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BROMPTON:TOWN, VILLAGE OR HAMLET?

By Ben Levick

KGVPeople sometimes ask why Brompton has a ‘village’ association. So what is the correct terminology for Brompton? Let’s look at some historical sources and se if it helps us to decide. Unusually for the period, Brompton was a planned settlement, carefully laid out from the start, rather than a settlement that had grown up organically over centuries. The land Brompton was built upon was part of the demesne lands of the medieval manor of Westcourt, the manor house of which was located about where the United Services rugby pitches are now, just opposite the King Charles Hotel. In the 1620s the Dockyard moved from Gun Wharf to its present location, and was much expanded in the 1680s and 90s. It was this expansion which was to lead to the founding of the settlement of Brompton.

Travelling to Brompton from Chatham in 1690 one would have seen a lane known as Dock Lane (it would not be known as Dock Road until well over a century later) leading north from the village of Chatham and its Church towards the new dockyard. As you approached the yard along Dock Lane towards the simple gate the long ropery buildings would be visible on the left (west) and the teamster’s yard and orchard in the chalk pits to the right (east). The hills ahead, to the north-east would be crowned by a large area of woodland stretching to the north and east on the brow of the hill (the woods occupied most of the area of today’s Brompton Barracks) and an occasional old chalk pit. To the east of Dock Lane hedged fields and grazing sheep stretched up and over the ridge, crossed by footpaths and tracks. On the level ground at the brow were orchards and more fields, and clay quarries south of the orchards, maybe even a small brickworks. In front of the woods a road, Carpenter’s Lane or Wood Street, led east towards Gillingham, and another (perhaps known as Garden Lane or something similar) ran parallel towards Westcourt Farm. Within only 20 years the view would be very different.

Much of the above description is based on maps, but the maps can be supplemented and supported with evidence from early deeds relating to Brompton. The area now occupied by the High Street, Middle Street and Westcourt Street frequently appears in old deeds and letters from the late 17th and early 18th centuries named as “Sheeplands”. Brompton Wood is also well known from old documents as well as maps, and Wood Street sometimes seems to have been known as “Carpenter’s Lane” perhaps because the wood was used as a source of raw materials, perhaps for ship- and house-building, although one of the early occupants of the area was a Mr. Carpenter so he may have given his name to the Lane. South of Wood Street and east of Sheeplands was an area of orchards known as Garden Ground, this name still appearing in deeds as late as the early 19th century. Garden Ground (sometimes called Brompton Garden) seems to have been bounded on the south by a lane or road running east towards West Court Manor/Farm, to which these orchards almost certainly belonged, and which is now known as Garden Street. The Garden Ground seems to have covered the area now occupied by Manor Street and Mansion Row across to the Inner Lines. The eastern half of this area was part of the land bought by the War Department in 1709 to build the Lines. To the south of Garden Ground one early 18th century deed refers to “Lomepit Bensteds” which seems to have occupied the area of the northern part of Prospect Row and the southern side of Garden Street across to about where the inner side of King’s Bastion stands today. The name suggests that clay may have been dug here for brickmaking, and it was probably the first of the Gillingham brickworks. Whether there was a brick kiln at the site is unclear, although by the first decade of the 18th century Thomas Rogers (the owner of Westcourt Manor) had a brickworks in operation just east of here. One of the most intriguing, but sadly unidentified, features appears on an early 18th century map in the area at the southern end of what would become Prospect Row (at this date it was just a hedge line), what appears to be some kind of pre-historic barrow or stone circle. Sadly there are no other records of this feature, so whether it was just the map-maker on a flight of fancy or if it represents a prehistoric monument destroyed and unrecorded during the building of Chatham Barracks or Prospect Row we shall never know.

When the extension of the Dockyard brought it closer to the manor and woods it may also have lessened its attraction as a residence for gentlefolk, but it greatly enhanced the value of the demense lands, which were sold out as building plots for the erection of dwellings for Dockyard officials and workers.

