Former C18 barrack block, Kitchener Barracks
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Location Description:
- North-west corner of the parade ground, Kitchener Barracks, Chatham, Kent
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Location Description:
- North-west corner of the parade ground, Kitchener Barracks, Chatham, Kent
- Medway (Unitary Authority)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
Barrack block, later use as a canteen and then offices. Built 1758, with alterations in C19, altered with a major extension (which is not of special interest) in C21.
Reasons for Designation
The former barrack block at Kitchener Barracks, built in 1757, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Rarity: a rare survival nationally of a mid-C18 barrack block, and along with parts of the boundary walls, the only surviving building of the original C18 Infantry Barracks, later known as Kitchener Barracks, contributing to the unique C18 militarised landscape around Chatham Dockyard;
* Date: after the early C18 barracks at Upnor Castle, it is the earliest surviving barrack block at Chatham;
* Architectural interest: although altered, the surviving C18 fabric of the barrack block provides important evidence of the construction, scale and appearance of barracks during the mid-C18;
* Historic role: the barracks was among the first large scale Army barracks in England, providing accommodation for the garrison of the fortifications of Chatham dockyard, shortly afterwards being used as a recruitment centre, providing drafts for Britain's expanding Army. Its continuous military use since 1757 makes it one of the oldest such sites, nationally;
* Development of the British Army: it marks a significant period in the development of the British Army when, due to the increase in its size and overseas commitments in the mid-C18, the provision of barracks to house soldiers in England became both a practical necessity and politically acceptable.
After the single barrack block at Upnor Castle (built in 1719), the oldest site in Medway is the Chatham Infantry Barracks (since 1928 known as Kitchener Barracks), constructed in 1757. From the mid-C18 Chatham was the centre of one of the most significant concentration of forces for the army and navy in England; the normal solution of billeting personnel upon inn keepers could not be relied upon. Chatham Infantry Barracks, was, therefore, constructed to house the permanent garrison responsible for manning the newly created defences for Chatham Dockyard: the Chatham Lines. In summer troops could be held in encampments under canvas but in winter they had to be dispersed to suitable barracks or billets. Construction of barracks at Chatham allowed a force to be held all year round both for possible service should invasion come but also close to Gravesend as an often-used reception or embarkation point for soldiers going to or returning from overseas service. The Chatham Lines were created during the earlier part of the Seven Years War (1755 to1763) in response to the British fear that their strategically important dockyards might face a landward invasion by the French. Portsmouth and Plymouth Dockyards were also protected with similar defences, but it was only at Chatham that the fortification of the dockyard was immediately followed with the construction of a major new set of barracks. Chatham Infantry Barracks were some of the largest purpose-built barracks yet built in the country; it was intended to hold 1,800 men, roughly the equivalent of two battalions.
The site chosen for the barracks was towards the southern end of the Chatham Lines on open pasture which sloped downwards towards the river. This land was first identified for use to build fortifications by Acts of Parliament in 1710 and 1714 but it was not taken under military control until late 1755. A proposal for the layout of the barracks from 1757 shows the various blocks aligned north-south and arranged around a central parade ground with officers' quarters on the higher ground to the east and the barracks for the private soldiers laid out in three rows on the western part of the site. A plan of 1763, although it doesn’t elaborate on the building’s occupants, shows that this layout was broadly followed when the barracks were built. Smaller blocks, to the same broad design, occupied the north and south of the parade ground (including the surviving example) and their original function requires further research.
By the time of the American War of 1778-1783, the infantry barracks were being used as a national recruitment centre. Periods of war presented challenges for the recruitment of sufficient soldiers, and evidence points to the barracks being in use for this purpose by 1766. By 1776 the barracks were the main recruiting centre for the army and Chatham became home to the headquarters of the Inspector General of Recruiting. Soldier recruits from all over Great Britain and Ireland were delivered to Chatham barracks to receive basic training before despatch to regiments, most of which were on over-seas service. The East India Company maintained its own forces in India, and it too used Chatham for recruitment.
The creation of a new Barrack Department in 1792 took responsibility for barrack building away from the Ordnance Board, and at this time Chatham Infantry Barracks, which was under the control of the Ordnance Board, had to be divided between the two departments. A plan of 1795 shows which parts of the barracks were allocated to the infantry (under the control of the new Barracks Department), and which were reserved for the artillery and military artificers (still under the control of the Ordnance Board). The pressure for space must have been particularly great at this time as by 1793 Britain was once more at war, now with revolutionary France. In 1803 there was mounting fear of French invasion, which led to the reconfiguration of the Chatham Lines as a major troop concentration from which to counter a French assault; the number and variety of troops to be accommodated was greatly increased, and their posting at Chatham became a year-round responsibility. Even after the army's main recruiting base moved to the Isle of Wight in 1803, significant amounts of new, permanent, troop accommodation was required at Chatham and between 1804 and 1806 the grand Artillery Barracks were built at Brompton (soon becoming known as Brompton Barracks); this would have relieved the pressure on the infantry barracks, as the Ordnance Board could now give the site entirely over to the control of the Barracks Department for use by the infantry.
