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History on Fort Amherst Chatham Kent.

In 1667 the Dutch raided the River Medway and attacked Chatham’s Royal Dockyard.  During the devastating attack, thirteen ships were destroyed and two were taken including the flagship of the fleet, the ‘Royal Charles’.  At that point in time there were no defences protecting the Dockyard against a land based attack, and the raid by the Dutch led to a review of the defences protecting this important site.  As well as improved defence of the River Medway the review included proposals to protect the landward side of the Dockyard which would also serve to disrupt an invasion party heading towards London.  This is where the story of Fort Amherst and Chatham Great Lines begins.

To ensure the protection of the Dockyard, three defendable gateways were constructed to control and defend access into the area protected by the Chatham Lines.  One of these gateways, the Upper Barrier Guardhouse, can be found within the lower portion of Fort Amherst.  The guardhouse housed a small garrison to defend the route from Chatham town by the use of a drawbridge, loopholed walls and a set of three heavy gates.  The barrack rooms within this building have been restored for your enjoyment.

In 1708 plans were beginning to be drawn up to construct a fortification to protect the Royal Dockyard from a land based attack.  In 1714 land was bought for the construction of the fortifications but work did not start until 1755.  The Forts were to be built on the ditch and rampart principle; this was a common method of fortification construction during this period.

Part of the site chosen included a chalk pit with a number of caves.  These caves were extended between 1776 and 1805 to provide an underground labyrinth of tunnels, protected underground gun positions and protection in the event of a siege.  The tunnels contain many interesting and important features including a well, privies, loopholed defences, cannon positions and defendable gateways.

Although Fort Amherst and the Chatham Lines were never put to the test, we can see from its design it would have made a formidable defence against any invasion force.  In 1820 the defences were declared obsolete due to better artillery equipment with a greater firing range.  The whole of the fortifications were used as a training ground during the Victorian period, the practice sieges were so popular that thousands of people came to Chatham to watch them.  VIPs were given seating areas upon the Casemated Barracks that once stood in the Lower Lines and also upon Prince William’s Barracks within Fort Amherst.  One of these sieges is described by Charles Dickens in his book ‘Pickwick Papers’.

Within the tunnels of the Forts are Neopoleonic archways built in brick these are belived to be at every turning within the tunnels to show a turn is coming up, Also engraved within the chalk walls are strange symbols and words. These symbols are said to be on every brick within the Forts.

During the war citizens that may have lost there lives within these tunnels had a symbol and word engraved on the brock or chalk as a memorial place for respect and thanks for there hard day in day out work.

The story of "the Drummer Boy" is infact true the 10-13 year old boy would drum his drum to a beat at certain times during the day and when deliveries of gun powder came in, the small lad was used to weigh the gunpowder down the hatcxh and would go up and down held by rope for days to get in the ammunition for the soldiers. There was more than one "Drummer Boy" as the child being used for ammunition delivery could have injuries from bouncing off the walls on the way up the hatch scraps and scratches bumps and bruises.


Fort Amherst, in Medway, South East England, was constructed in 1756 at the southern end of the Brompton lines of defence to protect the southeastern approaches to Chatham Dockyard and the River Medway against a French invasion. Fort Amherst is now open as a visitor attraction throughout the year, running tours through the tunnel complex.

The primary purpose of all the Medway fortifications was the defence of the Naval Dockyard.

The defences in 1770.

The defences in 1812.

Land was acquired by two Acts of Parliament in 1708 and 1709. The land was surveyed in 1715 by the Duke of Marlborough. The first plan of defences was an enceinte, from Gun Wharf, Chatham, to north of the village of Brompton. It was designed by Capt. John Desmoretze in 1755 and consisted of a 9m wide ditch and a 3m parapet. The strongpoint of the design was the Amherst Redoubt which became Fort Amherst. It was completed in 1758 and defended with 14 42-pounders, 10 9-pounders, 8 6-pounders and 2 4-pounder guns. These became known as the Cumberland lines, and were entered by four gateways with bridges.

In 1770 Lt General Skinner extended and strengthened the lines, the Amherst Redoubt was strengthened, further batteries added (such as the Cornwallis Battery) and the ditches revetted (lined with brick).

During the Napoleonic Wars the Chatham defences were enlarged and strengthened considerably. In 1802-11 prisoners were set to work on extending the tunnels and creating vast underground stores and shelters, new magazines, barracks, gun batteries and guardrooms. More than 50 smooth-bore cannon were also mounted. The last building works were about 1820.

A maze of tunnels dug by hand and pick into the chalk cliffs were used to move ammunition around the fort.

A second gun battery, Townsend Redoubt, was built at the northeastern corner of the dockyard at the same time as Fort Amherst. Both forts were inside the 1756 brick-lined earthwork bastions known as the Cumberland Lines, which surrounded the whole east side of the dockyard down to St Mary's Island. These have now been built over.

