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Mid Kent College, Brompton

Client: Mid Kent College

One of the more unusual fieldwork projects undertaken by CAT took place in between 2005 and 2008 within former military land adjacent to the Lower Lines, Brompton. The work took place prior to the construction of new college buildings and the creation of a new public park. 

 

The Lower Lines were constructed from 1803 as an extension to existing defensive lines defending Chatham Dockyard. The Lines consist of brick-built ramparts and a large moat. They were never used militarily and rapidly became outdated but remained useful to the military as a place of training and experimentation. By the 2000s the area was heavily overgrown with the brick-built Lines in very poor condition.

 

The new college was to be terraced into the slope on the south side of the Lines, the field-of-fire. Work here involved the monitoring of ground reduction that was in places up to 4m in depth. As work commenced it quickly became clear that plentiful evidence for the training of the Royal Engineers survived. This was principally in the form of backfilled tunnels (saps) that were carefully mapped using a total station and occasionally sample excavated. An unusual brick-built structure that resembled an igloo and was connected to the main body of the Lines by a narrow tunnel was also identified. This was a subterranean listening chamber and while recorded in nineteenth-century military journals is virtually unique. It was clear that many of the saps extended from this structure and in post-excavation it was possible to reconstruct the various defensive and offensive strategies that were being practised by the Engineers. Also recorded during this part of the work was a practise First World War bunker complex. This had to be removed by machine, and resulted in the excavation of a hole some 45m wide and 10m deep under archaeological supervision.

Mid Kent College: aerial view of the excavation
Mid Kent College: countermine chamber

The formation of the park required the emptying of the moat (which by this time was partially backfilled) and the photographic recording of the rampart walls. As part of this work many interesting features were identified including the entrance to the tunnel leading to the listening chamber. A second revealed entrance led to HMS Wildfire, a below ground bunker that housed the headquarters of the Nore Command during the Second World War. This too was accessed by archaeologists with breathing apparatus and recorded photographically. Defensive features associated with the Nore Command were investigated on land to the north-east.

 

Located on the opposing side of the rampart were several interesting nineteenth-century features. Principally these were represented by gun emplacements as would be expected on a large military structure. More interesting was the survival of two experimental searchlight emplacements. The intention was that the searchlights would be used to identify approaching attackers, using what was then a relatively new technology – electric lighting. Representing something of a technological dead end at the time, the idea behind the technology would later be used during the Second World War to search for German aircraft.