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Chatham - England
Chatham is one of the Medway towns located within the Medway unitary authority, in North Kent, in South East England. Although the dockyard has long been closed and is now being redeveloped into a business and residential community as well as a museum featuring the famous submarine, HMS Ocelot, major naval buildings remain as the focus for a flourishing tourist industry. Chatham Dockyard, located on the River Medway and of which two-thirds is in Gillingham and one third in Chatham, Kent, England, came into existence at the time when, following the Reformation, relations with the Catholic countries of Europe had worsened, making it neccessary to acquire additional defences.
For 414 years Chatham Dockyard provided over 500 ships for the Royal Navy, and was forefront of shipbuilding, industrial and architectural technology. At its height, it employed over 10,000 skilled artisans and covered 400 acres or 1.6 km². Chatham dockyard closed in 1984, and 84 acres or 340,000 m2 of the Georgian dockyard is now managed as a visitor attraction by the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust. Chatham also has military connections; several Army barracks were located here, together with 19th century forts which provided a defensive shield for the dockyard. Brompton Barracks, located in the town, remains the headquarters of the Corps of Royal Engineers. The town has important road links and the railway and bus stations are the main interchanges for the area. It is the administrative headquarters of Medway unitary authority, as well as its principal shopping center. The Treasurer of the Navy's accounts of the King's Exchequer for the year of 1544 identifies Deptford as the Dockyard that carried out all the major repairs to the King's Ships that year.
That was soon to change, although Deptford remained a dockyard for over three centuries. In 1547 Jillingham water, as Chatham Dockyard was then known, is mentioned as second only in importance to Deptford; followed by Woolwich, Portsmouth and Harwich. In 1550 ships that were then lying off Portsmouth were ordered to be harboured in Jillingham Water, by reason of its superior strategic location. Chatham was established as a royal dockyard by Elizabeth I in 1567. She herself visited the yard in 1573. By the late 17th century it was the largest refitting dockyard and very important during the Dutch wars. The Medway, apart from Chatham Dockyard, has always had an important role in transportation: historically it provided a means for the transport of goods to and from the interior of Kent. Stone, timber and iron from the Weald for shipbuilding and agricultural produce were among the cargos.
Sun Pier in Chatham was one of many such along the river. By 1740, barges of forty tons could navigate as far upstream as Tonbridge. Today its use is confined to tourist traffic and apart from the marina, there are many yacht moorings on the river itself.
Chatham is the hub of the Medway Towns. This fact means that the existing road system has always proved inadequate for the amount of traffic it has to handle, and various schemes have been tried to alleviate the congestion. The High Street itself is traffic-free, so all traffic has to skirt around it. The basic west-east routes are The Brook to the north and New Road to the south, but the additional problems caused by the situation of the Pentagon Bus Station meant that conflicting traffic flows were the result. In the 1980s the Chatham town center was remodelled and an inner ring road – a one-way system – was constructed. This was completed with the construction of the Sir John Hawkins Flyover opened in 1989 carrying the south to north traffic over the High Street.
In September 2006, the one-way system was abandoned and two-way traffic reintroduced on most of the ring-road system. Further work on the road system commenced early in 2009, and as of early 2010, the demolition of the Sir John Hawkins Flyover has been completed. It is to be replaced by a street-level, buses only, road coupled with repositioning of the bus station. Be warned the sat-nav will try and take you down the bus road and a week later an automated fine will arrive in the post for making a wrong turn. Chatham railway station, opened in 1858, serves both the North Kent and the Chatham Main Lines, and is the interchange between the two lines. It lies in the valley between the Fort Pitt and the Chatham Tunnels. There are four trains an hour to London Victoria, and two trains an hour to London Charing Cross. The former services run to Dover and Ramsgate; the latter terminate at Gillingham. Part of the industrial railway in what is now Chatham Historic Dockyard is still in operation, run by the North Kent Industrial Locomotive Society.
The term 'chav', supposedly derives from the romany word for 'youngster'. However, one of many popularly suggested origins for the word 'Chav' is an abbreviation of 'Chatham Average', alluding to a public perception of a segment of Chatham residents as tracksuit-wearing, gold hoop-earringed common people with a penchant for hard drinking, recreational drug use, and aggressive and anti-social behaviour. On a cultural level, Chatham also gave birth to several movements in literature, art and music. In the period from 1977 until 1982 the Medway Delta Sound emerged from tis area. The term was coined as a joke by Chatham born writer painter and musician Billy Childish after Russ Wilkins' Medway based record label, Empire Records, used the phrase "from the Medway Delta". Several Medway Delta bands gained international recognition, including The Milkshakes, The Prisoners, The Daggermen, The Dentists, Christopher Broderick and The Singing Loins. In the mid to late 1980s a scene of more contemporary indie bands emerged, centered around Churchill's pub, and organising themselves within the Medway Bands Co-operative.
There was a resurgence in the live music scene in the early 2000s, with an initial focus on the Tap 'n' Tin venue in Chatham. The spirit of the original Medway Delta was revived by music and poetry evenings promoted by Dave Wise's Urban Fox organisation, which also published several books by Medway poets and artists. In 2008 the independent arts organization Medway Eyes was founded, specializing in music and photography. Medway Eyes has promoted several arts exhibitions and gigs at The Barge in Gillingham and The Nags Head in Rochester. The Medway Poets were formed in 1977 and disbanded in 1982 having performed at major literary festivals and on TV and Radio. They became a major influence to writers in the Medway Towns. From the core of this group the anti conceptual/pro painting movements of Stuckism and Remodernism came into being. Recent Medway artists of note include Kid Harpoon, Crybaby Special and The Monsters, Red Light, Underground Heroes, Tyrannosaurus Alan, Pete Molinari, Lupen Crook, Stuart Turner and Theatre Royal.
Chatham became a market town in its own right in the 19th century, and a municipal borough in 1890. By 1831 its population had reached more than 16,000. By 1961 it had reached 48,800. The closure of the Dockyard has had the effect of changing the employment statistics of the town. About 7,000 people lost their jobs. The unemployment rate went down to 23.5%. There has been a concerted effort to revitalise the Thames Gateway area and one of the largest employers in Chatham is now Vanquis Bank Ltd, a subsidiary of Provident Financial. The Chatham Naval Memorial commemorates the 18,500 officers, ranks and ratings of the Royal Navy who were lost or buried at sea in the two world wars. It stands on the Great Lines, the escarpment ridge between Chatham and Gillingham. The Grade II listed building Chatham Town Hall was built in 1900 standing in the Brook and is of a unique architectural design. With the town being part of Medway conurbation, it took on a new role as an arts center and in 1996 became the Brook Theatre.
The Pentagon Centre which incorporates Chatham Bus Station, stands in the town center. Charles Dickens lived in the town as a boy, both in 'The Brook, Chatham' and in Ordnance Terrace before Chatham railway station was built just opposite. He subsequently described it as the happiest period of his childhood, and eventually returned to the area in adulthood when he bought a house in nearby Gad's Hill. Medway often features in his novels. Current England international footballer Chris Smalling of Manchester United attended Chatham Grammar School for Boys as well as George Boyd of Peterborough United was born in Chatham and footballer Lee Minshull of AFC Wimbledon .
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