It seems that from about 1695 plots of land were being sold from the demense lands of Westcourt Manor, and the settlement of Brompton was born. James Fisher (1771) tells us that the first new building was the “Sun in the Wood,” a ‘place of entertainment,’ in 1695. This public house was built in ‘the late Elizabethan timber style’ and was a long low fronted hostelry situated in what is now the High Street. Presumably it got its name from being ‘The Sun’ public house situated in (by) the (Brompton) Wood. It eventually burned down and was replaced by a new building which later became the Central Hotel.

Following the ‘Sun’ came a whole spate of building on land now owned and sold off in plots by Thomas Rogers who had acquired Westcourt in 1697, it seems with a view to developing it as housing for dockyard workers. Early maps and deeds suggest the street plan of Brompton was carefully laid out in a grid pattern still recognisable today, with the plots then sold off for building, making Brompton an early example of a planned ‘new town.’ An example of one of the early ‘developers’ of this ‘new town’ was John Bigg, who in 1701 buys a parcel of land from the area known as ‘sheeplands’ from Thomas Rogers “to build a range of houses and a highway north.” This is probably the road known as Brompton Street in early documents, that later became the High Street, as the deed mentions the new road joining the King’s Highway - presumably Wood Street. The name ‘Sheeplands’ appears on several other early deeds too, suggesting that much of Brompton was put to this use in the late 17th century. In 1703 John Bigg buys the “recently built Queen’s Head public house” consisting of “the Queen’s Head and washouse, outhouse, yard backside, boards-and-room with the little room next and adjoining thereto.” Other early public houses built within a decade of the Sun in the Wood were the ‘Prince of Orange’ (now the King George V) in Garden Street, presumably named in honour of the King (William III had been the Prince of Orange before his coronation) and the Golden Lion in the High Street, mentioned in documents dated 1704.

Brompton 1700-10

In 1709, by an Act of Parliament, the Government compulsorily purchased the land in Westcourt which Richard Burlley had indicated in 1654, along with a part of Upberry Manor and some land in Chatham, for the building of the Dockyard defences. This sudden desire to fortify the Yard after over 50 years of inactivity seems to have been caused by the attempted landing of the Jacobite Old Pretender in Scotland in 1708, and the fear that the French might use the Jacobite cause as an excuse to invade. Thomas Rogers protested against the low price paid, claiming that he had purchased much land in the area in order to build houses for dockyard employees, considering how far away from the yard Chatham now lay. He explained that he had built housing for himself and let and sold land to other builders resulting in over 100 houses having been built in the previous 11 years (since 1698). Rogers also owned a brickfield in Brompton, probably the one on the site that later became the Sally Port and King’s Bastion, which supplied the builders and he sold them at 18s. 6d. Per thousand. In many ways it could be said that Thomas Rogers was the founder of modern Brompton. It is possible that the grand house in Wood Street later known as Brompton House was the house Rogers built for himself.

Having looked at how Brompton started, let’s look at how it was recorded (the capitalization of Town, Village, etc is generally the author’s, not the original text, and is done for clarity.):

The earliest map I have found to show the settlement is the 1708 map produced showing ownership of the lands to be purchased for the building of the Dockyard defences. This shows Brompton already very well established, with a layout familiar today, with Wood Street, Middle Street, Westcourt Street, Garden Street and the High Street (then probably known as Brompton Street). All these streets seem considerably built up. On this first representation of the settlement, it is labelled “the TOWN of Brompton.”

The next reliable source is Lempriere’s map of 1719 showing the lands purchased for the defences in 1709. This shows Brompton somewhat expanded from the 1708 map, with more houses in Garden Street, including the Prince of Orange (King George V), and Broad Alley now appears. On this map the settlement is shown merely as “Brompton.”

From 1722-4 comea an engraving of a prospect of Rochester with Chatham and Brompton in the background. Although this does not denote town or village, the settlement is labelled as ‘Brumpton.’

