Coordinates: Fort Amherst, in Medway, South East England, was constructed in 1756 at the southern end of the Brompton lines of defence to protect the southeastern approaches to Chatham Dockyard and the River Medway against a French invasion. Fort Amherst is now open as a visitor attraction throughout the year, running tours through the tunnel complex.
The primary purpose of all the Medway fortifications was the defence of the Naval Dockyard.
Land was acquired by two Acts of Parliament in 1708 and 1709. The land was surveyed in 1715 by the Duke of Marlborough. The first plan of defences was an enceinte, from Gun Wharf, Chatham, to north of the village of Brompton. It was designed by Capt. John Desmoretze in 1755 and consisted of a 9m wide ditch and a 3m parapet. The strongpoint of the design was the Amherst Redoubt which became Fort Amherst. It was completed in 1758 and defended with 14 42-pounders, 10 9-pounders, 8 6-pounders and 2 4-pounder guns. These became known as the Cumberland lines, and were entered by four gateways with bridges.
In 1770 Lt General Skinner (who was a brother of Loyalist General Cortlandt Skinner, and both brothers were grandsons of Stephanus Van Cortlandt) extended and strengthened the lines, the Amherst Redoubt was strengthened, further batteries added (such as the Cornwallis Battery) and the ditches revetted (lined with brick).
During the Napoleonic Wars the Chatham defences were enlarged and strengthened considerably. In 1802-11 prisoners were set to work on extending the tunnels and creating vast underground stores and shelters, new magazines, barracks, gun batteries and guardrooms. More than 50 smooth-bore cannon were also mounted. The last building works were about 1820.
A maze of tunnels dug into the chalk cliffs were used to move ammunition around the fort.
A second gun battery, Townsend Redoubt, was built at the northeastern corner of the dockyard at the same time as Fort Amherst. Both forts were inside the 1756 brick-lined earthwork bastions known as the Cumberland Lines, which surrounded the whole east side of the dockyard down to St Mary's Island. These have now been built over.
Although the Lines were never put to the test, its design 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 has been described by English Heritage as the most complete Napoleonic fortification in Britain and as such has great national historical significance.
The fort was still in use during the Second World War and restoration to make more areas open to the public was in progress.
In the late 1970s 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' (the original name of the trust) and public open days began.
Fort Amherst is managed and operated by the Fort Amherst Heritage Trust (a charity), who open the fort to visitors on every day throughout the year, with tours running at 11am and 12pm every day. They also run a program of regular events including ghost tours and over night paranormal investigations through the tunnels. Halloween tours also take place, where guests make their way through the dark rooms and passages.
Some of the cannons can be heard on Sundays throughout the year and periodically during school holidays. Ghost tours traditionally take place on the first Friday evening of each month.
On Sundays, during the summer 2008 season, the Fort was open to the public, without charge, to promote the future Great Lines Heritage Park and the proposed World Heritage Site application for Chatham Dockyard and its Defences.
2012 marks the 200th anniversary of the establishment under Royal Warrant of the Royal Engineers at Brompton Barracks (the Royal School of Military Engineering). Therefore a team of Royal Engineers designed, built and assembled the Bicentenary Bridge to mark this special anniversary. The bridge leads to a part of Fort Amhurst also known as Spur Battery and to the Inner Lines (the Naploean defensive ditches). It is only accessible at special times and during guided visits.
- K.R.Gulvin, Fort Amherst,after 1982,pub. Fort Amherst and Lines Trust, Illustrations Medway Military Research Group, 1977.
- "Fort Amhurst -- Chatham". cka.moon-demon.co.uk. Retrieved October 27 2013.
- "Fort Amherst, Kent". www.theheritagetrail.co.uk. Retrieved October 27 2013.
- Fort Amherst Heritage Trust Website viewed July 2007
- Bridging two centuries, Fort Amherst 16/06/2011
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fort Amherst.|