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The River Cray

Steve Thoroughgood PRO 11:06pm, 4 March 2008
This river, approximately nine miles in length, commences at Orpington Ponds, and flows via St. Mary Cray, St. Paul's Cray, Footscray, North Cray, Bexley and Crayford before joining the River Darent near Dartford.

There are references to the Cray as early as 785AD when Offa, the King of Mercia, gave some land named Craeges Aewlma to one of his vassels, a man called Ufa.

According to Edward Hasted, Craeges Aewlma means river spring, and the river takes its name from the Saxon 'crecia' meaning a brook or rivulet. However, more recent research suggests that the Cray comes from the Celtic word 'crei' meaning fresh or clean.

In the centuries that lay ahead, the Cray was to be recognised for its good supply of of clear, sparkling water, a supply abundant enough and sufficiently fast 'flowing to allow the building of several mills that brought work to the inhabitants of the villages along its way, no less than five of which actually take their names from the river itself.

The Domesday records of 1087 show that eleven mills existed between Orpington and Crayford and, over the centuries, high quality paper, silk, book-binding cloth, textiles, cereals and flour have been produced in these mills.

Tributaries of the Cray include the Shuttle (also known as the Bourne river), the Wansunt and the Wincham Stream.

Some notes freely 'cribbed' from the book 'Along the River Cray', an excellent pictorial publication by Katherine Harding and Denise Baldwin.

Over a course of time, it is my intention to post a selection of Cray-related photos (including some vintage postcards, if permitted here?) which currently exist in my photo stream and which will, hopefully, provide fairly comprehensive coverage of the river and its tributaries. Since my interest is currently confined to the river within the London Borough of Bexley, I have yet to obtain shots which illustrate the Cray south of Footscray, something I hope to remedy soon.

Steve


Maiden Lane.17.04.06

Crayford, view from Maiden Lane bridge. A tranquil scene in the heart of suburbia!
sue tortoise PRO 10 years ago
This information is very interesting to me: born and raised in Sidcup until my 20's. For all that 'Five Arches Meadows' was just at the end of our road, and I spent many happy childhood days down by the river, I've got no pictures of it and knew very little about it.
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
Hi, Sue,

I'm originally from north of the borough (Crayford & Bostall Heath), but return every two weeks or so to take photos for my own 'Domeus' Bexley group.

I have a few pictures of Cray Meadows in my photo stream, including two of Five Arch Bridge, one of which is reproduced below.

Cray Meadows is, undoubtedly, one of my favourite open spaces within the borough. Apart from Five Arch Bridge, there are still traces of Footscray Place to be seen in the grounds, plus a perfectly preserved lime-tree avenue, Penny Farthing Bridge, the 1903 bowls pavillion, the restored stable block, and an abundance of trees infested by a large parakeet colony! The Cray north of Five Arch Bridge contains water fit to drink, or so it appears!

Steve

Five arch bridge.01.04.07
Steve Thoroughgood PRO Posted 10 years ago. Edited by Steve Thoroughgood (member) 10 years ago
This photo shows the Cray at Crayford Marshes, just before it joins the Darent River. The Cray is tidal at this point, and sluice gates (behind the photographer) control the flow of the Cray as the Wansunt Stream and the Stanham River are pumped into the creek.

This area is looking decidedly tatty these days, with much of the land to the left being used as a landfill site. Just out of view (to the right) is the Queen Elizabeth Bridge.

Steve
Cray Marshes. 26.06.05
Steve Thoroughgood PRO Posted 10 years ago. Edited by Steve Thoroughgood (member) 10 years ago
Crayford Creek in all its glory! Here, flow to the creek (a short channel of the Cray) has been temporarily halted, controlled by a sluice gate at Bakers Mill Pond, until water from the Wansunt Stream has been pumped in.

Crayford Creek.26.06.2005
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
Two more views of Crayford Creek:-

Crayford Creek.09.08.2007
This one was taken from the railway arch looking west towards Bakers Mill Pond and Thames Road.

Crayford Creek.09.08.2007
Personally, I find a great deal of beauty in Victorian railway architecture; others find it dull and unsightly. Nevertheless, this view shows one of two small channels between the Cray and the Creek.
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
Bakers Mill Pond as seen from Thames Road bridge. The river divides at this point for a short distance, but continues to flow behind the jumble in the background. On the right hand bank can be seen the sluice gate used to control water flow into the creek.

As the name would imply, Bakers Mill Pond refers to the mill which stood nearby for many years.

Bakers Mill Pond.09.08.2007
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
Bakers Mill Pond in Edwardian times, a great deal larger in those days.