Brompton 1722-4

The next source seems to be Samuel and Nathaniel Buck’s engraving of 1738 entitled “The West Prospect of His Majesty’s Dockyard Chatham.” This bears a description and a key to numbered features on the map. This description mentions Brompton as follows: “Upon an eminence adjoining to the Dock-yard is a very, neat, new and regular VILLAGE called Brompton chiefly inhabited by Shipwrights, Artificers and other Personsons employ’d in the Dock and Navy.”

A few years later, exact date unknown, the Gentleman’s Magazine published a tinted engraving entitled ‘The prospect of Chatham’ comprising view of Chatham Extra, Brompton and Frindsbury Peninsula (Frindsbury Extra) looking south-east from Frindsbury Church tower, showing in far distance Minster, Queenborough (1) and windmill in the Isle of Sheppey, in distance left to right, River Medway (Gillingham Reach), northern wall of dockyard, tower of Gillingham Church (2), the buildings of the dockyard (store house and mould loft (3), officers’ dwelling houses (4), BROMPTON VILLAGE (5), Commissioner’s House (not numbered), store house and sail loft (7), store house and rigging house (8), Dock Gate (9), rope house (10), store houses for cables (11), Anchor Wharf (12), New Stairs (13), store houses at Gun Wharf (14) and Hill House or Pay Office (16)), Chatham Windmill (15), St. Mary’s Church (17), Chatham Quay or Key (18) and River Medway (Chatham Reach) with moored hulks and sailing vessels (19), in middle distance Frindsbury Peninsula, Chatham Ness and Quarry House (20) and in foreground spectators and huntsmen on Windmill Hill. Apparently based on Samuel and Nathaniel Buck’s engraving of 1738.

Brompton 1738

In 1755 Thomas Milton produced a survey commissioned by Act of Parliament which he published under the title of “A Geometrical Plan & North West Elevation Of His Majesty's Dock-Yard at Chatham, with ye VILLAGE of Brompton adjacent.”

Brompton 1755

Next comes the map of Chatham Lines from the time of their building in 1756 showing Brompton having grown more with more houses in Wood Street, Garden Street and Prospect Row now visible. On this map the settlement is labelled only as “Brompton.”

Another map of 1786 showing the improvements to the Lines shows Brompton grown again, but now the beginnings of Manor Street and Mansion Row are visible. Once again the settlement is labelled just as “Brompton.”

Soon after this comes one of the first written descriptions, in the Universal Directory of 1790:
This is a place of some trade, though not a market town. It has a fair on the 22 May. It is partly in the parish of Chatham and partly in that of Gillingham. It is situated on an eminence and commands a pleasing view of the river, in its various directions. One row of houses, in particular is called, from its agreeable situation Prospect Row. Brompton, from its vicinity to the yard has much increased of late years in population and extent. The streets are wide and clean, for, lying on a declivity; the water is soon carried off. Behind and on each side of Brompton is a tract of land called the Works on which had formally been redoubts and a line of circumvallation was in the last war thrown up, by way of security to the Dockyard: which is now under very comfortable improvements; several out works are also erected for the more essential security of that important arsenal. Near Brompton are very commodious barracks for the reception of soldiers, which are reckoned the most healthy in England. In the summer of 1778 barracks were also erected for the reception of the marines. It owes principal support to the officers residing here and at Chatham; and is much resorted to by genteel company, having balls, assemblies, etc. in abundance. There are two castles on the shore near Brompton, opposite to each other, the one at Upnor, the other called Gillingham castle. Both designed to guard two reaches of the river; besides, at a place called The Swamp, a fort now, known by the name of Birds Nest Fort, and another at Cockham Wood, all which (though they might be made of great service in times of war, in case of such another daring attempts as the Dutch made upon the Royal Navy in this river on the 22nd of June 1667) are now quite neglected. It is 30 miles from London, and adjoining Chatham.
Whilst this is a pleasing description of the place it does not tell us whether it was considered a town or village.

