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Grid reference: TQ765659
Location: 51°21’40"N, 0°32’10"E
Population: 70,540  ((2001))
Post town: Chatham
Postcode: ME4, ME5
Dialling code: 01634
Local Government
Council: Medway
Chatham and Aylesford

Chatham is a maritime town in Kent; one of the Medway Towns. It stands on Kent's north coast.

Chatham is most famous for the Chatham Dockyard, which was one of the Royal Navy's greatest in its day, though the dockyard has now long been closed and the site redeveloped into a business and residential areas. A museum is on the site too, in which is docked the famous submarine, HMS Ocelot. The remaining major naval buildings remain as the focus for a flourishing tourist industry.

Chatham retains military connections; several Army barracks were located here, together with 19th-century forts which provided a defensive shield for the dockyard. Brompton Barracks, located in the town, remains the headquarters of the Corps of Royal Engineers.

The town has important road links and the railway and bus stations are the main interchanges for the area, and its main shopping town.

Name of the town

The name Chatham was first recorded as Cetham in 880. It is believed to be a mixed Welsh-English name, coming from the British root ceto ("forest", like the Modern Welsh coed) and the Old English ham; thus "Forest homestead".[1][2] The Domesday Book records the place as Ceteham.


Chatham now stands on the A2 road, which marks an ancient route paved by the Romans, and named Watling Street by the Early English. Among finds have been the remains of a Roman cemetery. After the Norman invasion the manor of Chatham was given to the Bishop of Byeaux, who subinfeudated it ot Robert Latimer.

Chatham long remained a small village on the banks of the river, but by the 16th century was being used to harbour warships, because of its strategic location facing Europe. It was established as a Royal Dockyard by Queen Elizabeth I in 1568. Initially a refitting base, it became a shipbuilding yard; from then until the late 19th century, further expansion of the yard took place. In its time, many thousands of men were employed at the dockyard, and many hundreds of vessels were launched there, including HMS Victory which was built there in the 1760s. After First World War many submarines were also built in Chatham Dockyard.

From the Medway to Fort Amherst

In addition to the dockyard itself, defensive fortifications[3] were built to protect it from attack. Upnor Castle had been built in 1567, but had proved ineffectual; the Dutch Raid on the Medway in 1667 showed that more was required. The fortifications, which became more elaborate as the threat of invasion grew, were begun in 1756 as a complex across the neck of the peninsula formed by the bend in the River Medway, and included Fort Amherst. The threat of a land-based attack from the south during the 19th century led to the construction of even more forts.

The second phase of fort-building (1806–1819) included Fort Pitt (later used as a hospital and the site of the first Army Medical School). The 1859 Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom ordered, inter alia, a third outer ring of forts: these included Fort Luton,[4] Fort Bridgewood, and Fort Borstal.[5] These fortifications all required military personnel to man them and Army barracks to house those men. These included Kitchener Barracks (c 1750–1780), the Royal Marine Barracks (c 1780). Brompton Artillery Barracks (1806)[6] and Melville Barracks. HMS Collingwood and HMS Pembroke were both naval barracks.

In response to the huge manpower needs, the village of Chatham and other nearby villages and towns grew commensurately. Trams, and later buses, linked those places to bring in the workforce.[7] The area between the High Street and Luton village illustrates part of that growth, with its many streets of Victorian terraces.

The importance of Chatham dockyard gradually declined as Britain's naval resources were reduced or moved to other locations, and eventually, in 1984, it was closed completely. The dockyard buildings were preserved as the historic site Chatham Historic Dockyard (operated by Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust[8]), now under consideration as a World Heritage Site[9] the site is being used for other purposes. Part of the St Mary's Island section is now used as a marina, and the remainder is being developed for housing, commercial and other uses, branded as "Chatham Maritime".[10]


Chatham Dockyard from Fort Pitt, ca. 1830
Chatham Town Centre from the Great Lines
Luton Valley from Darland Banks

Chatham stands where the lower part of the dip slope of the North Downs meets the River Medway which at this point is flowing in a south-north direction. This gives the right bank, where the town stands, considerable advantages from the point of view of river use. Compared with opposite bank, the river is fast-flowing and deep. The town lies below at river level, curving round to occupy a south-easterly trending valley ("The Brook"), in which lies the High Street. Beyond the dockyard was marshy land, now called St Mary’s Island, and has several new developments of housing estates.

The valley continues southeastwards as the Luton Valley, in which is the erstwhile village of that name; and Capstone Valley. The Darland Banks, the northern slopes of the valley above these valleys, are unimproved chalk grassland.

Until the start of the 20th century, most of the land to the south of the town centre was entirely rural, with a number of farms and large tracts of woodland. The beginning of what is now the Walderslade suburb was when a speculative builder began to build the core of the village in Walderslade Bottoms.[11]


In the 19th century the ecclesiastical parish of Chatham included Luton and Brompton and also Chatham Intra (land on the river that was administered by the City of Rochester).[12]

Chatham's parish church, St Marys, which stood on Dock Road, was rebuilt in 1788. St John's was a Waterloo church built in 1821 by Robert Smirke, and restructured in 1869 by GM Hills;[13] it ceased being an active church in 1964, and is currently used as an art project.[14] St Paul's New Road was built in 1854; declared redundant in 1974, it has been demolished.

