Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Chatham Defences 1667


In 1574 the entrance to St Mary's Creek which cuts of a bend in the Medway had been blocked by wooden piles. In the same year the need for a lookout ship on permanent patrol off Sheerness was identified and the watch established. In 1585 a chain was stretched across the Medway just below the Elizabethan Upnor castle, itself completed in 1567 and enlarged in 1601. finally, a fort at Sheerness was begun in 1666. (Asquith, MM 1986)

This is an excellent short summary of the defences along the Medway but when you start researching and visiting the site this becomes a topic in itself!

Queenborough Castle, the picture at the start of the article,was built on the isle of Sheppey by Edward III in the 1360's to defend the Kent Coast along the Swale Estuary.

Built of Stone it was a novel design for its time anticipating the centrally planned castles of henry VIII by nearly 200 years. the castle was one of the 1st to be designed to withstand cannon fire. Looking at its plan it would have been difficult to storm.

The attackers would have to cross the moat, breech the outer gate, force the inner gate, pass halfway around the outer ward while being exposed to heavy fire from above, force another inner gate and then penetrate the Rotunda gate leading to the living quarters which were completely compartmentalised. No easy task!!

The importance of the castle declined with the decline of the River Swale as a shipping route. The castle was declared obsolete in 1650 and demolished soon after. The loss of this very defendable fortress was badly felt when the Dutch attacked and landed on the isle of Sheppey just 17 years after the castles destruction and before adequate defences had been completed at Sheerness.

Nothing now remains above ground of Queenborough Castle the site now a park and childrens play area but what of the Garrison at Sheerness? why did it fall so quickly. Well as mentioned the fort was only begun in 1666.

Here is an excerpt from 'The ville of Sheerness', The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 6 (1798)which describes the poor defences at Sheerness and the Medway as a whole and the king visiting personally Sheerness to establish a 'Royal Fort'

'The king took this charge upon himself, and in the beginning of the year 1667, made two journeys hither in the depth of winter, taking an engineer and some officers of the ordnance with him, and having seen the work begun, he left at it his chief engineer Sir Martin Beckman, whom he designed for governor of the fort, and committed the overlooking of the whole, that every expedition might be used, to one of the commissioners of the ordnance; notwithstanding which, very little or nothing had been done towards it, when the Dutch, that year, made their memorable attempt upon the royal navy in the river Medway, which was then in a most defenceless state, there being at that time, besides the twelve guns here as before mentioned, only four that could be used at Upnor, and scarce so many at Gillingham, for the defence of it.

From the excellent web site 'Fortified Places' which provides information on bastioned fortifications, primarily the work of Vauban and his contempories:

'In 1666 the engineer Sir Bernard de Gomme (The Dutch-born engineer Sir Bernard de Gomme was responsible for the majority of fortification works undertaken by Charles II of England. Having served under Charles I in the Civil War, de Gomme was knighted and given a promotion when the monarchy was restored in 1660)was sent to Sheerness to review the fortifications. He designed a simple square bastioned fort to enclose and strenghten the existing blockhouse and earthworks.

In 1667, the Dutch fleet sailed up the Medway, landing troops to capture the unfinished fort at Sheerness on the way. The Dutch took supplies, ammunition and guns, then burned everything that was combustible and moved upriver to attack the fleet at Chatham.

Following the destruction caused by the Dutch raid, the fortifications at Sheerness were remodelled according to new plans drawn up by de Gomme, which may date from before the raid, but cannot have progressed very far by that stage.

Of de Gomme's 17th century fort only a few bits of Portland stone are visable now along the eastern side and these are in poor condition.

The view from the beach in front of the fort which the Dutch attacked at the mouth of the Medway. I can recommend a visit to Sheerness if you are interested in military fortifications, the Victorian and WW2 emplacements on top of the old Sheerness fort protecting what was then a naval dockyard are quite impressive as good as any examples on the channel islands my Photo's of which I will post on Victory V today as these are not relevant here.

1 comment:

Mad Carew said...

Interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing.