The first in an occasional series on historical sites on the “London Loop” (London Outer Orbital Path) walk …
Erith was first recorded in Saxon times, in 677, as Earhyth, from the Old English ear, meaning muddy, and hyth, meaning landing-place (although it is thought to have been first settled in prehistory).
The Manor of Erith was held by the Norman Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Earl of Kent at the time of the Domesday survey in 1086.
The Lord of the Manor during the reign of the first Plantagenet King, Henry II, was Richard de Luci, Justiciar of England, who, as an act of penance for his complicity in the murder of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, founded Lesnes Abbey nearby in 1178. Throughout the later Medieval period, Erith was an important way-point on the pilgrimage route from London to the site of Becket’s shrine in Canterbury Cathedral. The first leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, which took place during the reign of Richard II in 1381, was one Abel Ker, from Erith.
Erith grew further in size and significance in the post-Medieval period. The Tudor King Henry VIII founded a naval dockyard here, where warships built at Woolwich, notably the Great Harry, were fitted out. And it was here that the Gunpowder Plotters gathered to plot the overthrow of the Stuart King James I in 1605.
The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed still further expansion, with the Wheatley family as Lords of the Manor. The North Kent Railway arrived in 1849, and with it urbanisation and industrialisation.
Historically part of Kent, since 1965 Erith has been part of the London Borough of Bexley.
Church of St John the Baptist
The church of St John the Baptist was originally built in Saxo-Norman times. It was subsequently rebuilt in the post-Medieval period, in part out of materials salvaged from Lesnes Abbey after it was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1525 (the abbey would have been but a short cart-ride away to the north-west). It was substantially rebuilt again in 1877.