Strange Things in Chatham
Every town and city in the world has its strange and unusual features or places. These are some of the ones in Chatham. There are also strange things in Gillingham.
- The Mystery Tunnel
- Other Holes in the Ground
- A Door in the Ground Near the Napoleonic Prisoners of War Memorial
- An Odd Little Garden in The Middle of Town
- The Abandoned First World War Submarine
- Abandoned Submarines in the Medway
- Solved Mysteries - Including the Mystery Tunnel and holes in the ground!
If you know of any mysterious things or places in the Medway Towns, or if you know anything about the ones here, please e-mail me.
The Mystery Tunnel
At the bottom of Chatham Hill there is a large, bricked up entrance to a tunnel which was carved into the bottom of the chalk cliff under Mount Pleasant. I've never been able to find any "official" explanation of what it is or where it went, although I've been told in the past that it was a tunnel which led to the Medway Hospital. This sounds plausible, although it would have to be very steep to get up to the level of the hospital, which sits on top of The Lines.
Other suggestions I've received via e-mail are that:
- It's a railway or tram tunnel (it looks about the right size for a single train to fit through). Trams used to run up Chatham Hill to and from Rainham, and the main North Kent railway line now runs less than a hundred yards away (see the panoramic picture below). Maybe it's where the bank locomotive for helping the trams up Chatham Hill was actually stored, rather than behind the metal doors mentioned above.
- It's a tunnel to Fort Amherst. This sounds plausible, especially as I've been told this by people whose relatives lived in the area as children. It's about 2 to 2 1/2 miles from the fort, so it would make a very useful access tunnel if there was a battle going on there. The tunnel would have to cross the mainline railway line now, although that would not have been there originally.
- It's an access tunnel to the underground operating theatre of Medway Maritime Hospital. It's not that, because this tunnel is too far from the hospital. There IS apparently an underground operating theatre, or at least there was, and it's under the front of the hospital. There are photos around showing a bricked-up entrance in one of the hospital's stairwells, although the forum with the photo went offline quite a while ago.
If you know what is behind the brickwork, then please feel free to e-mail me.
Other Holes in the Ground
There are several other mysterious holes in the ground in this area. The panorama below shows the area just to the left of the bricked-up tunnel, which can just about be seen on the far right of the picture. There's a hole hidden behind the light green bush on the right, which has always been blocked by a chalk boulder. Behind the advertising poster in the middle of the picture there is at least one more blocked tunnel.
The two bridges across the carriageways are Luton Arches, which carry the main North Kent railway line between London and Dover and Ramsgate. Just to the right of the left-most traffic lights in the picture is the pub sign for the Old Lord Raglan, which is now the only pub on Chatham Hill. The Tam O'Shanter has been replaced by an apartment block, although the sign remains outside, and the other pub (The White Horse - thanks to Richard Frisbee for the name) is now Domino's Pizza, although at least the outside of the building hasn't changed much.
One other thing worth noticing is that this area of Chatham Hill used to have houses and shops on it, which stopped just behind where the photo was taken. These were demolished in the 1950's and 60's, so these holes in the ground (and, of course, the mystery tunnel) were all, at some stage, in people's gardens.
A Door in the Ground Near the Napoleonic Prisoners of War Memorial
In the grounds of the St George's Centre there is a memorial to the French prisoners of war, capture during the Napoleonic wars. The memorial stands on the graves of 521 prisoners, moved first from the marshes to St Mary's Island, then to their present location. Near the memorial there's a small white door.
I have no idea what this door is for - the only thing I can come up with is that if the remains of the prisoners were buried in a crypt, it could be the entrance to that. Alternatively it might just be where the electricity meter for the St George's Centre is kept! As usual, if you know what it is, please feel free to e-mail me.
An Odd Little Garden in The Middle of Town
Wandering through Chatham town centre in February 2009, I noticed what looked like a memorial garden in the south-eastern corner of the Paddock, between the Pentagon and the river.
Looking at it from a distance, it looks a bit neglected, with spaces for missing benches, and overgrown plants. There's a plaque in the middle of the wall that you can see in the picture, partly hidden by the bush.
If you look more closely at the plaque, you can see it isn't a memorial garden as such, but the plaque is to commemorate the opening of the Chatham Ring Road in 1995, before Medway Council existed.
The ring road was built to reduce traffic congestion in the 1990s, with the aid of a one-way system. Oddly, in order to further reduce traffic congestion now, the one-way system has been removed and the ring road is being partially demolished.
CHATHAM RING ROAD
THIS PLAQUE WAS UNVEILED ON 3 JULY 1995
Co-Chairman - Highways & Public Transport
Sub-Committee - Kent County Council
Derrick Molock - Chairman - Kent County Council
Cllr Ian Burt - The Deputy Mayor of the City of Rochester - upon - Medway
Allan Mowatt - Director of Highways & Transportation - Kent County Council
Now of course, Kent County Council doesn't have much to do with Medway's roads, and Rochester-upon-Medway isn't a city any more.
The Abandoned First World War Submarine
Most people who cross Rochester Bridge by train or road will have noticed that to the North of the bridge, just off of Strood, there's a Russian submarine. This is not the submarine mentioned in this article!
Whilst I was working the Tragedies in Medway pages, I wanted to find the locations of the wrecks of HMS Bulwark and HMS Princess Irene. I wrote to David Brown of Sheppey Sea Cadet Corps, and as well as sending me the coordinates for the two wrecks, he also sent me the location of an abandoned WW1 submarine.
The submarine is U122, and is lying on its side at 51. 25. 50.02 N, 00. 37. 55. 66 E, just south of the Isle of Grain, on the salt flats. You can see a satellite photo from Google Earth as well.
