Cliffe and Cooling on the Hoo Peninsula.

On April 19th five members of the Canterbury history group made our first visit of this summer season, to Cliffe and Cooling on the Hoo Peninsula. Fortunately the weather was very kind to us.

We first visited Cliffe Fort which is now securely fenced off with a new high steel fence, so actually exploring the Fort is impossible. However, we were able to explore the Brennan Torpedo Launching Pad, which was our principal reason for visiting the Fort.

The Launching Pad is outside the Fort and cuts into the sea wall; this proved to be very interesting; giving us an insight into the engineering prowess of around 1876 when the Irish Australian Louis Brennan invented the first, wire controlled torpedo.

In the picture of the spacer bar between the launching rails you can still clearly see the screw adjusting threads on the ends of the spacing bar between the launch rails. Another interesting building visited, in the North West corner of the Cliffe Church Yard, was the Charnel House; the purpose of which was to store bodies dragged from the nearby river Thames.

The Church dedicated to St Helen is now redundant but is open to the public and has many interesting features too numerous to mention in this report.

Next we travelled a short distance due East and visited Cooling Castle, the gatehouse is still standing but the Castle itself is a ruin but still very interesting.

At first sight the gatehouse appears to be two powerful castellated towers with a gate between them, but closer inspection shows that the towers are two hollow semicircular columns such that if they could be put back-to-back would make one circular tower.

In Cooling churchyard are a group of children's gravestones which are widely considered to have inspired Charles Dickens' description of the churchyard in the opening scene of the novel Great Expectations.

The visit ended with a late lunch at the Cooling hostelry 'The Horseshoe and Castle' where we were made very welcome.

Due to the need for security at Cliffe, where the Fort is in a busy Gravel working site, anyone wishing to visit is advised to contact me for maps and details of the complicated route to the Fort. From the point for parking the car the walking distance to the Fort and back is about four miles.

Peter Meiklejohn - meiklejohnpn@hotmail.com

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