Saw Mills, 1910
Steve Thoroughgood PRO Posted 10 years ago. Edited by Steve Thoroughgood (member) 10 years ago
The Cray, flowing east having passed through Bakers Mill pond. Remains of he old Vitbe mill can be seen above the sluice. The sluice itself appears to be the remains of foundations to an earlier mill built on the site.

Mill sluice gate.09.08.2007
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
The Cray flowing east towards the Darent. It will be joined by the creek, just beyond the railway bridge in the distance.

River Cray.09.08.2007
electropod 10 years ago
Great research, Steve, and some marvellous photos. You seem to get into the most awkward places in search of the river's essential character
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
I have to admit that I often get my fifteen year old son to take the awkward shots for me. I'm not as agile as I used to be!

Steve
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Wider World 10 years ago
I'm really enjoying this thread, Steve. Your hard work and effort is much appreciated. Indeed, you have provided a benchmark for the rest of us. Thanks, and keep up the good work!
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
Thank you for your kind comments WW, very much appreciated.

Steve
Steve Thoroughgood PRO Posted 10 years ago. Edited by Steve Thoroughgood (member) 10 years ago
Continuing our epic journey along the Cray, we pass under Thames Road bridge at Bakers Mill Pond and into the stretch which runs alongside Barnes Cray Fields. This area has recently received minor alterations in a road widening scheme, with the addition of a new brick-faced bridge built to carry traffic on a new carriageway between Dartford and Erith. The old bridge is a fairly nondescript concrete affair, now largely hidden from view and used soley to carry west to east traffic.

Thames Road Bridge.18.08.2007
The new Thames Road bridge, seen shortly after completion.
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
The North West Kent Sewer crosses the Cray at this point, and three elderly valve control cages can be seen in the vicinity. This one stands a little to the right in Barnes Cray Fields.

Valve Cage.18.08.07
Steve Thoroughgood PRO Posted 10 years ago. Edited by Steve Thoroughgood (member) 10 years ago
A tributary of the Cray is the Wansunt Stream which flows through Crayford from an area near Dartford Heath. It is piped through most of the former Vickers' works, and emerges east of Maiden Lane bridge where it runs adjacent to the Cray as far as Thames Road, then out into the Creek.

This is the view from Thames Road, looking west towards Crayford.

River Wansunt.18.08.07
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
Barnes Cray Field itself was largely industrial until the mid 1900s. Traces no longer exist, apart from the remains of an iron lattice bridge used to transport Vickers' steam locomotives between their Crayford works and the Creek. The railway crossed the Wansunt Stream (as seen here) and ran alongside the Cray to a level crossing at Thames Road. It was out of use by the 1950s, and the remaining traces which included the level crossing, the Maiden Lane Bridge and adjoining fiddle yard, were removed by 1970.

Vickers Bridge 07.05.2006

Vickers Bridge 07.05.2006
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
The Wansunt Stream looking from the iron lattice bridge towards the former Vickers' works at Maiden Lane.

Wansunt Stream.07.05.06
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
Worth a special mention is the wetland currently being developed between the Wansunt Stream and the Stanham river at Thames Road. Industrial activity over the past 50 years or so has seen a sharp decline in the land as suitable habitat for wildlife. It is hoped that this commendable effort will go some way to restoring the balance.

Wetland 10.02.2008
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
Back to the Cray, now, and this 1980 view shows the stretch between Barnes Cray Field and Crayford Way, looking towards Thames Road.

Visible through the trees on the left is a long out of use abbatoir, and to the extreme right can be seen the Vickers iron lattice bridge.

Cray.05.05.80
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
One of the more pleasant parts of the Cray along this stretch is the area beside the Maiden Lane road bridge. Swans can often be seen here in the summer months, plus the occasional grass-snake and water vole on the bank opposite. The building is Barnes Cray Cottages, built around 1695.

Cray swans.07.05.06
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
I couldn't resist posting this picture of Barnes Cray Cottages. It stands on land occupied by three barns of similar age (although much modified), one of which is used as an auction room. Also nearby is Westbrook Farm cottage, and the whole ensemble serves a reminder of Crayford's rural past.

Barnes Cray Cottages.16.07.06
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
This is the tranquil scene from the other side of Maiden Lane road bridge. The Cray flows past the rear gardens in Barnes Cray Road, once the site of a large mansion used as a hospital during WW2. There is no pedestrian access to the river along this short stretch, much to the delight of householders in the area.

River Cray
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
The mile or so stretch between Barnes Cray Road and Crayford town centre flows through a densely wooded area making photography practically impossible in places. 'Barnes Cray Garden Village' (built by Vickers between 1916 & 1921) lays to the north with Crayford Way running parallel to the river. To the south is an industrial estate, gradually taking shape on land formerly owned by Vickers' and Baker's, the latter of whom were successors to Swaisland's fabric printing company.

