As the maritime route to London, in which the political and economic life of the country was centred, the security of the Thames involved vital national interests. By the 1530s around 80% of English exports passed along the river. As well as commercial interests there were the important royal dockyards at Deptford and Woolwich to defend. The arsenal at Woolwich became the central store for England. By the 19th century London and the Thames had evolved into the hub of a burgeoning worldwide empire.
Defence of the Thames in time of war was, therefore, bound up with the security of the nation. The banks of the narrowing stretch of water known as Gravesend Reach became important for the siting of defences to oppose the way upstream to an enemy fleet. Artillery forts were first established here in 1539/40 under Henry V111’s national scheme of defence against a feared continental invasion. These were improved and supplemented by other works during the following centuries.
It was not until the 1780s that New Tavern Fort was added to this network of defences. The Fort was retained as an active element of these defences until the early years of the 20th century. Its several stages of rebuilding and rearming allow us to trace the evolution of the defensive systems in response to international tensions and the developments in the technology of war over a period of 150 years.
The Fort, its magazines and these changes are presented in an ongoing programme of restoration, rearmament and display to visitors. Volunteers of the New Tavern Fort Project in partnership with Gravesham Borough Council have undertaken this work since 1975. The aim of this work is to promote an understanding of the Fort as both a defensive organism and a military community as well as to explain its historical context.
Visitor Information 2013
Weekends only April - September 12noon - 5pm
£1 per person
Free adult and children's audio tour available from Reception
This guide will reveal the fort’s fascinating history, from its beginnings in the 1780’s to what we believe was its use for Civil Defence in the Second World War. You will learn about life inside the fort – from the soldiers’ living conditions, the operation of the heavy guns and the use of the zigzag ramparts outside. As you follow the tour you will hear from some of the people who work here as volunteers.
School Group Visits
Group visits are available outside of the normal opening times, please contact Towncentric for further information. Education packs will be available early 2013.
Defending London’s River – The Fortification of the Thames 1380 – 1956 by Victor Smith
Defending London’s River 2 – New Tavern Fort, Gravesend by Victor Smith
Defending London’s River 3 – The Gravesend Blockhouse by Victor Smith and Eric R Green
See Publications page.