by Freddie Cooper

A recent newspaper report indicated that 25 acres of East Hoath Wood is to be ‘transferred’ to Medway Council on April 1st 2003. Although the area has been available for use by residents for as long as I can remember, the report indicates that safety work and fencing etc costing in the region of £60,000 is necessary before the woods can be used for recreational purposes.

Photo of East Hoath Woods Rainham in 2003

It is said that the woodland, mainly sweet chestnut and oak, supplied wood for shipbuilding as far back as Nelson’s time and although I cannot confirm that, it is obvious that this area, together with much of the land in the vicinity, was owned by the War Department a century ago. East Hoath Wood is bounded on one side by Hoath Lane, and to the east by the gardens in Edwin Road. The path, leading from Durham Road which comes out opposite the stile giving access to the Darland Banks, has become a very popular walk over the years. I don’t remember these woods containing very large trees like those in the Parkwood area, where there were some magnificent oaks and beeches, but then my woodland roaming ended 70 years ago. I imagine that Hoath Wood, like most others, was regularly coppiced because chestnut was so useful and profitable as a crop for the purpose of chestnut fencing, which was later superseded by plastic covered chain-link wire. I remember three wood yards in the Rainham area alone; there was Stan Huggins in Wakeley Road, Alf Warner in Maidstone Road and then Glovers in the Wigmore/Maidstone Road area, and until very recently Woods in Bredhurst. I must check to see if ‘Woodreeve Cottage’ is still in the loop section of Mierscourt Road.

The boundary between the Milton Rural District Council’s area and Gillingham ran south from the A2 along the line of the rear garden fences on the western side of Edwin Road and it then formed the ancient boundary between East Iloath Wood and Mark Oak Wood. This was the parliamentary boundary when Rainham was part of the Faversham Division and Adam Maitland was our MP. Rainham’s Parish Council administered the area from the river to Bredhurst. This boundary line at Rainham Mark turned sharply westward for about 200 yards from near the Hop and Vine public house and then turned northward to the river, running roughly parallel with Twydall Lane. I believe that this was the boundary which divided ‘Men of Kent’ from ‘Kentish Men’, for Edward Hasted, in his description of Rainhani in 1798, says ‘the whole of this parish is in the division of East Kent which begins here and the adjoining parish of Gillingham westward is wholly in that of West Kent’. It has always been my view that this is the origin of ‘Men of Kent’ and ‘Kentish Men although it was necessary to identify it more e~ the River Medway was chosen as the boundary 1908 map clearly shows that the land immediately to the east of Hoath Lane back to the boundary II cleared, presumably by the War Department, to the point roughly where the present factories c and much of the remaining area including Edwin Road, Marshall Road and all of the area to the was woodland. An area of Platters Farm, which reached by the track immediately opposite the Pump Lane on the A2, had been cleared and was used as orchard land.

Photo of East Hoath Woods viewed from Hempstead Hill 2003

I presume that East Hoath Wood was purch the Health Authority soon after its creation in when it was obvious that the area would need district hospital. Nothing happened for many but in the earlyl96Os some of us in local gove realised that St Bart’s and All Saints’ hospitaL totally incapable of serving the area in a satisf manner, so we pressed for the use of the Roya hospital which had then been recently vacated now known as the Medway Maritime hospital following the recent extensions is apparently considered to be adequate as the permanent di hospital, so the site at East Hoatb Wood is sw requirements. Some time ago the Regional Hc Authority applied for permission to develop tl for housing, but planning permission was reft presume that they have now decided to union area which has become a liability and probabl inadequate for a district hospital anyway.

I notice on reference to the plan that the wood type area between Hempstead Hill and Hoath was at the early part of the last century called Scrubs’, which is new to me. This area too, the best of my knowledge, is also owned by the Healt Authority as it was the site of the Alexandra 1 for infectious diseases, which although littlei quite a history. Infectious diseases were very prevalent in the early part of the l900s and in small isolation hospital was built on the site occupied by the Municipal Buildings in Cant Street, Gillingham. Smallpox was one of those diseases which many people feared and most were vaccinated on the arm and we bear marks to this day, because the small vaccination has grown until some are now about two inches across. However, in 1901 a man named Mallen was visiting the area and contracted smallpox which caused consternation because they did not wish to keep him at the newly created isolation hospital in Gillingham and sent him out to a caravan and tents in the Hempstead area where the population was still sparse. Unfortunately, Mallen and several others died from the particular outbreak, and it became apparent that a more permanent isolation hospital was necessary for Gillinghan,. Scarlet fever and diphtheria were vety common at the time and Rainham patients needing hospitalisation were sent to Keycol hospital as we were still part of the Milton Rural District Council’s area. The triangular piece of land between Hoath Lane and Hempstead Hill which comes to a point near the roundabout was owned by Mr R. Batchelor, the artesian well engineer who lived at Darland House, and he donated the land to the Gillingharn Local Board (the predecessors of the Council) on the condition that it was used for health pusposes and the isolation hospital was named Alexandra. 1 presume that the covenant has restricted its use, which is possibly why it has remained unoccupied and to some extent derelict, with a supporting wall down Ilempstead Hill which may become a liability for its maintenance. The hospital was erected on the northern side of the road which went from Hoath Lane down to the bottom of Hempstead Hill a long time before the tunnel was built. This was a prefabricated metal hospital (corrugated iron) purchased from Humphries Isolation Hospitals at Knightsbridge. It was opened in 1902 and closed in 1940 when it was prepared for emergency use during the war, but I understand was never used. Greens of Brompton demolished the hospital in the 1970s and the land seems to have been unattended since. It may be that the welcome donation by Mr Batchelor 100 years ago is now a liability to the Regional Health Authority

Freddie Cooper


#5 Georgina 2017-10-13 07:37
[quote name="Denise"]My Mum used to collect her milk/orange juice from the hospital during the war. My grandparents used to own the land where Hempstead Valley Drive now is and were pig Farmers, not to be confussed with jasons along Pear Tree Lane.
Further to your post the pig farm on Peartree Lane was purchased from Don Leavy by Alf Jarvis senior and then bought from him by his son Alf Jarvis junior which finally ended up with Lee Jarvis (Alf juniors son) who founded The Pink Company. Before eventually obtaining planning permission for 4 houses on the site. Is Joan Collins or Tom Collins your relations who had the pig farm in Hempstead Road? It was next door to Attwoods.
#4 Scott campbell 2016-04-10 16:09
Does anyone remember the little scrapyard that was were shopping centre is now in the late 50s my grandfather Charlie Campbell
#3 Denise 2014-05-04 13:48
My Mum used to collect her milk/orange juice from the hospital during the war. My grandparents used to own the land where Hempstead Valley Drive now is and were pig Farmers, not to be confussed with jasons along Pear Tree Lane. My Mum still lives in the bungalow where she was born (As was I ) and my grand father built opposite the flying saucer. I have been trying to find out more about the hospital but to no avail and would of liked to of seen some close up photos but Im not sure there are any. My Grand parents were Spiller and Great Granparents were Taylor, going back they were Luckin and King, I was a Collins
#2 Claire Nurse (nee Hulbert) 2013-04-28 15:41
Oh my goodness, Graham Hill - I remember playing in the woods too when I visited my grandad who lived next door to your parents in Hoath Close!
#1 grahamhill 2012-09-04 19:03
Thank you Freddie for your informative article. These woods I played in as a child and still visit them when I see my parents in Hoath Close. These days I find Mesolithic and Neolithic flint tools in these woods and am interested to know their names and owners for recording on The Portable Antiquities Scheme. Many thanks,
Graham Hill.

You have no rights to post comments