Published: Friday, 31st July 2020

The final part of a £2.2million heritage project, including £400,000 from Medway Council, that transformed historic areas in Chatham, has been opened to the public. 

The Command of the Heights is a joint project between Medway Council and the Fort Amherst Trust, supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, which aimed to reconnect Chatham with its military roots.

The large heritage regeneration project secured £1.78 million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

A fantastic new public space has been created at Chatham riverside for residents to enjoy. New seating and information panels will also help them discover more about the history of their local area.

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 has now been opened up as a greenspace and highlights the history of the site and its links to Fort Amherst and the Historic Dockyard Chatham. During the project builders discovered 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.

The project was successful in securing a grant increase from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to incorporate the casemate finds into the project and now, for the first time in 257 years, residents can visit the riverside area to walk and sit amongst the casemates.

Bringing the area's history to life

Leader of Medway Council, Cllr Alan Jarrett, said: “Medway is steeped in rich military history and it is incredibly important that we remember our military roots. Command of the Heights has been a very exciting project and I am pleased that we have been able to showcase the discovered casemates, as this has helped bring the area’s history to life. I am also pleased that the project has been completed in time for the beginning of the summer holidays and I would encourage families to visit Chatham riverside and find out more about the project. If you are visiting, please ensure you continue to follow social distancing guidelines. I would also like to thank The National Lottery Heritage Fund for their ongoing support.” 

Revealing fascinating insights to the life of the Chatham garrison

Chairman of the Fort Amherst Heritage Trust, Bill Fowler, said the reuniting of the upper and lower sections of the Barrier Ditch was an exciting phase in the ongoing restoration of Medway’s Napoleonic defences. He said: “Once again people will be able to pass over the bridges above the vast ditch as they enter the heart of the military and naval enclaves of Medway. Command of the Heights has also seen the extensive and hitherto closed Spur Battery of Fort Amherst opened to the public, revealing more fascinating insights to the life of the Chatham garrison. One particularly intriguing element of the project has been the recreation of the Victorian military allotments next to Spur Battery on which soldiers at one time grew vegetables to supplement their meagre diet. These are now being cultivated by a mix of community groups and local residents.”

Find out more. 

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