Riverside Gardens lie directly on the east bank of the River Medway, in the centre of Chatham. Features include The White House, which was built on New Gun Wharf in 1816 and, although not listed, is an important part of the military history of the area. The site also features a central path, matures trees and some young deciduous trees. There are extensive views west over the River Medway.
STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE
Riverside Gardens are a mid C20 example of public authorities creating open space on the site of former military land - in this case an C18 military wharf (New Gun Wharf) serving the forts of Chatham, the history of which can be traced to C16. Strong documentary and archival evidence supports the past importance of this site which, in addition, is considered to have high potential for below-ground archaeology of a nationally significant nature.Together with the adjacent Paddock, Town Hall Gardens and the slope of Fort Amherst the Gardens have community value and scenic and landmark significance, allowing public access to the banks of the River Medway and offering extensive views to historic landmarks such as Rochester Cathedral and Castle to the west. Besides providing a public amenity, the gardens provide a direct physical connection to both local and national collective memories of Chatham's vital importance to the United Kingdom's defence up to the mid C20.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
Riverside Gardens lie directly on the east bank of the River Medway, in the centre of Chatham, south of Dock Road (A231) and the junction with Globe Lane and the Brook. To the east, they are immediately adjacent to the Paddock, separated only by the bus station. The site is roughly triangular in shape, some 200m from north to south and 170m east to west with an area of 1.7 hectares.
The western boundary is formed by the river wall (rebuilt c.1960-70) which extends 200m northwards, topped by a wrought iron tubular post and rail fence, 1m high. At the northernmost point a 10m x 10m indent in the river wall with a steep flight of steps allows access to the water.
From this northernmost point the eastern boundary runs in a south-easterly direction for some 100m, initially past the Command House (grade II listed, C18, formerly the storekeeper's house and now a pub) and then along the frontages of a line of C18 buildings (formerly carpenters' shops and store houses, now housing Medway Council's Community Hub). From this point a stub of the site extends 40m eastwards, abutting the C18 Riverside One building (formerly a store house and now a family and social service centre) on the north side and, for 30m on the east side, Dock Road. South-eastwards from this point the boundary is formed by the broad paved stone path, extending south for 160m and part of the western side of the bus station which, in turn, separates Riverside Gardens from the Paddock.
The south-western boundary, running some 80m from the southern end of the bus station north-westwards to the River Medway, is largely undefined. It crosses waste ground, a car park and grass in succession and abuts, at the extreme western end, the wall of the Rats Bay Pumping Station.
The boundaries of Riverside Gardens follow those of New Gun Wharf on which the park is laid out. Historically marsh and then mill pond, the reclaimed land is now a roughly level site with some minor undulations along the east-west path, rising gradually to the east where it meets Dock Road. To the north lies St Mary's Church, built on rising ground, to the east the slopes of Fort Amherst and to the west, the river.
The land to the south of the boundary is due to be developed (2013) as part of the Chatham Waterfront scheme while the pumping station, a large red brick building, dominates the river front at this point.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
The site can be entered at any point across open boundaries to the south and to the east opposite the bus station. Further north, on the eastern side abutting the C18 buildings are two specific entrances: one, a tarmac roadway entering to a small car park immediately west of the Riverside One building and another, at the northern-most point of the Gardens, through heavy steel gates closing off a causeway from Gun Wharf (formerly the old dockyard and now Medway Council offices).
The White House was built on New Gun Wharf in 1816 and, although not listed, is an important part of the military history of the area. It is a brick built, white painted, building with a slate roof and sash windows. The building appears to have been extended at a later date in similar style. Traditionally occupied by the deputy storekeeper, during the C20 it was used as offices and residential quarters for military personnel before becoming a medical centre and, now re-furbished, it is used for the administration of the bus station.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS
Entering Riverside Garden on the east side from the junction of Dock Road, the Brook and Globe Lane, a paved stone path runs 170m westwards to the Rats Bay Pumping Station bisecting the site. The area to the south of this central path is paved for the initial 20m abutting the bus station and then grassed for 20m with a mature yew tree, perhaps remaining from the White House's C19 garden, before reaching the White House itself. Beyond the house, to the west, are three mature horse chestnut trees which survive from within the working area of New Gun Wharf. South of this central path the roughly triangular (100m x 100m x 100m) southern third of Riverside Gardens is grassed over save for a tarmac car park (50m x 30m), at the far west end near the pumping station. The area to the east and south of this car park is planted with numerous mixed deciduous young trees with some beech hedging round the car park. The central path terminates at the junction of the northern wall of the pumping station and the river's edge.
From the pumping station a broad paved path extends northwards for 200m following the river edge to the site's northernmost point. The whole length of path affords extensive views westwards over the River Medway: to Rochester where the cathedral and castle are clearly visible, to the opposite shore with its industrial estates and northwards to the Historic Dockyard. To the east of this path, mown grass extends to the frontages of the Medway Council Hub buildings (former C18 workshops), forming the eastern boundary of the site. Wrought iron and wooden seats are set in the grass and halfway along the path are three cannons found in the excavations during the rebuilding of the river wall and now mounted on stone plinths in the grass. From here, there are views north-eastwards over the Medway Hub buildings to St Mary's Church and, further to the east, the wooded slopes of Fort Amherst.