These two views show the river at the Barnes Cray Road entrance to the walkway.

River Cray, 21.06.2006

River Cray, 21.06.2006
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
Further along, one can see the defence wall erected by Vickers' in 1918 after the premises were flooded (eventually to a depth of three feet) following three days continuous downpour.

River Cray.21.06.06
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
Two views taken close to Crayford town centre.

River Cray, 21.06.2006

River Cray, 21.06.2006
Steve Thoroughgood PRO Posted 10 years ago. Edited by Steve Thoroughgood (member) 10 years ago
The Crayford Way entrance to the Cray walkway, marked by a wooden obelisk. The mock-Tudor building nearest the camera is Crayford Social Club, and the shops form The Parade which overlooks Waterside Gardens.

Parade. 26.08.06
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
The River Cray at the hub of Crayford town centre. The area was largely built up during the 1930s, with the addition of shopping parades either side of the river. Close by was The Princesses Theatre (built by Vickers' for its local workforce), but demolished in 1957 to make way for flats above new shopping units. The theatre is seen here in a 1955 postcard view during its final years as a cinema.

Waterside Gardens remain much the same today, albeit overgrown, with the addition of a recently built day centre, smack-bang in the middle of the lawn. Plans are afoot to redevelop the area soon.

In the second photo can be seen The Bear and Ragged Staff public house which stands on the junction of Crayford High Street and London Road. A pub of similar name has stood on the site since the early 18th century, although the current building dates from 1925. There was no small amount of public outcry when, in 1996, the name was changed briefly to 'The Orange Kipper' to appeal to the trendies. This arrangement, thankfully, did not last long.

Waterside Gardens, 1955

Waterside.03.06.07
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
On leaving Crayford town centre, access to The Cray is limited until one reaches Hall Place in Bexley. However, brief glimpses are possible from Bourne Road which runs adjacent to the river, and I'll insert one or two views here when they become available.

This 1906 postcard view shows Flag Mill (demolished in the 1920s) which used to stand between The Cray and Hall Place. The river runs beneath the short driveway in the foreground.

Flag Mill, 1906
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
Hall Place, built for Sir John Champneys in 1540. The original white stone building was constructed using stone from monastries which had been disolved by Henry VIII. The red brick section nearest to the camera is a later extension, built around 1649.

The house is set within attractive grounds which include a topiary display (heraldic symbols carved into chess pieces) and sunken, Elizabethan and herb gardens.

Hall Place.10.12.06
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
The Cray at Hall Place.

River Cray.26.08.07
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
The peace and tranquility of Hall Place are shattered when one reaches the A2 road bridge. However, the keen observer will notice that two rivers meet under the bridge; The Cray which flows straight ahead towards Bexley village, and the River Shuttle (or Bourne Stream) which flows right towards Bridgen and Upton. The course of the Shuttle was altered slightly to meet here around 1968 when the A2 was widened and 'upgraded' to motorway specification.

Rivers meet.10.12.06

This postcard view of 1920 shows the bridge in happier times, some 8 - 10 years prior to the appearance of the new A2.

Hall Place bridge, c.1920
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
Two views of the River Shuttle, the first of which was taken close to Riverdale Road in South Upton. The second was taken in Bexley Park Woods, Bridgen.

River Shuttle.13.11.05

Bexley Park Woods,16.03.2008
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
At Bexley village, the Cray passes under the Old Mill, an exact replica constructed in the early '70s of an eighteenth century building destroyed by fire in 1966. Until recently, it was a restaurant/bar, but has now been converted into living accomodation. It is seen here approximately four months prior to conversion.

Old Mill 04.11.2007
Steve Thoroughgood PRO 10 years ago
A view taken from the rear of the Old Mill, Bexley. A glass panel in the mill floor enabled you to watch the Cray as it flowed underneath. I expect this feature has now been lost to the conversion into flats.


Cray, Bexley.14.05.06
Steve Thoroughgood PRO Posted 10 years ago. Edited by Steve Thoroughgood (member) 10 years ago
Looking back towards Hall Place, this view shows the much stressed 1872 road bridge over the Cray.

Road Bridge.04.11.07
fixedwheelnut PRO 9 years ago
Great set of photos Steve, I can remember playing on the River Shuttle as a kid and many times the Cray would flood Bexley village.

Two memorable ocaissions were Police pushing cars out of the flooded Black Prince area before the enforced viaduct bit was built and a copper flying out of the Ford garage next to the Old Mill trying to stop an Acetylene bottle with several Fireman shouting at him to let go :)
I think there used to be a scrap yard opposite the garage before the Flats were built that you see in your pic of the stressed bridge.
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