Fort Pitt is a Napoleonic era fort on the high ground of the boundary between Chatham and Rochester, Kent. A fort on the site was proposed in the 1790s, and finally built between 1805 and 1819. Not finally used as a fort, it became a hospital and is now a girls' grammar school.
Named after Prime Minister William Pitt, Fort Pitt was part of the defences overlooking the River Medway. Fort Clarence, Fort Amherst and the Great Lines were visible from Fort Pitt, the whole providing a defensive ring to protect Chatham Dockyard.
Fort Pitt was laid out with red-brick walls with a bastion at each corner, and was surrounded by a 15 feet (4.6 m) deep defensive trench. The original fort included a number of buildings now demolished, including a central tower, or keep, removed in 1910 to provide more hospital space; a large blockhouse designed to house 500 men; and two outlying towers, one on each flank, named 'Delce' and 'Gibraltar'. In 1879 Gibraltar Tower was demolished, while Delce Tower, by then a ruin, was probably demolished shortly afterwards. The blockhouse was demolished in the early 1930s.
The end of the Napoleonic Wars meant that the site was not finally used as a fort, although soldiers were sometimes accommodated there including, in 1815, wounded from the Battle of Waterloo. In 1828 it became a depot for invalided soldiers and a formal military hospital from 1832. An "asylum for insane soldiers" was added in 1847. By the 1850s, Fort Pitt was a major military hospital, with most of the soldiers invalided to Britain from abroad assessed there prior to their discharge. This included most of the sick and wounded from the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. Queen Victoria came to Fort Pitt on three separate occasions in 1855 to visit soldiers wounded in the Crimea. In 1860 Fort Pitt was selected by Florence Nightingale as the initial site for the new Army Medical School, before this moved to Netley near Southampton in 1863.
Continuing as a garrison hospital, in October 1914 King George V and Queen Mary visited, meeting servicemen wounded in the First World War, including five German Naval officers held in a separate ward. At least seventy German prisoners were treated at the Fort. On recovery, they were held in the Blockhouse until the end of the war. The hospital finally closed in 1919.
In 1929 the Chatham Education Board bought the vacant Fort Pitt from the War Office, and the site was converted into a Girls' Technical School. The school, now known as Fort Pitt Grammar School, remains on the site and has added a number of new buildings. The neighbouring University for the Creative Arts building occupies the old blockhouse site and some of the original brickwork remains visible at the sides of the building.
The site continues to be of national historical significance. The Music House (the former 'insane asylum') in the school grounds and the "Crimea Wing" teaching block are listed buildings, with some of the old hospital ward numbers still visible on the Crimea Wing's walls. Several other buildings date to the period of use as a hospital and possibly earlier, although part of the old hospital building was destroyed in a fire in 1973. Much of the outer walls of the fort survive including parts of the outer defences which extend into the adjacent recreation grounds to the east and west. The tunnels of the fort also survive, but are partly filled in.
The Fort Pitt Military Cemetery, created initially to serve the hospital, lies a quarter of a mile to the south of the fort by the A229 road from Rochester to Maidstone. The graves, dating from the mid-nineteen century onwards, include 290 of Commonwealth service personnel from the World Wars, 265 from World War I, who lie in an extensive plot, and 25 from World War II who are mainly buried in a group north of that plot.
As a boy, Charles Dickens lived at 2 Ordnance Terrace, a quarter of a mile to the east of Fort Pitt, and the fort is the location of the fictional duel between Mr. Nathaniel Winkle and Dr. Slammer in his novel The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club.
'Asylum for insane soldiers', Fort Pitt. Illustrated London News, 1857
Paintings of Queen Victoria's visits in 1855: