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History of Gillingham

Gillingham comes from the Old English ‘ham’ meaning a ‘village, homestead’ with ‘ingas’ as the ‘people of, people called after’ combined with a personal name; therefore, a ‘homestead/village of the people of Gylla' -  a war lord who screamed and shouted as he led his men into battle. The Domesday Book records Gillingham as Gelingeham.


Gillingham parish church is a Grade: II listed building, dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene. The Normans built the church in the 13th century, with the addition of the tower in the 15th century. Further additions and extensions occurred during the 14th century. In 1700, Philip Wightman cast and hung a ring of five bells, to which Richard Phelps added another to complete a ring of six, in 1737. In 1798, Edward Hasted described the Gillingham church as consisting of ‘three isles and three chancels, with a handsome tower steeple at the west end’. Thomas Mears added two treble bells in 1811, to make eight. The architect Sir Arthur Blomfield restored the church and tower in 1868. In the following year, to mark the completion of the restoration, the firm of Heaton, Butler and Bayne replaced the stained glass in the east window.


Gillingham had been, both before and after the Norman Conquest, a possession of the Archbishop of Canterbury. During the second half of the 12th Century, the Archbishop constructed a Palace, with the precinct covering around 20 acres. The church - situated within the precinct – acted as the Palace's chapel. King Henry VIII suppressed the Palace, like many other ecclesiastical establishments, in the 16th century.


St. Mary's had a strong connection with the Royal Navy through the centuries, and for many years, the tower acted as a navigational point for ships sailing up the Medway estuary. As such, the church flew a White Ensign by day and shone a light on the tower by night. It was not until the Second World War, when navigational aids improved on the Medway that the church ceased the practice.

By the 14th Century,
Gillingham had achieved considerable prominence, and received permission to hold an annual fair and weekly market.

The local success of a junior football team, Chatham Excelsior F.C., encouraged a group of businessmen to meet at the Napier Arms pub on 18 May 1893, with a view to creating a football club that could compete in larger competitions. To do this, the club required an enclosed playing field where an admission fee could be charged, which Excelsior lacked. They formed New Brompton F.C. at the meeting, incorporating a number of Excelsior players. The gentlemen also purchased the plot of land, - later named Priestfield Stadium - where they laid out a pitch and constructed a pavilion. New Brompton's first team played their inaugural match on 2 September 1893. 

Gillingham railway station opened on the East Kent Railway's first operational stretch between Faversham and Chatham on 25 January 1858. From the outset, the name boards proclaimed 'New Brompton'. In 1886, the station gained a suffix, becoming 'New Brompton (Gillingham)'. Eventually, on 1 January 1899, the South Eastern & Chatham Railway re-named the station Gillingham…. more


Early in the 20th century, the Medway towns installed tram services. After 30 years, both the trams and rails needed replacement. However, buses delivered a much cheaper option and provided more flexibility. The last tram ran from the Royal Naval barracks to Rainham Road on 30 September 1930.