At the southern end of the Medway Hub buildings is a small car park (30m x 30m) which is partly hidden by a grass bank of rising ground to its south and east, topped by a 1m cast iron fence and three beech trees. A path from here runs 30m south to meet the central east-west path. This whole area of the site, north of the central path, is planted with groups of mature trees growing in mown grass. In its western half the mature trees are mainly horse chestnut while in the eastern half the trees are of mixed species. These include the three beeches by the car park, the yew beside the White House, an oak, a lime and row of three plane trees immediately outside Riverside One.
The largest horse chestnut has a girth of 3.2m and is perhaps a surviving tree of those marked on the first edition OS map (1864). Map evidence, and their size, suggests that a few of the present trees may be survivors from the earlier garden of the White House although there is no other visible evidence of its existence. They appear to be about the same age as some of the trees in the Paddock which are visible to the east beyond the bus station.
Joyce, B. Chatham and the Medway Towns, History and Celebration (Salisbury, The Francis Frith Collection, 2005)
Fletcher, S., Chatham Riverside A Study in Urban Waterfront Development University of Greenwich, 1994
The Gun Wharf Chatham, Archaeological Desk-based Study Oxford Archaeology, 2004
Chatham Public Realm Strategy, Centre and Waterfront Development Consultation Draft 2007
Gun Wharf Masterplan SPD, Medway Council November 2010
Mudge, An Entirely New and Accurate Survey of the County of Kent (1801)
Tithe map for Chatham, 1842. IR30 30/17/80 (The National Archives)
Ordnance Survey 1st edn. 25" map (1864). Sheet 19/7
Ordnance Survey 2nd edn. 25" map (1897-1900)
Ordnance Survey 3rd edn. 25" map (1907-23)
Ordnance Survey 4th edn. 25" map (1929-52)
Buck, S and N Chatham Dockyard, The West Prospect, 1735
Postcards from the Frith Collection, C69052 (1955) and C69144 (1966)
Rats Bay Pumping Station, Image collection, Riverside Chatham (MALSC)
River View, Image collection, Riverside Chatham, 86/2 (MALSC)
Aerial Photograph, Town Hall and Riverside, 1973, Aerofilms 73/145 (MALSC)
Aerial Photograph, the Paddock, 2012(?). KCC Heritage Conservation Group.
Aerial photograph, Fort Amherst, www.chathamworldheritagesite.org.uk
Globe Lane, c.1905 MacDougall, P. A Century of Chatham, p21
Miscellaneous materials 1973-5 relating to Riverside Gardens and the Paddock CEN/GM/2 DE9, file T8 (MALSC)
Detailed description contributed by Kent Gardens Trust 27/11/2015
Research by Hugh Vaux
Virginia Hinze (editor)
6th October 2014
CHRONOLOGY OF THE HISTORIC DEVELOPMENT
Riverside Gardens share their history with that of the Paddock (qv) the former lying to the northwest of the Land Wall (now Globe Lane) and the latter to the south-east. The Land Wall was built as a transport route from Rochester to the dockyard across marshy land and, first recorded in 1633 (possibly in 1588), it also served to dam the marsh from the River Medway. This allowed land reclamation and the building of a tidal pool to drive the Chatham mill. During C18 the need for more military capability hastened this process and the tidal pool was filled in to provide the land for New Gun Wharf in order to bring in supplies and armaments to the expanding system of defensive forts which were being built around the Chatham Dockyard at that time.
In 1819, the White House was built on the eastern edge of New Gun Wharf to provide accommodation and offices for the deputy storekeeper. The first edition OS map (1864) shows a garden (c.80 x 30m) surrounding the house and lying between the C18 building (now Riverside One) to the north and Globe Lane to the south. The map suggests that this was walled with perimeter paths and a formal layout of trees. The garden is not shown on the fourth edition OS map (1929-52).
New Gun Wharf remained in use by the army until 1955, when it was sold with the foreshore to Chatham Council, although the Army continued in occupation of at least part of it until 1961 during which time it was part of the Atomic Energy Research Establishment. The fourth edition OS map (1929-52) shows numerous storehouses and workshops with cranes at the riverside. A tramway carried goods from here, northwards to the dockyard, for distribution to the forts.
Public access to the river edge became possible after 1955, as a postcard of that date shows, but there were still many buildings on the site. A photograph of the northern end of the gardens in June 1963 shows a public space composed of a few mature trees set in mown grassland with benches and umbrellas for public enjoyment (MALSC). In contrast, the southern part of the site still had buildings and a car park in 1973 (Aerofilm).
During the 1970s work was carried out on the river wall and the Rats Bay Pumping Station was installed, replacing a C19 pumping station off the Brook in Solomons Road. The sewers pass under Riverside Gardens to drain the former marshland and the waters of the Old Bourne or Brook, this stream running northwards from Luton (now a suburb of Chatham 2kms to the south on the edge of the North Downs) to the River Medway.
Since c1983 the buildings around the pumping station have been removed leaving a level grassed area with some car parking. Land from the south-eastern part of the site, adjacent to Globe Lane, was incorporated into the new bus station (Dynamic Bus Facility) which opened in 2011 and the area immediately to the south is now (2013) scheduled for redevelopment.
Detailed history contributed by Kent Gardens Trust 27/11/2015
- Features & Designations
- House (featured building)
- Description: It is a brick built, white painted, building with a slate roof and sash windows. The building appears to have been extended at a later date in similar style.
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- Key Information
Parks, Gardens And Urban Spaces
Open to the public