Victory at Waterloo in 1815 brought over 20 years of warfare to an end; the army reduced in size and went back to its traditional role of defending the sovereign and the realm and of garrisoning overseas colonies. Although reduced in size, Chatham remained a key element of the home garrison and continued to act as an embarkation and reception port for troops going to, or returning from, overseas service. Despite Chatham's importance as a garrison town, Chatham Infantry Barracks had changed little between its construction in 1757 and the mid-C19: the living conditions remained appalling. This was a national problem, and a Royal Commission, was set up in 1857 to investigate the matter. The Commission's findings of 1861 led to a national programme of barrack building and upgrading to improve living conditions. The recommendations required a general upgrading of accommodation, and the provision of much improved cooking, washing and sanitary facilities, as well as space for recreation and the physical and intellectual improvement of the men. Removal of the wives and children of married soldiers from the barrack rooms to purpose built married quarters was also a primary objective of the reforms. At Chatham, rather than replace the existing buildings at the infantry barracks, the reform agenda led to the addition of an extra storey to many barrack blocks and to the introduction of many new buildings shoe-horned in between the earlier ones; this represented the first major phase of physical change which the barracks had undergone since its construction. An 1864 plan of the barracks site shows the wide range of new facilities introduced at this time including purpose-built facilities for cooking, washing, recreation, as well as the Soldiers' Institute, which provided purpose-built reading, dining and recreation rooms.
The original, albeit upgraded, buildings of the infantry barracks, and the newer buildings of the mid-C19, continued to serve their function for almost another 100 years, before a sustained period of demolition and rebuilding which straddled the Second World War. It was during this period that the Sandhurst Block (known as the Khartoum Building) was built, involving the eventual demolition of all but one of the remaining C18 barrack blocks.
The surviving 1757 block appears to have been put to a number of uses during the barrack’s history. Despite sharing the appearance of the larger barrack blocks, from at least the late-C18 it does not seem to have been used as such. Under the original proposals it seems to have been designated as officer’s quarters but, as built, these appear to have been limited to the eastern part of the site. In the 1795 plan of the barracks, the block is shown as being used as an Ordnance Canteen for the artillery (matched by the Line Canteen on the opposite side of the parade ground for the infantry) with a yard to the north. A Board of Ordnance survey from 1830 shows it was still in use as a canteen at that date. By 1864 it is shown as a battalion office and in 1879 as an Orderly Room. Photographs of the building taken around 1870, show it with three of its four chimneys reduced in height, four dormer windows on the east elevation, and a clock on the elevation facing the parade ground with a bell cote above it. To the north it is adjoined by single-storey outbuildings. The building, internally no doubt much altered, probably remained in use as offices. In the C21 the building was renovated and an extension range in a sympathetic matching style added to the north.
MATERIALS: pale red brick laid in Flemish bond with red brick and stone dressings. Slate pitched roof.
PLAN: the block is oriented north-south and located at the north-west corner of the parade ground. Two-storeys plus basement, double depth plan. The C21 extension is to the north (not of special interest) EXTERIOR: the original building is four bays in length with two gable stacks on the western side. The C21 extension, built in a matching style, and providing an additional three bays to the length, is not of special interest. Two-storey front (east) elevation, two storeys and basement at the rear (west) due to the slope of the land. The three surviving elevations have a brick plat band and a cornice band, on the front and rear elevations beneath a brick blocking course, which has been rebuilt to the front with a stone/concrete coping. Fenestration is of hornless six-over-six pane timber sashes in square openings with rubbed brick lintels and stone sills, and with paired lights to the south end.
The entrance to the original block is via a doorway in the second bay of the east elevation. Although this door appears in photographs from the 1870s, it was probably originally a window, the entrance being on the western side of the building, reached via a flight of steps over the basement level. This arrangement can be seen on photographs of other buildings on the site, now demolished, and evidence of the stairs and the replacement of the door with the current window (in the third bay) can be seen in the fabric of the building.
The south gable survives, altered by the removal of the eastern stack, as presumably does the original north gable wall adjoining the extension (visible above roof level), but the building has been re-roofed. The east elevation has a single reconstructed dormer. The eastern parapet is of different brickwork and appears to have been rebuilt, possibly when the two eastern stacks were removed.
INTERIOR: the interior has been completely modernised and no original features survive. The position of the stair has been altered as in its current position it would have partially blocked the original west entrance.
The basement consists of two separate chambers entered at ground level in the western elevation. In the southern chamber the brick floor and arches in the walls survive but the joists supporting the ground floor are replacements. The northern chamber was not inspected.
Books and journals
Douet, J, British Barracks 1600-1914 - Their Architecture and Role in Society, (1998)
Peter Kendall, Chatham Garrison - Defence of a Dockyard, 2009,
Peter Kendall, Historic Barracks in Medway, 2006,
Title: TNA MPHH 1/356 Chatham Infantry Barracks Source Date: 1864 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: TNA MPI 1/203 Chatham Infantry Barracks Source Date: 1795 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
End of official listing