The History of Fort Amherst
Fort Amherst is situated in Chatham, a town in the county of Kent in southeast England, roughly 45 minutes from London.
It was built in 1756 as a defensive post for maritime wartime, defending Britain from French invasion. The fort is steeped in military history and is the best-preserved Napoleonic fort seen today.
Overlooking the Medway River, its prime location (situated on the Medway’s highest point) was the county’s first line of defence back in the day. The Medway River was a crucial waterway into the heart of Kent and the Royal Dockyard was a key naval post of England at the time.
Why was Fort Amherst built?
Tension between England and France was rife in the mid-18th century due to colonial ambitions in North America and other parts of the world. The Seven Years’ War, between 1756 and 1763, was the turning point for England; as the British government anticipated a potential French invasion.
The Amherst Fortress was built as a defence strategy to safeguard the entry to the Medway River and, in turn, the Royal Dockyard at Chatham.
Design and features
During the American Revolution War (1778 – 1783), the Chatham Line fortifications underwent a major upgrade. The purpose of the revamps was to strengthen the strongholds in ‘Amherst’ (in the south) and ‘Townsend’ (in the north). ‘Amherst’ later became known as Fort Amherst.
The initial design of the fort was to provide a “layer of defence”, including a series of earthworks, ditches, and bastions. The state-of-the-art design of the Amherst Fortress was equipped with powerful artillery that could blast away any approaching attacking force!
As military technology and warfare tactics evolved, the Amherst Garrison needed further upgrades.
- Britain anticipated Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion during The Napoleonic War (late 18th century to early 19th century) and Fort Amherst’s defences were enhanced. These modifications included extra batteries, while the ditches were reinforced with brick.
- The Victorian Era witnessed another round of renovations. Prisoners from St Mary’s Island were sent to work at the fort. The expansions included additional barracks, gun batteries, guardrooms, storage facilities, and an intricate tunnel system carved into the chalk cliffs.
- All construction was completed in 1820 and the fort was a training ground during the Victorian times.
- During World War II, the underground tunnels were repurposed as air raid shelters when Germany dropped bombs on the UK.
- Finally, in 1959, the Amherst Stronghold was declared an ancient monument.
Fun fact: During the construction in 1779, workers found the ruins of an old Roman building. They also found gold coins from Empress Faustina and Emperor Claudius’s era!
In 1970 The Ministry of Defence was permitted to restore the entire Napoleonic fort to its former grandeur. Later on, it was purchased by the ministry in 1980.
Currently, the Amherst Fortress is managed by the Fort Amherst Heritage Trust.
With years of history, the Fort is known to have a few ghosts lurking around. Many who have visited Amherst Fortification have said the tunnel tours definitely had their hairs standing on end.
In the shadowy depths of the labyrinth of tunnels, the restless spirits of poltergeists have a spine-chilling presence. Among them, the apparition of an old soldier, likely murdered during the war, haunts the lower gun level. What makes this even more scary is that his ghostly form emerges only to those who work at the fort or have visited regularly.
His eerie presence is felt with an ominous whisper in the dark, sending shivers down your spine. Those who encounter him report a fleeting glimpse of a dark figure in the corner of their eye and the eerie echo of heavy military boots stomping in the darkness.
The fearful sound of children crying is often heard in and around the fort, often from the darkest corners of the tunnels. And when you hear that woman mourning – it’s downright frightening!
Some of Fort Amherst’s tunnels are over 750 meters long and 20 meters deep and the ghosts of the tunnels are not shy to make themselves known. Many guests have reported hearing someone (or something!) whispering into their ears or have the feeling of being touched!
Visitors have often had to wipe “tiny, child-like handprints” off their clothing when leaving the tunnel network – possibly because the spirits don’t want them to leave…
Thankfully, for those who dabble in the odd ghost-hunting expedition, the fort is open once a month between 19:00 and 23:45 to investigate the spookiness. Just don’t forget to arm yourself with pendulums, dowsing rods, and other ghost-hunting equipment to get the most out of your visit!
Search (and connect!) with spiritual beings from yesteryear as you wander through the elaborate tunnel network and old buildings. Tickets cost £30 per person and can be booked online. As you can imagine, this one’s not for the kiddos, so you’ll have to be over 18 years old to visit.
Side note: If you’ve got a budding ghost hunter on your hands, the Fort Amherst Ghost Tour runs twice a month and is suitable for 8 – 18-year-olds. Tickets cost £15 per person.
Visiting Fort Amherst
Britain’s largest Napoleonic fort is free to enter and is open most days throughout the year. Explore 20 acres of open green spaces, fit for the whole family to enjoy.
The Fort Amherst Heritage Trust certainly has done a marvellous job in preserving the history of this iconic structure; a place that has endured world wars, Napoleonic times and warfare!
What to do
Explore local history as you wander through the entire Napoleonic fort. The Amherst Outpost offers:
- Daily tunnel tours – at an additional charge
- Fort Amherst Halloween Horrors – an annual fundraising affair
- Spectacular views of Medway River
- Some of the original canons fired periodically
- Interactive experiences for children
- Special events – Fort Amherst talks, paranormal investigations (18 and older), lectures and workshops
- A collection of historical artefacts, including weapons, ammunition, canons and vehicles
Fun fact: The Amherst Fortress offers a wide range of filming opportunities and its location has been used for blockbuster movies, such as:
- Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
- The Darkest Hour
- Jekyll & Hyde
- Partners In Crime
Who is Fort Amherst named after?
The Amherst Fortress is named after Colonel William Amherst.
How old is Fort Amherst?
The Fort is 267 years old and is the best-preserved Napoleonic fort in Britain.
How much does it cost to go to Fort Amherst?
The Amherst Fortress – and its connecting Great Lines Heritage Park – is free to enter! The Amherst Bastion welcomes dogs and is a great place for all the family to enjoy. However, you will need to pay for additional tunnel tours, special events, and workshops.
Where else can I hunt ghosts in England?
Fort Amherst has stood proud, winning many battles, and defending Britain during two world wars. Explore England’s best-preserved fort throughout the year, and if you’re lucky, catch a gory glimpse of one of the spirits lurking in the intricate tunnels…
A true paranormal investigator’s dream destination, that’s for sure!