Gillingham, Medway

Ordnance Survey
OS grid reference: TQ775675
District: Medway
Region: South East England
Country: England
Ceremonial county: Kent
Historic county: Kent
Police force: Kent Police
Post office and telephone
Postal district: ME7
Dialling code: 01634
UK Parliament: Gillingham (UK Parliament constituency)
European Parliament: South East England

Gillingham is a town in Kent in the United Kingdom, forming part of the Medway conurbation; it is a constituent of Medway unitary authority. The town includes the settlements of Brompton, Hempstead, Rainham, Rainham Mark, Twydall and Lidsing.

Gillingham means a homestead of Gylla's family, from Old English ham (village, homestead) and ingas (family, followers), and was first recorded in 10th century as Gyllingeham.


Each of the Medway Towns formerly had a different status: Strood was a rural district council; Rochester a city; while both Chatham and Gillingham were boroughs. When in 1974 the other three became one as Rochester-upon-Medway, Gillingham remained as a borough on its own. It was only when the conurbation was given unitary authority status that Gillingham lost its independence.


Early history

At the time of the Norman Conquest, Gillingham was a small hamlet; it was given by William the Conqueror to his half-brother Odo of Bayeux. The land was mainly farmland, and Odo rebuilt the parish church of St Mark's and constructed an archbishop's palace here.

Maritime history

  • In medieval times the part of Gillingham known as Grange was a limb of the Cinque Ports, and the maritime importance of the area continued until the late 1940s. Indeed, a large part of Chatham Dockyard lay within Gillingham. The dockyard was founded by Queen Elizabeth I on the site of the present gun wharf, the establishment being transferred to the present site about 1622.
  • The Seven Years' War began in 1756. The government immediately gave orders for the defence of the dockyard, and by 1758 the Chatham Lines of Defence were built. Over a mile long, they stretched across the neck of the dockyard peninsula, from Chatham Reach, south of the dockyard, across to Gillingham Reach on the opposite side. One of the redoubts on the Lines was at Amherst. The batteries faced away from the dockyard itself to forestall an attack from the landward side; the ships and shore mounted guns on the river were considered sufficient to protect from that side.
  • War with France began again in 1778, and once more it was necessary to strengthen the defences. Fort Amherst was the first to be improved; it was followed by work beginning in 1800 to add others at Fort Pitt, Chatham, plus Fort Delce and Fort Clarence (both in Rochester); later in the 19th century others were added, including one at Fort Darland in Gillingham. Within all these buildings a barracks was built to house the soldiers.
  • All this work, and the expansion of the dockyard, meant that more homes were needed for the workers. The position of the Lines meant that this building could only happen beyond, and so New Brompton came into being. The population rose to 9,000 people by 1851. Gillingham was still only a small village; eventually it, too, was swallowed up, and the name of the whole settlement changed to Gillingham.
  • In 1919, after World War I, a naval war memorial in the shape of a white stone obelisk was set up on the Great Lines, from where it can be seen for many miles; additional structures were added in 1945 to commemorate the dead of World War II. Similar monuments stand in the dockyard towns of Portsmouth and Plymouth.
  • The main source of employment was at the dockyard, and when it ceased to be a naval base in 1984, there was huge unemployment. Today much of the area is a World Heritage Site.



The Roman road now known as Watling Street passed through Gillingham; and until the opening of the Medway Towns bypass (the M2 motorway) in the mid-1960s the same route was followed by the traffic on the A2 to Dover. That road had been turnpiked in 1730, as part of the London–Canterbury coaching route.

In June 1996 the Medway Tunnel opened, linking Gillingham with the M2 and Strood.


The London, Chatham and Dover Railway opened its line between Chatham and Faversham on 25 January 1858; and a country station was opened here called New Brompton. This was to serve the dockyard labourers' homes that had sprung up during the Napoleonic Wars. A branch line led into the dockyard. The station later became Gillingham.

Train services became part of the suburban network when, in 1933, Gillingham became the terminus of the electrified system of the Southern Railway.


Brompton Barracks have long been the home of the Royal Engineers. Today the regiment also has a museum there.


  • The marshland between the town and the River Medway's estuary is an important habitat protected as the Riverside Country Park.
  • The area boasts a sub-regional sports centre (the Black Lion Leisure Centre) with four indoor pools for swimming and scuba diving, gym, sports hall and squash courts, and includes the Jumpers Rebound Centre for trampolining. The Strand Leisure Park has an open-air swimming pool on the banks of the River Medway as well as other leisure attractions including tennis courts and a narrow-gauge railway.
  • Rainham has a leisure pool (The Splashes) with a flume and a wave machine.
  • The 98-room King Charles Hotel has conference and banqueting facilities.

Sister cities

Gillingham is twinned with two Japanese cities, Ito and Yokosuka, the latter being the burial place of Will Adams, Gillingham's most famous son.


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