I have had access to some amazing aerial images from Britain From Above. The following black and white images are so evocative and detailed, they tell a fascinating story of our site’s industrial and social history, nothing much of which survives today, except the large crane.
The above image from 1965 shows the Gasworks, Limehouse Wharf, Acorn Wharf (Shipbuildng) Acorn House, RMC Aggregates and Ready Made Concrete, Cory’s Wharf (Coal), Chatham Goods Yard (Railways), Blue Boar Wharf, Furrell’s Wharf – almost all the way to Chatham Intra. So much to be inspired by…
I am collaborating with LUC and BPTW who are leading on the architecture, masterplanning and landscape design.
I am continuing to develop the work I created for Phases 1 & 2 as the site has endless riches to be inspired by. My problem is knowing where to stop the research. Each stone unturned has golden threads to follow. Contextually, we are now on the site of Blue Boar Wharf, in its heyday a major Barge Building site, with two Yards, Upper and Lower occupied by two businesses – William Higham, ran the Upper Yard, where he built 100 Barges between 1876 and 1901 & George Weedon the proprietor of the Lower Yard.
Above: Gyproc Products (Plasterboard), started production on the Rochester Riverside site in 1933, just 3 years prior to this images from 1936 (the large white shed in the centre of the picture). Cory’s Wharf, with its ‘5 Cranes Dancing’, is in the foreground.
Above: The coming of the railways in the 1840’s effectively separated the town from its salt marsh grazing pastures and community centred around The Common. The Cattle & Livestock Market – seen bottom left in this image from 1936 has rooftop graphics – advertising its products – probably for the benefit of train passengers, as the track was raised on an earthen bank and brick viaduct. ‘Thorley’s Food for Cattle’, & ‘Thorley’s Food for all Stock’.
Above: This Postcard must be a very early image of the site, as there appears to be no industrial development of the Riverside site.
There is a great short film on You Tube called the Medway Dock Crane, which show the Blue Boar Wharf site and the whole of Rochester Riverside, prior to development by Countryside as seen from a drone. Click on the above link to view.
Thalia, Belvedere and Telemon were 3 of 4 locomotives that worked at William Cory & Sons Ltd (Coal Wharf) on Rochester Riverside.
‘Thalia’: Built by Robert Stevenson and Hawthorn Newcastle, (works No 7816, Drewry Car Co works No. 2503 of 1945). The locomotive was supplied new to William Cory & Sons Ltd. where it was named after one of the three Graces in Greek mythology. The locomotive was painted black with Cory’s standard logo on each side & spent all its working life in Cory’s sidings, which were located adjacent to Blue Boar Wharf on the River Medway.
‘Telemon’: Built by the Vulcan Foundry 9 (works No. 295, Drewry Car Co. works No. 2568 of 1955) worked at William Cory’s Coal Wharf, Rochester, 1971
“Staunch and well built though a barge may be, each year sees a toll taken. Some yield at last to the cold embrace of the sea, whose caresses they have so long resisted, others steal quietly up some lonely creek to nose gently into the malodorous mud and settle down into their last berth, gradually to moulder away, forgotten by all save their one time masters, and perhaps, some sentimental fool like myself, who will gaze down on their rotting timbers and imagination see spars clothed with red-brown sails and hulls vibrant with life as they thrash there way round the Foreland.”
Describing the excitement and thrill of the Medway Barge Races – “The course was from Hoo Marshes to the West Oaze Buoy and back to the Sun Pier at Chatham, a distance of about thirty five miles…A strong easterly wind was blowing, and in Long Reach Verona’s bowsprit snapped off short, but the crew cleared away the wreckage and setting a jib topsail as a staysail, carried on to come sixth in their class.” Edgar J March.