Edward Hasted in his The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent (1798) gives descriptions of Gillingham and Chatham, both of which include Brompton:
Gillingham entry: Westward of the village [Gillingham] is Upberry and the manor house of Westcourt; beyond which the ground ascends to the summit of the chalk hill, on which is the TOWN of Brompton, having a most beautiful prospect over the river and the adjoining country; and close to it the lines of fortification, both already noticed in the description of the adjoining parish of Chatham, in which part of them lie; and below these the dock yard, part of which likewise is within this parish.
Chatham entry: and further on, the Royal Dock, above which, on the chalk hill, lies the VILLAGE of Brompton, situated partly in this parish, and partly in that of Gillingham, consisting of about four hundred houses, most of which have been erected within the memory of persons now living, and from its pleasantness and near situation to the dock-yard, is continually increasing. Near it are the barracks for the soldiers, which are surrounded by extensive lines of fortification, to defend the docks and stores, on any invasion of the enemy on the land side.

The proximity of so many barracks and the dockyard helps to explain the abundance of public houses in the area, but they also brought with them an increase of that oldest of professions, prostitution. By 1829 the justices’ clerks ordered a notice published, directed against prostitutes and collaborating alehouse-keepers, stating:
it having been represented to this sessions that there has of late taken place a great increase of open vice and immorality in the Town of Chatham and VILLAGE of Brompton through the great number of women of ill fame and their associates…..ordered….that upon complaint being exhibited and due proof made before the said justices against any loose and disorderly women of any immorality lewdness or indecency committed by them such women will be punished as the law directs.

Wright in his Topography of 1838 describes Brompton thus:
Brompton is a HAMLET in the parishes of Gillingham and Chatham, lathe of Aylesford. This VILLAGE which is pleasantly situated on the chalk-hill, above the Royal Dock of Chatham, towards the south-east, consists of between 400 and 500 houses, most of which have been erected within the memory of persons now living; and it is continually increasing in size. The first building erected here is believed to have been a house of public entertainment, distinguished by the sign of the ‘Sun in the Wood,’ which was built about the year 1695.
The VILLAGE of Brompton is principally inhabited by the artificers and others employed in the Dockyard. The entire neighbourhood is strongly fortified with the outposts connected with Chatham Lines, which were constructed for the defence of the arsenal, pursuant to an Act passed in 1758, and extended by a subsequent Act passed in 1782. It is celebrated for its fine barracks for the Royal Artillery, and the establishment of the Royal Sappers and Miners, under the command of Colonel Pasely, C.B., R.E., for initiating the officers and men in the practical duties of field fortification, sapping anf mining, &c.
Brompton forms part of the Borough of Chatham, and the population is returned with that of the two parishes in which it is situate.

Pigots Directory 1840 – Chatham, etc gives this description:
Situated a little distance NE of Chatham are the two VILLAGES of Brompton and Gillingham. The first named is a hamlet in the parish of Gillingham and lies at the extremity of the parish, on the brow of a hill that overlooks the Royal dock yard at Chatham and within the fortifications called the Lines. The inhabitants of both VILLAGES are persons principally employed on the fortifications, in the dock yard and in other avocations connected with the naval service. The church at Gillingham is dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, is a spacious structure, with a chapel on each side of the chancel exhibiting architecture of the Norman style; the church contains some monuments of early date and a very capacious font of high antiquity; the benefice is a vicarage, in the patronage of the principal and fellows of Brazenose college, Oxford. There are some charitable bequests to the parish and a national school. At Brompton is a place of worship for Wesleyan methodists. The parish of Gillingham contained in 1831, 6764 inhabitants.
By comparison, in the same year, the neighbouring parish of Chatham contained almost 17,000 inhabitants.

Melvilles 1858 Directory of Kent:
BROMPTON is in the borough of Chatham. The church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, was erected in 1848; the Rev. D. Cooke, incumbent.
No help here.

