A multi-million pound award from the National Lottery Heritage Fund means a Victorian funicular passenger carriage being restored with help from the Rochester Bridge Trust will soon be back in public service.
The Leas Lift in Folkestone is scheduled to reopen in 2025 after a recent £4.8m lottery grant completed a £6.6m fundraising campaign to pay for essential repairs.
Among the work being carried out is the refurbishment of one of its carriages, which the Trust is supporting with a £25,000 grant.
The 138-year-old, Grade II* listed structure is one of only three water-balanced lifts to survive in the UK. Opened in 1885, the seafront funicular carried more than 36 million passengers until it was forced to close in 2017 due to issues with its brakes.
Rochester Bridge Trust’s Operations and Grants Manager Andrew Freeman said: “The Leas Lift is a wonderful piece of Victorian ingenuity which retains its original engineering system, including its 1890 reciprocating pumps and the only working band brake in a funicular railway worldwide. We were pleased to be able to contribute to the preservation of this piece of engineering heritage.”
Education and local history saw Command of the Heights at Fort Amherst secure a £7,500 grant at the start of 2019.
The grant went towards opening up a new entrance to Fort Amherst, from The Brook, Chatham, with the creation of an interpretation of the historic Barrier Ditch drawbridge, which will be sited at the bridge entrance.
Members of the public will be able to operate the model in order to learn how previous defences at the fort worked.
This will complement the fort’s new education programme aimed at Key Stages 1 and 2, enabling the offering to be extended to include the drawbridge model and additional bridge activities related to science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) learning.
Caroline Chisholm, Education Manager at the Rochester Bridge Trust, said: “The Command of the Heights’ application for funding matches the education and local historical values of the Rochester Bridge Trust.
“We are particularly pleased to see that this project will enable visitors to engage with a working model drawbridge, as well as providing greater opportunities for bridge building activities to inspire tomorrow’s engineers and their families.”
The rich history of Folkestone and one of England’s most important medieval saints has been brought to life with help from the Rochester Bridge Trust.
A grant of £2,000 was presented to the Digging the Bayle project, which was part of a larger scheme known as Finding Eanswythe: the Life and Afterlife of an Anglo-Saxon Saint.
Eanswythe was a Kentish royal saint and the granddaughter of Ethelbert, the first English king to convert to Christianity under Augustine. In around 630AD she is believed to have founded one of the earliest monastic communities in England, on the Bayle, the historic centre of Folkestone.
The Bayle is a little understood site which includes early building foundations, rare medieval grave markers and more. This project used 3D scanners and traditional methods of building photography to record the complex heritage that is hiding in plain sight, the aim being to bring the history to life.
The excavation and recording work for the Finding Eanswythe project was completed in 2021, with the results gradually being added to the website https://findingeanswythe.uk/
Andrew Freeman, Operations & Grants Manager at the Rochester Bridge Trust, said: “St Eanswythe is an important historical figure, and The Bayle is one of the present day places where elements of her history are brought to life. The Trust was pleased to be able to support this project that helps us all to appreciate how the impact of the past is still felt today.”
Medway Aircraft Preservation Society was presented with a grant of £40,000 in 2013, towards the restoration of a rare Scion Floatplane that had been built by aviation pioneers the Short Brothers.
Built in 1933, the Scion Floatplane G-AEZF is one of five Shorts’ 22 Scions with floats. It saw service in the UK and Sierra Leone before returning to Shorts at Rochester, where it was converted into a land plane. In their heyday, the six-passenger Scions flew pleasure trips from Medway to Ramsgate and Southend.
This particular plane was last seen flying in 1963. Medway Aircraft Preservation Society discovered its remains at Redhill Aerodrome.
Once restored, the Scion Floatplane will be an eye-catching addition to Rochester Airport.
At the time of the grant, Malcolm Moulton, Chairman of Medway Aircraft Preservation Society, said: “Our members, who hold the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, are honoured to receive this support. The five-year project will display to the public this one remaining example of the many seaplanes and flying boats built on the River Medway since 1913.”
In spring 2022, the society was visited by HRH the Duchess of Cornwall. Find out more and read an update here.
Granite paving blocks that once formed part of Rochester Esplanade have found a new lease of life a few hundred yards from their former home.
Removed during the 2019/2020 Rochester Bridge Refurbishment Project, the setts (to give them their proper name) were surplus to requirements. But being granite, they still had many years of wear left in them.
Determined not to consign them to landfill, the Trust went looking for someone who could make good use of them – and our neighbours at Rochester Cathedral were happy to help.