Referencing a painting by T.B. Hardy, 1874, Edgar March goes on to describe the Medway as, “When this picture was painted, marine artists had little need to look for subjects. The Medway was alive with sailing craft : dainty little topsail schooners, picturesque collier brigs with apple bows and dingy canvas, barques from Scandinavia, bringing pine-scented timber from the Baltic to Rochester, and above all, barges innumerable, threading their way through the maze of traffic. One hundred a tide was no uncommon sight, and what a joy to a sail-lover that galaxy of russet, brown and ochre canvas must have been, many with various devices emblazoned on their mainsails – Lees’ stumpies had the white horse of Kent rampant on ebony coloured sails – all either hurrying down on the ebb or beating up against wind and tide. Now gone forever.”
…and “In those far-off days, watermen, or “goozers”, to use their riverside nick-name, plied their trade in skiffs”. Edgar J March
William Higham was born in 1838 in Lewes Sussex. On 27/10/1864 he married Fanny Elizabeth Blake in Strood, nr, Rochester. By 1881 they had 9 children.
William was a Barge Builder and they lived in a private house on Victoria Street, Rochester. The location of his Yard is show on the OS map of 1898 on Blue Boar Hard, just above the Pier. ADA & EDITH is just one of many barges built here between 1876 and 1901.
MAID OF KENT
ANNIE & ALICE
HERBERT & HAROLD
ADA & EDITH
‘WALRUS’ & ‘NELLIE’ were two portable conveyors owned by William Cory & Son, Coal Factors, at Cory’s Wharf, used for transporting stone aggregates from Barge to Train. These aggregates were known as Fines, Nuts & Cobbles.
“It has been my privilege to go over and see the marvellous machinery for loading and unloading coal. The five large cranes, when seen at work bowing their stately heads, look like dancers executing a minuet; …when in repose, standing like so many soldiers on sentry duty, with fixed bayonets. What a contrast to see the way a collier is unloaded by these cranes, as compared with the old coal whippers’ days! A coal boat seems scarcely to draw alongside the wharf before it is steaming away again”.Edwin Harris Guides to Old Rochester, Pub. 1930 No. 27 Part 1. (Ref: ROC. 942.23 HAR The Riverside. Harris/Edwin. MALSC).
The five cranes were originally positioned along Cory’s Wharf on the far right hand side of the above OS Map of 1932
The earlier OS Map of 1898 records the same site some 30 years previously as Chatham Goods Yard. The site occupied by Cory’s Wharf is immediately below Blue Boar Pier along the HWMOT line.
Dunlin…A Salt Marsh Bird
‘The Medway Estuary is believed to be the most important area in North Kent for wintering wildfowl in numbers of international significance. The Saltmarsh serves as a roosting area for waders at high tide. Several scarce plant species include: golden samphire, perennial glasswort and one-flowered glasswort. The estuary is one of the best places in Britain for the study of glassworts. The grazing marsh has breeding and wintering birds of interest; the former include lapwing, redshank, pochard, mallard and gadwall, while in winter large flocks of may wildfowl and wader species are present.‘
Ref: Environmental Stresses and Resource Use in Coastal Urban and Peri Urban Regions. DPSIR Approach to SECOA’s 17 Case Studies.
These overwintering birds, along with thousands of others migrating or breeding species have been present on our site, however the numbers of Dunlin and other birds have undergone a decline, ostensibly to do with habitat loss and disturbance, which is of course of great concern.
Andrew is a furniture designer and maker. He has a workshop within the Historic Dockyard Chatham. It is almost impossible to consider the historic and social fabric of Chatham without the Dockyard playing a major role. We have consulted with Nigel Howard, Historic Environment and Buildings Manager for the Dockyard throughout the project and have been granted access to their archives and buildings. They have been very generous in their support. When Nigel was made aware we were proposing to work with Andrew on the project he made a very generous gift to the project of seasoned timber, free of charge from the historic Timber Seasoning Sheds. Nigel had also generously offered us some monolithic slabs of granite, which have great historic resonance to our project, which we have unfortunately not been in a position to use as yet – but never say never !
