The Medway Towns
The Medway Towns lie clustered around the estuary of the River Medway, approximately half way along the North Kent coast. (The river got its name from the Saxon "med" meaning "middle").
The Medway Towns consist of Rochester, Chatham, Gillingham, Strood, Rainham and various outlying villages on the Hoo Peninsular, including Grain. Each of the towns has its own distinct character and history. This site aims to tell you about
each of them from the point of view of someone who lives there.
Watling Street, the Roman Road from Dover to London, runs through the middle of them, entering at Rainham, running through South Gillingham, down Chatham Hill, along New Road in Chatham, along Rochester High Street, across Rochester Bridge,
and out through Strood. It is now known in various parts as the A2, Watling Street, Sovereign Boulevard, London Road, High Street and, to most of the locals, "The Top Road".
Medway covers a large area, and has a large population (over 250,000 people). It has been populated since Saxon times, and there are many things to see. This guide has been divided into sections covering the separate towns which make up the
Medway area. As always, click the area of interest to find out more.
Rochester is probably the most famous of the Medway Towns. With Rochester Castle,
Rochester Cathedral and the Victorian-style
High Street all within five minutes' walk of each other, there's plenty of historical interest around.
Add to that the oldest hospital site in England (St
Bartholomew's Hospital, "St Bart's") and innumerable other historic buildings, and it's easy to see why the official tourist literature tends to concentrate on Rochester.
Chatham has been a military town from the time that Henry VIII decided that the ships of his navy should spend the winter moored in the River
Medway. That was the beginning of HM Dockyard, Chatham, which is what the town was best known for. The dockyard closed in 1984 and is now divided into several areas including
Chatham Maritime and St Mary's Island, both now overlooked by the Chatham Royal Naval War Memorial.
Although the town seems rather run-down in places, there are still plenty of historic sites to look at, from Charles Dickens' old house in
Ordnance Terrace to the Ragged School, and from the old Chatham Town Hall to the Napoleonic Fort Amherst. If
that's not enough, there are a few strange things going on too.
Gillingham is probably most famous for its football team - the only league side in Kent. There's more to
the town than that though - Will Adams from Gillingham
was the first Westerner to visit Japan, and much of Chatham's defences and dockyard are within Gillingham's boundaries too.
Gillingham's original church, St Mary Magdalene's Church is still in operation, unlike the old Bowater's / Crest Packaging
factory on the A2, which was demolished in 2007-2008 and replaced by a garden centre next to the Tesco supermarket. The Gillingham to Chatham
Dockyard Railway Link is another thing that's closed now, and rapidly diappearing under redevelopment and vegetation.
And, like Chatham, there are strange
things in Gillingham too!
On the top of The Lines stands the Royal Naval War Memorial, dedicated to the men and women based in Chatham, who died in the First and Second World Wars.
Medway Union Workhouse (later All Saints's Hospital) stood in Magpie Hall Road, on what was then the outskirts of the town. It was a replacement for the original Chatham Workhouse. Take a look around the site here, on the day it
Since its demolition the area has been redeveloped and is now a housing estate. A nice touch though, is that the roads were named after the wards of the hospital.
The Medway Towns have experienced a number of disasters and tragedies; some, like the
Gillingham Bus Disaster, are remembered but others, like The Fireman's Wedding and the train crash caused by a V1 rocket seem to have been quietly forgotten. This section describes them.
I get quite a few e-mails from people asking how they can find out about ancestors who lived in the Medway Towns, so I've put together some resources on the
family history resources page.
Although most of the information I've collected is about the Medway Towns, there
are still some things I have which cover places outside the area. Starting with information on Ramsgate and the East End of London, any other information I collect about places further afield will end up here.
Edmund John Niemann (1813-1876) was an artist who painted
the Medway at Chatham. His 1859 painting "Panorama of the Medway from Upnor with Chatham and Dockyard in the distance" is a recent discovery.
Most of the pages in this site contain links to other sites. Any that don't fit into individual pages or which are common to a lot of them are here.