This article appeared in the Winter 1971 (Issue #27) edition of the Kent Archaeological Review.
Permission should be sought from the Honorary editor (in writing) to reproduce or quote from articles in the K A R.
The CKA and the Honorary Editor are not responsible for opinions and statements expressed by contributors to the K A R.
'Maginot Line' at Farningham.
At a point 1450 metres north-west of Eynsford Castle and behind the western ridge of the Darent valley are the almost complete remains of a very interesting military building constructed towards the end of the 19th century. This building (situated at NGR TQ 533 669) often erroneously referred to as a "fort" is in fact one of a series of defended storehouses erected during the period 1890-96 as part of an ambitious scheme for the defence of London.
During the 1880s there was considerable unease about the ability of the Royal Navy to defend our shores against the landing of hostile enemy troops. Battleship production among the European powers, particularly Germany, France and Russia was proceeding at an alarming rate and some of our legislators considered that there was an urgent need to make provision for the defence of London against an overland attack from the general direction of the South-East coast.
Recommendations were made for a defensive line occupying the ridge of the chalk escarpment from Guildford to Knockholt and up the western ridge of the Darent valley and on into South Essex Ultimately the line would probably have been formed of light entrenchments with redoubts and fortified storehouses, making maximum use of the concealment offered by the terrain. In time of war, Volunteer infantry and artillery from London would have manned the line and carefully co-ordinated, and overlapping arcs of fire covering the forward ground would have been devised. The storehouses were to act as forming-up points for the Volunteers who were to move to predetermined places in the line. Already filled with ammunition and supplies, the storehouses would have met the immediate demands of defence. Of this defensive line only the defended storehouses were built. Many were sited at strategic locations which even today would be ideal for artillery defence and so their admitted similarity to battery-like fortifications makes it easy to see how they have often been mistaken for forts.
The Farningham storehouse is typical of the 15 others which were built. It consists of a system of underground casemates and store-rooms covered with an earthen mound as defence against the penetration of enemy shells. The position is surrounded by a deep ditch and there are remains of a metal fence to prevent escalade. The most likely direction of incoming shells was from the east and so the entrance was placed on the western side (see photograph). There are flights of steps from inside the entrance to the top of the earthen mound where there is a clear view forward of about 600 metres over the "killing ground" between the storehouse and the edge of the ridge. This would have been useful for small arms defence against an infantry attack. There is a covered way which leads into the forward ground from underneath the mound. The exit would have been an ideal position for a concealed machine gun. The rear of the storehouse is protected by a wall and rifle parapet behind the ditch.
The storehouse was not in any way self-defensible and was never intended to be anything more than a 'larder' for the guns. What defences it had were merely token. A lodge with loopholes was built to the rear of the storehouse but it could hardly have formed any military function beyond the quarters for the caretaker.
By the middle of the first decade of the 20th century faith in the ability of the Royal Navy was restored and the idea of the defensive line was dropped and the land already purchased was sold.
The site was examined by the Gravesend Environmental Studies Research Group in October, 1971.