St Peter's Troy Town was built in 1860. Christchurch Luton was built in 1843, replaced in 1884. The Royal Dockyard church (1806) was declared redundant in 1981.

Chatham is reputed to be the home of the first Baptist chapel in north Kent, the Zion Baptist Chapel in Clover Street. The first known pastor was Edward Morecock who settled there in the 1660s. During Cromwell's time Morecock had been a sea-captain and had been injured in battle. His knowledge of the River Medway is reputed to have preserved him from persecution in the reign of King Charles II.

There was a second Baptist chapel founded about 1700. The Ebenezer Chapel dates back to 1662.

The Medway at Sun Pier

Sights of the town

Chatham Naval Memorial

The Chatham Naval Memorial commemorates the 18,500 officers, ranks and ratings of the Royal Navy who were lost or buried at sea in the two world wars. It stands on the Great Lines between Chatham and Gillingham.

Chatham Town Hall was built in 1900; it stands in the Brook, and is of a unique architectural design. Since the town is part of the Medway conurbation, it took on a new role as an arts centre. In 1996, it became the Brook Theatre.[15]

The Pentagon Centre which incorporates Chatham Bus Station, stands in the town centre.[16]


The Medway, apart from Chatham Dockyard, has always had an important role in communication: historically it provided a means for the transport of goods to and from the interior of Kent. Stone, timber and iron from the Weald for shipbuilding and agricultural produce were among the cargoes. Sun Pier in Chatham was one of many such along the river. By 1740, barges of forty tons could navigate as far upstream as Tonbridge.[17] Today its use is confined to tourist traffic; apart from the marina, there are many yacht moorings on the river itself.

The New Road beneath the A2 at Luton Arches
Sir John Hawkins Flyover, demolished in 2009

Chatham's position on the road network began with the building of the Roman road (Watling Street, which passed through the town. Turnpike trusts were established locally, so that the length from Chatham to Canterbury was turnpiked in 1730; and the Chatham to Maidstone road (now the A230) was also turnpiked before 1750. The High Street was bypassed in 1769, by the New Road leading from the top of Star Hill Rochester, to the bottom of Chatham Hill at Luton Arches. This also became inadequate for the London cross-channel traffic and the Medway Towns Bypass, the M2 motorway, was constructed to divert through traffic south of the Medway Towns.

Chatham is the hub of the Medway Towns. This fact means that the existing road system has always proved inadequate for the amount of traffic it has to handle, and various schemes have been tried to alleviate the congestion. The High Street itself is traffic-free, so all traffic has to skirt around it. The basic west-east routes are The Brook to the north and New Road to the south, but the additional problems caused by the situation of the Pentagon Bus Station meant that conflicting traffic flows were the result. In the 1980s the Chatham town centre was remodelled and an inner ring road – a one-way system – was constructed. This was completed with the construction of the Sir John Hawkins Flyover opened in 1989 carrying the south to north traffic over the High Street.

In September 2006, the one-way system was abandoned and in early 2010 the Sir John Hawkins Flyover was demolished.

Chatham Railway Station and Fort Pitt Tunnel

Chatham railway station opened in 1858. It serves both the North Kent and the Chatham Main Lines, and is the interchange between the two lines. It lies in the valley between the Fort Pitt and the Chatham Tunnels. There are frequent trains to and from London, some running on to Dover and Ramsgate or to Gillingham.

Part of the industrial railway in what is now Chatham Historic Dockyard is still in operation, run by the North Kent Industrial Locomotive Society.


  • Football:
    • Chatham Town FC (Isthmian League)
    • Lordswood FC (Kent League)
    • The defunct Chatham Excelsior FC were one of the early pioneers of football in southern Britain
  • Skiing: at Capstone Farm Country Park

Local media

  • Newspapers
    • Medway News and Medway Standard
    • Medway Messenger
    • Medway Extra
    • yourmedway
  • Radio
    • KMFM Medway

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Chatham)


  1. A. D. Mills, A Dictionary of British Place-Names, 2003, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-852758-6
  2. Judith Glover, The Place Names of Kent, 1976, Batsford. ISBN 0-905270-61-4
  3. Map and dates of construction of the Chatham Defences
  4. Now a heritage site
  5. Chatham's Fortified Places
  6. Although the postal address of Brompton Barracks (now the headquarters of the Royal Engineers) indicates Chatham as its location, Brompton village lies in Gillingham
  7. Harley, Robert J. (1994). Maidstone and Chatham Tramways. Middleton Press. ISBN 1-873793-40-5. 
  8. Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust
  9. "Chatham Naval Dockyard". Unesco. Retrieved 2007-09-21. 
  10. "Chatham Maritime" article on SEEDA website. Retrieved 2010-08-25.
  11. Walderslade Online: A Short History of Walderslade Village
  12. John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870–72)
  14. "Church transformed into vineyard". BBC News. 2004-10-25. Retrieved 2010-04-01. 
  15. The Brook Theatre
  16. Pentagon Shopping Centre
  17. Jessup, Frank W. (1966). Kent History Illustrated. Kent County Council. 


  • David Hughes, Chatham Naval Dockyard and Barracks, The History Press Ltd (2004), ISBN 0-7524-3248-6