New Tavern Fort was first started in 1778 at Gravesend on the banks of the River Thames. It was to co-operate with Tilbury Fort on the other side of the Thames in Essex,to defend the approach to London and the Gravesend-Tilbury Ferry crossing.
In 1780 an exercise was carried out when thousands of troops were ferried across the river between the two forts and back again in less than twelve hours. Tilbury had become a main transit depot for the area but it was an unpopular posting,so many of the officers for Tilbury Fort lived at Gravesend and regullarly used the ferry crossing.
There was already defences at Gravesend before the fort was built but these were now out of date,the fort was remodelled in 1895 and a Caponier was added at one end of its ditch.
As well as the New Tavern Fort there was also a gun line built which extended east from Henry VIII's Blockhouse.
The Fort was built in an iregular zig-zag plan and the guns faced downstream so as to direct strong long-range fire against enemy warships before they could bring there own guns to bear at shorter range. The forts plan was later remodelled,although the only feature remaining from its original construction is the brick skin of the medieval Milton Chantry in the forts grounds,which became an Artillary Barracks.
New Tavern fort was originally armed with 15 cannon,then in the 1840's it was rearmed with cannon on traversing platforms.
General (Charles) Gordon came to live at Fort house between 1865-71,he was there to take control of updating and the building of new forts on the Thames. While he was there New Tavern fort was remodelled for 10 heavy Rifled Muzzle Loading guns between 1868-72. General Gordon had been to China in 1860 and led an Anglo-French force,which helped establish British trade rights in the country. When these rights were threatened by a rebellion Gordon formed a force of mercenaries and fought to save the ruling regime. He then became known as "Chinese Gordon".
While at the fort he also did a lot to help the local poor children and often found them positions as apprentices or in the forces. He later donated the gardens at the fort to the people of Gravesend. Gordon became Governor of Sudan and died at the hands of the Mahdi in 1885 at the age of 52. A statue of General Gordon stands in the fort gardens.
In 1904 the fort was altered for two 6" Breech Loaders for defence against a German invasion. They could fire a 100 pound (45kg) shell to a range of about 7 miles at 7 rounds per minute.
In 1930 the Fort was purchased from the War Office by the Coporation of Gravesend and then in 1932 the Fort Gardens were opened by the Earl of Darnley on the 8th June 1932,with a dedication by the lord Bishop of Rochester.
For a while early in WWII a light Anti-Aircraft gun and a Searchlight were mounted on the infilled 6 inch gun emplacements. There was also temporary sandbagged Light Machine gun positions nearby overlooking the river. Fort House became an office for the administration of local food rationing,but a German V2 Rocket fell nearby and the building was badly damaged and had to be demolished. The Victorian and 1904 Magazines were used as Air-Raid shelters for a while,then reportedly the Victorian Magazines were used as a temporary Civil Defence Control Centre and then as a radio relay or monitoring station,two high steel pylon towers were constructed for this purpose. An Air Raid Wardens post was also built near the ditch at the south end of the Fort,this was demolished in the 1980's.
After the war the Fort again became public gardens.
Today the fort and gardens are still open to the public,as well as some guns on display including a 3.7" heavy anti-aircraft gun removed from Tongue Sands Fort (a Maunsell Naval Sea Fort in the Thames Estuary). At present the forts tunnels and magazines are closed for safety reasons.
The Chantry Heritage Centre is open 31 March - 30 September
12noon - 5pm.
The medieval Milton Chantry,which became Barracks for the Fort. Now it is the Chantry Heritage Centre.
Site of General Gordon's House.
Cannon on a Traversing platform.
Caponier for flanking fire along the ditch.
Part of the Ditch.
A replica 9 inch Rifled Muzzle-Loader gun in a Shielded Emplacement.
Light Anti-Aircraft Gun.
1904 Gun Battery and Magazines.
A 6 inch Breech Loader gun.
General Gordon Statue in the Fort Gardens.