Fort Amherst is part of the Brompton Lines, a defensive line of forts and batteries protecting Chatham Naval Dockyard, situated on the River Medway, from a landward attack. The dockyard covered an area of 80 acres and had a lifespan from 1613 – 1984 when it was finally decommissioned.
Today the site is managed and run by the Fort Amherst Heritage Trust.
Fort Amherst is at the southern end of the Brompton Lines, which ran from Gun Wharf to Brompton Village. It is believed to be the largest of the Napoleonic forts built following the threat of attack from Dutch and French forces.
Originally constructed of Portland cement and brick, it was named after Lord Amherst. Some believe the site was built by French prisoners of war, but no concrete evidence has been found for this. During construction a number of archaeological features were uncovered including barrows, tumuli, and a Roman military building. Soldiers who undertook some later additions, were billeted close to the site.
The mock battles that used to happen at the site were described by Charles Dickens in his Pickwick Papers. He had watched one of the battles, as had Prince Albert. They were very popular for the tie, and possibly used as a recruiting tool for the Army.
1667 The Dutch raided the Medway area and the dockyard was badly damaged.
1708 The government planned new defences to protect the dockyard.
1708-1709 Land around the dockyard was purchased by the Government under a Compulsory Purchase Order.
1715 The 1st Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, surveyed the land.
1755 The Chatham Lines were designed by Captain John Peter Desmaretze, and included The King’s Bastion, Prince Edward’s Bastion, Prince Frederick’s Bastion, Prince Henry’s Bastion, the Prince of Wales Bastion and Prince William’s Bastion. The ditches were cut and measured 9m wide with a 3 m parapet.
1756 Amherst redoubt was completed.
1757 The Infantry Barracks were added.
1778-1783 The Lines were strengthened during the American War of Independence, as French supported the American cause. The British saw this as a threat from across the channel. The fort held an armament of 14 x 42 pounder cannon, 10 x 9 pounder cannon, 8 x 6 pounder cannon and 2 x 4 pounder cannon.
1779 During the strengthening of the Lines a Roman military building was uncovered. Finds included Roman coins. The works were recorded by the Royal Engineers and the North Lincolnshire Militia.
1802 – 1811 Prisoners extended the tunnels beneath the fort. Additions included barracks, a guard room, gun bastions, a new magazine, shelters and stores. Over 50 cannon were mounted on the site.
1803 – 1811 The ditches were dug revetted with brick (lined).
1803-1815 Napoleonic Wars: Army and Naval base.
1804 A new road was constructed which connected the Lines situated below Fort Amherst to Fort Pitt and included gatehouses at each end as added protection.
1820 The site was declared obsolete and used as a training ground which included mock battles.
1854 Prince Albert attended a mock battle at the site and watched the Royal Marines attack the 35th Regiment.
1878 Part of the fort was demolished.
1914-1918 WWI: Held anti-aircraft guns. Was a training ground for troops heading to Belgium and France.
1939 There was an air raid drill across the area involving 1,600 troops.
1939-1945 WWII: Air raid Warning Command Centre. Held Spigot Mortar guns.
1959 Scheduled Ancient Monument.
1970’s Fort was cleared by a group of volunteers.
1980 The site was purchased from the Ministry by the Fort Amherst and Lines Trust.
1986 Used in the filming of The Mission.
2011 Used in the filming of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
2012 The Bicentenary bridge was constructed to the Spur Battery.
2014 The main gates were refurbished.
2015 Used in the filming of Agatha Christie’s Partner’s in Crime.
2018 Part of the site was excavated.
There had been a lot of debate about the site once it went out of use, for what it was intended. One debate in Parliament shows the feelings towards the site at around 1816,
“With respect to works, the best thing we could do was to sell the materials or suffer them to fall silently into the dust. The new kingdom of Chatham, as it had been called, was remarkable for nothing but its absurdity and expense: and we had better get rid of Fort Amherst, Fort Chatham and Fort Pitt, and all the other nonsensical forts.” (Ordnance Supplementary Estimates, Mr. Calcraft, 1816).
We are so glad that she was not demolished, and materials sold off, which has been the fate for many a fortified site once their usefulness had expired.
As previously mentioned, the site is now cared for by the Fort Amherst Heritage Trust. They do a great job in preserving the memory of the site and run some amazing programmes! Visit their site at https://www.fortamherst.com/.
References & Bibliography
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