Chatham Tourist Guide
Find out about the history and development of this town which has played such an important role in Kent and England's past. Discover its many present day attractions!
On the A2, this is a busy town on the River Medway with a history of ship-building. It was first used as safer dock than Portsmouth by Henry VIII and was developed by Elizabeth I against the Armada, when a large arsenal and dockyard were built. Chatham prospered, but in 1667 the Dutch fleet sailed up the Medway and burnt the English fleet. As a consequence forts were built along the river. Chatham is also the site of many of the fortifications built to protect the dockyard from invasion. The Great Lines (abbreviated from ‘great lines of defence’) were built across the neck of the peninsula formed by the bend in the river. By 1758 this stretched for more than a mile from Fort Amherst (today a heritage site) to Gillingham Reach. Later, forts were built above the town, among them Fort Luton (also a heritage site), Fort Pitt (later used as a hospital by Florence Nightingale and now a girls' grammar school) and Fort Horsted. Many still exist, some have been changed into housing and others have been demolished.
After Chatham Dockyard was established by Elizabeth I in 1568 the small village of Chatham grew. At one point thousands of men were employed at the dockyard, and many hundreds of ships and submarines were launched there including HMS Victory which was built there in the 1760s. As a child, the novelist Charles Dickens lived in Chatham where his father worked in the Navy Pay Office. Chatham remained England's main naval dockyard throughout the 19th century, and with the arrival of cement and engineering industries, became the largest industrial centre in Kent. Today, the dockyard is now an important tourist attraction run as a living museum with flags, sails and rope made in the time-honoured way.
The town was also the location for several military barracks, most of which have now shut.
Chatham was almost certainly the home of the first Baptist chapel in north Kent. The first Baptist place of worship in the town was founded in 1644, meeting in private houses and in barns. 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. He knew the River Medway as few others, and it was this knowledge that preserved him from persecution in the reign of King Charles II.
Chatham became a market town in its own right in the 19th century, and a municipal borough in 1890. By 1831 its population had reached more than 16,000. By 1961 it had reached 48,800.
Chatham stood on Watling Street, the Roman road from London to the Kent Coast. The length of it from Chatham to Canterbury was turnpiked in 1730, to become the A2 main road in the 1920s. Now, the M2 motorway diverts all through traffic south of the Medway Towns.
The railway came to Chatham in 1858. First when the East Kent Railway opened a line to Faversham and later in the year when the short section to connect with the North Kent Line to London was opened. Chatham railway station is now the main interchange for the Medway towns.
The River Medway, apart from its use by warships to travel to and from the dockyard, was an important means of communication to the interior of Kent. Timber from the Weald for shipbuilding and agricultural produce were among the cargoes. Sun Pier in Chatham was one of many such along the river.
The Historic Dockyard Chatham is a great place to visit. Set in an 80-acre estate with stunning historic architecture, historic ships and museum galleries, the site offers a unique and rewarding visitor experience that will excite, educate and entertain you - whatever your age! The dockyard also offers a truly unusual venue for weddings, social occasions or business events and is often used as a film location. One of Kent's top tourist attractions, The Historic Dockyard Chatham is easy to find. Well signposted from the A2/M2 (junction 1) and with plenty of car parking, the dockyard is also close to Chatham Station with fast regular connections to London and the Kent Coast. The Historic Dockyard Chatham is in the care of Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, an independent charity, whose task is to restore and preserve this important part of Britain's national heritage.
The Kent Police Museum, located at the Historic Dockyard, was started as a collection of Police memorabilia in the 1960s by officers who felt there was a need to show our history. In 1973, the museum was opened in the attic at Police HQ in Maidstone. Over the years it moved around to different offices, ending up in the attic of the C.I.D. block. Visitors to the museum had to book and appointment, and were shown around by a member of the Operations Department. In 1992, in response to the need for more office space, the museum had to be dismantled, and was stored in boxes. The Historic Dockyard heard about this, and offered the use of Boiler House No. 3 for seven years. After restoration and repairs, the Police Museum, moved into the building, and was opened by the Lord Lieutenant of Kent on the 25th July 1994.
A brand new, innovative and exciting indoor visitor complex, Dickens World is themed around the life, books and times of one of Britain’s best loved authors, Charles Dickens. It will take visitors on a fascinating journey through Dickens’ lifetime as they step back into Dickensian England and are immersed in the urban streets, sounds and smells of the 19th century. Working with The Dickens Fellowship great attention has been paid to the authenticity of the time, characters and story lines. Dickens World is located in Leviathan Way, Chatham Maritime.
Old Brook Pumping Station features large diesel-operated pumps used for sewage and rain water pumping until 1956. Other exhibits relating to the Medway's industrial past can be seen. It can be found at The Brook, Solomons Road. View www.oldbrookpumping for details.
Fort Amherst Heritage Park and Caverns is Britain's finest Napoleonic fortress with 2500ft of tunnels and 14 acres of gun batteries. This fine Napoleonic fort, currently under restoration, has 14 acres of batteries, redoubts, bastions and tunnels, a working gun battery and a variety of other displays. There is a visitor centre and various events take place throughout the year. Visitors can also take a lantern-lit ghost tour on the 1st Friday of each month. The fort is in Dock Road. Check out www.fortamherst.com.
Based at The Historic Dockyard is Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle. A unique part of Britain's maritime heritage, the award-winning, coal-fired paddle steamer, Kingswear Castle offers morning, afternoon, evening and full-day excursions from the Historic Dockyard Chatham, Strood and Rochester piers. Sail back into history aboard a real steamship built in 1924. Watch the steam-engine turning the paddles, enjoy a drink or snack in the saloons or relax and watch the scenery glide by as Kingswear Castle paddles her way down the Medway.
A fantastic line-up of quality entertainment awaits you at the Central Theatre which is a beautiful 960-seat theatre situated in Chatham High Street. Children’s shows, comedy, the best tribute shows and top names in music all appear here on a regular basis. And there’s excellent value with aCT now! Medway's touring drama season plus regular folk and jazz evenings in the Cellar bar. The bar area is also home to The Sandwich Cellar - offering a fantastic lunchtime selection of freshly made-to-order food at great value prices, along with a fully licensed bar. Tel: 01634 338338.
The Brook Theatre (formerly Chatham Town Hall) offers a wealth of professional theatre, community productions, jazz and folk evenings, dance performances and the ever-popular Medway Comedy Club. It is also possible to visit the Studio Showcase Evenings - a series of intimate performances in the smaller studio theatre adjacent to the main auditorium. Tel: 01634 338338.
The New Art Centre is an innovative new art centre in Chatham High Street, set up by the Halpern Charitable Foundation to develop and display artistic talent. The Centre has a series of studios for up to 30 artists to practice many different media – from painting to etching, ceramics, sculpture, glass and more.
For a great day's shopping head straight to the Pentagon Shopping Centre and the Dockside Outlet Centre.
Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015