The blocks have now been re-laid in the cathedral grounds and make an attractive approach alongside the entrance to the North Door, and more importantly increasing the area available for disabled access. The activity included re-laying the paving in front of the door.
Setts are traditionally used for paving roads and walkways. In the past, they were particularly valued in hilly towns as their slightly rough service gave a better grip for horses’ hooves.
An historic fort will benefit from a water-tight magazine thanks to a £10,000 grant awarded at the start of 2019.
Built in 1867, Slough Fort was created to protect Chatham Dockyard at Allhallows over the River Medway. During the mid 1800’s, Britain tried to out-build the French, in response to them building a new fleet of steam and sail ships, by constructing ironclad warships and improving naval bases.
The Slough Fort Preservation Trust was formed in 2012 and is looking to raise £25,000 towards rebuilding the chimneys and wind pump. The funds raised will also go toward restoring a World War One Fort Gun. This grant from the Rochester Bridge Trust will pay for the replacement of doors and windows to the magazine – an ammunition storehouse which is to be used as an educational space.
Andrew Freeman, Operations Manager at the Rochester Bridge Trust, said: “We commend the group of very active volunteers within the Slough Fort Preservation Trust for the restoration they have achieved so far, and we look forward to following the progress of their works.”
Dozens of Medway residents are learning new skills in carpentry and engineering following support from the Rochester Bridge Trust.
The not-for-profit Octopus Foundation received a grant of £1,500 to help pay for a CNC machine and laser attachment.
The equipment, which has been installed at the organisation’s training workshop on the Medway City Estate, allows for the precision cutting of materials such as wood, plastic and metal to pre-programmed designs. The technology is efficient, accurate, safe-to-use and serves as an introduction to sought-after engineering skills.
Andrew Freeman, Operations & Grants Manager at the Rochester Bridge Trust, said: “CNC machines are an integral part of modern engineering and a popular method of manufacturing in the healthcare, aerospace, automobile, and defence industries.
“This grant not only helps introduce more people to engineering techniques and skills but also supports an organisation that does such good work for the community in Medway.”
Established in 2016, the foundation runs a number of programmes to help people into employment, learn new skills and reduce social isolation. Its work is supported by a range of organisations including Medway Council, Royal British Legion Industries (RBLI), Medway Maritime Hospital and Kent & Medway Armed Forces Network.
For example, Octopus runs a 10-week Employability Programme in partnership with the RBLI. Some participants have physical and/or mental health problems, which have impacted on their ability to work; they have particularly benefited from the safe, informal and supportive environment in which the programme is delivered.
The organisation also supports the wider community. Its Cre8 Programme combines group work to build confidence, self-esteem and social skills with the concept of giving something back. A recent project saw participants producing and installing planters in the garden for dementia patients at Medway Maritime Hospital and also carrying out painting and planting there.
For more information, see www.theoctopusfoundation.org.uk.
In 2018, the Trust was pleased to attend a blessing to celebrate the completion of work to re-shingle the spire of St John the Baptist Church in Wateringbury.
Some years ago, the spire had been identified as in urgent need of repair, with the total cost of the works approximately £75,000. The Trust contributed £15,000 to the work.
Shingling refers to roof tiles made of wood, in the case of this Grade 1 listed church, the wood in question is oak. The shingles are split to a thickness of 15mm and nailed to underlying boards, which are attached to the roof in a similar way to regular tiles. The spire is estimated to be around 200 years old, with the replacement shingling expected to last up to 100 years.
Andrew Freeman, Operations Manager at the Rochester Bridge Trust, attended the blessing ceremony. He said: “The Trust’s connection with Wateringbury relates to Bow Bridge, which was rebuilt in 1915, utilising the new Mouchel-Hennebique technique for reinforced concrete.
“The church is in a conservation area, with the spire visible from some distance so it was a pleasure to be invited to see the outcome of this important – and very fine – restoration work.”
A £4,000 grant from the River Medway Fund has resulted in the publication of a book which reassesses the history of the Anglo-Dutch wars.
Re-examining the history of the conflict, the book War, Trade and the State: Anglo-Dutch conflict, 1652-89, is the culmination of a three-year project reviewing the political, economic and naval themes of the period.
The project was launched at Chatham Historic Dockyard in 2017, when a conference brought together experts from both countries to share information as part of events to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Dutch Raid.
Andrew Freeman, Grants and Operations Manager at the Rochester Bridge Trust, said: “The Trust was pleased to support the publication of this book, which acts as a lasting legacy of the commemoration events. The grant came from the River Medway Fund because of the book’s value in increasing awareness of the contribution of the river to the history and modern life of the area.”
