The mission of Fort Amherst Heritage Trust is to restore and protect Fort Amherst and develop it as a premier heritage and leisure attraction.
Develop and promote Fort Amherst as a sustainable centre of history and culture within the unique context of Medway’s military heritage.
Enable and Encourage Social Participation
- Involve all members of the community including those who are subject to social exclusion or the disadvantaged, with particular focus on young people; removing barriers for participation.
Restore and Maintain Fort Amherst
- Bring back into sustainable use the grounds and buildings in keeping with scheduled ancient monument status, being mindful of stakeholder and partner organisation’s aims and objectives. Maintain public access for historical and leisure purposes.
Generate Resources by Raising Awareness of the Mission
- Ensure the long term stability and financial sustainability through income generation and by acquiring grants and third party support.
Achieve Organisational and Operational Excellence
- To achieve high levels of governance through well defined policies and procedures.
- Value and recognise the contribution made by our staff and volunteers.
Create a research and archive facility
- Make available the Fort’s research and archive facilities and make it available for all. Promote and encourage the research of Fort Amherst’s (and associated defence works) significant historical importance from both a military and social perspective.
Become a Leading Tourist Attraction
- Be recognised and acknowledged as a successful tourist attraction, gaining recognition for the services that are provided to members of the public.
In 1667 the Dutch raided the River Medway and attacked Chatham’s Royal Dockyard. During the devastating attack, thirteen ships were destroyed and two were taken including the flagship of the fleet, the ‘Royal Charles’. At that point in time there were no defences protecting the Dockyard against a land based attack, and the raid by the Dutch led to a review of the defences protecting this important site. As well as improved defence of the River Medway the review included proposals to protect the landward side of the Dockyard which would also serve to disrupt an invasion party heading towards London. This is where the story of Fort Amherst and Chatham Lines begins.
In 1708 plans were beginning to be drawn up to construct a fortification to protect the Royal Dockyard from a land based attack. In 1714 land was bought for the construction of the fortifications but work did not start until 1755. The fortifications were to be built on the ditch and rampart principle; this was a common method of fortification construction during this period.
Part of the site chosen included a chalk pit with a number of caves. These caves were extended between 1776 and 1805 to provide an underground labyrinth of tunnels, protected underground gun positions and protection in the event of a siege. The tunnels contain many interesting and important features including a well, privies, loopholed defences, cannon positions and defendable gateways.
To ensure the protection of the Dockyard, three defendable gateways were constructed to control and defend access into the area protected by the Chatham Lines. One of these gateways, the Upper Barrier Guardhouse, can be found within the lower portion of Fort Amherst. The guardhouse housed a small garrison to defend the route from Chatham town by the use of a drawbridge, loopholed walls and a set of three heavy gates. The barrack rooms within this building have been restored for your enjoyment.
Although Fort Amherst and the Chatham Lines were never put to the test, we can see from its design it would have made a formidable defence against any invasion force. In 1820 the defences were declared obsolete due to better artillery equipment with a greater firing range. The whole of the fortifications were used as a training ground during the Victorian period, the practice sieges were so popular that thousands of people came to Chatham to watch them. VIPs were given seating areas upon the Casemated Barracks that once stood in the Lower Lines and also upon Prince William’s Barracks within Fort Amherst. One of these sieges is described by Charles Dickens in his book ‘Pickwick Papers’.
Fort Amherst is staffed principally by volunteers and there are many opportunities to use your skills in a number of different areas.
The Fort has over 20 acres of land; half of this has been restored and maintained. Maintaining this land is a continuous job that requires a dedicated team of Volunteers with an interest in working outside clearing vegetation, restoring brickwork, general maintenance, and generally keeping the site as tidy as possible. As well as this we have 10 acres of unrestored land which needs to be cared for with a longer term plan to fully restore it in the future.
We also have a busy Cafe at Fort Amherst and are always looking for volunteers to work in the kitchen and also serving customers. There are also often opportunities to work in our office and become involved in the administration of the wide range of events that take place at the Fort. Finally, there are a number of opportunities to volunteer to staff some of our many events, either working as a guide or marshal, or in general event support. Appropriate training will be provided.
By joining Fort Amherst as a Volunteer you have the opportunity to become involved in a historically important project to recognise Chatham’s Military and Maritime history as we look to achieve World Heritage Site status.
If you are looking for specific work experience Fort Amherst may be able to help you. If you feel you have something to offer us please do not hesitate to contact Fort Amherst.
During WWII the tunnels were utilised by the Anti-Invasion Planning Unit and Civil Defence, who used a section as their headquarters. This is where Civil Defence was co-ordinated for the North Kent area in the event of bombing as well as support and assistance to the general public after such an incident. A section of the tunnels has been reconstructed into the Civil Defence HQ as it was in 1939.
In the late 1970’s a group of enthusiasts were given permission by the Ministry of Defence to start tidying up the site, with the intention of restoring Fort Amherst. In 1980 the Fort was purchased from the MoD by the Fort Amherst and Lines Trust and public open days began. In subsequent years additional areas of the Fort were purchased and the Fort Amherst Heritage Trust now owns and manages 20 acres of the fortifications. Half of this land has been carefully restored and further areas will be restored over time.
Fort Amherst remains the most intricate part of the Chatham Lines. The underground works, complicated gun batteries, Haxo Casemates, Grand Magazine and the important defensive Guardhouse are just some of the many fascinating features on this site that visitors can explore. Fort Amherst has been described Britain’s largest Napoleonic fortress.