A brief history of Broomhill Park

Broomhill is part of the North Downs ridge of chalk that finishes on the Hoo Peninsular and was formed in the cretaceous period. Archaeological evidence indicates that there has been human activity on the hill since the Stone Age:  Remains of ancient flint mines have been found and it continued to be mined until the late 19th century. At Piper’s House Farm there is evidence of the chalk pits being used as refuges by Ancient Britons when under attack. Chalk was quarried at Broomhill from Roman times until the last quarry was closed in the middle of the 20th century. Through the ages the chalk has been used not only for building and cement production but also, from the Middle Ages until the late 19th century, for making lime.  (Records show several 19th century lime kilns on the hill.)

Through history, the summit has been used strategically in battle:  In the Roman colonization of AD43 the Cantii (Kentish British Tribes) inhibited the Romans crossing the Medway at Rochester, using look out posts positioned on Broomhill.  Again, in 1264 Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and leader of the 2nd Barons’ uprising, used Broomhill to plan his strategy for capturing Rochester Castle. Broomhill then played a key part in the 1554 Thomas Wyatt rebellion. It was a crucial beacon in the Spanish Armada early-warning beacon network from Southeast coastal points to London. During the 17th century Civil War, When the Cavaliers eventually forced Cromwell's Roundheads out of Rochester Cathedral they fled over Broomhill to Gravesend.

An Anglo-Saxon grave was found on the site which contained a spearhead, knife and bronze ring set with an amethyst which can be seen in Rochester Museum.   Also found on the hill have been the skeletons of the sailors and inhabitants of Strood buried during the spotted fever out break in 1657.

In the late 18th early 19th Century navvies tunnelled under the hill to construct a tunnel for the Thames and Medway Canal. The canal never made a profit and was eventually sold to the railway company It was drained and is now used as the railway line from Strood to Gravesend. Turner and Hogarth both drew and painted views of and from Broomhill.

There were windmills on Broomhill from the Middle Ages' 'Post Mills' to the early 20th Century. During the 19th Century there were at least six. The owner of Field's Mill was an amateur musician. He kept a piano, a harp, and a barrel organ in his sitting room. It is said that the Organ was bought from Loose Church, and so fixed that the power from the mill turned the organ's handle. Dickens would visit the Mill on his walks and listen to the organ music. Fields Mill burnt down in 1875.  Another was Killick's Mill was built in 1819. (This  had 6 sides as opposed to the more usual 8-sided mills.) The cap was blown off for the second time in 1880. It was replaced and worked again for a year in 1890 but was unprofitable and so stood derelict until it was pulled down in the 1920s. In the First World War a German spy was arrested for photographing ships in the Dockyard from one of the mills on Broomhill. The artist Evelyn Dunbar lived in the mill house of another mill. She used the eyrie at the top of the house to paint the panoramic views as well as another of her paintings you may know of her 2nd World War depiction of Fish Shop Queue in Strood High Street. (Now in the Imperial War Museum.)

After the 1st World War, allotments were plotted out and sold. By this time housing development had also begun to creep up the hill.

In 1940, during the 2nd World War, a German Messerschmitt plane crashed on the hill. The wounded pilot was helped by a young woman, who stopped onlookers attacking him. He was taken to Chatham Police Station by the Home Guard with fixed bayonets, followed by an angry crowd of housewives wielding brooms and spades. In 1955 the pilot returned to thank the doctor who treated him and the young woman who had helped him.

Prefab Housing

In 1946-47 some 100 prefab bungalows were built on the top of the hill because of the housing shortage.  The prefabs were all demolished by 1977, when, after a public outcry over Council plans to build ten detached houses on the hill, the summit was declared a park to prevent any further incursion on one of Medway’s greenspaces.

Map A from 1970, shows Merlin Road, and an extended King Arthur's Drive before the creation of the Park. This is where the prefabs were.

Map B from 1988 shows that Merlin Road had disappeared, along with a section of King Arthur's Drive that is now the car park.