Cliffe, Kent
Cliffe is a village
A village is a clustered human settlement or community, larger than a hamlet with the population ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand , Though often located in rural areas, the term urban village is also applied to certain urban neighbourhoods, such as the West Village in Manhattan, New...

 on the Hoo peninsula
Hoo Peninsula
The Hoo Peninsula is a peninsula in England separating the estuaries of the rivers Thames and Medway. It is dominated by a line of sand and clay hills, surrounded by an extensive area of marshland composed of alluvial silt. The name Hoo is the Old English word for spur of land.-History:The Romans...

 in Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, reached from the Medway Towns by a three-mile journey along the B2000. Situated upon a low chalk escarpment overlooking the Thames marshes
North Kent Marshes
The North Kent Marshes, located in the north of the county of Kent on the Thames Estuary in south-east England, is one of 22 Environmentally Sensitive Areas recognised by the UK government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs...

, Cliffe offers the adventurous rambler views of Southend-on-Sea
Southend-on-Sea is a unitary authority area, town, and seaside resort in Essex, England. The district has Borough status, and comprises the towns of Chalkwell, Eastwood, Leigh-on-Sea, North Shoebury, Prittlewell, Shoeburyness, Southchurch, Thorpe Bay, and Westcliff-on-Sea. The district is situated...

 and London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. It forms part of the parish of Cliffe and Cliffe Woods
Cliffe and Cliffe Woods
Cliffe and Cliffe Woods is a civil parish in the borough of Medway in Kent, England. The parish is located on the Hoo Peninsula and comprises the villages of Cliffe and the suburb, Cliffe Woods....

 in the borough of Medway
Medway is a conurbation and unitary authority in South East England. The Unitary Authority was formed in 1998 when the City of Rochester-upon-Medway amalgamated with Gillingham Borough Council and part of Kent County Council to form Medway Council, a unitary authority independent of Kent County...


In 774 Offa
Offa of Mercia
Offa was the King of Mercia from 757 until his death in July 796. The son of Thingfrith and a descendant of Eowa, Offa came to the throne after a period of civil war following the assassination of Æthelbald after defeating the other claimant Beornred. In the early years of Offa's reign it is likely...

, King of Mercia
Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in the region now known as the English Midlands...

, built a rustic wooden church dedicated to St Helen, a popular Mercian saint who was by legend the daughter of Coel ('Old king Cole') of Colchester
Colchester is an historic town and the largest settlement within the borough of Colchester in Essex, England.At the time of the census in 2001, it had a population of 104,390. However, the population is rapidly increasing, and has been named as one of Britain's fastest growing towns. As the...


Cliffe is cited in early records as having been called Clive and Cloveshoo (Cliffe-at-Hoo).

The ancient Saxon town of Cloveshoo

Clovesho, or Clofeshoch, was an ancient Saxon
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

 town, in Mercia
Mercia was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. It was centred on the valley of the River Trent and its tributaries in the region now known as the English Midlands...

 and near London, where the Anglo-Saxon Church is recorded as holding the important Councils of Clovesho
Councils of Clovesho
The Councils of Clovesho were a series of synods in England in the eighth and ninth centuries.The location of Clovesho has never been conclusively identified, though it must have been in or near the kingdom of Mercia, but also relatively convenient for bishops from the south of England. It has...

 between 742 and 825. These had representation from the archbishopric of Canterbury and the whole English church south of the Humber
The Humber is a large tidal estuary on the east coast of Northern England. It is formed at Trent Falls, Faxfleet, by the confluence of the tidal River Ouse and the tidal River Trent. From here to the North Sea, it forms part of the boundary between the East Riding of Yorkshire on the north bank...


The location of Cloveshoo has never been successfully identified however, although Cliffe could have been the location.


St Helen's church at Cliffe was built about 1260 and was constructed in the local style of alternating layers of Kent ragstone and squared black flint. It is one of the largest parish churches in Kent, and the only dedicated to St Helen, the size of the church revealing its past importance.

Above the porch is a muniment
A Muniment or Muniment of Title is a legal term for a document, or other evidence, that indicates ownership of an asset. The word is derived from munimentum, the Latin word for a defensive fortification...

s room containing important historical documents.

During the 14th century Cliffe was the site of a farm owned by the monks of Christ's Church, Canterbury
Canterbury is a historic English cathedral city, which lies at the heart of the City of Canterbury, a district of Kent in South East England. It lies on the River Stour....

