History Of Gillingham, Kent
|History Of Gillingham|
Early History Of Gillingham
At the time of the Norman Conquest, Gillingham was a small hamlet; it was given by William the Conqueror to his half-brother Odo of Bayeux. The land was mainly farmland, and Odo rebuilt the parish church of St Mark's and constructed an archbishop's palace here.
In medieval times the part of Gillingham known as Grange was a limb of the Cinque Ports, and the maritime importance of the area continued until the late 1940s. Indeed, a large part of Chatham Dockyard lay within Gillingham. The dockyard was founded by Queen Elizabeth I on the site of the present gun wharf, the establishment being transferred to the present site about 1622.
In 1667 a Dutch fleet sailed up the River Medway and having landed at Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey, and laying siege to the fort at Sheerness, invaded Gillingham in what became known as the raid on the Medway. The Dutch, after some consternation and panic from royalty, were eventually driven out, but the incident caused great humiliation to the Royal Navy.
The Seven Years' War began in 1756. The government immediately gave orders for the defence of the dockyard, and by 1758 the Chatham Lines of Defence were built. Over a mile long, they stretched across the neck of the dockyard peninsula, from Chatham Reach, south of the dockyard, across to Gillingham Reach on the opposite side. One of the redoubts on the Lines was at Amherst. The batteries faced away from the dockyard itself to forestall an attack from the landward side; the ships and shore mounted guns on the river were considered sufficient to protect from that side.
War with France began again in 1778, and once more it was necessary to strengthen the defences. Fort Amherst was the first to be improved; it was followed by work beginning in 1800 to add others at Fort Pitt, Chatham, plus Fort Delce and Fort Clarence (both in Rochester); later in the 19th century others were added, including one at Fort Darland in Gillingham. Within all these buildings a barracks was built to house the soldiers.
All this work, and the expansion of the dockyard, meant that more homes were needed for the workers. The position of the Lines meant that this building could only happen beyond, and so New Brompton came into being. The population rose to 9,000 people by 1851. Gillingham was still only a small village; eventually it, too, was swallowed up, and the name of the whole settlement changed to Gillingham.
The Roman road now known as Watling Street passed through Gillingham; and until the opening of the Medway Towns bypass (the M2 motorway) in the mid-1960s the same route was followed by the traffic on the A2 to Dover. That road had been turnpiked in 1730, as part of the London–Canterbury coaching route. In June 1996 the Medway Tunnel opened, linking Gillingham with the M2 and Strood.
The London, Chatham and Dover Railway opened its line between Chatham and Faversham on 25 January 1858; and a country station was opened here called New Brompton. This was to serve the dockyard labourers' homes that had sprung up during the Napoleonic Wars. A branch line led into the dockyard. The station later became Gillingham Railway Station. Services improved significantly when in July 1939, Gillingham became the terminus of the electrified system of the Southern Railway.
In 1919, after World War I, a naval war memorial in the shape of a white stone obelisk was set up on the Great Lines, from where it can be seen for many miles; additional structures were added in 1945 to commemorate the dead of World War II. Similar monuments stand in the dockyard towns of Portsmouth and Plymouth.
The main source of employment was at the dockyard, and when it ceased to be a naval base in 1984, there was huge unemployment. Today much of the area is a World Heritage Site.