Royal Engineers Museum

Royal Engineers Museum

Centurion AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers)

Centurion Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers

The Royal Engineers Museum, Library & Archive is a military engineering museum and library in Gillingham, Medway, South East England. It tells the story of the Corps of Royal Engineers and British military engineering in general. The School of Military Engineering and the Museum were founded in 1812, during the Peninsular War. The Library was founded in 1813. The Museum moved to its current site in the Ravelin building in 1987. In 1904, the 'Ravelin Building' was built and was originally used as electrical engineers' school for the Royal Engineers. It was designed by Major E.C.S.Moore (RE). It cost £40,000 to build. It was classed as Grade II listed on 5 December 1996. Its collection received 'Designated' status in 1998 (it is recognised as having an outstanding collection of national and international significance). It is one of only three military or regimental museums in the country to hold this status.


The Royal Engineers trace their origins back to the military engineers brought to England by William the Conqueror, specifically Bishop Gundulf of Rochester Cathedral, and claim over 900 years of unbroken service to the crown. Engineers have always served in the armies of the Crown; however, the origins of the modern corps, along with those of the Royal Artillery, lie in the Board of Ordnance established in the 15th century. In Woolwich in 1716, the Board formed the Royal Regiment of Artillery and established a Corps of Engineers, consisting entirely of commissioned officers. The manual work was done by the Artificer Companies, made up of contracted civilian artisans and labourers. In 1782, a Soldier Artificer Company was established for service in Gibraltar, the first instance of non-commissioned military engineers. In 1787, the Corps of Engineers was granted the Royal prefix and adopted its current name and in the same year a Corps of Royal Military Artificers was formed, consisting of non-commissioned officers and privates, to be officered by the RE. Ten years later the Gibraltar company, which had remained separate, was absorbed and in 1812 the name was changed to the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners. In 1855 the Board of Ordnance was abolished and authority over the Royal Engineers, Royal Sappers and Miners and Royal Artillery was transferred to the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, thus uniting them with the rest of the Army. The following year, the Royal Engineers and Royal Sappers and Miners became a unified corps as the Corps of Royal Engineers and their headquarters were moved from the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, to Chatham, Kent.


Britain having acquired an Empire, it fell to the Royal Engineers to conduct some of the most significant "civil" engineering schemes around the world. Much of the British colonial era infrastructure of India, of which elements survive today, was created by engineers of the three presidencies' armies and the Royal Engineers. Lieutenant (later General Sir) Arthur Thomas Cotton (1803–99), Madras Engineers, was responsible for the design and construction of the great irrigation works on the river Cauvery, which watered the rice crops of Tanjore and Trichinopoly districts in the late 1820s. In 1838 he designed and built sea defences for Vizagapatam. He masterminded the Godavery Delta project where 720,000 acres (2,900 km2) of land were irrigated and 500 miles (800 km) of land to the port of Cocanada was made navigable in the 1840s. Such regard for his lasting legacy was shown when in 1983, the Indian Government erected a statue in his memory at Dowleswaram. Other irrigation and canal projects included the Ganges Canal, where Colonel Sir Colin Scott-Moncrieff (1836–1916) acted as the Chief Engineer and made modifications to the original work. Among other engineers trained in India, Scott-Moncrieff went on to become Under Secretary of State Public Works, Egypt where he restored the Nile barrage and irrigation works of Lower Egypt.


The construction of the Rideau Canal was proposed shortly after the War of 1812, when there remained a persistent threat of attack by the United States on the British colony of Upper Canada. The initial purpose of the Rideau Canal was military, as it was intended to provide a secure supply and communications route between Montreal and the British naval base in Kingston, Ontario. Westward from Montreal, travel would proceed along the Ottawa River to Bytown (now Ottawa), then southwest via the canal to Kingston and out into Lake Ontario. The objective was to bypass the stretch of the St. Lawrence River bordering New York State, a route which would have left British supply ships vulnerable to attack or a blockade of the St. Lawrence. The construction of the canal was supervised by Lieutenant-Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers. In 2007 it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognizing it as a work of human creative genius. The Rideau Canal was recognized as the best preserved example of a slack water canal in North America demonstrating the use of European slackwater technology in North America on a large scale. Lt. Denison was one of the junior Royal Engineers who worked under Lt. Colonel John By, RE on the Rideau Canal in Upper Canada (1826–1832). Of note, Denison carried out experiments under the direction of Lt. Col. By to determine the strength, for construction purposes of the old growth timber in the vicinity of Bytown. His findings were published by the Institution of Civil Engineers in England who bestowed upon him the prestigious Telford Medal. Two Acts of Parliament allowed for the building of Pentonville Prison for the detention of convicts sentenced to imprisonment or awaiting transportation. Construction started on 10 April 1840 and was completed in 1842. The cost was £84,186 12s 2d. Captain (later Major General Sir) Joshua Jebb designed Pentonville Prison, introducing new concepts such as single cells with good heating, ventilation and sanitation.


