COUNCIL ACQUIRES EAST HOATH WOOD
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.
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coppiced because chestnut was so useful and profitable as a crop for the purpose of chestnut fencing, which was later superseded by plastic covered chain-link wire.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.
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