7 things you probably didn't know about Chatham, Kent

Drone shot of Chatham in Kent

Chatham - Credit: John K Thorne / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Chatham is a town in Kent found along the River Medway; it is home to over 75,000 people and very much steeped in its history as a vital military location over the centuries.

Here are 7 facts you may not have known about the town.

1) The first recorded mentioning of Chatham was as Cetham in 880, and then in the Doomsday Book in 1086, where the name Ceteham was used instead. Historians suggest that the Chatham originates from a combination of an Old English word that survived from the Romans Cetu, meaning 'basin' or 'valley', with the popular suffix ham meaning 'settlement'.

2) Novelist Charles Dickens grew up in Chatham when his father, John Dickens, a clerk in the Navy Pay Office, was transferred to Chatham Dockyard in 1817. He described these formative years as the happiest in his life, and much of his work has connections to Chatham and the surrounding areas.

Number 2 Ordnance Terrace in Chatham was the home of Charles Dickens from 1817 to 1822.

Number 2 Ordnance Terrace in Chatham was the home of Charles Dickens from 1817 to 1822. - Credit: Marathon / Geograph (CC BY-SA 2.0)

3) Chatham's twin town is Valenciennes in the north of France. This pairing happened in 1955 making it the second oldest such twinning in the UK.

4) Famous faces born in Chatham include multi-media artist Billy Childish and singer Lee Ryan from the boy band Blue.

5) The Chatham Naval Memorial is one of three obelisks in the country (the other two are situated in Portsmouth and Plymouth) built in 1924 to pay respect to fallen Naval heroes who died without a grave during WWI. It was designed by architect Robert Lorimer and is the only one to stand on a hill, thus being a dominant presence to the town below. The obelisk was extended into the memorial it is today following the second world war and now holds 18,621 names. 

The Royal Naval Memorial at The Great Lines Heritage Park connects several Medway towns, including Chatham and Gillingham.

The Royal Naval Memorial at The Great Lines Heritage Park connects several Medway towns, including Chatham and Gillingham. - Credit: John Stratford / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Most Read

6) All Saints' Hospital closed its doors in 1999, but it was originally the Medway Union Workhouse, built in 1849 to replace the Chatham Workhouse, which is said to have inspired Dickens' Oliver Twist. The NHS acquired the property in 1948 and was then given the name All Saints'. Homes now occupy the site, but some roads in the area bear the names of the wards they replaced.

This isn't the only building in Chatham that has evolved from its original use; the Brook Theatre was once Chatham Town Hall. Find out more about Kent's beautiful buildings here.

7) Chatham Dockyard was declared a Royal Dockyard by Queen Elizabeth I in 1567 due to its strategic location, close to London and at a gateway to the continent. Now the Dockyard is a museum and often features in historical dramas such as Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey and The Crown but perhaps most famously in the 2012 film adaptation of Les Misérables starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. 

Chatham Dockyard by Joseph Farington (1747-1821), oil on canvas painting commissioned in 1785 by the Navy Board

Chatham Dockyard by Joseph Farington (1747-1821), oil on canvas painting commissioned in 1785 by the Navy Board - Credit: National Maritime Museum (Public domain)

Read more of the best Kent content:

19 cottages that will make you want to move to Kent

The best second-hand bookshops in Kent

When Kent made history: 10 important historical moments

Subscribe to Kent Life Magazine