The Long Reach Tavern – the lost pub of the Dartford Marshes

by Ian Tokelove
The Longreach Tavern and distinctive mile posts facing the River Thames, on the edge of the Dartford Marshes

The Long Reach Tavern is one of the many ghosts of the Dartford Marshes, a fading memory of past lives and lost souls.

The Dartford Marshes feel remote and lonely, but over the years this empty landscape has hosted hospitals, an airfield, and even a pub. The Long Reach Tavern stood at the farthest tip of the Marshes, where the River Darent joins the Thames. It would have been the most northerly pub in Kent.

Records date the pub back to at least 1841, when the census lists the publican as Charles Down. The Tavern had its own jetty, serving local bargees and tugboat crews. The pub was also renowned for bare knuckle boxing matches, with boats heading down from London, laden with spectators. A ferry service also ran across the Thames to Purfleet.

The Long Reach Tavern in 1929, with Royal Flying Corps hangers in background.
The Long Reach Tavern in 1929, with the roofs of the Royal Flying Corps hangers in the background. Image source Dave Piggott, author unknown, via Wikimedia

Between 1883 and 1904, three hospital ships were moored nearby. Highly contagious smallpox patients were treated on these ships, until the construction of Joyce Green Hospital and its annexes, nearby on the Marshes.

The Long Reach Tavern and WW1

During the run-up to the WW1, one of the earliest Royal Flying Corps (RFC) airfields, Joyce Green Airfield, was also based close to the Tavern. In 1915 the RFC requisitioned the Long Reach Tavern for use as a canteen and sleeping quarters. The RFC departed in 1917 to a more suitable location at Biggin Hill, and with their departure the tavern returned to public use.

The Parade Square at Joyce Green, behind the Long Reach Tavern
The Parade Square at Joyce Green airfield, behind the Long Reach Tavern. No trace of the airfield remains today. Image source Kent County Council Dartford Library

Flooding, closure, and demolition

The Long Reach Tavern was severely damaged in the North Sea Flood of 1953 and was demolished in the late 1950s, after closure and fire. Almost all trace of the pub has been lost to the new flood defences. However, two tall navigational posts once stood before the tavern, navigational mile markers for Thames shipping. These posts still stand, or at least their replacements do, marking the location of the lost tavern.

The Long Reach Tavern seen from Joyce Lane, Dartford Marshes, in 1939
The Long Reach Tavern seen from Joyce Lane, Dartford Marshes, in 1939

The Dartford Creek Barrier, which came into service in November 1982, stands close to the site of the Long Reach Tavern.

The Thames Path passes the location of the lost Long Reach Tavern, and it can also be reached by walking out along Joyce Green Lane, passing other ghosts of the Dartford Marshes, the Wells Fireworks Factory and The Orchard isolation hospital.

Mile posts facing the River Thames on Dartford Marshes mark location of lost Long Reach Tavern
Two navigational mile posts by the Thames mark the location of the lost Long Reach Tavern

The Long Reach Tavern – useful links

dover-kent (dot) com/2014-project-a/Long-Reach-Tavern-Dartford.html – an insecure but informative website 

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