Wood Street is now the main trunk route through Brompton, running from the roundabout on Dock Road to become Brompton Road just beyond the Prince Charles Hotel. It seems to have been first laid out as a major road by Thomas Rogers when he divided a part of Westcourt Manor known as Sheeplands into building plots, laying out a grid of streets that was to become modern Brompton. The northern street was to become Wood Street.
Records show that in the fifteenth century describing boundaries of Westcourt say it “begins at the common street leading from Spillghescrosse to the Manor of Upbury to the east, the land of the Prioress and convent of Sheppey to the south, at the land of the lord of Chatham to the west, and a lane called Brumpton Lane to the north.” ‘Spillghescrosse’ is almost certainly the junction of the roads we know later as Brompton Road, Wood Street, Spay Lane and Gillingham Lane. From what we know of later Westcourt Manor it seems likely that ‘Brumpton Lane’ was the forerunner of modern Wood Street, and at this period was probably just a part of the road we now call Brompton Road. (This boundary description is also the earliest surviving reference to the name Brumpton/Brompton being used for this area.)
17th century maps show field boundaries following the line of this lane, and as the lane lead from Westcourt House to Sheeplands (the field on the Hillside Thomas Rogers laid out for building) it is logical it was chosen as the main road to the new settlement. Early land deeds granted by Rogers and his heir (son-in-law Christopher Searle) all tend to have a formulaic clause granting access to the streets leading to this main road in the form that grants rights of passage to “other parts and parcels of land by him the said Thomas Rogers [later Christopher Searle] as is or are or shall be laid out for streets and so along to upon by over and through a piece of land of him the said Thomas Rogers [later Christopher Searle] containing about three rodds in breadth laid out for or intended to be laid out for a way adjoining to and leading from the said pieces of land laid out for streets unto the Kings Highway near West Court House leading from Chatham aforesaid to Gillingham aforesaid”. The King’s Highway refers to the old Chatham to Gillingham road (Spray Lane/Gillingham Lane) with the piece of land ‘three rodds in breadth’ referring to Wood Street. A rod, when used as a measurement of length id 16½ feet, meaning the road was almost 50 feet wide, certainly a major street and not a lane.
The name Wood Street comes from the fact that there was a large area of woodland, known as Brompton Wood, to the north of it. It is unclear when the name Wood Street was first applied to it, and at first it may have been known as Brumpton/Brompton Lane/Road, or Carpenter’s Lane. Carpenter’s Lane would have derived from the Mr. Carpenter who was tenant of Sheeplands before its conversion to building plots by Rogers in about 1697. Vestry minutes from St. Mary Magdalene’s Church in Gillingham dated 1774 include a reference that the “road at upper end of Wood street, alias Carpenter’s Lane, at Brompton, to be repaired” showing that both names were known for this road at that date.
In the eighteenth century Wood Street did not connect directly to Dock Road. At this time Dock Road (sometimes also known as Dock Lane or Brompton Road) ended at the bottom of Westcourt Street, although a narrow lane did continue along beside the Dockyard wall and on down to St. Mary’s Creek (this route later becoming a road named St. Mary’s Vale, now part of Dock Road). A little way up Westcourt Street was River Row, and this linked Westcourt Street to Middle Street and Wood Street.
The Western end of Wood Street on the northern side was considerably higher than Dock Road, ending in a walled off drop of about 20 feet to the lane beside the Dockyard wall. As a consequence the section of River Row from Middle Street to Wood Street was a steep hill, walled off on the western side.
At the north-western end of Wood Street was a grand house, probably built by Thomas Rogers or Christopher Searle in the second decade of the eighteenth century, and which may have served as the manor house until the 1740s or 50s. It later became known as Brompton House. Opposite this on the south-western side was the Swan Inn. From here on both sides of the street were built terraces of houses, shops and public houses as far as the High Street. As the century progressed houses and businesses began to be built on the section to the east of the High Street too.
In 1756 the building of Chatham Lines caused the route of Wood Street to be diverted in order to pass through the Brompton Barrier between Prince Edward’s Bastion and Prince Henry’s Bastion. This gave rise to the distinctive kink in the road near the Garrison Gymnasium. Before this the road ran straight from the end of Brompton High Street to the old Westcourt House, situated on the Gillingham side of the corner formed by Brompton Road and the footpath from Sally Port Gardens to Brompton Road, beside the Army sports ground.
The buildings continued to spread east along Wood Street in the late eighteenth century until by the end of the century there were houses and shops along the southern side to Mansion Row or beyond, and on the northern side they continued even further, possibly encroaching onto the Inner Lines behind the fortifications.
