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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Tudor Blockhouse at Gravesend.
by Victor Smith.

Readers of the Kent Archaeological Review will have noticed in previous issues some articles concerning the history of coastal artillery defences on the banks of the lower Thames. The articles relate to detailed research, now nearly complete, upon which the writer has been engaged since 1964. As part of this research and with the kind consent of the Gravesend Corporation, the writer is to investigate a small part of the north-east corner of Gravesend's riverside Gordon Pleasure Gardens, (NGR TQ 655 743) for traces of a suspected Tudor artillery blockhouse.

In 1540, a part of a plan for national defence, five artillery blockhouses were erected on the banks of the Thames (one at Tilbury, one at East Tilbury, two at Gravesend and one at Higham) to cover the river with fire from Gravesend Reach to the Lower Hope. Today, none of these blockhouses remains above ground: the one at Tilbury was much altered in later developments of Tilbury Fort and its foundations are probably under the south-east curtain; the westernmost block-house at Gravesend, which was incorporated into Blockhouse Fort, was also altered and its foundations now lie inaccessibly beneath the riverside car park at the Clarendon Royal Hotel; the East Tilbury blockhouse was eroded and washed away by the river tides over two centuries ago and, further consideration of the position of the Higham blockhouse (see KAR Number 28 (1972) pages 251-252) suggests a similar fate, although debris noted in the side of Shorne Creek may possibly be part of a wharf. Nevertheless it seems clear from several considerations that the map reference given in KAR Number 28 must certainly represent the probable approximate site of the blockhouse at Higham.

This leaves the eastern blockhouse at Gravesend which was abandoned in 1553. If the foundations of this, or even part of them, can be found it will provide a good opportunity of studying the method of construction and the extent of the blockhouse building. Likewise if a landward ditch can be traced, the information gleaned from a careful examination could prove useful evidence for the arrangements present at the other four Thames blockhouses. However, when the Gordon Pleasure Gardens were established in the 1890's landscaping (of a previously low-lying marshy terrain) took place and some features of the blockhouse establishment, if it existed here, may have been masked or damaged.

The selection of the north-east corner of the Gordon Pleasure Gardens for excavation was made because a Board of Ordnance map of 1796 shows an enigmatic horseshoe shaped rampart and ditch at this spot and also because R P Cruden's "History of Gravesend" (1843) records the finding in 1826 of some possible Tudor bricks in a position adjacent. An eyewitness observed that the bricks were of a similar type to those present in the structure of thc western Gravesend blockhouse which was then still standing.

Any findings will be reported in a future issue of the KAR.

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