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Medway in the 20th century 1901 - 2000
In 1903 the Borough of Gillingham was created. Rainham was added
to its area of jurisdiction in 1928. Several times since the early
19th century, proposals had been considered to amalgamate the
Medway Towns under a single local authority but it was not until
the reorganisation of local government in 1974 that any major
changes took place. In that year, the City of Rochester, the
Borough of Chatham and Strood Rural District joined together to
form Medway District Council. The name of this new body was changed
to the City of Rochester-upon-Medway in 1982. Finally, in 1998,
Medway Council was created when this authority merged with
Gillingham Borough Council.
Short Brothers started their aeroplane building business at
Leysdown, on the Isle of Sheppey, in 1909. They moved to Rochester
in 1914, when the new factory was set up on the Esplanade. The
years in Rochester saw production of some of the firm’s best known
aircraft, including the Stirling bomber and the Empire and
Sunderland flying boats. Short’s long association with Rochester
ended in 1946, when it transferred to Belfast.
The presence of the aircraft factory, the Dockyard and the
barracks in Brompton led to those areas of the towns being targeted
for enemy bombs during both World Wars. On several occasions, bombs
and aerial mines missed these targets and devastated civilian
After the Second World War, the Dockyard was restricted to
building submarines and refitting ships. Despite the opening of
facilities for nuclear submarines, the Dockyard closed in 1984,
resulting in many thousands of dockyard workers being put out of
work and leading to a period of adjustment for Medway. Houses
continued to appear at an increasing rate throughout the area.
Industrial estates were developed in all the towns. Medway, despite
its green spaces, became the largest conurbation in the south-east
outside London. The demand for housing remained high and much open
land in north Kent was under threat.
A Century of Chatham: Events, People and Places Over the
Last 100 Years by Philip MacDougall. W H Smith, 2002.
Shorts Aircraft by Mike Hooks. Chalford Publications
(Archive Photographs Series), 1995.
The Fireman’s Wedding Tragedy. Kent County Library,
Medway at War
for wartime memories of Medway people, search for Medway on BBC
People's War (www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/).
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