*research by TotallyMoney reported in March 2018.
(Wikipedia): “Erith has the longest pier in London, and retains a coastal environment with salt marshes alongside industrial land.”
kerry.brown01 wrote at kentliterature.com on June 25, 2020:
“…Wendy Cope was born in Erith, at the edge of Kent, and spent her childhood in the Borough of Bexley, part of historic Kent, though now within the London suburban area. Her father, Fred, was manager of the Erith Hedley Mitchell Department store. She has written of her upbringing in this area:
I was born in Erith, Kent, a place few people have heard of and even fewer can pronounce – the first syllable rhymes with beer, not with berry. The late comedian Linda Smith was born in the same town. She once said: “Erith has a suicide pact with Dagenham.” Dagenham is directly opposite Erith, on the north side of the Thames’ (Wendy Cope on Erith: ‘A place few people have heard of and even fewer can pronounce’, Guardian, 5th May 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/may/05/wendy-cope-made-in-erith)
The location of her birth has clearly played some part in her later development. This is a place which typifies South London suburbia now, although Erith with its riverside location has plenty of history. `When I began writing poetry I was troubled by a vague feeling that a poet needed to have grown up in a beautiful rural environment, or at least somewhere exciting,’ she wrote in 2018. She learned from fellow poet Philip Larkin that, despite being bought up in such a prosaic environment, she could still be a poet:
`Erith was not prospering in the 1950s. Its riverside location reduced the catchment area and many shoppers preferred its nearby rival, Bexleyheath. Mitchells closed down in 1960 and shortly afterwards the town was redeveloped. My parents moved away in 1963. When I visited Erith a few years later, it was unrecognisable. Barnehurst [a nearby place where her family lived when she was young] had remained stolidly the same.’ (Ibid)…”
Mark Steel wrote in an obituary for The Independent of 1.3.06:
“Linda Smith, comedian: born Erith, Kent 25 January 1958
…(Linda Smith) was brought up in Erith, a town by the Thames where Kent edges towards London, which she said “isn’t twinned with anywhere, but it does have a suicide pact with Dagenham”. This was a comment that attracted the wrath of her local paper, but she defended herself by pointing out that the same paper ran a competition the following week to come up with the best name for the new Erith leisure centre, which was won by the entry “The Erith Leisure Centre”.
Perhaps it was the tower blocks that lined the river from Erith upwards, peering down on her 1960s childhood, that framed her outlook. Because, just as 19th-century Romantics opposed the functional grime of the Industrial Revolution by praising art and imagination, Linda Smith developed a contempt for all that was soulless and concrete, and a passion for what could be appreciated purely for embodying beauty or enthusiasm…”
Linda Piper reported for the News Shopper of 1.4.03:
“…John Downton was a painter and a poet, a musician and philosopher and he was from Erith. Now some of his work has finally returned to his home town. Downton was born in Erith on March 27, 1906. His family lived in Lesney House, now the site of Lesney Park Primary School. And it was 97 years to the day of his birth, that the gift of seven of his paintings and drawings were unveiled at Erith Museum last week….
After Downton’s death in 1991, his sister Hilda found paintings, drawings, poems and writings by her brother which the family never knew existed. She wrote to a number of galleries and museums offering them some of her brother’s work. One of the letters was opened in 1996 by Julia King, who lives in Erith, and who was working for the director of the National Portrait Gallery.
When some of the family moved to Sevenoaks they took the name of their Erith home with them. “As soon as I saw Lesney House, I was hooked, Mrs King told last week’s unveiling. “I had found an unsung hero of Erith.” Downton rarely exhibited his work and Mrs King said: “If he had been interested in promoting himself, he would have been considered one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century.” She kept in touch with Hilda and…was asked to give a repeat of her talk on Downton to Erith Historical Society. There, it was suggested she might ask Hilda if she would consider giving any of her brother’s work to Erith.
Some of his artwork is already on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum and in the Queen’s Collection.
The last seven pieces of work were due to be handed over to a Kent museum. “But Erith snatched them at the 11th hour. Another day would have been too late,” Mrs King said. “But it is entirely right and fitting that he should be commemorated in Erith.”
Hilda, now aged 103, came up from Sevenoaks for the unveiling of the permanent exhibition of her brother’s work in Erith Museum. She told the guests: “I am very grateful for this tribute to my brother.”
Downton may not be a familar name in Erith, but the name of his uncle, Hedley Mitchell, will be known to anyone with long-time connections with the town. He owned the town’s department store, demolished with the rest of the town centre in the 1960s to make way for redevelopment. He also gave Downton his first violin, sparking a lifelong love of music.
After studying at Erith Grammar School, Downton went to Cambridge and, briefly to the Slade School of Art. He travelled extensively, especially in Italy and this influenced his painting. At this time he was also writing poetry and philosophical works.
After his death in 1991, at the age of 85, Hilda set up the John Downton Trust, organising exhibitions of his work and their distribution to galleries and museums all over the country. The exhibition is on permanent display in Erith Museum, above the library in Walnut Tree Road, Erith. It is open Mondays and Wednesdays from 2.15pm to 5.15pm and on Saturdays from 2.15pm to 4.45pm. Admission is free.”