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History of Chatham

Chatham (Pronounced 'chat-um') comes from the Celtic word ’cêd’ meaning a ‘forest, wood’ with the Old English ‘hām’ as a ‘village, homestead’; therefore, a ‘homestead/village in or by a wood’. The Domesday Book records Chatham as Ceteham and the Textus Roffensis as Caettham. 

The former Chatham parish church is dedicated to Saint Mary and is the fifth church to stand on the existing site since Saxon times. The second church was Norman and part of one of the arches can be seen in the existing church. Built into the porch is a stone tablet depicting the goddess Euphrosyne, and dates from when Greek traders used the Medway. 

In 1540, a naval fleet first appeared on the Medway and so began regular use of the river below the church as an anchorage. By then, St Mary's was the parish church of the village of
Chatham. As the dockyard expanded over the next 200 years so did the congregation, and the church.

The guns at Upnor Castle engaged the Dutch when they invaded in 1667, resulting in the destruction of all the windows of St. Marys facing that direction, although they later replaced them at the expense of the Royal Navy. By 1788, the rest of the church had structural problems and a fire in 1798 meant the replacement of the nave and chancel. This remained the situation until completion of a new chancel in 1887. On the 23rd April 1897, The Times newspaper reported ‘
the erection of a new tower at St Mary's Church will proceed, the plans, were drawn by Sir Arthur Bloomfield and the tower will be constructed as a memorial to the Queen’s reign. The tower is built on the Norman foundations, which have caused it to list a little’. Completion of the nave had to wait until 1903. The church closed in 1973.

During the reign of Henry VIII, the navy used the mud banks of the river Medway near
Chatham for careening ships. Elizabeth I founded the dockyard at Chatham in the late 16th century, to be defended by Upnor Castle, built a short way downstream. The Royal Navy used the dockyard at Chatham increasingly during the wars with Spain, and a chain thrown across the river at Gilligham provided additional defence. In the 1620s, the dockyard underwent expansion and a wall built around it. Although this wall had some bastions, it had not been built to face a full-scale landward attack. The design of the wall kept the prying eyes of enemy agents out of the dockyard and prevented sailors from deserting.....more

Royal Dockyards provided the Royal Navy with the shore support facilities it required to build, repair and maintain the fleet. Central to the Royal Dockyard were, the dry docks the provision of these costly structures set the Royal Yards apart from their civilian counterparts until well into the 19th century.....

Traffic in the centre of Chatham became such a problem in the 18th century that in 1769, they by-passed the town with a road running from the top of Star Hill in Rochester, to the bottom of Chatham Hill.

Chatham Railway station opened on the East Kent Railway’s Chatham to Faversham section of their Strood to Dover main line, on 25 January 1858…. more