The book is available in hardback or as an eBook, from publisher Boydell & Brewer.
The Royal Engineers Museum in Gillingham is also home to the Brompton Bridge Study Centre, which was set up with the help of two grants totalling £25,000.
Officially opened in September 2012, it had taken three years to convert a former stable block, assemble and catalogue artefacts and raise the remaining funds, with the works costing more than £200,000 in total.
The grants were provided in 2007 and 2009, when a museum spokesperson commented: “The generous donation will make a great deal of work possible on this new and exciting gallery, which will enable us to display far more of our bridging collection than ever before. This project will also help to highlight the work of the Corps of Royal Engineers at home and abroad in new dynamic and informative ways. The Rochester Bridge Trust’s continued support of projects at the Royal Engineers Museum is very much appreciated.”
More than 60 bridge models are on display in the centre, including a Bailey Bridge Kit used to train Sappers during World War Two, and a model used to design the new bridge at Fort Amherst’s Heritage Park. A bridge store contains many further models, these can be accessed on request.
In 2013, £2,600 was presented to Brompton-Westbrook Primary School to cover the cost of equipment for weekly after school workshops.
The hour-long clubs gave youngsters the opportunity to learn about engineering through a variety of hands-on activities, including bridge and boat building and brick laying.
Speaking at the time of the grant, head teacher Jane Heyes said: “This funding has added a new dimension to our Friday clubs that allow children to learn in a fun way. We are delighted to now be able to provide such excellent resources that would otherwise have been unavailable.
“These sessions give pupils a taste of engineering at their level and bring them into contact with those for whom construction is part of their job. In doing so, the children will have experience of and develop skills in areas such as science, mathematics, problem solving, team-work, listening and evaluating and research.”
In 2006 Ditton Heritage Centre benefitted from a £3,000 grant towards improvements to their Victorian schoolroom.
The centre was established to renovate the original Victorian school, which was becoming derelict. The renovation required the work of skilled tradesmen. Tree growth meant the outside toilets had to be demolished and money was also needed for legal expenses for the cost of the lease.
Liz Day, Trustee for Ditton Heritage Centre, explained: “Since 1997 everything the centre has achieved has been paid for by donations or the usual fundraising ventures of raffles, quizzes and boot sales, and so the support of the Rochester Bridge Trust was incredibly helpful in achieving our goals.”
In 2014 the replica Victorian classroom was officially opened. This is used to host a range of visitors from schoolchildren and Brownies to U3A and other adult groups.
Children experience a Victorian teaching session undertaken by a qualified teacher in period clothing – who dishes out the usual dose of discipline! They also enjoy Victorian playground activities including skipping, marbles, five stones and tag. Moving into the heritage part of the building the youngsters are invited to guess what various Victorian household items were used for, what they are made of and to compare them with the versions used today.
Adult visitors get to enjoy a trip down memory lane looking through a range of donated artefacts and photographs.
The newly-built toilet block is a mixture of Victorian and modern design, with the old-style cast iron embossed elevated toilet flushing system as well as one for wheelchair users. Children from the local school painted tiles, which were then glazed and incorporated into the tiled walls, all adding to the interest of this little building. The grant from the Rochester Bridge Trust paid for the water connection to complete this important part of the renovation.
See www.victorianschool.org for more information.
In 2011, £3,500 was donated by the Trust towards the restoration of a 17th century memorial at St Mary the Virgin Church in Nettlestead.
The memorial depicts Lady Katherine Scott, wife of Sir John Scott of Nettlestead Place, both of whom died in 1616. This renewed the Trust’s links with the Grade 1-listed building, as Sir John had twice held the role of Senior Warden.
The restoration work cost in excess of £20,000 as the monument had suffered significant damage, and as the church’s congregation is small this amount could not have been raised without external help. Further donations came from Friends of Kent Churches, the Council for the Conservation of Churches, the Leche Trust, the Allchurches Trust, the William & Jane Morris Fund and the Wolfson Foundation.
At the time of the donation Bridge Archivist Dr James Gibson commented: “There is a personal connection between Nettlestead and the Trust in the form of Sir John. However, the link between the two goes much further back, to the foundation of the Trust in 1399, when the parishes in the ancient Lathe of Aylesford, which included Nettlestead, were obligated to elect the wardens of Rochester Bridge and to provide for the upkeep of the medieval bridge across the Medway.
