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The collected headstones stand together against the boundary brick wall and the ground slopes gently to the west with trees in groups or in association with shrubs. Yews and evergreens recall the history of the garden but the mixture with deciduous species is not sombre and there is considerable variety in the planting.

The following text is taken from the Kent Compendium of Historic Parks and Gardens for Medway:  

 STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE

Town Hall Gardens survive as representative of a common - and in this case early (1828) - origin of civic open space in Chatham: the gifting of land from military to civilian ownership by the Ordnance Board. First gifted to, and laid out by, Chatham parish as an overspill burial ground, its later transfer to the Corporation (in 1903) for public open space is also a common use of the period for redundant and closed burial grounds. The Gardens represent Chatham Corporation's response to providing and preserving public open space under the Open Spaces Act 1877. Typically of such sites, there is significant archaeological potential as features of the burial ground such as boundary walling, entrance gateway , path layout and remnants of tombs were retained, and survive today (2014) within the surviving layout, as were headstones although these are relocated against the walls. Also typically for such early C20 sites, the Gardens were laid out by the Corporation, probably by the Borough Surveyor, reflecting local civic pride in creating such spaces. Elements of the early C20 design, which was conventional, probably survive in the tree planting, as do a number of early C19 trees which contribute to the aesthetic of the Gardens by reflecting, with the headstones, their earlier use as a burial ground.

LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING

Town Hall Gardens lie 250m inland from the east bank of the River Medway , in the centre of Chatham, east of the main A231 (The Brook) and south-west of the Great Lines Heritage Park he site is roughly rectangular in shape, 240m in length and 60m in width with an area of c1. 4ha; it slopes steeply from north-east to south-west.

Views out of the site to the west are contained by the backs of buildings on the Brook, including the Old Town Hall (now, 2014, the Brook Arts Centre) and other more recent municipal buildings. Views out in other directions are limited by the boundary walling although the steep slopes of the Great Lines are visible beyond the eastern boundary.The north-eastern, north-western and south-western boundaries (abutting Whiffens Way car park, the Great Lines Heritage Park and Rope Walk respectively) are formed by brick walls (2m high) with stone-capped piers, all probably surviving from the former burial ground. A photograph c1931 (Medway Archives, Couchman Collection) shows them topped by low, vertical spiked metal railings which are fixed to the walling with metal brackets at intervals (part of a bracket survives). The north-western boundary is marked by mid/late C20 vertical, green painted metal railings set onto a low brick wall with a stone coping. The coping contains holes indicating the existence of earlier metal uprights, possibly railings removed for the ‘War Effort'. The south-western boundary is open to the road (Rope Walk) although a photograph c1925 (Couchman Collection) shows that it was formerly also enclosed by a brick wall although without railings, possibly suggesting that new railings were added to all boundaries between c1925 and c1931. The wall and railings on the Rope Walk boundary were presumably removed completely when two additional entrances were constructed, giving access via steps from Rope Walk. The brick work and concrete slabs used for these suggest a mid-late C20 construction date.

ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES

The Gardens are entered on foot at five formal entrance points: one each on the north-east, north-west and south-east sides and two on the south-west. The north-western one is through an imposing entrance gateway which comprises a portico with a flat roof of stone slabs supported by metal sections, with uprights in brick with stone bases. Above the entrance gateway a memorial stone commemorating the opening of the burial ground contains an inscription marking its opening in May 1828 and recording the names of the Clergy of St Mary's: the incumbent, the Reverend Mathew Irving B D Minister and the churchwardens Thomas Jarvis and William Hills. A memorial stone was later erected on the inside of the gateway's western wall to a Sergeant Feeney, shot by another soldier in Chatham Barracks in 1834. Also surviving within the gateway is, on its eastern side, the stone panel commemorating the acquisition and opening of the Gardens by Chatham Corporation. The original metal gates dating from 1828 have been removed, although evidence of fittings set into the walls survives.