The submarine was taken as war reparations at the end of the first world war, and was one of several bought by a local scrap merchant and towed across the Medway to be scrapped. It broke free from the tow line and came to rest at its current location, but because of the crash in the price of scrap metal after the Great War it wasn't worth the cost to recover it, so it's been sitting there on the mud flats ever since. Although it doesn't look very big on the satellite image, it was over 180 feet long.
Although it's reasonably near Hoo, it's still very difficult and dangerous to reach, especially across the mud flats. Garreth Packham at Medway Drone Exploration sent me a link to a great video he's produced about the submarine. You can see there just how isolated it really is.
It's also mentioned on this thread on the Google Earth Community Site.
Abandoned Submarines in the Medway
As well as the Abandoned First World War Submarine in the Medway Estuary, there are apparently 26 other submarines which were sold for scrap after the first world war, and dumped in the area of Humble Bee Creek. As far as anyone seems to know, they're still there, silently rotting away and sinking into the mud flats.
I've started to add them to the map below, which I'll update when any others come along.
Some more information can be found in this thread on the Google Earth Community site
When I was looking for the wreck of HMS Bulwark, I found what I thought at the time might be the wreck here on Google Maps. There's a black area running south-west to north-east, slightly to the south-east of the centre of the picture. I'm assuming now that it's just another wrecked and rotted ship that's been left in the estuary. If you know better, please let me know at the usual address.
As if all that's not enough, there's more "strange stuff" in Gillingham.
Strange Marker Stone On The Lines
While I was walking around to the east of the Royal Naval War Memorial, I came across a very worn stone that looked like some sort of marker stone. Initially I couldn't see anything to suggest what it was, but then I noticed a deep horizontal line carved into it. Looking a little closer it loks like it's a marker stone, presumably marking the limit of Royal Naval land.
Mysterious Steel Doors:
Behind the poster in the panoramic picture above, there is a pair of steel doors which open on to the pavement. I didn't know what was kept behind them as the doors have always been padlocked whenever I've gone past. In November 2004 I received an e-mail from someone who lives on Mount Pleasant (the road above the Mystery Tunnel) who said that it's where the man who puts up the posters keeps his equipment. That didn't explain what it was originally for, after all it's quite well built for just a storage cupboard. With a little further digging I found that it may have initially been used by the Chatham Traction Company to store a bank locomotive to help trams up Chatham Hill in poor weather. It's possible though that the bank locomotive was stored in the bricked-up mystery tunnel further up the hill.
The Mystery Tunnel and Holes in the Ground
In June 2005 I received an email from Dave, who used to play in the Mystery Tunnel. He's kindly allowed me to quote him on my site, so here's what he said about the tunnels at the bottom of Chatham Hill:
Hi, I stumbled on your website purely by accident while doing research into a mysterious hole that appeared in Bill st, frinsbury back in 1969, where a woman was swallowed by the hole and never seen again.
Anyway, to your Chatham Hill tunnel, it should be tunnels.
I used to live at Longhill Ave back in the 60's as a child. I used to play in these tunnels which were also accessible via a farm that used to be on the lines known as Cheeseman's farm, long since gone and the expansion of Upbury Manor school has covered the original site of the farm.
The farm had a spiralling stairway down to the network of tunnels under the lines, one of which came out at the bottom of Chatham Hill. From the inside, you could see daylight out on to Chatham Hill via a small opening of a cave in.
This was the tunnel covered now by the big chalk boulder. This was deliberately sealed when us kids were discovered in there by the MOD.
Before we were discovered, we had weeks to travel down the tunnels (stupid now I look back, but no fear at the age of 8) which were quite extensive. There were tunnels that branched off in all directions, only a few could be explored that hadn't caved in.
One led out to the Luton Arches, behind the Billboard, which we used to access the tunnel because we couldn't be seen behind the Billboard.This one would gradually increase in accent, then open up in to a great big chamber, with lots of other tunnels coming off it, a hub so to speak. One of these tunnels went west in a downward gradient for about 1/4 of a mile, then it was water logged. This now has occurred to me it must be under the Brook.
One tunnel crossed another large tunnel with disused railway lines which I am assuming now being the bricked up one you mention.This tunnel is blocked internally with another brickwork frontage about a 1/2 mile inwards.
From the entrance at the Great Lines, there is a tunnel that goes South on a downward slope to a T junction that runs East/West. Off this tunnel there are chambers which had empty boxes/chests, but smelled of sulphur. And we found lots of lead balls, now knowing they were musket balls.
There was always a wind in the tunnels blowing in one direction, we never found out where it was coming from.
Dave also told me a few things about other tunnels in the area; I've put them on the appropriate pages. (Forts and the Royal Naval War Memorial.
Ann Barrett also wrote to me in October 2005 with the following information:
[I] can also confirm that where you say that there were shops at the bottom of Chatham Hill (in front of the Tunnel) I lived just up the Hill on the other side with my Grandparents ,my Grandfather having spent his youth directly opposite. I can remember what my Mum called an Antique shop, although I think it was probably a Junk shop, and I can still picture knocking a milk jug off of a table and running away, aged probably about three. We had to walk on the other side of the road for months! Anyway, the tunnel evidently was from the Naval Hospital but dated from its earliest days when Naval Officers, if called into action, could get down to the Brook quickly and thereby to the ships. Don't foget it was a waterway then. I can remember being told by a local man that his great grandfather delivered milk in a boat.
Ann also supplied more information on the Town Hall and C T Smith, which I've put on the appropriate pages.
If you have any further information about these tunnels, or any of the other weird or strange things in the area, please let me know, by e-mail.