Great Lines Heritage Park
Client :Medway Council
Project Location :Medway, Kent
The Great Lines is a former military landscape – the name used for the former Field of Fire associated with the Chatham Lines (fortified defences) that protected Chatham Dockyard from landward attack. Within its boundary, it contains an eighteen century fortress, a Scheduled Ancient Monument – the Lines, former pleasure grounds – the Officer’s Gardens and large expanses of open ground (the firing lines). The site provides the green backdrop to the urban centres of Chatham and Gillingham. The land is part of the World Heritage Site application for Chatham Dockyard and its Defences and is central to the regeneration of Medway and the Thames Gateway.
The park is currently underused and is perceived by some visitors as unsafe. Its defensive function and modern encroachment has resulted in a landscape that is difficult to understand, move around and that is not perceived as one park. The ramparts and ditches of Fort Amherst should act as the key signature and icon for the park, contributing both to its drama and the visitor experience. However, they also give rise to a landscape that is dangerous and difficult to open to the public. The areas currently open to the general public represent a small part of the whole, and the significance of the fortification and array of upper level bastions and batteries are difficult to be seen or understood.
Key elevations of the Fort are overgrown and obscured, so that’s its physical presence is greatly reduced. It has suffered from development within its curtilage, including buildings over the barrier ditch and the ‘Eye’ which dominates the historic entrance. It is at threat from further residential development at the base of its embankment which could have a significant adverse impact on the key view from Chatham Town Centre.
Fenced, hedged and overgrown boundaries create both visual and physical barriers separating the park from its adjacent population and are contrary to the historical character of the Great Lines. Piecemeal development in the form of post war housing and schools have resulted in Fort Amherst and the majority of the Lines being no longer connected to the Great Lines. Prince William’s Bastion, not open to the public, is the only vantage point where the historical link and visual connection can be made. Additionally, where Wood Street crosses the Lines, there is no sense of a passing through a threshold and the transition between the inside and outside of the fortified areas.
The vision for the Great Lines Heritage Park makes the most of its dramatic heritage and significance at local, national and international scales. The hidden layers in the existing landscape – military, domestic, 18th and 19th century – are exposed and the historic defensive legacy of the site is now transformed into a contemporary and exciting park for the 21st century.