“The obligation remained legally in place – but was not enforced – until 1908, when the Trust’s constitution was changed.
“We are delighted to be now renewing our historic ties with Nettlestead and to be in a position to support the restoration in a beautiful medieval church of a memorial that is dedicated to the wife of one of our past Senior Wardens.”
Maidstone Sea Cadets received £4,000 from the Trust in 2015.
The money helped to pay for works to the outside of the cadets’ property, granting direct access from the building to the river. Without this, they were unable to keep boats on site and had no access to water – far from an ideal situation for the unit.
Overgrowth was cleared and replaced with flat, hard surface areas. These were concreted, with drainage areas and soakaways installed. New gates were also fitted, finally providing access from the Sea Cadets Headquarters to the banks of the River Medway. The total cost of the works was £9,576.
Rochester Bridge Trust’s Chief Finance Officer Helen Corbett said: “The Trust was pleased to be able to help Maidstone Sea Cadets gain access to the water. It’s important to us that people are able to make the most of the River Medway, and we are sure these young people will benefit from the experience.”
A collection of local Anglo-Saxon grave goods is now on display at Maidstone Museum, thanks in part to a £2,000 grant from the Rochester Bridge Trust.
The items, which were discovered by a metal detectorist in Hollingbourne in 2014, appear to have belonged to a women from the sixth or seventh century.
Mike Evans, a trustee from Maidstone Museums’ Foundation explained: “This find strengthens the museum’s regional collection as well as being an important assemblage for understanding Kentish female Anglo-Saxon dress.
“Of particular interest are two silver disk-on-bow brooches with garnet inlays, which fit with other brooches found elsewhere in Kent from the same period. However it is rare – as is the case with one of them – to find the disk still attached to the bow. The two other examples from Kent, which also have the disk attached, are in the British Museum.”
Other elements from the find include two silver pins that may prove to be significant following more research; copper-alloy buckles; a polychrome glass bead; and various items of iron, silver and bone.
The items are on display in the Withdrawing Room and will be highlighted as part of the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s Treasure 20 celebration in September 2017. The museum also plans to host community lectures and activities once further research has been carried out.
Sue Threader, Bridge Clerk at the Rochester Bridge Trust said: “This grant supports the Trust’s priorities of research, conservation and education relating to the ancient county of Kent, and we are pleased to be able to help the museum display the items where they can be publicly accessible close to the location of the find.”
Click here to find out more about the collection.
Further financial support was provided by The ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, The Headley Trust (The Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts), J&C Findlay Charitable Trust and Hollingbourne Parish Council.
Maidstone Museum Foundation is a charitable organisation that supports the Maidstone Museums through voluntary effort, including the raising of finance for key projects.
A £10,000 grant has enabled Rochester’s Guildhall to complete its renovation works in 2016.
Medway Council has recently funded an urgent repair programme at a cost of £116,000, and the museum staff sought alternative local funding for the restoration of the bell tower and weather vane while scaffolding and the expertise of local craftsmen were available. Grants made for the project to the Guildhall Museum Friends by the Rochester Bridge Trust and City of Rochester Society mean it has been possible to complete the restoration of these important and distinctive features.
The Guildhall itself was built in 1687, on land that had been owned by the Bridge Wardens since the 1500s – with the council purchasing the lease in the 1800s. Today used as a museum, it was originally established as a meeting place for businesses to discuss local laws and taxes, as well as becoming a court that included temporary holding cells. Underneath the court hall a market was held in the colonnade, with trade opening and closing times marked by the ringing of the bell above.
Charles Dickens also mentions the Guildhall in Great Expectations, when Pip is taken there to be bound as an apprentice to blacksmith Joe Gargery.
The bell tower has been a feature of the building from the beginning, with the current bell dating from 1811. It has been restored by Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, who themselves date from 1570 and are believed to have originally crafted it.
The weather vane – which is a replica 20-gun frigate – was installed in 1780. It weighs 14 stone and is made from copper, with brass cannon, all gilded in gold. It was last restored in 1989, after the masts were bent during the great storm. The 2016 repairs and gilding were in the expert hands of Mick Pollard, a Rochester-based sign writer.
Since 1979 the Grade 1-listed Guildhall has been a local history museum. When reinstated the bell will ring at the daily opening and closing of the museum.
Museum operations manager Andrew Freeman said: “It is important to us to be able to preserve part of Rochester’s historical values for generations to see and so we are very grateful for the help of our museum friends, especially the Rochester Bridge Trust and City of Rochester Society, for providing this money towards the restoration of the weathervane and bell tower.”