A Tour of Gravesend (2)

Turning east and returning to the Riverfront we soon pass the Customs House and the headquarters of the Port of London Authority.


Just east of here is New Tavern Fort, which replaced the blockhouse in the 18th century. Its well-preserved fortifications now stand in a riverside park. Originally built to defend the Thames against raiders during the American War of Independence, it was strengthened in the 19th century during The Napoleonic Wars. General Gordon, experienced in the construction of fortifications, was stationed here between 1865 and 1871 whilst he oversaw building works on the Thames forts. New Tavern Fort was decommissioned at the start of the 20th century but reused during WWII. Unfortunately, the buildings, which house a museum, were not open the day we were there.

Our final stop is what was once the canal basin of the Thames and Medway Canal. This was intended to provide a safe route to move ships from the dockyards at Woolwich and Deptford in London, through the newly constructed Higham and Strood tunnels, to the River Medway and the dockyard at Chatham – thus avoiding the waters of the open estuary. Construction began in 1799 and it finally opened in October 1824, by which time the Napoleonic war was over and the need for the use of the canal by the Navy had disappeared. It was opened to commercial traffic but it was never a success. In 1845 the railway between Gravesend and Strood laid a single track through the Higham and Strood Tunnels on the path adjacent to the canal. The following year the canal company sold the tunnels to the South Eastern Railway and the canal closed. The canal was filled in and the railway company laid a double track through the tunnels. All that can be seen now is the basin at Gravesend and the entrance to the Medway at Strood, although if you travel from Gravesend to Strood you still pass through the original canal tunnels.


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