, when the village had a population of about 3,000.

In the late Middle Ages the village of Cliffe supported a port, which thrived until a disastrous fire in 1520 stifled its growth, marking a period of decline, accentuated by the silting of the marshes of the Thames estuary. Nevertheless, during the 16th century, Cliffe-at-Hoo was still considered a town. However, by the middle of the 19th century the population had slumped to about 900.

In 1824, construction of the Thames and Medway Canal
Thames and Medway Canal
The Thames and Medway Canal is a disused canal in Kent, south east England, also known as the Gravesend and Rochester Canal. It was originally some long and cut across the neck of the Hoo peninsula, linking the River Thames at Gravesend with the River Medway at Strood...

 was begun, providing work for able-bodied villagers and other labourers who came to the area, increasing the population once again.

The canal project was a short-lived enterprise, however, superseded by the development of the railways, but the route, including the Higham and Strood tunnel (2.25 miles in length, in two sections) was used by South Eastern Railway
South Eastern Railway (UK)
The South Eastern Railway was a railway company in south-eastern England from 1836 until 1922. The company was formed to construct a route from London to Dover. Branch lines were later opened to Tunbridge Wells, Hastings, Canterbury and other places in Kent...

 from 1845, bringing a branch line to Cliffe in 1882.

Henry Pye

Even in 1895 the number of people contracting malaria
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium. The disease results from the multiplication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases...

 was high but casualties begun reducing sharply after the farmer, Henry Pye, came to the area and systematically begun the drainage of the farmland and marshes thus eliminating the fever. He drained such a large area of the marsh and so improved the grazing pastures that he was called 'King of the Hundreds'.

Henry Pye was an innovator in farming practices promoting the use of Aveling and Porter
Aveling and Porter
Aveling and Porter was a British agricultural engine and steam roller manufacturer. Thomas Aveling and Richard Thomas Porter entered into partnership in 1862, developed a steam engine three years later in 1865 and produced more steam rollers than all the other British manufacturers combined.-The...

 steam engines, locally built in Rochester, for use in ploughing and threshing. In 1878, with other farmers Pye met with the South Eastern Railway Company and petitioned for a railway to be built, resulting in the establishment of the 'Hundred of Hoo Railway
Hundred of Hoo Railway
The Hundred of Hoo Railway is a railway line in Kent, England, following the North Kent Line from Gravesend before diverging at Hoo Junction near Shorne Marshes and continuing in an easterly direction across the Hoo Peninsula, passing near the villages of Cooling, High Halstow, Cliffe and Stoke...

 Company'. The first part of the line was opened in March 1882, running from Cliffe to Sharnal Street.

Victorian Cliffe

The rise of the Kent cement industry brought a new prosperity to the ancient settlement during the Victorian era.

Alfred Francis (second son of Charles), with his son, established the firm of Francis and Co. at the Nine Elms office at Vauxhall, London, and then built the cement works at Cliffe in about 1860. Francis and Co instituted the Nine Elms cement works . These works were built on Cliffe marsh, to the west of the village where the chalk cliffs came almost to within a mile of the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

. The area also proved a useful source of clay.

Alfred Francis died in 1871, but in partnership his son continued to produce 'Portland, Roman, Medina, and Parian cement, Portland stucco and Plaster of Paris', also shipping chalk, flints and fire bricks, from the site.

The riverside location provided ease of transport and wharves were duly built at the mouth of Cliffe creek. A canal was constructed from the works, which gave its name to a tavern built nearby, now long demolished but remembered as the Canal Tavern.

1870-1 saw further developments to the cement works, which were rebuilt and extended, with an elaborate tramway
Rail transport
Rail transport is a means of conveyance of passengers and goods by way of wheeled vehicles running on rail tracks. In contrast to road transport, where vehicles merely run on a prepared surface, rail vehicles are also directionally guided by the tracks they run on...

 added. Methods of extracting the chalk
Chalk is a soft, white, porous sedimentary rock, a form of limestone composed of the mineral calcite. Calcite is calcium carbonate or CaCO3. It forms under reasonably deep marine conditions from the gradual accumulation of minute calcite plates shed from micro-organisms called coccolithophores....

 were basic, involving the labourer being suspended by a rope (around his waist) secured at the cliff top, from which position he would hack out the chalk, so that it fell to the ground below to be collected in a waiting railway wagon.

