CHATHAM, KENT, a port and municipal and parliamentary borough of Kent, England, on the right bank of the Medway, 34 m. E.S.E. of London by the South-Eastern & Chatham railway. Pop. (1891) 31,657; (1901) 37,057. Though a distinct borough it is united on the west with Rochester and on the east with Gillingham, so that the three boroughs form, in appearance, a single town with a population which in 1901 exceeded 110,000. With the exception of the dockyards and fortifications there are few objects of interest. St Mary's church was opened in 1903, but occupies a site which bore a church in Saxon times, though the previous building dated only from 1786. A brass commemorates Stephen Borough (d. 1584), discoverer of the northern passage to Archangel in Russia (1553). St Bartholomew's chapel, originally attached to the hospital for lepers (one of the first in England), founded by Gundulph, bishop of Rochester, in 1070, is in part Norman. The funds for the maintenance of the hospital were appropriated by decision of the court of chancery to the hospital of St Bartholomew erected in 1863 within the boundaries of Rochester. The almshouse established in 1592 by Sir John Hawkins for decayed seamen and shipwrights is still extant, the building having been re-erected in the 19th century; but the fund called the Chatham Chest, originated by Hawkins and Drake in 1588, was incorporated with Greenwich Hospital in 1802. In front of the Royal Engineers' Institute is a statue (1890) of General Gordon, and near the railway station another (1888) to Thomas Waghorn, promoter of the overland route to India. In 1905 King Edward VII. unveiled a fine memorial arch commemorating Royal Engineers who fell in the South African War. It stands in the parade ground of the Brompton barracks, facing the Crimean arch. There are numerous brickyards, lime-kilns and flour-mills in the district neighbouring to Chatham; and the town carries on a large retail trade, in great measure owing to the presence of the garrison. The fortifications are among the most elaborate in the kingdom. The so-called Chatham Lines enclose New Brompton, a part of the borough of Gillingham. They were begun in 1758 and completed in 1807, but have been completely modernized. They are strengthened by several detached forts and redoubts. Fort Pitt, which rises above the town to the west, was built in 1779, and is used as a general military hospital. It was regarded as the principal establishment of the kind in the country till the foundation of Netley in Hampshire. The lines include the Chatham, the Royal Marine, the Brompton, the Hut, St Mary's and naval barracks; the garrison hospital, Melville hospital for sailors and marines, the arsenal, gymnasium, various military schools, convict prison, and finally the extensive dockyard system for which the town is famous. This dockyard covers an area of 516 acres, and has a river frontage of over 3 m. It was brought into its present state by the extensive works begun about 1867. Before that time there was no basin or wet-dock, though the river Medway to some extent answered the same purpose, but a portion of the adjoining salt-marshes was then taken in, and three basins have been constructed, communicating with each other by means of large locks, so that ships can pass from the bend of the Medway at Gillingham to that at Upnor. Four graving docks were also formed, opening out of the first (Upnor) basin. Subsequent improvements included dredging operations in the Medway to improve the approach, and the provision of extra dry-dock accommodation under the Naval Works Acts.
The parliamentary borough returns one member. The town was incorporated in 1890, and is governed by a mayor, six aldermen and eighteen councillors. Area, 4355 acres. The borough includes the suburb (an ecclesiastical parish) of Luton, in which are the waterworks of Chatham and the adjoining towns.
Chatham (Ceteham, Chetham) belonged at the time of the Domesday Survey to Odo, bishop of Bayeux. During the middle ages it formed a suburb of Rochester, but Henry VIII. in founding a regular navy began to establish dockyards, and the harbour formed by the deep channel of the Medway was utilized by Elizabeth, who built a dockyard and established an arsenal here. The dockyard was altered and improved by Charles I. and Charles II., and became the chief naval station of England. In 1708 an act was passed for extending the fortifications of Chatham. During the excavations on Chatham Hill after 1758 a number of tumuli containing human remains, pottery, coins, etc., suggestive of an ancient settlement, were found. Chatham was constituted a parliamentary borough by the Reform Bill of 1832. In the time of Edward III. the lord of the manor had two fairs, one on the 24th of August and the other on the 8th of September. A market to be held on Tuesday, and a fair on the 4th, 5th and 6th of May, were granted by Charles II. in 1679, and another provision market on Saturday by James II. in 1688. In 1738 fairs were held on the 4th of May and the 8th of September, and a market every Saturday.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)