The quality of some of these images is poor I’m afraid, but the content is pretty amazing…the interiors of the seasoning sheds have an otherworldly feel about them. These buildings were erected in 1775, to provide the Admiralty with at least 3 years of timber. Andrew unearthed some massive planks of English Elm. The age of the timber was hard to discern. Andrew thinks it may have been here for decades as least. The actual tree or trees they were cut or salvaged from could have been well over a century old before felling or being toppled through the effects of storm damage.
As with all creative proposals, we have been through various iterations, responded to challenges and made changes along the way. The following images relate to this design and creative process and show the evolution of the work and some of the outcomes on the street.
In 2016, during the early concept and development stages of the project, I had proposed this series of benches as a way of exploring the relationship between the significant building materials of the Historic Dockyard and the materials and contextual ideas being explored along out project route through Chatham Town.
The Chatham Patterns were a significant part of our concept to develop a distinct and site specific visual language for the streetscape and our creative public realm work. I collaborated with Xtina Lamb, Printmaker on this work. In this instance, the patterns were to be sandblasted into the honed surface of the monolithic granite blocks by Hardscape.
Andrew responded to these early draft ideas and we discussed incorporating traditional techniques for creating large scale joints and methods for joining and connecting timber, which would be suggestive and resonant of shipbuilding in Chatham, as well as exploring advances in technology such as laminating and bending timber. These are his drawings – & his hands…
In early November 2018, FrancisKnight and I visited Andrew at his workshop to see progress on the benches. I was blown away by the beauty and craftsmanship around me. The English Elm has the most wonderful patterns and figures in the grain. There was even half a face staring our at me. We were really so impressed. The work was solid, beautiful, resonant and robust, which is just as well as life as a street bench is tough !
I couldn’t resist creating a mirror image – a portrait in English Elm.
THESE ARE OUR STREETSPart Three…! We have always planned to create a magazine or booklet…some form of printed publication or other, with which to celebrate and record our progress, our ideas, the stuff that got away…but mostly our collaboration with each other and with the people along our route. We may still be able to deliver this a a hard-copy paper publication at some point in the future, as a way or marking the project – or as an online event.
The following images will show you part of our journey to create the draft and concepts for the work you can now see embedded into the pavements of Railway Street and Military Square. The content has been generated in collaboration with other artists and creatives, commissioned to deliver specific aspects of our work, but who directly and indirectly contributed so brilliantly to the outcome. FrancisKnight Public Art Consultants, Rob Young– Writer, Xtina Lamb– Printmaker, Simon Williams– Filmmaker & Paul Baker – Graphic Designer.
Above Image: From left to right – Xtina Lamb, Christopher Tipping, Simon Williams, Rob Young at a project meeting in Rochester with FrancisKnight, September 2016
Graphic Designer Paul Baker with writer Rob Young devised these Playing Cards posters carrying anecdotal, conversational or overheard words on the streets of Chatham
Fictional Heroes of Chatham are a series of fictional stories about Chatham’s past by our project writer Rob Young developed in response to time spent walking and talking on the streets of Chatham.
The fictional story below is about a Chatham Hero, Davey Pitt, who worked on the New Cut Viaduct
The Rochester Riverside development aims to deliver 489 homes in Phases 1, 2 & 3. The first show homes are scheduled to be ready by September 2018. I have been researching and developing ideas to embed some of the social & industrial legacy from this site into the new build homes and apartments & not forgetting a new community which is being delivered. The site has a treasure trove of layered history to uncover fed by its unique position between Rochester and River Medway.
Intertidal Salt Marsh
St Nicholas Parish Rochester
Clay & Mud
Ship & Barge Building
Railway Goods Yard
Scrap Metal Merchants
By 2006 almost all the site had been cleared for re-development.
I have to find a way to be creative with the public art budget and to produce high quality, robust interventions, capable of withstanding the wear and tear of a contemporary urban space. My approach to this project has been to work with a series of 2.4m high brick walls, which form the entrances to parking courts on the Central Streets of Phase 1 & 2. I am also embedding work into the threshold entrances of six apartment blocks and numerous private houses throughout the site. Materials being investigated at this stage include granite, cast concrete, cast iron, architectural ceramic & brick. The concept drawings shown below are all subject to change, revision, omission – all the usual ups and downs of project development.
