Fort Pitt


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Medway (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 75031 67602

Reasons for Designation

Forts built between 1660 and circa 1865 (but excluding those built following the 1860 Royal Commission on the Defences of the United Kingdom which form a separate and discreet group) were self-defensible, permanent works intended to be regularly garrisoned. They were substantial structures with a defended enclosure designed to provide all-round defence and often with a number of buildings in the interior such as barracks, storehouses and magazines. Forts were the successor of the medieval castle in the era of gunpowder artillery, at a time when central authority became responsible for national defence and the private fortress or defended house had become obsolete. They were strategically located and varied enormously in scale and form with differing methods of defences employed. Forts of the C17 to mid C19 are rare nationally with only approximately 25 examples built in England in that period. They are significant monuments expressing the country's international relations and security provision, commonly built in response to particular threats, or perceived threats, such as the Anglo-Dutch Wars, the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. Their form and robust nature means that many survive in good or reasonable form, although there are examples that have been levelled or have been significantly altered to ensure their continuing defensive role in later years. Given their rarity, examples which survive in good condition (i.e. where much of the defensive enclosure survives extant or as buried features and where there is also surviving evidence internally) are considered nationally important. Those with a lesser degree of physical survival but which have the archaeological potential to contribute to our understanding of this monument type are also considered of national importance. Fort Pitt was an essential component of the early C19 defences of Chatham Dockyard, the security of which was critical for national defence. The fort is significant for its form, representing a combination of tried-and-tested as well as experimental design represented by the bastioned trace and the central tower-keep respectively, and as such has national significance in the development of C19 fixed defences. Fort Pitt's hospital role was also of national significance. Although its hospital use continued until after the First World War, perhaps its most significant phase was in the early to mid C19 with almost all soldiers invalided to Britain from the colonies passing through its care. It was also the home of Florence Nightingale's first Army Medical School in the 1860s. The remains of Fort Pitt are of national importance given the degree of survival, archaeological potential, form of the defences and for the historical interest of the hospital phase. The Fort is also an important component of the wider Chatham defensive landscape which has international claims to significance.


