Medway meanderings

I have been continuing my cataloguing of  ‘The Kent Collection’, monkeys collected by artist Bridgette Ashton and published in her book 103 Monkey Puzzle Trees of Kent. The monkeys are in five postcode areas in Kent (DA, BR, CT, TN and ME), and I’ve just finished cataloguing the first batch of ME monkeys – those in the north of the postcode area.

-ME map overview2

So, 21 monkeys in this part of ME, the postcode for the Rochester area. And as I’ve said before, I’m not familiar with this part of the country, and so cataloguing the trees brings me to a new landscape of Allhallows, Cliffe and Oare… all of which interest me very much. Because, as I have explored the landscape of ‘ME’ through Google and the monkey photographs, I have discovered a strange and interesting watery edge land… a place of marsh and power stations and wetlands. In fact the marshland between Dartford and Whistable (pretty much the coast in the map above), the North Kent Marshes, are considered one of the most important in northern Europe. They offer natural flood protection for London and also provide a haven for migratory birds on their journeys between Arctic and Africa.

I found myself drawn to satellite images of the area and so, starting from the left side of ‘ME’ we have the area around Cliffe, called the Hoo peninsula.

-Cliffe area

The huge Cliffe Pools are very visible on both maps. The rise of the Kent cement industry brought a new prosperity to the ancient settlement during the Victorian era, and this continued up until the 1950s. The area still contains remnants of the kilns and cement works. Cliffe Pools is now a RSPB reserve, but is still used for mineral extraction. The satellite images of the area show interesting remnants of industry. There is a longer history of the cement production on this website – Cliffe-at-Hoo Historical Society. 

Map from the website:

Map from the website: Cliffe-at-Hoo Historical Society

Moving along the coast to Allhallows, and beyond Oare marshes. There is a similar land and water combination with big skies that I find absolutely enchanting. And of course, being coastal and attractive, there is a huge caravan park. The marshes at Oare look very attractive. Something about the combination of water, wildlife and industry and pylons is very attractive.

-Allhallows and Oare

And, whilst doing my monkey cataloguing, there is a monkey in Faversham, which as it turns out is in the Love Lane cemetery. Whilst looking for this – ME4 – I actually find an image from within the cemetery that shows another monkey, you can see the branches on the photograph below, and I have catalogued that as ME5.

-ME4, ME5 cemetery map

I also discover whilst reading about this area, that Oare has a long association with gunpowder. Production here began in the 1500s. The area provided alder and willow for charcoal, and also it was easy to import sulphur using the tidal creek (both key ingredients for gunpowder). By the early 20th century demand for gunpowder reduced and the manufacturers here merged and became ICI. The gunpowder factories were closed in 1934, and in 1997 the site became a country park.

In 1916 there was an explosion at the Oare Gunpowder works – known as ‘The Great Explosion’ – and 115 men and boys died, as it was a Sunday no women were working. 108 of the victims were buried in a mass grave at Faversham cemetery, Whistable Road, on 6 April 1916. It is the worst explosion in the history of the British explosives industry. The names of the dead are listed here, in a roll of honour for their work at home during a time of war. The works were closed in 1934, seen as too potentially dangerous during the Second World War.

The site is now a country park, and some of the old parts of the factory can be seen. This young monkey has been found there.

ME11, Oare Gunpowder Works.

ME11, Oare Gunpowder Works.

The full collection of ‘ME’ monkeys is now on the catalogue (arrange the Flipcards by Label, and they are all under ME).

A delightful discovery of the area which was also Charles Dickens home territory – the opening scene of Great Expectations is set in a churchyard in this (at times) bleak landscape. An article about Dickens and the places of Medway is here. I think I’ll pass on the ‘Dickens World’ experience though thanks, but seriously think an early spring visit is in order for this enchanting and magical landscape. How wonderful that the world of monkeys can reveal new parts of the country to me.

I will be back with the rest of the ME monkeys around Maidstone and the rest of Bridgette’s Kent collection of monkeys.

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