Gillingham was, until its absorption into Medway, the largest borough in Great Britain. Like Chatham, it has always had strong links with the Military: most of HM Dockyard, Chatham, is actually in Gillingham, and the Royal Engineers School of Military Engineering is situated along the High Street from the railway station.
It is also the birthplace of some famous, and not so famous, people - Will Adams was born here, as was Gary Cooper's mother (I did say not so famous). Sir David Frost and Gary Rhodes attended Gillingham Grammar School.
Strangely, in the 19th Century, most of what is now thought of as Gillingham, actually wasn't. New Brompton covered the area from Brompton along to roughly Gillingham Railway Station (which was originally "New Brompton and Gillingham"). Gillingham was concentrated around St Mary Magdalene's Church. Of course, as time went by and the area became more densely populated, Gillingham eventually grew to encompass villages and townships like Brompton, Grange and Twydall.
The following places are worth a look if you're in the area:
Some of the information on the site doesn't quite fit in the "Places to Visit" category, so I've listed it separately here.
Formerly the Naval Hospital, this is the only hospital in the Medway Towns which has an accident and emergency department. It has recently undergone a £60,000,000 upgrade to turn it into the area's general hospital, with St Bartholomew's Hospital now catering for geriatric cases.
It is situated on the top of The Great Lines, and can be seen from Chatham (it's just to the right of the war memorial). The clock tower is part of the original building.
Up until the late 19th century, much of Gillingham and Chatham were covered in brick fields, as the farmers who owned the land could make money easily by digging out the clay from their land. The original Royal Naval Hospital, which can still be seen forming part of the main buildings of the current hospital, was built with bricks from the nearby Darland Banks.
Will Adams was the first westerner to travel to Japan, in the 17th Century. A memorial to him, in the form of a clock tower, is located on the north side of the A2 in Gillingham, near the new northern relief road (Yokohama Way). The money for the tower was raised by public subscription.
Will Adams was Christened at St Mary Magdelene's Church in Gillingham, on 24th September 1564.
You may have noticed that the verge on this side of the A2 is unusually wide, with its space for flower beds and a rather big memorial. That's because there was a tram service which used to link Chatham and Rainham, and the tram lines ran along Watling Street here. The wide verge starts near the top of Chatham Hill, and carries on through to Rainham.
This area of land separates Chatham and Gillingham, and has been owned by the Ministry of Defence for centuries. Its most recent use was as an army training ground. It is open to the public and affords some splendid views over Chatham and the Medway Estuary, as well as a highly recommended fireworks display for Guy Fawkes' night (5th November). Check the local papers for the exact date of the display.
The Great Lines was originally called "The Great Lines of Defence", and stretched from Dock Road in Chatham down to lower Gillingham, around Mill Road, and included the field where the Black Lion Swimming Pool and Sports Centre stands.
When the Lines were being extended in the 18th Century, many Anglo-Saxon burials were found. There were also bones which were originally thought to be those of Hadrian's elephants. Then they were thought to belong to hippopotami. Eventually, it was decided that they were mammoth bones.
The Royal Naval War Memorial is located at the highest point.
All photographs copyright 2000, 2001 Jason Ross