A new amphitheatre has been created in Chatham thanks to a £2.2million heritage project, supported by The National Lottery.
The Command of the Heights is a joint project between Medway Council and the Fort Amherst Heritage Trust which aimed to reconnect the town with its military roots.
The large heritage regeneration project secured £1.78 million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. The council also contributed £400,000.
Work started at Fort Amherst in October 2018 to create the new entrance to the fort from Chatham town centre and to transform the Spur Battery into an amphitheatre. The Spur Battery is the highest part of Fort Amherst and was used for siege warfare training, troop encampments and military punishments. It is now an amphitheatre with seating for more than 200 visitors.
The project also saw the demolition of the Riverside One building which sat within the walls of the Barrier Ditch. The ditch was built during the Seven Years War (1754-1763) and ran up into Fort Amherst. It was a critical part of the defences - an un-scalable ditch and embankment which dramatically divided the military and civilian areas of Chatham. The area will be opened up as a greenspace and highlights the history of the site and its links to Fort Amherst and the Historic Dockyard Chatham. This area is expected to be completed later this year, due to the discovery of significant archaeological finds including the buried ditch wall and three casemates which would have been used to defend the Barrier Ditch from invaders attacking from the river.
To celebrate the completion of the works Icon Theatre has been commissioned to be the first theatre company to perform on the open-air stage on Thursday, 19 September, the first of three performances which run until Saturday, 21 September. The Chatham Witch explores the extraordinary history of women in Medway and will feature 150 actors, dancers and singers from the local community.
Showcasing Medway's rich military history
Leader of Medway Council, Cllr Alan Jarrett, said: “This is a fantastic project which showcases Medway’s rich military history. I am delighted Medway now has an open air amphitheatre where residents and visitors will be able to watch performances at one of Medway’s heritage sites. This is a very exciting time for Chatham and I would encourage residents to find out more about the Command of the Heights project. I would also like to thank The National Lottery Heritage Fund for their ongoing support of the project and other heritage initiatives in Medway.”
Sharing Medway's fascinating stories
Stuart Hobley, Area Director London & South at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “It’s the National Lottery’s 25th birthday this year and in that time National Lottery players have raised an incredible £7.9billion for projects saving and sharing the UK’s heritage. Command of the Heights is a great example of what that investment achieves – revealing little-known histories, protecting heritage for future generations and ensuring as many people as possible can share in Medway’s fascinating stories.”
Wonderful new asset for Medway
Chairman of the Fort Amherst Trustees, Bill Fowler, said: “Fort Amherst is entering an exciting new phase in its story. The Spur Battery on the heights above Chatham will once again be accessible to visitors as it once was as part of the Garrison Recreation Grounds. The Spur Battery amphitheatre will be a wonderful new asset for Medway which I hope will be well used. The restoration of the Lower Barrier Ditch and Barrier Road will reconnect the fortifications with the river and reopen a long lost route through the Chatham fortifications - one which was once well used by Royalty on visits to the garrison. Medway has a ‘World Class’ heritage offer and Fort Amherst is proud to play its part in that. The Trustees at Fort Amherst are extremely grateful for the support of Medway Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund in the delivery of this project.”