These early concept drawings explore the various combinations of narrative elements which could be developed further. They are rather overstuffed with ideas at this stage – far too many to deliver – but are beginning to explore the legacy of the site via stories created by combining strands of research. Visiting menageries share space with Iron Foundry production and mud and clay trades carried out on the site. The elephant would be sandblasted into the brick surface, whilst adjacent panels of cast iron with relief detail and glazed brick units and polished granite are embedded into the brick structure.
In 1912 – No 26 was the home of the Invicta Furniture and Baggage Depository. No 28 was a Garage and Cycle Works.
The 1848 Ordnance Survey Public Health Map of Chatham shows Rome House – a large detached mansion set in landscaped gardens – opposite St John’s Church on Rome Lane. Following the building of Chatham Railway Station, Rome Lane became Railway Street sometime after 1871. No 41 would have been a new property named after the original house.
This detail of the OS 1864 Map of Chatham shows Chatham Station at the bottom of this image. Railway Street to Military Road runs from the middle of the image to the top of the image. St John’s Church and Rome House can clearly be seen.
I walked up to the site from Chatham Station, which is only 5mins walk away, passing by Dickens’ House on Ordnance Terrace on the way. I was allowed up onto the upper floors and the terrace, which offers spectacular views across Chatham and Rochester, the Medway and The Historic Dockyards beyond. This vantage point makes clear why Chatham developed as it did as a strategically important defensive site on the River.
Chatham Lines – comprising a number of impressive defensive structures, earthworks and Forts, developed since Napoleonic times to protect the Docks from a landward attack, are clearly visible in the landscape and although now long past any active role in the defence of the country, have served to shape the town and its inhabitants in both its topography, physical landscape and social history.
The copper green copula of the Brook Theatre, Chatham can be seen in the above image at the top right section of the image to the left of the red brick office clock Mountbatten House, the dominant landmark in the Town.
The Waterfront Pumping Station and Brook Theatre as seen from Sun Pier, Chatham. If ever something cried out for some form of intervention – then the Pumping Station takes poll position on the list. An eyesore on the waterfront, it could become an icon and focal point.
Although historically, the waterfront and area around Sun Pier would have been dominated by warehouses and river bases businesses. The industrial shed which houses Staples, does the site and its potential no favours here. Some softening landscape works and green screening may help.
Walking back from Sun Pier to the Waterfront and Bus Station, these historic granite kerbs and cobbles jump out for their simplicity, texture and purpose.
I wanted to see the town from the opposite vantage point of Fort Amherst adjacent to Great Lines Park, formerly known as the Field of Fire , so walked across to the Brook Theatre and beyond to the Town Hall Gardens, the former Town Burial Ground. Prior to 1828, the site was a former Rope Works.
Just a short walk further up the hill is the path and steps leading up to the Great Lines Park and Fort Amherst.
UCA at Fort Pitt is at top centre of this image. The copper green copula of the Brook Theatre is at the centre bottom.
They have a brilliant book on Chatham and it’s history – “The Story of a Dockyard Town”by James Presnail, published by the Corporation of Chatham in 1952 MCMLII. Ref:942.23 CHA. I was much taken by it’s last paragraph on social responsibility.
I had an appointment to meet the archivist at MALSC to review their photographic collection – particularly in regard to Railway Street and Military Street. I took a number of digital images from old photographs, but will require permission to post them on the blog. Hopefully, I can do this in due course.
Old OS Maps of the area were of particular interest as these obviously mapped out – some in great detail – large areas of the site where building had been lost during ‘development’ and / or razed to the ground by fire or neglect. Again – watch this space as i hope to post these images too.
Of particular interest were the OS 1848 Board of Health Map and the 1843 Tithe Map.