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Kent Archaeological Review extract

The Lost Higham Blockhouse.
by Victor Smith.

For many years there has been considerable controversy over the site of the lost Tudor blockhouse on the south bank of the Thames at Higham. The block house was built in 1539 as part of Henry the Eighth's plan for National defence against a threatened invasion from Europe. In all, five artillery blockhouses were erected covering the mouth of the Thames: one at Tilbury and one at East Tilbury in Essex and two at Gravesend and one at Higham in Kent. They were D-shaped structures of brick and stone (bastion-like) possibly with light guns mounted it casemates as well as on the roof. Heavier guns would have been mounted behind an earthen parapet on either flank.

The Higham blockhouse was disarmed in 1553 after the period of danger had passed and mysteriously was never rearmed to meet fresh danger as were other fortifications on the banks of the river. Perhaps the marshy nature of the ground produced subsidence as happened in the case of the later Shornemead Fort and the expense of repairs was not considered to be justified. Historians have always wondered where it was actually built but until recently no conclusive evidence was forthcoming but from geographical and cartographic considerations it is now fairly certain where the Higham blockhouse was located.

In the 16th century the marshes at Higham were subject to frequent inundation for there were no defences against the action of tides by today's standards Clearly, a blockhouse on the bank of the Thames would require a dry means of access from the hinterland for the delivery of supplies and ammunition and also be sited at a position offering maximum tactical value and effective co-ordination with the guns of the other blockhouses. Geographically, there is only one place where both criteria are met and this is at the end of Higham Causeway, a dry route from Beckley Hill to the edge of the Thames at a point where the river bends. A blockhouse located here where the causeway projects beyond the modern sea wall (NGR TQ 701 754) would have raked both the Lower Hope and the eastern part of Gravesend Reach and would have linked very well with the fire-plan of the other works. This logic is confirmed by the mention on a Tithe Map of a field called "Blockhouse Field' at this exact spot, where also rubble debris of uncertain date has recently been found, together with bricks which might be Tudor. Here there is also a break in the line of a quite apparent bank. This might, possibly be where part of the blockhouse establishment was situated. Unfortunately, the river is eating into the marsh outside the sea wall at this spot and unless something is done soon, what may prove to be valuable evidence may well be lost.

The Gravesend Environmental Studies Research Group will be sending a team to investigate.

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