The Medway Towns - Chatham
Chatham is probably best known for its Dockyard, which was closed in the 1980s. It is a less well known fact that Charles Dickens lived there during two different periods of his childhood, in Ordnance Terrace, and in The Brook.
Chatham was once home to The Royal Marines, whose barracks were situated where the Lloyds of London building is now, on Dock Road near the Dockyard entrance, opposite Fort Amherst. Lloyd's moved out several years ago, and their old building is now Medway Council's headquarters.
Places of Interest
The following places are worth a look if you're in the area:
- Ordnance Terrace
- St Mary's Church, Dock Road - one of the oldest sites in Chatham
- All Saints' Hospital - Formerly Medway Union Workhouse
- Chatham Historic Dockyard
- Chatham Maritime
- Chatham Maritime - Pump House No 5
- Chatham Maritime - St Mary's Island
- St George's Church, now the St George's Centre, resting place for hundreds of Napoleonic Prisoners of War
- Fort Amherst - one of Chatham's Napoleonic Forts
- Fort Pitt Military Cemetery - Part of Fort Pitt, one of Chatham's Napoleonic Forts
- The Royal Naval War Memorial
- The High Street and Pentagon Centre
- The Burial Ground, now Town Hall Gardens
- The Ragged School
- Local Cinemas (or where they were!)
- Chatham Town Hall
- Chatham's Theatre Royal
- The Memorial to the Men of HMS Barfleur Lost During the Boxer Rebellion
- Strange Stuff
- Bits and Pieces - The Medway Queen and C.T. Smith Esq.
Note: Some of the items have links to external sites, which are opened in new browser windows. I have no control over the contents of any external site(s).
Although Rochester is very keen to associate itself with Charles Dickens (quite rightly as he based many of his characters and locations on people and places there) he never lived there. He lived in Chatham with his family for several years in his youth on two separate occasions. From 1817 to 1821 the Dickens family lived at number 2 Ordnance Terrace. The house is still standing, just a few yards from the railway station. In fact, if you stand on the coastbound platform of Chatham Railway Station and look up across the tracks at the row of yellow brick houses visible from there, above platform 1, you can see his rectangular plaque.
To get to the house from the station, leave by the main entrance and turn left. Walk approximately 50 yards to the mini roundabout and turn right along Ordnance Terrace. The house in which he lived is just past the first turning on the left. In the photograph it is the second house from the left with the blue front door and rectangular plaque. The house isn't number 2 any more - it was renumbered when more houses were built in the terrace.
Points of interest
- When I was a child, I lived in the house next door to the one the Dickens family lived in. A tenuous claim to fame, I know.
- From 1821 to 1822 the Dickens family lived at 18 St Mary's Place, The Brook. This house was demolished just after the Second World War and the site is now covered by the Pentagon Centre.
St Mary's Church
St Mary's Church was Chatham's original parish church. It stands in Dock Road, at the top of the hill leading to the town centre, above Chatham Hard. The site is believed to have been used as a place of worship since pagan times.
"The oldest thing in the Medway Towns"; a stone tablet 39" high and 19" wide depicting the goddess Euphrosyne is built into the porch. It was originally discovered built into the Norman wall of the chapel which once stood on the site of the present porch, and is believed to date from when Greek traders travelled up the Medway.
The church was used as a heritage centre for some time, but is now closed. It is apparently awaiting conversion to offices. More information is available from here. A similar fate probably awaits St John's Church, just along the road.
Bits and Pieces
The Medway Queen
The PS Medway Queen is the last paddle steamer of its type left in the UK. She was built in 1924 for the New Medway Steam Packet Company Ltd. and worked around the Medway and Thames Estuaries. She was used as a minesweeper in the Second World War and made seven crossings to rescue allied troops from Dunkirk. Now, after several sinkings and rescues, she has been bought and is being restored at Kingsnorth by The Medway Queen Preservation Society web site. Have a look at their web site for more information, and for ways to help them restore the steamer.
C T Smith Esq.
These two images are scans of a medal struck to commemorate the incorporation of Chatham as a Borough, on 10th December 1890. The obverse has a picture of (presumably) C.T. Smith Esq, and the text around the edge is:
THE MAYOR OF CHATHAM
C.T. SMITH Esq C.C.
The reverse shows the coat of arms of the newly-incorporated Borough, with its motto ("Loyal and True"). The text around the edge is:
TO COMMEMORATE THE INCORPORATION OF CHATHAM
DEC 10th 1890
The slightly odd thing about this medal is that the first Mayor of Chatham, in 1890 was George Winch Esq. (A solicitor whose company is still working in Chatham). I had problems finding out much about CT Smith, until I received an e-mail from Ann Barrett, which filled in more details:
I have a book dated 1903 called CHATHAM LONG AGO AND NOW - a Lecture by Rev S D Scammell. It commemorates the Incorporation of the Borough and has 46 illustrations of mayoral robes, chains/medals and Civic dignitories. These include C T Smith who, was Alderman and High Constable of Gillingham Court Leet 1900-1-2-3. He was the last High Constable in England! He also wrote the preface for the book.