The Brompton Revolt
A Footpath Revolt in Brompton, 1881
The building of Chatham Lines in 1756 effectively cut several of the routes from Old Gillingham to Chatham, forcing people to go over the drawbridges at Wood Street and Sally Port. One of the paths from the Sally Port to Chatham ran diagonally across the inner lines from the Sally Port to where the Garrison Church now stands, and then on down into Chatham. After the Lines were declared redundant in 1860, plans were put forward to turn that part of the lines into a Park for Officers and their families.
The Park was laid out in about 1869 but by about 1880 there were plans to alter it further, making a recreation ground for NCOs and their families. In order to do this the military authorities tried to close the land off to the public, an act which stopped access to this path, and cut one of the main routes from Gillingham/New Brompton. The civil leaders of Gillingham and Brompton (Old & New) got together and, after a certain amount of legal wrangling, decided to take matters into their own hands as these newspaper reports from the time show.
From The Times. April 16, 1881
On Thursday, the stipendiary magistrate for Chatham, Mr E.J. Athawes, gave his decision in a case in which the Secretary of State for War was summoned at the instance of the Gillingham Local Board for willfully obstructing a certain highway by placing a gate in the way. Mr J.Baset, Clerk to the Board, appeared for the prosecution, Mr J.H. Knight appeared for the Secretary of State. According to the evidence adduced on a previous occasion, the path, which runs across the Inner Lines from the Sally Port to the Garrison Church, had been used by the public without interuption for between 60 to 70 years, but at the beginning of the present year notice was given by the Secretary of State to the Gilingham Local Board that the path would be closed under the Defence Act, 1842, and the path was consequently closed early in March.
The case submitted by the Gillingham Local Board was that the secretary of State had no power to close the path under the Defence Act, as it was not required for defence purposes, but for the making of a recreation ground. A notice board was placed at the entrance with the words “Recreation Ground, Open to all non-commisioned officers and their families.” After disposing of one or two objections, Mr Athawes, in giving judgment said he was of the opinion there was a highway proved to exist by evidence of long user, and that the act of obstruction was proved to be that of the Secretary of State, and that it was ultra vires, ilegal, and wilful. In consequence, however, of the Secretary of State being protected by Parliament, he dismissed the information.
On the application of Mr Baset, a case for a Superior Court was granted. In the afternoon a meeting of the Gillingham Board was held, the magistrates decision was discussed, and as it was considered a verdict in favour of the Board, not withstanding the legal technicality, it was decided to remove the obstruction. The Board afterwards proceeded in body, accompanied by the High Constable of Gilligham, the Board’s officers, and a number of parishioners, and cut the obstruction down.
From Chatham News, April 23, 1881
CLEARING THE OBSTRUCTION
At the finish of the meeting of the Board, the Chairman and the members of the Board present, accompanied by the Clerk, the Surveyor, the representatives of the Press, and some of the workmen in the employ of the Board, the latter carrying crowbars, hammers, saws, etc., with which to remove the obstruction, proceeded across the Lines to the Sally Port. Here they were joined by the High Constable (Mr. C. J. Beveridge), a number of tradesmen from Old and New Brompton, and a number of other persons.
The iron gate at the Sally Port end of the path was found open. A consultation was held as to whether it should be lifted off its hinges, but as it could not be considered an obstruction whilst open, upon the advice of the Clerk, it was not touched. They next proceeded up the path, a part of which had been cut up and covered with grass, the only interruption they met being that their names were demanded by two sentries who were on duty. On arrival at the Garrison Church end, it was found that where the swing gate used to be a fence had been put up, and so blocked the former thoroughfare. An officer of the 53rd Regiment, who, however, stated he was not on duty, at this point came up and told those present they were doing an illegal act, and ordered the sentries to take their names.
It was decided to force a passage through the fence, and the Board’s workmen proceeded to cut down a portion of the fence, making an aperture about four feet wide, through which, amidst some merriment, and a suggestion that the High Constable should ‘declare the path open forever,’ those assembled passed. They then returned to the Sally Port end where another consultation took place as to the removal of the iron gate; it was decided not to touch this, but the Surveyor received instructions to force it if it was locked. Some little amusement was caused by one of those present chalking over the word ‘No’ on a notice-board proclaiming ‘No thoroughfare,’ making it read ‘Thoroughfare.’ The party then dispersed, some making their way to Chatham by way of the disputed path without being interrupted, but one of the sentries rather menacingly remarked that “Some one would have to pay.”
The paper goes on to report what happened on the evening of the same day.
Notwithstanding the action of the Local Board, at half-past nine on Thursday evening - that being the usual time for locking the lower gate since the closing of the path by the authorities, - the gate was closed and locked, and the fence at the upper end which had been cut away was again put in place, and the thoroughfare stopped. But during the night a passage was again forced, but not by the Board or their officials. The lock at the lower gate was broken off, and the gate itself - a heavy iron one - was lifted off its hinges, carried through the Sally Port, and thrown into the trench. The affair must have been taken part in by a number of persons, as it would require several to carry the gate. The large gate between the Sally Port and the Lines, which has been there many years, and which is there only as a protection against cattle or sheep straying off the Lines, was also lifted off its hinges. The fence at the Garrison Church end of the path was also removed. The path was allowed to remain open afterwards, and people passed through without interruption. It is stated that the authorities have a clue to those who took away the gates, and proceedings will probably be taken against them.
A small part of this path still survives near the Garrison Church, just behind the current church hall. Now it only follows its original course for about 20-30 yards, then it does a sharp right turn beside an old fence. The other end of the path is clearly visible on some of the early 20th century photographs of the Sally Port area.