THE CHATHAM GYMNASIUM (Chatham News 19 12 1863)
“The large military gymnasium recently erected at Chatham, or rather at Brompton, is now complete, and only awaits the formal order from the War Office for its being taken over by the military authorities of the garrison. In future the exercises of the gymnasium will form a daily portion of the physical training of every officer and soldier at Chatham, they being, in short, incorporated with his daily drill. Although the gymnasium at Chatham is the eighth of these establishments already erected and in full operation, yielding daily bodily training to several thousand men, it is, in fact the parent of all the others, every portion having been constructed from the designs submitted to the authorities three years since by Mr MacLaren of Oxford.
The whole of the others, with the exception of that at Aldershott [sic], which is on the plan of the Oxford gymnasium, are but modifications of the establishment just completed, altered to meet some local or exceptional requirement.The main structure consists of two large divisions, each, in the present instance, 100 feet in length by 50 feet in breadth. The primary object of this form of building is to insure [sic] perfect supervision and inspection, every portion of either part being overlooked from the other.
The first division consists of the school of arms, and is appropriated to the introductory course with the movable apparatus which experience has shown to be so valuable in the training of recruits between their earlier drill and regular training in gymnasium proper. Here will also be carried on every kind of defensive exercise, including fencing, sword exercise and bayonet drill, which together form the supplementary course of the system. This division is therefore, without fixtures of any kind, and presents a clear floor throughout the entire surface, its longitudinal shape offering various advantages for the most judicious distribution of men under training.
The second division includes the gymnasium proper, and is appropriated for every variety of exercise with the fixed apparatus comprised in the system; while in nearly every foot of floor, walls and supports of the roof, are appliances for carrying out the training of the pupils. In this department the floor is formed of a soft elastic substance, so that from whatever height a fall should occur, comparatively little injury would be the result.
This division is also oblong to permit of the erection of apparatus worked by large numbers of men at the same time; so for instance, the elastic ladder and row of rings, both valuable inventions of Mr MacLaren for developing the muscular powers of the upper limbs, and the corresponding regions of the trunk, and for restoring the equilibrium of the right and left sides where the right, as in many instances, preponderates over the left.
The lofty lantern tower which surmounts one portion of the building has been appropriated for the apparatus for high climbing, and these being placed vertically are closely grouped together. The two end walls are also devoted, in like manner, to strictly military exercises, one of them being fitted with every variety of surface likely to be met with in a wall or other perpendicular erection, in order to accustom the soldier to depend on his hands and feet in escalading operations, while on the opposite side the various ropes and poles are placed in a slanting position.
The roof is also brought into service, multitudes of planks and ropes traversing the tie beams, thence passing to the escalading walls and finally communicating with the central group of climbing apparatus.
It is in this department that there is obviously greater fear of accidents from falls, but these are rendered absolutely impossible by an almost invisible netting of fine wire rope placed immediately below every portion of the roof, planks etc.
The lower end of the School of Arms terminates in a series of rooms, including the officers’ fencing room, instructors’ rooms, drawing rooms etc. The officers’ fencing school is itself the largest building of the kind yet erected, being 50 feet in length by 25 feet in breadth. The most simple arrangements are made for light and ventilation, the necessity for a constant supply of pure air being especially required in a building where as many as 300 men will be engaged for several consecutive hours in active bodily exertion.
The gymnasium has been inspected by General Eyre, in command at Chatham, and by the commencement of the new year, it will be handed over for the purpose for which it has been erected”.