Further to the north of the Francis and Co works near the river, an explosive works (Curtis & Harvey) opened in 1901. Over the factories' 20-year history 16 people were to lose their lives in explosions.

Francis and Co was taken over about 1900 by the British Portland Cement
Portland cement
Portland cement is the most common type of cement in general use around the world because it is a basic ingredient of concrete, mortar, stucco and most non-specialty grout...

 Company, but after the Great War the cement works began to decline, and was finally phased out in 1920-1.

By 1901 the population of Cliffe had exceeded three thousand.

Alpha cement works

Near the Francis works in 1910 began the Alpha Cement works, part of the Thames Portland Cement
Portland cement
Portland cement is the most common type of cement in general use around the world because it is a basic ingredient of concrete, mortar, stucco and most non-specialty grout...

 Company. The Alpha works were about a mile from the river and included a Goshead aerial cableway which ran alongside the road constructed by the soldiers of Cliffe fort, then disused.

Alpha continued after the closure of the Francis works, which it took over in 1934. With this amalgamation an additional railway was added in 1935 to replace the cableway, linking the works with the quayside next to the fort.

The Alpha site, however, became exhausted by 1950, and further digging led to extensive flooding, as quarrying exceeded the depth of the water table. These quarries, still flooded, offer havens for wildlife, and are among the few surviving that have not been used for rubbish infill or otherwise developed.

A second quarry was begun to the north of Salt Lane, which is still the main access road to Cliffe from the cement works area, on the very edge of the marshes.

By the late 1950s the cement industry in the area was owned by the APCM, which had added a further railway line to the Hundred of Hoo railway, giving the cement manufacturers direct access to the main railway network. The works at Cliffe shut on April 1st 1970, with no further space available for quarrying, but the APCM recreation ground in the centre of the village has remained a valuable open space, with pitches for football, cricket, tennis and bowls.

In 1970 the cement industry was replaced by the Marinex gravel company, whose fleet of ships dredged gravel from the Thames estuary.

The chalk quarry to the south side of Salt Lane is now a wildfowl reserve. In addition, it offers fishing and diving. The water is around fifty to sixty feet deep in parts and divers explore the bed of the old quarry and other underwater features

Cliffe Rectory

Old Cliffe Rectory is some two miles inland from St Helen's Church, supposedly to preserve its inhabitants from the malaria on the marshes. It has housed two chancellors of the exchequer, two archbishops, three deans and 11 archdeacons. Nicholas Heath
Nicholas Heath
Nicholas Heath was archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor.-Life:Heath was born in London and graduated BA at Oxford in 1519. He then migrated to Christ's College, Cambridge, where he graduated BA in 1520, MA in 1522, and was elected fellow in 1524. After holding minor preferments he was appointed...

, Bishop of Rochester
Bishop of Rochester
The Bishop of Rochester is the ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of Rochester in the Province of Canterbury.The diocese covers the west of the county of Kent and is centred in the city of Rochester where the bishop's seat is located at the Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Virgin...

 and Bishop of Worcester
Bishop of Worcester
The Bishop of Worcester is the Ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of Worcester in the Province of Canterbury, England. He is the head of the Diocese of Worcester in the Province of Canterbury...

 also lived at the rectory. The 'living' at Cliffe in the 17th century was described as 'one of the prizes of the church'.

Susanna Wesley
Susanna Wesley , born Susanna Annesley, was the daughter of Dr. Samuel Annesley and Mary White, and the mother of John and Charles Wesley....

, the daughter of Samuel Annesley
Samuel Annesley
Samuel Annesley was a prominent Puritan and nonconformist pastor, best known for the sermons he collected as the series of Morning Exercises.-Life:...

, who married the Reverend Samuel Wesley
Samuel Wesley (poet)
Samuel Wesley was a poet and a writer of controversial prose. He was also the father of John Wesley and Charles Wesley, founders of the Methodist Church.-Family and early life:...

, father of John Wesley
John Wesley
John Wesley was a Church of England cleric and Christian theologian. Wesley is largely credited, along with his brother Charles Wesley, as founding the Methodist movement which began when he took to open-air preaching in a similar manner to George Whitefield...

, founder of the Wesleyans, also lived at Cliffe Rectory.

The new rectory is within sight of the church.

Rye Farm

The Grade II-listed barn at Rye Farm, in Common Lane, Cliffe dates from the 1570s. It is described as a 16th-century Grade II barn "with archaic details." Beneath its present asbestos roof is a timber framed three bay barn with weatherboarded walls and a traditional hipped roof. It includes an ancient wagon porch.