It was possibly in this north-eastern range of buildings that a terrace known as Carpenter’s Terrace was located, and which suffered a major fire in 1787, as reported in a newspaper:
Hampshire Chronicle 16 April 1787
Sunday morning bout two o clock a dreadful fire (supposed to be wilfully occasioned) broke out in a barn belonging to Mr Summerset of Brompton near Chatham which entirely destroyed the same with a quantity of straw etc in it also the stabling, a cow, several pigs etc Mr Summerset’s horses were with difficulty saved. The fire then communicated to Carpenters Row where Mr Strover, Mr Pank Mr Sherlock Mrs Douglas and Mrs Simmons became sufferers. The first four had their houses entirely burnt down except Mr Pank of which a little brickwork is remaining. Mrs Simmons house was pulled down to prevent further ravages. Mrs Douglas and Mr Sherlock lost all their property and Mr Strover and Mr Pank nearly all, particularly Mr Strover. Mrs Simmons had also some barns burnt down entirely. Lt Orrick of the navy had a stable and laundry destroyed and his house was with difficulty saved. Mrs Orrick being ill was obliged to be carried out of the house. Mr Thomas Haites one of the clerks of Chatham dockyard has his stable etc burnt down. It is impossible to describe the confusion the people were thrown into. The soldiers, both from the old barracks and the marines barracks, attended and were very useful. Capt Lane by his exertions saved Brompton from being burnt. There was also a good supply of water from the dockyard. The fire was got under about 5 o clock the next morning. The loss to the insurance offices and the sufferers is estimated at £3,000.
This expansion halted in the first few years of the nineteenth century when Brompton Barracks were built on the ground north of Wood Street. The woodland that had originally covered the ground here was gradually cleared during the eighteenth century, perhaps supplying much of the timber to build Brompton. This meant that by about 1800 the land was mostly open land ideal for building the new Barracks on.
On the 28th Jan 1804 the Oxford Journal reported:
The ground for the new barracks adjoining Brompton in Kent is marked out these are intended to be the most extensive in England. They will contain a very large number of infantry besides cavalry and artillery. A great number of houses in the north east part of Brompton are ordered to be taken down in order to give an uniformity to the building as well as to prevent an encroachment on the lines which are kept purposely for the exercising and manoeuvring the troops.
The ‘great number of houses in the north east part of Brompton’ reported were the ones on the north side of Wood Street (and if any were on the south side east of Mansion Row, these probably went at the same time.) Following the building of Brompton Barracks only about six buildings remained on the northern side of Wood Street east of the High Street. The only new building to appear in this section of Wood Street for the rest of the 19th century was the Garrison Gymnasium in 1863.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, Wood Street went through some renaming. It appears that in the late 1840s the section of Wood Street in Chatham (Brompton was partly in Chatham and partly in Gillingham at this date), that is, the bottom half of the hill down from the junction with the High Street, became known as ‘Lower Wood Street’, with the remainder of the street in Gillingham
remaining simply ‘Wood Street’. By the mid 1850s the Gillingham section had been divided too, with the part east of the High Street becoming ‘Upper Wood Street’, with the section from the High Street west to the Chatham boundary remaining simply as ‘Wood Street’. By the beginning of the 1860s this had become slightly simplified to just Lower Wood Street (west of the High street) and Upper Wood Street (east of the High Street). This remained the case until 1880/1 when the street numbering in Brompton was changed, and at this point the whole street reverted to just being called ‘Wood Street’.
From this time onwards the buildings in Wood Street were gradually whittled away. In the late 1880s Admiralty Terrace and May Terrace were built along Wood Street in what had been the gardens of Brompton House. When Brompton House burned down in 1912 these two terraces fully replaced the former mansion. In 1938 the last of the houses east of the High Street on the northern side of Wood Street were demolished to make way for an expansion of Brompton Barracks.
Following the Second World War much of Brompton was redeveloped and this was the biggest period of change for Wood Street since its building. In 1948 the Single Ratings Hotel (later NAAFI Club, now Prince Charles Hotel) built on the part of Wood Street on the Outer Lines. The next phase happened in 1954-8 when the whole of the area between Wood Street and Middle Street was torn down and replaced with ‘modern’ flats. In the process the course of Wood Street and Dock road were altered and both roads widened, destroying the northern end of River Street and creating the now familiar sweeping curve either side of the Dock Road roundabout. The new green created by this was known as Swan Garden in memory of the Swan pub which had stood on this site on the corner of Wood Street and River Street, and was a famous local landmark. At about this time the houses on the north side of Wood Street (including Admiralty and May Terrace) were also replaced with modern housing with two new side streets named after V.C. winners (Lennox Row and Leitch Row) being added.
The remainder of old Wood Street was destroyed by redevelopment in the 1960s and 1970s so that today the only pre-Second World War civilian building remaining is the former Lord Nelson Pub, now incorporated in to the 21st century Boleyn Court development.