The monument comprises the remains of Fort Pitt, an early C19 century fort forming part of the defences for Chatham Dockyard. Although the necessity of defending the hill south of Chatham had been identified in the late C18 century it was only in 1805 that construction began in response to the increased threat of a French invasion during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). The Fort was named after Prime Minister William Pitt who died in 1806. The Fort was also an important military hospital from the early C19 to the early C20. The monument embodies the perceived need in the early C19 century to strengthen the Chatham defences against expected French attack. It is also a physical reminder of the rapidly changing international situation in the early 1800s. While the justification for its construction might have declined following the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, very large sums continued to be spent on anti-invasion defences in Chatham for at least the next decade, with Fort Pitt exemplifying experimentation in defence given its construction and form. The monument was also a key military hospital of the period with surviving physical remains which illustrate this usage. DESCRIPTION Fort Pitt is roughly trapezoidal in shape with bastions at each of the four corners and surrounded by a now infilled dry ditch. Outside of the ditch there was a substantial glacis (a bank sloping down from a defence where attackers were exposed to fire), traces of which remain. The fort is of brick and earth construction. Originally there was also a detached casemated set of barracks forming a blockhouse to the north, set within dry moats. There was also a ravelin (a defended outwork) to the south reached via a caponier (covered passage across the fort ditch). Internally there was an off-centre tower keep (now demolished), two cavaliers (gun mounds) to the south of the interior and a magazine. The fort was approached from the north-east via a road, much on the line of the present Fort Pitt Hill road, which entered the fort via a drawbridge and guardhouse located to the east of the casemated blockhouse, approximately where the main entrance to Fort Pitt Grammar School is now located. As conceived, the fort was an unusual defensive form representing a mixture of old and new styles. It is a bastioned fort, an old fashioned form for 1805, and indeed may have been the last example of a bastioned fort built in England. Its central tower, however, was a much more experimental feature for this date, comparable to a number of others in Medway such as Fort Clarence, Gillingham Tower and Fort Pitt's own auxiliary tower guardhouses at Gibraltar and Delce. Historical photographs of the tower survive which indicate that it was a substantial three storey keep with corner turrets to the flat roof. Structures such as the cavaliers (gun mounds) on the south side of the fort (laid out in conjunction with a ravelin in the direction of an expected encircling attack) were also experimental. These are no longer visible features although it is highly likely that there will be buried evidence. Fort Pitt was carefully positioned to deny an enemy the high ground overlooking the dockyard, and its two outlying towers of Delce and Gibraltar controlled road access to Rochester Bridge. It was intended to function both as a stand-alone fortification capable of withstanding enemy attack but also as a key component of a wider defensive ring protecting the Chatham dockyard and barracks area in conjunction with other fortifications. It would have crossed its fire with Fort Amherst on the opposing high ground to the north-east, which was reconstructed in the Napoleonic period as a major citadel. A painting by JMW Turner records the relationship between these two major forts. With the exception of part of the southern defences which has been built over, it is possible to follow the trace of the defences around much of the fort. In the north-east corner of the fort the line of the top of the rampart survives as a low north-west to south-east earthwork to the north of the grammar school. The north-eastern bastion survives in very good condition with its banquette (infantry firing step) intact. The fire step continues to be visible along much of the internal length of the eastern rampart although there have been some alterations to the ramparts here, believed to represent modifications to provide walkways for the recuperation of hospital patients. Externally the eastern side of the fort is by far the best preserved with the scarp of the ditch surviving almost to full height. Drawings in the Public Record Office (MPH 1/475) indicate an original depth of ditch ranging from a minimum of 15 feet deep (circa 4.57m) dependent upon the topography, to 20 feet 4 inches deep (circa 6.2m) with a rampart rising 19 feet (circa 5.8m) above the top of the ditch with the scarp revetted in brick. This is well illustrated in this eastern length. Tennis courts currently occupy the location of the infilled ditch. The counterscarp of the ditch is described in a source of 1819 as being revetted, presumably also in brick. The extant ditch is illustrated in a photograph of 1904 and the position of the counterscarp has been identified on the west side of the fort by the English Heritage earthwork survey. The south-western bastion partially survives as an earthwork to the west of the College entrance and the banquette is also visible here. To the north of this bastion a car park currently occupies the in-filled ditch although the earth rampart is clearly visible as its northern and eastern boundary. The north-western rampart also survives as an extant brick and earth feature with an external road on the line of the ditch. The northern part of the site contained casemated barracks which were outside the body of the fort although attached to it so that troops housed in the barracks could withdraw safely into the fort if under threat. This was a major building cut into the hillside with brick revetted dry moats to either side. The external sides of these remain visible to the west and east of the University for the Creative Arts building and parts of the internal wall of the moats are preserved beneath the building. A historic photograph and plans survive which indicate the massive scale of this building. It had a flat roof, which could be used as a gun emplacement, and sufficient accommodation in casemated barracks to house approximately 500 men. The casemates would have been long vaulted chambers housing the men in dormitory accommodation. Much of this structure was demolished to facilitate the building of the predecessor of the art college but the survival of historic fabric in the form of brick walls and vaulting in the basement of the present building is surprising and represents an important component of the fort. The fort interior is now occupied by a number of buildings, two of which are listed: Crimea House, a Grade II former barracks hospital block that originated in 1803, and the Music House (also Grade II) of 1847 which was the lunatic asylum for the hospital. There is also a Grade II cast-iron water pump to the south-west of Crimea House. The later C19 hospital wards are occupied by the grammar school. These are not listed and were substantially damaged by a major fire in 1973. There are no visible fort structures or other remains of building associated with the C19 hospital phase within the defences although it is anticipated that evidence for these will survive as buried features particularly given that the majority of the present buildings on the site do not have cellars. These include the water supply for the fort which is described in an 1849 document as a deep well within the ramparts with a pump operated by three horses. The keep and the magazine will also have included subterranean components: during the construction of a sports hall in the centre of the fort in the 1990s voids were discovered which may represent the subterranean chambers/tunnels associated with the central tower. In addition archaeological evaluation in 2005, on the Mid Kent College site, has demonstrated that there is very little made ground above the fort levels. The open ground in which the fort sits is very much a part of its wider landscape comprising the field of fire for the fort as well as containing traces of its outer defences. Although the wider setting is not included in the scheduling, where remains are known to survive they have been