Steward were Freemasons, which explains the elaborate design of Darnley Mausoleum and the rarity of it being placed in vast wooded parkland.

James I will also feature next week as we delve into November, and plots of treason against him.



By Donna Siggers with David Last

Ticking Time Bomb

SS Richard Montgomery, a US Liberty Ship, rests on a sandbank running east from the Isle of Grain approximately 250 metres north of the Medway Approach Channel in the Thames estuary and has done so since it ran aground on 20th August 1944.

 Its an eerie sight, even on the brightest of days.

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Built in 1943 by the St John’s River Shipbuilding Company, Jacksonville, she was one of in excess of 2,700 mass-produced vessels built for the WWII effort. Setting sail containing cargo of 7,000 tonnes of munitions she was directed to anchor in the Great Nore anchorage off Sheerness, to await formation of a convoy before heading to Cherbourg. Running aground in shallow waters just North of the Medway Approach Channel. Efforts to unload her cargo were intensive but a crack appeared in the hull by the next day and unfortunately the forward end begun to flood. Salvage continued until 25th September when she flooded completely and was abandoned. Remaining on the sandbank where she sank, her masts clearly visible above the water, there is something sinister about this ship.

Protected under Section Two of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, there is a no entry exclusion zone around her. Marked on the relevant Admiralty Charts and defined by coordinates—the physical site is marked by buoys in the water that act as a warning other ships in the area. There are also warning signs attached to the masts.


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Why so much protection?

Approximately 1,400 tonnes of explosives remain aboard the forward holds and although water is a good mitigator (allegedly) the issue is the actual wreck around the explosives is decaying. Experts believe the decaying vessel could cause enough energy to detonate the bombs and if this occurred Sheerness could be flattened. The wave and subsequent momentum that would occur from the explosion would, it’s thought, travel the Thames flattening buildings along the way. Of course, there is a lot of speculation of how these explosives may behave after being submerged for such a long time but who needs to be taking such huge chances? 

Another worry is the masts could be struck by a passing vessel and there have been many near misses over the years. Despite the exclusion zone being clearly marked, storms can be difficult to navigate and some of the larger ships, once set on their path are hugely difficult to turn. There are even internet photographs of a paddle boarder entering the exclusion zone and touching a mast. Those images are on google if you’re interested to view them—irresponsibility seems to be high on some people’s agenda. 

Responding to decay and potential danger the plan is to remove the masts from this incredible ghost that sits within our estuary. A silent ticking time-bomb that will be costing £5M in danger money to preserve live and land. Its an incredible story and we are glad we got to view the Montgomery together before her masts disappear. 

We were taken out from Southend-on-Sea by jetstreamtours.com who are based in Rochester, Kent. Their boat, Jacob Marley, has been kitted out in line within Covid-19 guidelines. Each table is divided with plastic divides and numbers are limited on each tour. Hand sanitiser is available and numbers are limited out on deck, with plenty of time for everyone to have their turn taking photographs at each of the sites visited. History of the area is shared by the captain who is very knowledgeable--not just on the sites you have paid to visit but on other hidden gems too. 

by Donna Siggers and David Last