The north-eastern entrance, which is connected by a path into the adjacent Great Lines Heritage Park, is up three steps through the wall and the south-eastern one through a gap in the wall where surviving uprights attached to the wall are evidence of a former timber gate. The south-western entrances are roughly centrally placed and consist of two sets of brick and concrete steps. In the south-east corner there is evidence of a further, former entrance point in the wall where a short length of paving slabs lead to a gap, now (2014) blocked with horizontal metal bars.

GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS

The Gardens are predominantly laid to close mown grass and planted, mainly formally as individuals alongside the paths, with deciduous and coniferous trees, some isolated mature shrub specimens and six formal, roughly oval shaped mixed shrub beds, three either side of the central path. Trees comprise mature English and Irish yews, which probably survive from the early C19 burial ground planting , also variegated holly, sycamore, beech, cherry, silver birch, and various cypresses which are in a less mature state and which may survive from the Corporation's planting of the Gardens in c1925 ( Photographs Couchman Collection ). Shrubs are mainly evergreen and include species such as Pittosporum, Choisya, Euonymus, and privet. There are daffodil bulbs in the mown grass along the open boundary with Rope Walk. The shrub planting and youngest trees appear to date from the late C20.

The paths comprise a system of formal routes mainly 3m wide except at the north-western entrance where the path widens to 4m to meet the gateway. The layout comprises a central path, perimeter paths along the north-east and south-west boundaries which bisect to form a diamond pattern, an additional curved path at the south-eastern end and a ‘dead end' spur at the south-western end. They are surfaced with tarmac and stone-edged in parts, with evidence of a stone slab base visible beneath the degraded sections. Photographs of c1925 (Couchman Collection) show stone slab pathways.

The former gravestones and memorials, in granite and marble, are mainly erected upright against the north-east and south-east walls. Those against the now (2014) ivy-clad north-east wall are generally in better condition than those on the south-east wall. A few tomb bases and memorials remain in situ in the grass, also now being colonised by ivy.Photographs of c1925 and c1931 (Couchman Collection), show a mixture of lawns, mature and newly-planted trees and shrubs and seating. Some of the shrubs are formally clipped and circular or triangular beds are planted with bulbs and other flowering plants.

By 1952 (OS 4th edition), little change has occurred to the layout and planting, with the two greenhouses still in place. Today (2014) the greenhouses and adjacent buildings have gone as have the spiked railings topping the brick boundary walls and the brick wall on the south-west boundary. The formal flower beds have been replaced with shrub beds. Late C20 timber and metal-framed seats are set in grass adjacent to the paths, all facing west down the sloping site to rear views of the Town Hall and other contemporary office buildings. Towards the south-eastern end is a small, surfaced and equipped children's play area c10m by 25m, set lengthways into the slope with timber sleepers to form a retaining wall and the whole fenced to exclude dogs.

REFERENCES

Maps

Tithe map (Chatham) c1840 Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre, Strood

OS 25" to 1mile: 1st edition 1862-1875, centred on 576001 168037

OS 25" to 1mile: 2nd edition 1897-1900, centred as above

OS 25" to 1mile: 3rd edition 1907-1923, centred as above

OS 25" to 1 mile 4th edition 1929-1952, centred as above

Illustrations

Selection of Photographs - Couchman Collection c1925-1931 Medway Archives DE402/17/3,26L,27L &U,29L &U,30.31U and 32L

Aerial photograph 2012 - Kent County Council Heritage Conservation Group

Archival items

Town Council and Chatham Borough Minute Books, Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre, Strood

Various proposal plans, some attributed to Charles Day, Borough Surveyor, Vestry Clerk, Chairman of the Vestry and the Town Clerk, one dated 31 March 1903, some with pencil marks, none noted as final, Medway Archives

Chatham News Index, newspaper articles, Medway Archives

 

Research by Geraldine Moon

Editor Virginia Hinze

Detailed description added 09/09/2015

Owner: Medway Council

Gun Wharf Dock Road Chatham Kent

External web site link: http://www.historicmedway.co.uk/chatham/burial_ground.htm

External web site link: http://www.kentgardenstrust.org.uk/what_we_do/research/projects/Medway/Town%20Hall%20Gardens.pdf