ON YOUR DOORSTEP
Fort Amherst: Britain’s biggest and best preserved Napoleonic fort!
Fort Amherst’s main purpose was the defence of Chatham Dockyard
from a landward attack by an invading army. With nearly two miles
of ramparts, gun positions, barracks and underground works it was
a formidable obstacle!
FORT AMHERST BACKGROUND
The early settlement of Chatham was huddled around what
we now know as St Mary’s church, looking out over the River
Medway. Early records indicate a settlement here as far back
as the Stone Age over 3,000 years ago! Evidence of Prehistoric,
Roman, Jutish and Saxon activity was found during the
building of the Chatham Lines and Fort Amherst.
Command of the Oceans
Imagine a time when Britain’s power lay in its dominance
of the oceans.
Since Tudor times (over 400 years ago!) Chatham Dockyard
built, repaired and maintained Britain’s warships. From the
defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 to the 20th Century
Cold War, Chatham played a vital role.
Britain began to build up its navy during the 17th and 18th
centuries. But in June 1667, the Dutch, another strong
sea-faring nation, launched an attack up the River Medway.
England suffered a terrible naval defeat – with 13 ships
destroyed and the fleet’s flagship (The Royal Charles)
Command of the Heights
Immediately the seaward defences were strengthened.
However, some people believed that the docks could also
be attacked from the landward side – and that the high land
around Chatham should be strategically used to protect them.
Land to build fortifications was compulsorily purchased in the
early 1700s, but it took an invasion scare by the French in 1756
for work to actually begin. These first ‘Chatham Lines’ built
around the dockyard were ditches, earth ramparts and timber
Unfortunately, the people and buildings of the ancient town
of Chatham were in the way. The old town was demolished
and rebuilt on the marshland at the bottom of the hill where
modern day Chatham is now.
Napoleon: Preparing for War
Napoleonic Wars - 1799 to 1815
The Napoleonic wars were a series of conflicts
between European nations and the French Republic,
led by Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon was ambitious
for power. He had risen from the post of artillery
officer during the French revolution to become ‘First
Emperor of the French’ in 1804. It was vital that Britain
was prepared for attack!
During this time, Britain’s navy and soldiers were as
well trained as possible; Fort Amherst and the people
of Chatham would have been on constant high alert,
ever ready for a land-based attack. A British fleet, under Admiral Lord Nelson,
fought and defeated the French Navy at sea in the Battle of Trafalgar (1805).
However, the wars continued until Napoleon was defeated at
The Battle of Waterloo in June 1815 by a combined European
army commanded by the Duke of Wellington.
Watercolour of the Rifle Brigade in it's camp on the site in c1858.
American War of Independence
These first Chatham Lines were soon in disrepair and useless,
but between 1775 and 1783 Britain was at war with the
American colonists who had powerful support from France.
There were fears that the French might help America by
attacking the dockyard, and so the Chatham Lines were rebuilt
and strengthened with brick-lined ditches and stronger brick
ramparts. Both ends were fortified with strong redoubts –
Townsend in the north, Amherst in the south. This was the
origin of Fort Amherst.