Chatham, Kent (England) - Local history notes

Extract from The London General Gazetteer. Vol. I. London: William Baynes and Son, 1825 (pg. 480). Transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick.

  Chatham, a town of England, in the county of Kent, on the Medway, united to the city of Rochester, of which it is considered a suburb. It is celebrated for its dock, which was begun by queen Elizabeth, who also built Upnor castle for its defence. Charles I. extended it very considerably. An immense quantity of naval stores of all kinds are kept ready in magazines and warehouses, arranged in such regular order, that whatever is wanted may be procured without the least confusion. In the forges, twenty of which are constantly at work, anchors are made, some of which weigh five tons. In the rope-house, which is 1128 feet in length, cables have been made 101 fathoms long, and 25 inches round. On the ordnance wharf, the guns belonging to each ship are arranged in tiers, with the name of the ship to which they belong marked upon them, as also their weight of metal. That excellent fund for the relief of wounded seamen, called the Chatham Chest, was instituted in the year 1588, after the defeat of the Spanish armada, when queen Elizabeth, by advice of sir Francis Drake, sir John Hawkins, and others, assigned a portion of every seaman's pay to the relief of seamen wounded or disabled in the navy. In consequence of abuses and mismanagement, this fund has been removed to Greenwich, and placed under the direction of the first lord of the admiralty. Here is also an hospital, founded, in 1592, by sir John Hawkins, for decayed seamen, and their widows. In the year 1667, the Dutch fleet took and dismantled Sheerness, and, sailing up the Medway, burnt three guard-ships, and attacked Upnor castle, but were repulsed. Besides Upnor castle, Chatham is defended by Gillingham castle, a strong fortress, by which the river is completely surrounded. Contiguous to the New Road, Fort Pitt was erected in 1803, and designed originally for a military hospital. Here also are extensive fortifications, called the Lines, which are defended by ramparts, palisades, and a broad ditch. Indeed Chatham is considered the most complete and regular fortress in Britain, except Portsmouth. The lower, or marine barracks, are spacious buildings of brick; the upper barracks, near Brompton, are also extensive and convenient; but both are much excelled in elegance of architecture by the artillery barracks, adjoining Brompton, on the east. Chatham church contains some elegant marble monuments; and the chapel, supposed to have been an hospital for lepers, is an edifice of Norman architecture. The Dock chapel is an extremely light, neat, and elegant building. Population 12,652. Distant 30 miles E. of London.

Extract from A Tour Through the Naval and Military Establishments of Great Britain in the Years 1816-17-18-19 and 1820, by Charles Dupin. London: Sir Richard Phillips and Co., 1822 (pp. 114-5).
Transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick.

  At Chatham, the park of artillery is not the sole establishment possessed by the ordnance there; that essential military point is provided with barracks, magazines, and fortifications, which, united with the dock-yard and naval arsenal, render it altogether a place of the utmost importance. Chatham is not defended by any continued line of fortifications, but by a system of isolated works affording reciprocal protection to each other. It is only a few years ago since these works were undertaken, or at least finished. The origin of the greater part is of the same date as the encampment at Boulogne of the French army, which menaced England with invasion. Had the operation been tried, and the troops once landed, they might have reached the heights of Chatham in two days' march, and have possessed themselves without much difficulty of the ordnance and marine establishments.

  To protect these, when Phillip II. threatened England with invasion, and prepared his great armada for the attempt, Elizabeth, who knew the value of the position of Chatham, built the fort known by the name of Upnor Castle, on the left bank of the Medway, opposite the naval arsenal. Upnor Castle, however, was far from sufficing for the defence of the establishments at Chatham; it did not prevent Ruyter from effecting their destruction, in 1667, and carrying away the vessels moored in the Medway. After that disgraceful epoch, the citadel of Chatham was constructed, as well as the two fronts of works which descend from the citadel to the Medway, the one above, and the other below the park of artillery and dock-yard. The space enclosed by these works contains barracks for the infantry, royal marines, artillery, and engineers, as well as a great number of magazines, belonging both to government and to individuals.

  Above these edifices, and a little to the north on the platform which crowns the hill, are situated the engineer-barracks, which by the grandeur and regularity of their construction, by the majestic beauty and simplicity of the architecture, appeared to me to be a model of their kind. In front of the railing which encloses the parade of these barracks, is an esplanade of considerable extent. On inclining to the left, the stranger descends towards the front of fortifications which defend the channel of the Medway. In continuing to follow this direction to approach the town, we turn sharply, and move towards the Medway, at right angles, by descending steep and irregular passages.

  The buildings belonging to the park of artillery are within the fortifications, but the park of guns itself is outside of them, extending like a glacis to the Medway. This point is at the extremity of a deep defile, through which ran the old road from London to Dover. The present road, on leaving Rochester, passes above Chatham.

  On the other side of the defile stands Fort Pitt, scarped with masonry and bastioned. It is the largest of all the works which cover Chatham, the most important, and the nearest to the citadel. On the opposite quarter, the fire of Fort Pitt crosses that of Fort Clarence, an immense tower of defence placed on a hill above Rochester. The flanks of Fort Pitt are provided with carronades, in frames turning upon pivots, to sweep the different parts of the ditch. The gorge of the fort presents a front of fortification casemated with embrasures, to command the town of Chatham, and the course of the Medway, in front of the park of artillery and dock-yard. The casements are fine and perfectly well constructed; no moisture penetrates into them, and they are at present inhabited by invalids, who compose the only garrison of this fortress.

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"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."—Lesley Poles Hartley (1895–1972), The Go-Between (1953).

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