The Garrison Gardens

The Garrison Gardens

After the Lines fell out of military use, having been declared obsolete in 1860, the Inner Lines (the area behind the defences) was put to a variety of uses. Most of the southern section remained open ground and troops were being drilled on it into the late 19th century, often becoming a public spectacle. The land behind the King’s and Prince of Wales’ bastions was converted into a park for officers’ use and planted with ornamental trees and shrubs; the remnants of the formal layout remain today. The east side of Maxwell Road and the area behind Prince Edward’s bastion (now ‘the Inner Lines’) also remained open and had been planted with trees from as early as 1821.

In the 1860s the War Department began a program of converting areas around the redundant fortress into allotment gardens for non-commissioned officers and troops, as this report from the Times, August 1, 1865, shows:

The experiment recently commenced at Chatham of apportioning various suitable tracts of the crown lands adjoining the fortifications and citadel among the non-commissioned officers and troops of the various corps quartered in the garrison, to be cultivated as gardens, has been attended during the time it has been under trial with the most satisfactory results, and the applications for additional space by the troops are constantly on the increase. In addition to the plots of ground within the trenches which have been broken up and divided among the battallions the portion of the fortifications near the Cornwallis Battery and beyond the curtain has just been divided among the non commissioned officers, who have already commenced its cultivation. Several acres of the glacis and hornwork of the trenches and fortifications have already been marked out to be divided among the various corps, Major-Gen. Sir Robert Walpole, K.C.B., and the other officials being desirous of meeting the wishes of the troops who apply for plots of ground, and encouraging to the fullest extent this recreation for their soldiers during their leisure.

In 1868 the land permission was officially given to turn the area into formal gardens and parkland as this article in the Morning Post, Friday, December 04, 1868 shows:
The Secretary of State for War has granted to the garrison a portion of the Inner Lines, used as grazing land up to this time, in order that a recreation ground may be formed for the use of the garrison. It is intended to lay out the upper part, by the citadel, as an ornamental garden, while the other part will be used by the soldiers for foot races, quoites, and other pastimes. The ground will be laid out as the funds permit, and subscriptions are sought from the officers to form a fund. The major-general of the district (General F. Murray) has appointed a committee of officers to carry out the matter.

The Garrison Recreation Ground was first laid out in 1869 as described in the following passage from the United Services Magazine, vol 12 of 1869:
Chatham Recreation Ground - One of the latest official acts of Sir John Pakington, as Secretary of State of War, was to allow a portion of the Inner Lines of fortifications adjoining Fort Amherst, Chatham, to be set apart as a recreation ground for the use of the officers connected with the garrison. A number of sappers of the Royal Engineers, acting under the direction of a committee of officers, of which Lt Col. A.A.C. Fisher, CB., RE, is the president are now employed in levelling and arranging the site appropriated for the purpose, and forming the necessary roads and carriage drives, the committee having called in the assistance of Mr Menzies, Deputy Surveyor of Windsor Park, under whose superintendence the ground, which is of considerable extent, will be laid out. The entrance to the grounds will be near the drawbridge crossing the trenches at Fort Amherst.

The first stage was complete by spring 1869, as Morning Post of Thursday, May 06, 1869 tells us:
The new garrison recreation ground having been laid out with walks and planted with trees and shrubs has been opened. A portion of the ground will be reserved for the use of officers and their families, and the remainder will be used by non-commissioned officers and men. The bands of the Royal Engineers, Royal Marines, and the 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment will play in the grounds on alternate days.

The new recreation ground seems to have been much appreciated by the men of the Garrison. From The Times, November 1, 1869:
During the past summer, a recreation ground for the use of the military has been formed at Chatham, above Chatham Barracks, near the Citadel. The ground was granted by the War-office, funds were provided by the officers, and soldiers were employed in the formation of the walks, beds, planting etc. the result being very satisfactory. The prime mover and most active promoter of this scheme, which provides so acceptable a place of resort for the wives and children of the officers, as well as for the military generally, was Col. A. A'Court Fisher, C.B.,R.E. instructor in surveying at the School of Military Engineering ; and the officers of the garrison are preparing to present to Col. Fisher a testimonial expressive of their appreciation of his efforts, which have been crowned with such success.

