The Vickers complex at Crayford was an important part of that town: it became the largest employer in the area and built houses in the vicinity for the workers. The origins of the company in the town date back to 1888 when Sir Hiram Maxim, the American inventor of the automatic machine gun, relocated his 1884-established ‘’Maxim Gun Company’’ from Erith to Crayford. During this year, the company was enlarged as a consequence of amalgamating with the ‘’Nordenfeldt Gun & Ammunition Company’’, thus becoming the ‘’Maxim, Nordenfeldt Guns & Ammunition Company’’. Shortly afterwards, ‘’Vickers & Sons & Company’’ (a steel-producing firm) came on the scene and Maxim acquired financial interests in this concern. This was then followed by the replacement of Thorsten Nordenfeldt on the Gun Company’s board with Albert Vickers, the former having resigned in 1889. This brought the Vickers Company into a long-lasting relationship with weapons and ammunition production.
Whilst the Maxim Automatic Machine Gun and later, the Vickers Automatic Machine Gun, were produced in large quantities at Crayford for the British Army, the same factory was also venturing into new territory: flight. By 1894 Maxim had completed a flying machine at Crayford and in July of that year, demonstrated it to the public. Initially there were some intrigued financial parties, but after contemplating the limited capabilities of the contraption, backers rescinded their interest and money. In 1897, Vickers formally merged with Maxim, the company subsequently becoming ‘’Vickers Sons & Maxim’’, by which time the British Army was already producing a variant of Maxim’s machine gun in their own works. The company was renamed ‘’Vickers Limited’’ in 1911 and in November 1916, Maxim died from pneumonia, his flight ambitions not quite fulfilled. Nevertheless, the Crayford factory went from strength to strength, its expansion seeing the building of further housing estates in the area during 1915 and 1916. In 1927, Vickers Limited merged with engineering company ‘’Armstrong Whitworth’’ and the joint concern literally manufactured armaments and trains, planes and automobiles!
Previously, in 1910, the whole Vickers complex had to shut down due to a downturn in demand for armaments, but a renaissance of the operation occurred as a result of the outbreak of World War I, in 1914. A rail connection between Vickers and the Dartford Loop Line seems to date from this period. In addition to this link, a single-track standard gauge line was laid over Maiden Lane, upon an embankment over marshland to cross the River Stanham. It terminated on the northern side of Thames Road, serving a ply works and flour mills, in addition to a factory en route. Vickers had its own locomotives for both its domestic standard and narrow gauge networks. The connection with the SE&CR was in frequent use from World War I onwards, as armaments and ammunition were conveyed from the Crayford premises to Dover, for transportation to mainland Europe. This situation was resumed during World War II, although on 17th October 1940 the factory was dealt a considerable blow when it received direct hits during an air raid. This severely affected the production of armaments, at least in the short term. After this conflict, the demand for armaments generally declined and so did the Crayford factory’s rail network, it being lifted in the 1950s. The factory itself did continue and during the 1970s was still being used for the development and testing of radar. The land which the Vickers line crossed to reach Thames Road has thankfully been omitted from any development, thus there is much evidence remaining of this interesting network. The bridge span over Maiden Lane was lifted with the decommissioning of the railway, but the lattice span still remains over the River Stanham, in solid condition. Between this span and those bridge abutments at Maiden Lane is the former single-track embankment, again remaining in solid condition.
Drawn by David Glasspool
The Dartford Loop Line (Sidcup route) is clearly marked in this southward view from Maiden Lane
on 20th April 2006. The bridge abutments of the former Vickers line are still very much in evidence
in the foreground. Beyond the camera, on the right, was the rail approach to the factory, whilst on
the left, behind the abutment is the beginning of the embankment. David Glasspool
This is an eastward view on the same day as the previous picture. The waterway in evidence is
the River Stanham, which forms part of the border between Crayford and Dartford (London /
Kent), and laying above it is the lattice bridge span which formerly carried a single track.
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