New Defence Projects at Gravesend

With a study of Kent’s defences during the Great War submitted to the editor of Archaeologia Cantiana for publication and an historical overview of the 20th century defences of Thanet near completion, two research and publication projects by Victor Smith are scheduled to begin in 2016:

The New Tavern Fort project

New Tavern Fort

A study of the fort from 1778-1850. This will be a prequel to ‘New for Old: the development of New Tavern Fort at Gravesend in the Industrial Age’, Archaeologia Cantiana, CXXXIII (2013), 131-166. It will include new record drawings and a range of historical reconstructions, including a bird’s eye view of the fort in 1800.

The Gravesend Cold War bunker project
(see ‘Preparing for Doomsday’, January 6 2015 for more information about the bunker)

Bunker

This study contextualises the growing evidence and, as with the New Tavern Fort project, will include historical reconstructions and record drawings.

It is hoped that these projects – expected to be supported by other academic contributors – will significantly add to the historical knowledge of these two sites and promote an improved understanding and interpretation of them.

The artillery of the Great War anti-invasion defences of the Swale area of Kent

I’m pleased to announce that at long last Volume 23 of the Journal of the Ordnance Society has been published.  From the point of view of the HDC it contains a paper “The artillery of the Great War anti-invasion defences of the Swale area of Kent” by Alan Anstee a member of the HDC.  This illustrated work is the culmination of several years research, both independently and as part of Kent County Council’s Swale 20th century Defence Project.

It is an analysis of the artillery that would have been available for home defence throughout the war.  The role of the various guns is discussed, together with their range and the ammunition available, and also looks at the fire role assigned to many of the batteries both fixed and mobile.  The topography of the area and the defences is discussed, as are the sources available and the command and a control.

Should anyone wish to obtain a copy the journal can be obtained from the Ordnance Society ISBN 0957-1698 website http://ordnancesociety.org.uk/

Thanet Defences Project

Following a meeting with historians of Thanet’s military past, an assessment has begun of the available documentary sources to support a possible new project for an enhanced study of the defences of this council district.  This would continue Kent County Council’s Defence of Kent Project which aims to better understand the role, evolution, distribution and survival of the county’s varied military and civil defence structures, built or used during the 20th century.  It is hoped to bring this subject more fully into the public domain, providing greater awareness by publication, educational and interpretational projects, by highlighting sites for protection or conservation as well as by improving physical access.  Four districts have already been studied, with a fifth well underway, Thanet being the sixth.

Thanet already has a strong showing of knowledgeable military historians who have contributed substantially and expertly to what we know about defence sites on the island and a review of records for the island has begun to suggest the potential for further significant discoveries.  It is hoped that existing historians supported by others from the community might take forward the process of discovery.    From this it will be possible to complete a more full understanding of the anatomy and function of Thanet’s triad of land, air and sea defences throughout the whole of the period from 1900 until the Cold War.  Special attention will be given to studying the historical evolution of the infrastructure of Manston airfield.

Recommended reading is Ron Stilwell’s The Defence of Thanet and East Kent (1939-1945), published by the author in 2014.  It contains 197 pages and is profusely illustrated.  Copies may be obtained from him price £12.99p (+ £2.80 for post and packing).  Enquiries should be sent via stilwellrv@yahoo.co.uk

Some exciting discoveries seem likely in the years ahead and progress will be reported later.

Victor Smith

15th June 2015

HOPE FOR A DECAYING TUDOR BLOCKHOUSE AT GRAVESEND?

Gravesend Blockhouse as it looked in the 16th century. (c) Chris Forsey
Gravesend Blockhouse as it looked in the 16th century. (c) Chris Forsey

Displayed in a fenced area in Royal Pier Road on Gravesend’s riverside are the brick and stone remains of one of a network of five cross-firing artillery blockhouses built by Henry VIII in 1539/40 to guard the river approaches to London.  It is the only one of them visible.  Excavated in 1975/6 it was stabilised and then displayed for the public by a succession of owners.  Such was its national historical significance and regional value within the suite of defences of the Thames that it became a Scheduled Ancient Monument and its stabilisation was renewed just over 10 years ago.

Unfortunately in recent years the building has suffered both vandalism and structural maintenance issues, resulting in an attrition of fabric and even removal of bricks and stone off-site.  There is also growth of weeds between bricks and its setting has become untidy.  Before long, the building could become a candidate for the national At Risk register.

Gravesend Blockhouse
Gravesend Blockhouse (c) Victor Smith

This situation has been brought to the attention of the owner of the blockhouse which is considering the issues of the site.  An immediately available ‘pump priming’ fund for remedial works has been identified and advised.  Advice about routine structural inspections and maintenance to avoid more expensive problems developing later has also been given, as well as about control of weeds and a regime of mowing for the grassed surround.  It is hoped soon to learn of an action plan for this nationally important building which is located in a show-case position within Gravesend’s heritage riverside.  Without timely action, the display of this site may have a bleak future.

On another property adjacent it is hoped to undertake a limited archaeological investigation to explore the blockhouse’s Western Gun Line, with the aim of learning more about the site.

Report from Victor Smith, 28th December 2014.

Gravesend Blockhouse
Gravesend Blockhouse (c) Victor Smith