William Cory Promenade along the River Thames frontage and Riverside Gardens
|45,345 (2011 Census)
|OS grid reference
|• Charing Cross
|13.3 mi (21.4 km) WNW
Erith (/ /ⓘ) is an area in south-east London, England, 13.3 miles (21.4 km) east of Charing Cross. Before the creation of Greater London in 1965, it was in the historical county of Kent. Since 1965 it has formed part of the London Borough of Bexley. It lies north-east of Bexleyheath and north-west of Dartford, on the south bank of the River Thames.
The town centre has been modernised with further dwellings added since 1961. The curved riverside high street has three listed buildings, including the Church of England church and the Carnegie Building. Erith otherwise consists mainly of suburban housing. It is linked to central London and Kent by rail and to Thamesmead by a dual carriageway. It has the longest pier in London, and retains a coastal environment with salt marshes alongside industrial land.
Work carried out at the former British Gypsum site in Church Manorway by the Museum of London Archaeological Service shows that the area was covered by a dense forest of oak, yew and alder in the Neolithic Period, which by the Bronze Age had given way in part to sedge fen.
The museum's work at the former site of Erith School in Belmont Road revealed traces of prehistoric settlement and a substantial community or farmstead in the first century CE.
After the collapse of Roman rule in the early 5th century, Britain was colonised by Anglo-Saxon invaders from northern Europe. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that they won the Battle of Crecganford (thought to be modern Crayford) in 457 and shortly after claimed the whole of Kent. Their different way of life was reflected in their settlement pattern. The town and country estates of Roman bureaucrats gave way to a network of villages occupied by warriors and farmers. Erith was one such and has a Saxon name, originally Ærre hyðe meaning "old haven".
There was probably a church on the site of the present St John the Baptist's in the Anglo-Saxon period. The early settlement was based around it, meaning that the centre of Erith was once west of its current location.
The earliest written reference to the area is in a Latin charter of 695, recording a grant by the Bishop of the East Saxons of land at Erith. The surrounding area was known as Lesnes or Lessness, which is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. After the Norman Conquest, Lessness passed into the possession of Bishop Odo. In 1315, a Royal Charter was granted for a market to be held in Erith every Thursday, but it was noted in 1776 that the market was long discontinued.
Erith owes its existence to the Thames, and was until the 1850s essentially a small riverside port, given prominence by King Henry VIII's decision to open a naval dockyard there, approximately where the Riverside Gardens are now. Henry's famous warship, Henri Grace à Dieu, was fitted out there in 1515.
After the death of George Talbot, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury in 1538, Erith "alias Lysnes" was granted to his widow, Elizabeth, by Henry VIII "with all its members and appurtenances, to hold in capite, by knight's service."
Erith remained a popular anchorage until the 19th century. Ships often discharged cargo there to reduce their displacement before entering shallows upstream.
In 1797 Edward Hasted described Erith as "one small street of houses, which leads to the water side", and mentions annual fairs at Ascension and Michaelmas. In 1831 Erith's population was 1,533. It was composed in 1840 "chiefly of two streets, one leading down to the water side, the other branching off to the left towards the church."
By 1849 Erith was enjoying a short spell as a riverside resort. Its pier and nearby hotel gave hospitality for day-trippers arriving on Thames pleasure boats or by rail. An arboretum with extensive pleasure grounds was opened to attract visitors.
The Local Government Act 1894 brought into existence Erith Urban District, which became the Municipal Borough of Erith in 1938. It included Northumberland Heath and Belvedere.
Erith Iron Works was established in 1864 on a riverside site at Anchor Bay, east of Erith's centre, by William Anderson.
On 1 October 1864 a 46½-ton gunpowder explosion blew out the river wall, exposing large areas of South London to flooding at high tide. A crowd of navvies and soldiers directed by a local engineer managed to plug the gap just before high water.
From 1881 an area north-west of Erith's centre was the site of a cable works founded by William Callender. This became British Insulated Callender's Cables (BICC) and eventually Pirelli, which announced its partial closure in 2003. The remainder became Prysmian.
Erith's first library, designed by local architect William Egerton and funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, opened in 1906.
Engineering became an important industry in Erith, with armaments and cables as the main products. Vickers was a major employer, with links to the Royal Arsenal at nearby Woolwich.
During the First World War Erith was an important area for the manufacture of guns and ammunition, largely due to the presence of the large Vickers works. In the Second World War, the town suffered heavy bomb damage, mainly because of its riverside position near the Royal Arsenal. The bomb damage and a gradual decline in local trade prompted major redevelopment in the 1960s.
In 1961, Erith began to be redeveloped as a modern shopping and working environment, through the clearing of sub-standard housing by the riverside and alterations to the street layout. Some of the new buildings, such as the social housing tower blocks, have a brutalist form typical of overspill estates built by councils in major cities as an affordable way to clear the slums.
In 1965, under the London Government Act 1963, Erith became part of the London Borough of Bexley.
Demolition of the old town started in 1966 and continued in phases until 1980, leaving only a few reminders of the old town centre. Many of the original Victorian buildings were lost, but some original townscape remains, including the White Hart in the High Street and St John's Church in West Street.
Since the late 1990s Erith has undergone marked changes, culminating in the Erith Western Thames Gateway project. The regeneration falls within the remit of the Thames Gateway project, with Erith as a focus for Bexley Council, as its only population centre on the River Thames. Since 2000 a significant number of new flats have been built on the river by private developers. The Erith Western Gateway will include riverside flats, and is expected to include the regeneration of a large underused area of the town centre, earmarked by Bexley Council for a mixed-use development with up to 6,000 sq. m of new commercial space and over 500 new homes.
In 2020, local campaigners secured National Lottery funding to restore the former library building as new community facilities.
The population of Erith is 62% White British, according to the 2011 census, down from 82% in 2001 and 89% in 1991. The second highest ethnicity is Black African, at 14%.
The median house price in Erith ward was £181,000 in 2014, the third lowest of the 628 wards in Greater London, with only neighbouring Belvedere and the Abbey ward of Barking and Dagenham having lower prices.
Much of Erith is in the Erith ward of the London Borough of Bexley. The local councillors are Joe Ferreira and Nicola Taylor (both Labour). The eastern part of Erith is in North End ward and the southern part in Colyers ward.
Most of Erith lies within the Erith and Thamesmead constituency. The current Member of Parliament is Abena Oppong-Asare (Labour). The eastern part of Erith is within the Bexleyheath and Crayford constituency, whose MP is David Evennett (Conservative).
Erith is in the Bexley and Bromley London Assembly constituency and is represented on the London Assembly by Gareth Bacon (Conservative).
For education in Erith, see London Borough of Bexley § Education.
The annual Erith Riverside Festival is held in Riverside Gardens alongside the Thames. Erith is the starting point for the London Outer Orbital Path (LOOP) and one starting point for the Green Chain Walk. The Thames Path National Trail, which runs to the source of the River Thames at Kemble, begins at nearby Crayford Ness.
A rhyme by William Cosmo Monkhouse:
Erith is served by the following bus routes, (all of which are run by TFL):
The nearest station is Erith for Southeastern services towards Dartford, Gillingham, Gravesend, London Cannon Street and London Charing Cross. Slade Green railway station is on the same line and serves the eastern part of the town.
The A2016 road bisecting Erith, is a dual carriageway stretching across the Erith Marshes.
Erith is a post town in the DA postcode area, consisting of the DA8 and DA18 postcode districts. It borders the River Thames to the north, Slade Green to the east and south east, Northumberland Heath to the south and south west and Belvedere to the west and north west.