Kellys Directory Of Kent for 1882:
OLD BROMPTON is an ecclesiastical parish, formed in 1847 out of the parishes of Chatham and Gillingham, adjoining Chatham on the north and north-west and Gillingham on the north and north-east; it is in the Mid division of the country, Medway union, Gillingham local board district, Rochester county court district, Chatham and Gillingham hundred, lathe of Aylesford and Rochester rural deanery, archdeaconry and diocese. The church of The Holy Trinity, erected in 1848 at the expense of the Rev. William and Miss Conway, is a building of brick, with Bath stone dressings, in the Early English style and consists of chancel, nave with clerestory, lighted by ten two-light windows, aisles separated from the nave by arcades of five bays, chantry, south porch, and a tower with spire containing a clock and 1 bell: in the chancel is a memorial window to Dr Henry Weekes, of this parish: the church will seat 1,000, 240 sittings being free. The register dates from the year 1847. The living is a vicarage, gross yearly value £300, with residence, in the gift of Hyndman’s trustees and held since 1847 by the Rev. Daniel Cooke of Queens’ College Cambridge, hon. Canon of Rochester (1881). There are Catholic and Wesleyan chapels.
Once again, no help here.

An indication about how important and prosperous Brompton had become by the early 19th century can be found in Leeds (1906). In his section on High Constables of Gillingham he records the memories James Boyer Steadman, High Constable of Gillingham in 1852-3, concerning High Constable Mr Steadman remembered from his youth. Among these memories we learn:
One of the earliest High Constables that he calls to mind is Albermarle Tracey, who presided over the Court Leet in 1823-4. He was a bookseller at Old Brompton, from which place the majority of the High Constables came at that time. New Brompton was unknown then, and Gillingham was little more than an important village. It was Old Brompton that was the centre of social life and commercial activity. In bygone days High Constable’s Day was a big local event. The day’s programme opened with a breakfast at the “Golden Lion,” Old Brompton. Then came the business meeting at the Manor House, “Ye Old Five Bells,” and in the evening a public dinner was held in Old Brompton. With the growth of what was termed “the Colony” over the Lines, it was deemed advisable to alter the programme. In place of the little groups of tradesmen and others who used to dine at the “Golden Lion,” we had in later years the representative assemblies at the High Constable’s banquets at the Public Hall.
Although this shows how important Brompton had become, it does not tell us whether it was considered a town or village.

Brompton 1819

This trend of not identifying Brompton as anything but a parish, if at all, seems to have been universal in written sources in the later 19th and 20th centuries, and on maps generally appears as simply Brompton or Old Brompton. So the question still stands – Brompton: Town or Village?

Whether a town or village, one thing that has been instrumental in the growth and character of Brompton is the fact that it is cut off from the rest of Medway by military installations, not allowing it to gradually expand and merge with other surrounding villages as happened with so many of the other villages swallowed up into the Medway conurbation.

**********

From John Jones, chairman of the Brompton Village Association:

When in 2009 we decided to move forward with the words Brompton Village Association the thinking was that we should try to diversify our activities outwards from the narrower emphasis on conservation which almost by definition meant that those interested would be drawn more from the older houses in the area. I think we can state with confidence that we have started to make some impact. We have a diverse programme of social and policy activities and involved people from throughout Brompton and of different ages. We have also given a lift to the profile of Brompton.

As to what sort of place we are, we considered the term quite carefully and after discussion decided on the term village, mostly because we recognised that the earlier importance of Brompton, particularly for shopping and work and church activities had diminished quite significantly so it would be inappropriate to call ourselves a town. Nevertheless we are more than a suburb of either Chatham or Gillingham, part of which itself was once known as New Brompton, thus showing the earlier importance of Brompton. In many areas of industrial England people live and work in villages, notwithstanding these are not pristine and rural. Hence we do not try to mislead anyone by this nomenclature.

In the end I don't think there is that much in a name; much more important is what we make of our place.

 

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