One town that has changed the world;Millennium Watch

11th June 1999 at 01:00
Schools in Dartford are celebrating their past as they look towards the next century. Diana Hinds reports

As a culture, we readily celebrate our writers, artists, entertainers and athletes. But when it comes to our industrialists, engineers and technologists, we are not always so well-informed.

To mark the millennium, Dartford grammar school in Kent is involved in an ambitious project commemorating Dartford's past achievements in science and technology. The project will also examine the way the town's past has shaped its future, highlighting the contemporary developments in the area made possible by its scientific forebears.

The year 2000 witnesses, for example, the centenary of the start of the cement industry in Dartford, now Blue Circle. The large holes in the ground left by the cement industry have, in their turn, metamorphosed into Crossways business park, and the Blue Water shopping centre, with a major station for the channel tunnel rail-link planned.

Dartford, too, is home to many inventions, including, in 1811, the first food canning factory, and in the 19th century, the first tablet (manufactured by what is now Glaxo Wellcome). In Elizabethan times, John Spielman was the first manufacturer of paper, his jester's head watermark (Spielman means jester in German) giving its name to foolscap paper.

Together with local companies, the grammar school is planning exhibitions in key sites, which will run for two weeks in autumn 2000, linked to the national curriculum and drawing in all local schools. The Manor Gatehouse, built by Henry VIII will, for instance, house an exhibition on the development of the cement industry, and Holy Trinity Church (where Spielman is buried) will be devoted to the paper industry and a history of communications.

The exhibitions will be connected by a town trail, complete with blue plaques on places of interest. With funding from local companies, Dartford council and the Millennium Commission, the exhibitions will come together in a permanent display when the fortnight is over.

Sixth-form students will help to run an "archives road-show", to which people can bring stories, artefacts and photographs relating to Dartford's industrial past. Students will record these contributions with a digital camera. Using equipment at the school's Mick Jagger centre (an ex-pupil), they will also compile a voice archive of the most colourful stories and anecdotes, to be made available at the exhibition.

Younger primary and secondary pupils will get their chance in a children's invention competition, to be launched this term by the inventor of the clockwork radio, Trevor Bayliss (as seen on "The Big Breakfast"). These inventions will go on show at the exhibition.

"We see this as a way of developing our relationship with the community," said headteacher Tony Smith.

"It's very stimulating to feel that people in Dartford have changed the world, and we want students to have a sense of continuity, so they have a positive appreciation of what's happening now."

Tell Millennium Watch about your school's project for the new century. Fax Heather Neill on 0171 782 3200 or e-mail her on

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