The best views in Medway
Broomhill Park in Strood offers peaceful open space and wooded areas, but being 85m above sea level, it also boasts the most spectacular view down towards Medway, and on the other side of the hill, the River Thames is visible, winding its dividing path between Essex and Kent.
Friends of Broomhill is a charity dedicated to the improvement and enrichment of Broomhill Park. Working closely with Medway Council, they help to maintain ‘Strood’s Hidden Gem’, holding regular task days through the year where volunteers get involved in clearing and cutting back along pathways, planting new bulbs, shrubs and wild flowers.
The Friends give It’s The Biz this history of the park and some insights about the area and their dedicated work.
Broomhill is part of the North Downs ridge of chalk that finishes on the Hoo Peninsular and was formed in the Cretaceous period. Chalk was quarried at Broomhill from Roman times until the last quarry was closed in the middle of the 20th century. There were also several lime kilns on the site from the Middle Ages which were still in use until the 19th Century. Evidence has been found at Piper’s House Farm that the chalk pits were used as refuges by Ancient Britons when under attack. An Anglo-Saxon grave was found on the site which contained a spearhead, knife and bronze ring set with an amethyst which can be seen in Rochester Museum.
Through history, the summit has been used strategically in battle. Legend has it that Boudica and the Iceni massed ready to swoop on the Romans as they sent their advance guard wading across the Medway. In 1264 Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and leader of the second Barons’ uprising, used Broomhill to plan his strategy for capturing Rochester Castle. When the rebellion in 1554 against Queen Mary marrying Philip of Spain failed, Norfolk and other royalists escaped over the hill to Gravesend.
During the time of the Spanish Armada, Broomhill was part of the chain of early warning beacons set up from strategic points along the south coast, criss-crossing Sussex, Surrey and Kent to London. In 1606 James I and his family showed off the Dockyard to King Christian IV of Denmark from the Hill and forty years later, during the Civil War, Cromwell’s troops were ambushed there before they eventually captured Rochester.
In the early 19th century, navvies tunnelled under Broomhill to construct the Gravesend to Strood canal, which was subsequently filled in and is now used for the railway line. The site was also home to six windmills on all sides of the hill until the beginning of the 20th Century. After the 1st World War, allotments were plotted out and sold, some are still there.
During the Second World War, a German Messerschmitt plane crashed on the hill. The wounded pilot was helped by a young woman before being taken to Chatham Police Station by the Home Guard carrying fixed bayonets, followed by an angry crowd of housewives wielding brooms and spades.
In May 2018 Friends of Broomhill purchased the woodland site adjacent to the park, know locally as The Old Orchard, achieved through fundraising and match funding from Medway Council. A weekly Thursday morning group works to renovate the Old Orchard and has created a network of pathways through it. The most recent addition to the Old Orchard are new benches which were made by recycling some wooden sleepers from the main park. 50 trees were planted in January and approximately 200 more will go into the Old Orchard this winter. These are all native species and they will further enrich the habitat and biodiversity of the woodland.
Friends of Broomhill have gained two awards from South & South East in Bloom 2020. These are Outstanding in The Community Gardening Award 2020 and Silver in the Conservation Area Award 2020. Volunteers work throughout the year to maintain and improve Broomhill Park and the Old Orchard; their hard work has been rewarded!