Fort Amherst, Chatham, Kent

 

 

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.

 

The defences in 1812.
By Clem Rutter, Rochester, Kent. – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2117265

 

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.

1993                       Investigated.

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.

 

The main ditch at Amherst Fort.
By Richard Symonds – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61345123

 

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/.

 

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Recommended Reading

 

                  

References & Bibliography

Adler. D. S. 2013. A Posture of Defence. Lulu.com.

Arnold. N. 2012. Haunted Chatham. The History Press.

Beckett. I. F. W. 2007. Riflemen Form: A Study of the Rifle Volunteer Movement 1859–1908. Pen & Sword.

Blackburn, M. 1988. Three Silver Coins in the Names of Valentinian III (425-55) and Anthemius (467-72) from Chatham Lines, Kent. The Numismatic Chronicle (1966-), 148, 169-174. Retrieved September 8, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org.rp.nla.gov.au/stable/42668139.

Calcraft. Mr. 1816. Ordnance Supplementary Estimates. The Parliamentary Debates from The Year 1803 To Present Time. Vol. XXXIII, p. 1044.

Cormack, A. 2004. An Officer Of 50th Foot By Joseph Wright Of Derby. Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, 82(329), 1-5. Retrieved September 8, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org.rp.nla.gov.au/stable/44231024.

Cullen. S. 2012. In Search of the Real Dad s Army: The Home Guard and the Defence of the United Kingdom 1940-1944. Pen & Sword.

Cusick. R. 2013. Wellington’s Rifles: The Origins, Development and Battles of the Rifle Regiments in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo. Pen & Sword.

Foley. M. 2006. Front-Line Kent. The History Press.

Foley. M. 2008. Front-Line Thames. The History Press.

Hasted. E. 1797. The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent, Volume 1. W. Bristow.

Herron. K. 2019. Durnford 1879 from Isandlwana to Chatham: Colonel Anthony William Durnford the Isandlwana Papers – 140 Years Later. Xlibris Corporation.

Holden. C. 2017. Kent Britain’s Frontline County. Amberley Publishing Limited.

Holden. C. 2018. Chatham’s Military Heritage. Amberley Publishing Limited.

Ingleton. R. 2013. Fortress Kent. Casemate Publishers.

Khan. M. 2014. Kent at War 1939 to 1945: Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives. Pen & sword.

Longmate. N. 2011. Island Fortress: The Defence of Great Britain 1606-1945. Random House.

Maurice-Jones. Colonel. K. W. 2012. The History of Coast Artillery in the British Army. Andrews UK Limited.

Murphy. P. 2011. The English Coast: A History and a Prospect. A. & C. Black.

Nichols. J. 1793. Nenia Britannica. In The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 74, p 881.

Powter, A. 1978. History, Deterioration, and Repair of Cement and Concrete in Nineteenth Century Fortifications Constructed by the Royal Engineers. Bulletin of the Association for Preservation Technology, 10(3), 59-77. doi:10.2307/1493668.

Rogers. P. G. 2017. The Dutch in the Medway. Casemate Publishers.

Sargent. A. 2013. The Story of the Thames. Amberley Publishing Limited.

Ward, S. 1949. Defence Works In Britain, 1803—1805. Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, 27(109), 18-37. Retrieved September 8, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org.rp.nla.gov.au/stable/44221984.

Wragg. D. 2005. Royal Navy Handbook 1939-1945. The History Press.

Wynn. S. 2017. Chatham in the Great War. Pen & Sword.

 

 

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