Many thanks to Cora Polland for our guest blog this month.
Riverside Country Park, located alongside the River Medway is a scenic, coastal spot scattered with rustic boats and is a good place for birdwatching. In addition, the area has very interesting historical background dating back to the industrial revolution. The first Portland Cement Factory appeared on the River Medway in 1851, with the secret ingredient for this new cement being Medway mud.
Throughout the 1850s the River Medway was supplying the whole world with Portland cement before similar mud was found elsewhere to produce the cement. Many Medway industries were based on large amounts of local materials and consequently became harder as well as more expensive to find as the materials were used up. During this period of time the workers who dug from the estuary were called ‘muddies’. At high tide barges would sail from Rainham dock into Medway, where the muddies then had the job of climbing over and shovelling slime/mud into the barge, until they floated off to be unloaded after the tide came in again. Great amounts of mud were dug from the river this way therefore meaning there are now deep pits filled with soft mud at the bottom of the river. It was initially feared that the mud extradition might change the flow of water in the river which could cause silting.
From mid-18-19th century there were two types of Hulks in the Medway. Those used for criminals and those used for prisoners of war. This links in to one of the many rumours as to why it is named the ‘Horrid Hill.’ It is thought that convicts, housed on these hulks in the Medway anchored close to Chatham, made an attempt to escape to the land which looked like an island, those who were recaptured were hanged as a warning to others, giving it the name. Other rumours about the origin of the name are that during the Napoleonic War, French Prison Hulks were moored off Horrid Hill and local people could recall hearing the screams of the prisoners and the horrid conditions that they faced. A less gruesome rumour is that the name came from the manure used on the local farms which was dumped at the base of Horrid Hill – creating an unpleasant smell.
Furthermore, during the Great War of 1914-1918 the British Standard Cement Company’s works at Motney Hill lost a large amount of their workforce, therefore after the war a list of those who died was placed on a memorial plaque which is now viewable at the Riverside Country Park’s visitor centre.
The Eastcourt meadows were once a municipal rubbish tip up until the 1950s however it’s since been transformed into a magnificent haven for butterflies and wildflowers. The Riverside Country Park was once a place of hard labour and cement but has since become a place of natural beauty containing wildflowers, pear trees, and during high tide a place where common seals have been spotted.