People have lived and worked on the banks of the Medway and Swale, since at least the Neolithic period and the area is known to have been heavily populated in Roman times. trade. Examples of early industry found include Iron Age saltworkings and Roman kilns. The military installations that dominated the Medway for many centuries, including the Royal Naval Dockyards at Chatham and Sheerness, are well documented. Further to the east, Faversham was a major national producer of gunpowder from the 16th century and was home to the oldest gunpowder mill in the world. The town was also the leading port for the export of the much sought after commodity – English wool. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the banks of the Medway were home to a large number of cement works and brickfields. Much of what was produced helped build the rapidly expanding suburbs of London.
Today industry on the estuary continues to thrive, serving the import and export needs of the south east of England and beyond. Huge volumes of fresh produce, new vehicles and forest products are handled and stored at the Port of Sheerness and the smaller ports, wharves and terminals at Chatham, Ridham and Rochester, making the estuary one of the UK’s most important trading arteries.
Since 2005, the River Medway has played a key role in the UK’s energy supply network; the country’s first Liquefied Natural Gas terminal is situated on the Isle of Grain. The terminal has the capacity to provide 4% of UK gas demand – 3.3 million tonnes a year. Plans to expand the terminal will mean that the terminal could produce 12% of UK gas by 2008 and 20% by 2011.