Milton was once a separate entity from Gravesend, although where exactly the boundary between the two might have been is unclear. Milton Chantry began life around 1189 as a Chantry Chapel to a Leper Hospital (a Chantry Chapel is a place where prayers are said for the souls of the dead).
Aylmer de Valence ‘endowed’ the Chapel in 1321 and also paid money towards the hospital which was thought to lay on the Essex side of the Thames. It seems likely that the earliest remaining stonework dates from this period.
By this time Milton had become submerged within the growing town of Gravesend and it ceases to be mentioned separately from around 1270 onwards. In 1380 the town was sacked and burnt by the French but it is unclear whether Milton Chantry was affected directly by this.
By 1524, though, the Chantry was already in a poor state and was rented out as a farm. Henry VIII dissolved Chantry Chapels alongside his more famous work on the Abbeys of England and at this point the Chapel officially ceased to have any ecclesiastical function, the land was forfeited to the Crown and a blockhouse was built – although this was later replaced with today’s 18th Century Fort.
In 1697 Milton Chantry became a tavern, initially the Zoar Alehouse but later the “New Tavern”. In 1727 a fire tore through Gravesend and destroyed the Parish Church and 120 homes. In the mid 18th Century an invasion from France seemed more and more likely, and so a series of fortifications were built across southern England. One such was the “New Tavern Fort” which was built from 1778-1781. The Chantry was changed from a tavern to barracks and remained in this function throughout a second rebuild of the Fort in the 1860s. A report in the early 1800s says of the Chantry Barracks that they were ‘vermin infested room with a leaking roof occupied by 20 soldiers, their wives and children’.
The Fort continued in active service until 1918 and in 1932 the Fort and its grounds became a public park. Milton Chantry is now Gravesend’s Heritage Centre and is managed by the local council.
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