Chatham's Napoleonic Forts
There were a number of forts built around Chatham for the defence of the Medway, the Dockyard and the town.
Some have been destroyed, some redeveloped, and some still exist. Click on one of the links below to find out about each one. They're not covered here by any means, so have a look at the external links section as well.
As I've mentioned on the Royal Naval War Memorial and Strange Things pages, I was sent an e-mail by Dave about tunnels under Chatham. Here's another extract from his letter, about the tunnels under the forts:
...while I was doing an apprenticeship at Blaw Knox, along the Esplanade, they used to use tunnels for storage at the back of the factory. We used to climb through a hole in a bricked up wall and explore during our dinnertime.
We used to walk down a long tunnel that ran parallel to the Esplanade, we would walk for 20 minutes before turning back to get back to work on time.
One day, we all had a day off together, 4 of us and went in to work geared up for exploration.
We walked down that tunnel for about half an hour and came to a chamber with 4 tunnels coming off it. We followed one which went downwards and had to stop because it was water logged, totally blocked, it looked like a puddle, but was increasing in depth. We guessed it was going under the river. Which now I know there is a tunnel under the river from Upnor Castle to the dockyard.
The other tunnel went north towards the dockyard, but was blocked off with an MOD sign on the wall. Back tracking to the chamber, we went south east for a few hundred yards and came to another bricked off wall with a sign saying MOD Ft. Clarence. Which is just off St Margaret's Street and I think now owned by BT.
The last tunnel went due East for ages we walked down this dead straight tunnel, in the distance we could see daylight so kept walking. Eventually we came to a little hole which we peered out of and was over looking Chatham Reach the river. But we was quite high up and could see the new road and St Barts hospital. We guessed we were next to the Art college, there was a sign obscuring our view, so we decided to go and have a look from the outside.
Once we got back to Blaw Knox, we jumped in our cars and drove to the Art college.
There we found the sign, which is/was to the left of the front of the college just above the unadopted road. I think this is where Fort Pitt was situated, or part of it.
I don't know too much about any of the tunnels under the Medway Towns, although I've no doubt there are quite a few more than anyone admits to. This has been debated quite a lot on a variety of forums, including 28dayslater.co.uk. From an engineering perspective though, any tunnel across the River Medway would have been extremely hard to keep secret, as it would need a lot of new technology. Around the same time a tunnel across the Thames was being hailed as a fantastic achievement, which it was. I just don't think a similar tunnel under the River Medway between Upnor Castle and Chatham Dockyard could have been kept that secret, and would almost certainly have been revealed when the dockyard was closed.
Fort Amherst was built by prisoners of war during the Napoleonic Wars. It sits on the opposite side of Military Road to the Dockyard, about 400 yards away.
It was excavated by volunteers who, to be quite honest, have done a very good job. The work is still continuing and, in March 1999, they discovered a tunnel and a bridge to the site of the Dockyard. I've seen maps of the area myself, and there's what looks like a tunnel shown between the fort and the ramp into the car park by the Chatham Community Hub building. If you go into the car park, there looks like some sort of door under the ramp itself. This piece of land belonged to the war department, so a tunnel under the public road between the two is not really a surprise.
There are organized tours of the fort as well as special events and re-enactments. It is well worth seeing, and you should allow at least 4 hours to have a good look round. Part of the tour takes you to the highest part of the fort, where you were, when I last visited, prevented from plunging hundreds of feet and being spread over Chatham Town Centre by a rather frail looking chain link fence. It's worth it for the adrenaline rush alone!
As it's been there so long, entire generations of children, including my Dad, have played there. He used to say that there were bunk beds in there when he and his friends investigated the fort, probably left over from its duties during the Second World War.
The fort is reached by turning along Khartoum Road, off of Dock Road. It's by some traffic lights opposite St Mary's Church.
View a street map here.
Fort Pitt is still, at least partly, in existence across New Road and up the hill from St Bartholomew's Hospital. The fort has been converted into a Fort Pitt Girls' Grammar School, but there are still areas of the original fort remaining. I'll fill out more details as I find them, but so far here are the main ones I've found:
- When Chatham Railway Station was built, the Army retained the right to fire over the top of it, in case of an invasion force coming up the River Medway.