Fort Amherst Tunnel Tour


Useful Information

Location: Chatham
(51.387383, 0.525425)
Open: Fort Amherst: All year daily 8-19.
Pantry Café: All year Mon-Sat, Hol 9:30-16.
Tunnel Tour: All year daily 10, 12, 14.
[2021]
Fee: Fort Amherst: free.
Tunnel Tour: Adults GBP 6, Children (5-17) GBP 4, Students GBP 4.50, Seniors (65+) GBP 4.50, Family (2+2) GBP 15.
Groups (10+): School Pupils GBP 3, book two weeks in advance.
[2021]
Classification: SubterraneaCasemates SubterraneaWorld War II Bunkers
Light: electric
Dimension:  
Guided tours: D=90 min. V=20,000/a [2012]
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography:  
Address: Fort Amherst Heritage Trust, Khartoum Road, Chatham ME4 4UB, Tel: +44-7746-410202.
Fort Amherst, Dock Road, Chatham, kent ME4 4UB, Tel: +44-1634-847-747. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1667 Raid on the Medway by the Dutch fleet inflicted heavy damages on the dockyard.
1708 defences planned.
1715 land surveyed by the Duke of Marlborough.
1756 Fort Amherst constructed.
1820 Fort completed, became obsolete and was reused as training ground.
1970s the Ministry of Defence gives permission to group of enthusiasts to start tidying up the site.
1980 fort purchased from the ministry by the Fort Amherst and Lines Trust and public open days started.

Description

Fort Amherst was constructed 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. The primary purpose was the defence of the Naval Dockyard. Actually the Dutch fleet had inflicted heavy damages on the dockyard during the Raid on the Medway in 1667. Defences were planned for the dockyard from 1708, land was then acquired by two Acts of Parliament in 1708 and 1709. The land was surveyed in 1715 by the Duke of Marlborough. In 1755 numerous bastions later called the Chatham lines, designed by Captain John Peter Desmaretze, were built. Two redoubts, Amherst at the southern end and Townsend at the northern end, were equipped with 14 42-pounders, 10 9-pounders, 8 6-pounders and 2 4-pounder guns. Amherst Redoubt later became Fort Amherst.

How the tunnels originated is unclear, most likely they were simply vaults created by the bastions. But in 1802–11, prisoners, mostly convicts from St Mary's Island, were set to work on extending the tunnels into the chalk cliffs and creating vast underground stores and shelters. The tunnels were dug into the chalk and strengthened with brick arches at weak points They were used as magazines, barracks, gun batteries and guardrooms. They were also used to move ammunition around the fort, to provided shelter from bombardment and secret access between the upper and lower works of the Fort. Around 1820 the building works were completed. At this time the defences were declared obsolete, because of improvements in artillery equipment and greater firing ranges. As a result the fortified area was reused as a training-ground, with practice sieges which became quite popular and attracted thousands of visitors. One such siege is described in Charles Dickens Pickwick Papers.

During World War II the tunnels were adapted for civil defence and brought to life again as an Air Raid Precautions Base of Operations (ARP).