Work continued on the gardens over the following years, and in 1870 a bowling green was added (this is probably the area just beside the old groundsman’s house in Maxwell Road). The Morning Post, Saturday, January 08, 1870:

A bowling green is now being added by the committee to the military recreation ground of the garrison; and is expected that ere long the whole of the Inner Lines will be added to the recreation ground.

When first laid out as formal gardens they were far more extensive than the present gardens, stretching from the Garrison Gymnasium (built 1863) right through to the Spur Battery and taking in the land from the Hornwork through to Maxwell Road. There was a network of footpaths that crossed the ditches at various points, and footbridges crossed the ditches to take the Victorian officers and their ladies out onto the Lines via ornamental gates.

Around the turn of the 20th century more changes were taking place.   Sometime after 1888 some of the ditches around the Prince of Wales Bastion and the northern part of Spur Battery, and the entire southern half of the Hornwork were converted to reservoirs to supply water to the Dockyard. Exactly when this happened is currently unclear, although as early as 1880, they were looking at several possible sites and plans for a new reservoir for water for the Victorian Extension at the dockyard.

Around this time Prince of Wales Bastion was converted into tennis courts with a timber pavilion dated 1903 and band stand which was there by c.1930, but was probably much earlier, and was still there towards the end of the war, although it was gone by the mid 1950’s. As the building of the pavilion blocked one end of the bridge out on to the Great Lines, it was probably shortly before this that the pattern of footbridges seen on the 1932 OS map were put in place. The footbridge from the tennis courts was moved a few yards further west and crossed to Spur Battery (where two more tennis courts were located), and then from the point of Spur Battery to the Great Lines (probably now crossing water rather than dry ditches). It is likely that at this time that the gates and footbridge from King’s Bastion to the Hornwork were installed, and perhaps the link from the caponier to the tennis courts. The footings for one of these may still be seen in the ditch wall by the Kings Bastion flanking galleries, and one of the wrought iron gates survives on the edge of King’s Bastion where the path to a footbridge was cut through the fire-step wall. It was probably at this time the outer ditch of the Hornwork was filled in, allowing access from King’s Bastion out onto the Great lines, via the Hornwork.

The 1932 map also shows that the double line of trees on the glacis has disappeared, replaced by the Royal Marines’ Recreation ground. This recreation ground included sports pitches (cricket and football, perhaps others), a bandstand (in addition to the one by the tennis courts) which survived until some point between 1966 and 1975, and a grounds-man’s cottage. Another footbridge crosses from Prince of Wales Bastion to tennis courts (hard courts today) on the glacis beside the Hornwork. Most of the carriage drives in the Garrison Gardens are now gone too by this date, leaving a layout of tracks or paths similar to what is still there today.

During World War Two a number of air-raid shelters were dug at the edge of the Gardens, near Maxwell Road, presumably associated with the Officer’s Housing and the school and hospital that were in Maxwell Road at that time. Two of these shelters remain to this day under the remains of the avenue of trees. Another World War Two addition were a number of spigot mortar positions along the various ramparts in 1941 and a type 28 anti-tank gun pillbox for Home Guard use. On the Tennaile between the Amherst Redoubt and Spur Battery were a set of beautifully kept allotment gardens, perhaps a continuation or survival from the 1865 allotments.

During the second half of the twentieth century the gardens fell into decline, becoming more overgrown and wild, a process that seems to be continuing into the early 21st century, but which may, perhaps, be somewhat arrested if the lottery bid for restoration is successful.

For more information on the Lines visit the Friends of the Great Lines Heritage Park website.


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