included: Earthwork survey by English Heritage in 2007 on the Jackson Recreation Ground to the west identified important associated remains including traces of the glacis, the counterscarp of the ditch and a covered way linking the fort to its auxiliary Delce Tower to the west and these remains have been included in the scheduling. Remains of the in-filled ditch and outer defences to the east of the fort have also been included. HISTORY As early as the 1770s the lack of fortification on the high ground south of Chatham had been identified as a weakness in the existing dockyard defences. In 1779 Hugh Debbieg, the Chief Engineer at Chatham, proposed the substantial rebuilding and extension of the Chatham Lines; a linear defence protecting the landward side of the dockyard and barracks. To enhance the defences he also proposed the construction of a detached fort on the south hill. This location was of particular strategic significance with its commanding views of the dockyard, The Lines, the River Medway and the approach to Rochester Bridge. It was acknowledged that failure to fortify this hill could jeopardise Chatham's security. Purchase by the War Office of land at Chatham Hill was confirmed by an act of parliament in 1782 but construction was slow to commence. In a letter of October 1783 to the Right Honourable Lieutenant General and the principal officers of His Majesty's ordnance, Debbieg informed them that 'The land south of Chatham purchased by the Board of Ordnance contains about 30 acres. No works of fortifications have yet been erected there [on the south hill] but it is partly occupied by upwards of 4,500,000 bricks deposited in different parts for that purpose.' (The bricks were in fact removed from the hill for the construction of The Lines). Contemporary plans demonstrate that a major work in the form of a star fort was being considered although this design was not ultimately built. A report of November 1783 by the 'Tower Committee', a group of senior engineers responsible for reviewing plans for new fortifications, agreed with Debbieg that the fortification of Chatham Hill was critical but construction did not begin until the early 1800s. There were two main reasons for the slow progress: Firstly the American Revolutionary War came to an end with a 1783 peace leading to a hiatus in the building of Chatham's defences. Secondly, there were changes in key personnel with the Duke of Richmond taking over as Master General of Ordnance bringing with him his own ideas on how the defences should be organised. He concentrated resources and energies on Portsmouth and Plymouth and Debbieg felt slighted by the abandonment of his Chatham plans. His public statements to this effect led ultimately to his court martial and enforced retirement. Construction at the site began in 1803 when a military hospital was built. Although hospital staff were employed in September 1803, no patients were recorded during its first few months which perhaps raises questions about whether the facility was ever used as a hospital at this time. Construction of the fort finally began in 1805 with the ramparts constructed around the hospital buildings (which were converted to barracks). Progress was slow however, with all the bricks having to be pushed up the steep slopes in wagons, and work continued for a number of years. Entries in the Royal Engineers' letter books for the early years of the C19 century provide information on the dates and cost of construction with £21,830 spent in 1805 and the major expenditure falling in the first few years (£17,092, £11,509, £13,213 and £7,709 in 1806-9 respectively) with much smaller sums being expended in 1810-13 (£3,471, £976, £40 and £230). The fort took a unique form with a bastioned trace. On the north side, a major set of detached and casemated barracks (blockhouse) dominated the skyline view from Chatham. Two outlying towers, known as Delce and Gibraltar, were completed by 1812 to the west and east of Fort Pitt to control roads providing access to Rochester Bridge. The fort appears to have been largely completed by 1813. Plans of this date show the position of the central tower surrounded by hospital buildings. It was certainly manned at this time: it is known that the original garrison was replaced in 1814 by the Royal Marine Artillery who used Fort Pitt for emergency accommodation, although they had to vacate the blockhouse the following year to allow wounded from the Battle of Waterloo to be housed. It seems that some final construction work was not completed until after Waterloo although it was certainly finished before February 1819 when a letter from Colonel R D'Arcy of the Royal Engineers to Lt Colonel Handfield reports that 'In progress of the defence thought necessary Fort Pitt was constructed.' The fort was armed with ten 18-pound cannons, 22 18-pound carronades and four 10-pound mortars (both mounted and unmounted). The guns were retained into the 1820s but from then on Fort Pitt appears to have had primarily a medical function. In 1828 Fort Pitt Hospital became a depot for 172 invalided soldiers who were housed in the blockhouse. The hospital proper, housed in the H-plan buildings within the fort, had nine wards which could accommodate 200 people. In 1847 an asylum for mentally ill servicemen was added to house up to 23 men and two officers. In the early to mid-C19 Fort Pitt was a major military hospital at which almost all soldiers invalided to Britain from the colonies were assessed prior to their discharge from service. This included most of the sick and wounded from the Crimea and the Indian Mutiny. Fort Pitt was designated a General Military Hospital in 1849 and continued in use as such until after World War I. The fabric of the fort experienced some alterations during the occupancy of the hospital, most notably the demolition of the central tower in 1910 to provide space for the expanding hospital accommodation. The grounds of the fort were landscaped to provide airing grounds for the patients and this included use of the ramparts as walks. The hospital is perhaps best known for its association with Florence Nightingale who selected Fort Pitt as the temporary site for the first Army Medical School. This opened in 1861 on the recommendation of the Royal Commission into the sanitary state of the army, but before this date Fort Pitt was de facto the most important military hospital, complete with a museum of anatomy and other curiosities. This medical school remained at Chatham until its relocation to Netley in 1863. The hospital also had a number of royal visitors with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert famously making three visits to the Crimean wounded in 1855-6, and later, in 1914, King George V visited both British and German soldiers being treated there. The hospital finally closed in 1919. In September 1929 the local Education Board bought Fort Pitt from the War Department for £6,000 and converted the hospital buildings to provide accommodation for a Technical School for Girls. Although much of the fabric of the fort was extant at this time, including the dry moat, the casemated barracks were demolished in about 1932 to allow the school to develop, and during World War II minor modifications were made to some of the underground chambers to provide air raid shelters for the school. EXCLUSIONS All modern surfaces (such as paths, roads, car parks), telegraph poles, fences, benches, dustbins and signs are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included. The buildings of Mid Kent College and Fort Pitt Grammar School, including the listed buildings and structures, are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath them is included. The modern buildings housing the University for the Creative Arts (formerly Kent Institute of Art and Design) are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath them is included. For clarity the remains in the University's basement (elements of brick walls, vaulting and chalk rubble core) as well as the flanking brick walls to the north, west and east are included as is the guardroom to the north-west although the modern foundations are excluded. The skate-board park in Jackson Recreation Ground is not included in the scheduling although the ground beneath it is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


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This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

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