Cliffe Fort

Cliffe Fort
Cliffe Fort
Cliffe Fort is a Royal Commission fort built in the 1860s on the edge of the Cliffe marshes on the Hoo Peninsula in north Kent to protect against invasion via the Thames. It is opposite Coalhouse Fort in Essex: they are 2 km apart. Construction was difficult due to the marshy ground and the...

 is a Royal Commission
Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom
In 1859 Lord Palmerston instigated the Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom because of serious concerns that France might attempt to invade the UK...

 fort built in the 1860s on the edge of the marshes to protect against invasion via the Thames. A Brennan Torpedo
Brennan Torpedo
The Brennan torpedo was a torpedo patented by Irish born Australian inventor Louis Brennan in 1877. It was powered by two contra-rotating propellors that were spun by rapidly pulling out wires from drums wound inside the torpedo...

 station was added in 1890, the rails of which are still visible at low water, and was used as an anti-aircraft battery in World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. It is now inside a gravel extraction site and is inaccessible and very overgrown, but can be viewed from the riverside path.

Cliffe airport

In 2002 the government identified a site at Cliffe as the leading contender among potential sites for a new airport for London. In December 2003 the government decided against the Cliffe proposal on the grounds that the costs of a coastal site were too high, and there was a significant risk that the airport would not be well used.

The Hans Egede

A prominent feature where the marshes meet the river for many years, The Hans Egede
Hans Egede
Hans Poulsen Egede was a Norwegian-Danish Lutheran missionary who launched mission efforts to Greenland, which led him to be styled the Apostle of Greenland. He established a successful mission among the Inuit and is credited with revitalizing Dano-Norwegian interest in the island after contact...

was a wooden, auxiliary 3-masted ship
Since the end of the age of sail a ship has been any large buoyant marine vessel. Ships are generally distinguished from boats based on size and cargo or passenger capacity. Ships are used on lakes, seas, and rivers for a variety of activities, such as the transport of people or goods, fishing,...

, built in 1922 by J. Th. Jorgensen at Thuro, Denmark. It was reported damaged by fire on 21 August 1955 and towed to Dover where the fire was extinguished.

In 1957 she passed into the ownership of the Atlas Diesel Co. and was towed out of Dover by the tug Westercock. She then spent some years in the Medway
River Medway
The River Medway, which is almost entirely in Kent, England, flows for from just inside the West Sussex border to the point where it enters the Thames Estuary....

 as a coal
Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock usually occurring in rock strata in layers or veins called coal beds or coal seams. The harder forms, such as anthracite coal, can be regarded as metamorphic rock because of later exposure to elevated temperature and pressure...

 and/or grain
GRAIN is a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems. Our support takes the form of independent research and analysis, networking at local, regional and...

Hulk (ship)
A hulk is a ship that is afloat, but incapable of going to sea. Although sometimes used to describe a ship that has been launched but not completed, the term most often refers to an old ship that has had its rigging or internal equipment removed, retaining only its flotational qualities...

. She was then towed to Cubitt Town
Cubitt Town
Cubitt Town is an area on the Isle of Dogs in Tower Hamlets in London, England. It is on the east of the Isle, facing Greenwich across the River Thames. To the west is Millwall, to the northwest Canary Wharf and to the north, across the Blue Bridge, Blackwall...

 on the Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

. As the tug Fossa from Gravesend
Gravesend, Kent
Gravesend is a town in northwest Kent, England, on the south bank of the Thames, opposite Tilbury in Essex. It is the administrative town of the Borough of Gravesham and, because of its geographical position, has always had an important role to play in the history and communications of this part of...

 was towing her up Sea Reach the strain on the structure, which had become weakened over the years, proved too much, causing her to take in water and sink. After grounding on the Blyth Sands she was beached at Cliffe.

Film and media

Cliffe marshes stood in for the paddy fields of Vietnam in Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick was an American film director, writer, producer, and photographer who lived in England during most of the last four decades of his career...

's 1987 film Full Metal Jacket
Full Metal Jacket
Full Metal Jacket is a 1987 war film produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick. It is an adaptation of the 1979 novel The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford and stars Matthew Modine, Vincent D'Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey, Arliss Howard and Adam Baldwin. The film follows a platoon of U.S...


External links

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