The Western Heights of Dover are one of the most impressive fortifications in Britain. They comprise a series of forts, strong points and ditches, designed to protect the United Kingdom from invasion. They were created to augment the existing defences and protect the key port of Dover from both seaward and landward attack. First given earthworks in 1779 against the planned invasion that year, the high ground west of Dover, England, now called Dover Western Heights, was properly fortified in 1804 when Lieutenant-Colonel William Twiss was instructed to modernise the existing defences. This was part of a huge programme of fortification in response to Napoleon's planned invasion of the United Kingdom. To assist with the movement of troops between Dover Castle and the town defences Twiss made his case for building the Grand Shaft in the cliff: "... the new barracks. ... are little more than 300 yards horizontally from the beach. ... and about 180 feet (55 m) above high-water mark, but in order to communicate with them from the centre of town, on horseback the distance is nearly a mile and a half and to walk it about three-quarters of a mile, and all the roads unavoidably pass over ground more than 100 feet (30 m) above the barracks, besides the footpaths are so steep and chalky that a number of accidents will unavoidably happen during the wet weather and more especially after floods. I am therefore induced to recommend the construction of a shaft, with a triple staircase ... the chief objective of which is the convenience and safety of troops ... and may eventually be useful in sending reinforcements to troops or in affording them a secure retreat." Twiss's plan was approved and building went ahead. The shaft was to be 26 feet in diameter, 140 feet deep with a 180 feet gallery connecting the bottom of the shaft to Snargate Street, and all for under an estimated £4000. The plan entailed building two brick-lined shafts, one inside the other. In the outer would be built a triple staircase, the inner acting as a light well with "windows" cut in its outer wall to illuminate the staircases. Apparently, by March 1805 only 40 feet of the connecting gallery was left to dig and it is probable that the project was completed by 1807.


The RE Museum and Library hold over 500,000 objects relating to the history of the Corps of Royal Engineers and the development of military engineering. On display are objects of great significance like the Waterloo map, complete with markings made by Wellington. It has the revolver used by Lieutenant Chard at Rorke's Drift, Russian glass grenades from the Crimea, and a huge selection of objects belonging to Charles Gordon relating to his postings in China and the Sudan. There is a relic of the Kashmir Gate and a set of armour reported to belong to the Last King of the Punjab, Duleep Singh. There is a Brennan Torpedo on display alongside an early prototype. It also has a collection of paintings. The museum also has one of the largest public collections of orders, awards and medals in the country; most of which are on display, including 25 of the 55 Victoria Crosses awarded to REs, and three George Crosses.


The collection and museum galleries tell the story of the Corps and cover topics such as: Aeronautics (the Corps was responsible for this prior to the formation of the RFC and RAF), Bomb Disposal, Bridging (using the Bailey and other examples), Camouflage, Civil works (Pentonville Prison & the Royal Albert Hall are examples of RE engineering projects), Submarine Mining & Diving, Electrical (Searchlights), Forestry, Field (or Combat) Engineering (including airborne, amphibious, armoured, commando, Queen's Gurkha, tunnelling), Gas Warfare, Military Works (mining, water supply, roads, airfields, canals, Photography including early aerial photographs and trench layouts), Postal & Courier, Quarrying, Royal Engineers Band, Surveys (e.g. Canada, Great Britain & India), Telegraph and Signals, Transportation (Railways, Ports) and also Maps & Plans of places the Corps have been or built. It has many prototype armoured vehicles, both inside the museum, in the grounds and within Chatham Dockyard. Also inside the museum is a complete Harrier Jump Jet. Currently, the Library is situated on the Military Camp behind the museum building, but developments are proposed to bring this historic collection into the main building, where it will be stored in its very own purpose built area, a project expected to cost well over three million pounds. The Bridge Study Centre, a purpose built display space, houses a huge collection of bridging models. This includes some very early Victorian teaching models and also numerous associated objects, photographs and archives.


The museum is currently undegoing major renovation and will re-open in the Spring of 2017. There will be both complete wheelchair access and toilet facilities for the disabled. The Museum’s staff have been trained by Kent Association for the Blind to assist visually impaired visitors around the Museum. This facility is subject to staff availability. If you would like to know more, or to ask about availability for this service, please call the Museum on 01634 822839. Assistance dogs are welcome. The Courtyard Cafe located at the heart of the Museum is open 11:30 – 3:00 pm everyday (except Mondays) and longer on special events days. It offers hot drinks, snacks and light refreshments. You are also welcome to eat your packed lunch at the Museum and there is a picnic area outside for use in warmer weather.


Location : Royal Engineers Museum, Prince Arthur Road, Gillingham, Kent, ME4 4UG

Transport : Gillingham (National Rail) then 20 minutes or bus (Sapphire 101). Bus Routes : Arriva 101, 116, 182 and 327 stop close by

Opening Times : Tuesday to Friday 09:00 to 17:00;  Weekends + Bank Holidays 11:30 to 17:00

Tickets : Adults £5.70;  Concessions / Children (5 - 16) £3.85

Tel. : 01634 822839