Fort Clarence in Rochester and Fort Pitt, on the Rochester-Chatham borders, were built in 1805-15 to protect the southern approaches.

Fort Amherst has been described by English Heritage as the most complete Napoleonic fortification in Britain and as such has great national historical significance.

The fort was still in use during the Second World War and restoration to make more areas open to the public is in progress.

Current Usage

Fort Amherst is operated by the charity The Fort Amherst Heritage Trust.

2012 marks the 200th anniversary of the establishment under Royal Warrant of the Royal Engineers at Brompton Barracks (the Royal School of Military Engineering). Therefore a team of Royal Engineers designed, built and assembled the Bicentenary Bridge to mark this special anniversary. The bridge leads to a part of Fort Amhurst also known as Spur Battery and to the Inner Lines (the Naploean defensive ditches). It is only accessible at special times and during guided visits.

The Fort complex is one of the few surviving Napoleonic Fortresses in the country. The following History of the Fort is taken from the just published Guide to the Fort and researched over a period of six months.

While construction work was in progress a Roman villa was uncovered, the site of this is now adjacent to the reservoir wall to the right of the Hornwork Casemate.

In 1758 and 1762 the Board of Ordnance purchased more land to extend the fortifications.


A large casemated barracks was constructed at the Northern end of the Line, which was used to house the large army of convicts and prisoners who built the Fort and worked in the associated brickfields. This barracks became known as St Mary's Barracks and was in use until its demolition in the 1960's. Barracks and magazines were also constructed around Fort Amherst. These works were completed in 1779/82.

The guns were dismounted and put into store at the Gun Wharf. The carriages were stowed away in a specially built shed in Fort Amherst. When the Napoleonic War broke out the armament of the Lines was quickly increased and a vast sum of money was spent on improving the fortifications. This work included revetting all the ditches and ramparts in brick, constructing new magazine facilities and extending the Lines to include Rochester, but this part of the scheme was only ever half completed. The majority of the work was carried out between 1803 and 1811. In 1803 a recommendation for the new armament for the Fort was made to improve the existing works and arm the new ones.

A return for the 24th July, 1804 states that up to this time a total of 21,620 feet of timber of all sizes had been used in the construction work.

On the 29th July, 1804 a letter was forwarded to the CRE, Chatham demanding compensation by two local farmers Mr R T Moore and Mr T N Carter, for loss of crops and fruit trees. The lengthy list included 12 apple trees, 50 celery roots, raddish beds, 1 pear tree and other products to the value of  65. 5s. 3d. Their crops had been destroyed owing to the progression of the new fortifications.

Further improvements to the Lines were carried out into the 1820's; after this time the only useful function the Fort served was for the staging of massive yearly siege operation exercises which drew large crowds.

In 1820 a sentry on the Lines spotted the outbreak of the Great Fire of Chatham and reported it to the Captain of the Guard, who sent his men out to wake the townspeople, an act which saved a great many lives.

In 1824 it was recorded that the Resident Master Gunner at the Fort was a Mr William Howie. He had five invalide (assistant) gunners to assist him.

In 1850 the section of the Lines now called the New Ravelin was constructed as a training exercise by the School of Military Engineering. In 1860 the Royal Commission for the Defence of the United Kingdom decided that the Lines were totally obsolete and all new fortifications were constructed on the Thames or well to the south of the Medway Towns.

In 1878 the drawbridges at the Line's gates across the ditch were demolished along with their guard towers by the Royal Engineers because of the mounting traffic congestion. The rubble was cleared away by convicts, the drawbridges were replaced by new fixed bridges and then later by back-filling the adjacent section of ditch.

Only one of the Chatham gates survives, which is now part of the Chatham Army Cadet Corps Headquarters.

Up until the end of the 19th century a small Saluting Battery was maintained on Prince William's West Battery. This was for the firing of Royal Salutes and a Midday Cannon which was fired each day.

During the First World War the Fort was used to house troops and stores en route for France. During this time a large dugout was constructed which could hold 3,000 men. It consisted of 6 chambers, 288 feet long by 5 feet broad and 6 feet high. This later became the Naval Radio Station and is still in use today.

During the last war, light anti-aircraft guns were installed at strategic points on the Lines. The Lines were included as part of the GHQ Line Anti-Invasion Defences, for it was considered that ditches made good anti-tank obstacles. There were several spigot mortar positions installed in various parts of the Fort in 1941 which can still be seen today as well as an emplacement for a 6-inch gun at the salient of Prince William's Bastion; these were all manned by local Home Guard Units.

The tunnels under Cornwallis Battery were taken over by the Civil Defence for their Medway Headquarters. These and Fort Amherst were used by the Civil Defence and Home Guard for training exercises until the mid 1950's.