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History

Chronicle of Events in Sheppey
Abbey Well - A brief Synopsis by Leon Stanford
Sheerness
Queenborough - Flushing Pier
S.S.Richard Montgomery
Also known as...

The Isle of Sheppey has a long and important history. This section of the site aims to celebrate that history and to show how much the past has shaped the present.

Minster Abbey

The above sketch by Simon Hill depicts Minster Abbey, which dates back to the 12th Century.

The Abbey stands on a slightly elevated position above the village, the road plan suggest that the village and church were at one time fortified, probably in Saxon or Roman times when it is thought that a pagan temple dedicated to the God Apollo stood on the current abbey site.

Chronicle of Events in Sheppey
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AD161

AD 161 is the first known date for which authentic records of the island can be found. The island is mentioned in a work entitled Geographike Huphegesis compiled by the celebrated Grecian geographer Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemaeus). Ptolemy was known as Geographer, Astronomer and Historian, he named the island as "Toliapis".

664-675

Minster Abbey Completed - Queen Sexburga is the first abbess.

798

First Danish invasion. They came back in 832.

It is listed in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles of that time, that the Vikings constantly raided the Island. The Island offered no defences to its monasteries, with ready access from the shore it was a very easy target for the Viking raiders. It is also recorded that in the AD 850's the Vikings "wintered" on the Island. They refused the local hospitality of salted meat, and by doing so forced the local residents to slaughter its breeding herds which in turn destroyed much of the farm economy.

855

Sheppey ruled by the Danes.

893

Prince Hoestan of Denmark built forts at Scipe (Shurland) and Queenborough.

1071

Canute stayed at Shurland (Scipe).

1052

Earl Godwin attacked Sheppey destroying Minster Abbey.

1066

William the Conqueror installed Barons in Sheppey.

1130

Minster Abbey rebuilt and a Parish Church added.

1248

Leysdown Church built.

1272

Harty Church built.

1279

First Eastchurch church built, it had to be rebuilt again in 1431.

1363

Queenborough Church built.

1366

Queenborough Castle built by King Edward III.

1377-99

King Richard II ordered coastal defences to be built on the Island.

1406

King Henry IV ordered better roads and levied tolls on the local ferry.

1448

Isle of Elmley granted to All Saints College Oxford.

1450

Jack Cade's rebellion attempted to seize Queenborough Castle.

1539

Dissolution of Minster Abbey, the abbey was sold to Sir Thomas Cheyne.

1558

Sir Thomas Cheyne dies Lord Henry Cheyne (his son) disposes all of his estates in Sheppey.

1582

Queen Elizabeth fortifies Shurland and becomes the Lady of the Manor.

1579

First chemical works started at Queenborough.

1594

Queen Elizabeth re-builds Scocles Farm and indentured it to Sir Thomas Hoby.

1649

Sir Michael Livesey of Parsonage Farm, Eastchurch, signs the death warrant of King Charles I with Augustine Garland, M.P. for Queenborough.

1660

Restoration of Charles II Livesey murdered in Holland, Garland was sold into slavery.

1665

King Charles II and Samuel Pepys mark out the site for Sheerness dockyard and garrison.

1667

The Dutch invade Sheppey.

1669

Royal Dockyard built and fortified.

1688

King James II tries to escape to France from Elmley.

1732

William Hogarth and friends made a "perambulation to Shepey" (Sheppey) and stayed in Queenborough.

1786

First Wesleyan chapel built at Blue Town followed by the Bethel church in 1787 and followed by the Roman Catholic Church in 1790.

1797

Richard Parker organised the Mutiny at the Nore.

1803

Napoleonic scare, two moats dug for defence.

1820

Admiralty House was built for William Duke of Clarence (The Sailor King) and was the last Royal connection.

1825

Sir Edward Banks planned and laid out the Crescent, Bank Terraces and built the Royal Hotel. Then in 1831 carried out further improvements to the Dockyard.

1832

Queenborough disenfranchised marking the end of it's status as a "rotten borough". A Jewish Synagogue built in Blue Town.

1834

Great cholera epidemic in Sheppey. Parish Unions established.

1836

Holy Trinity Church built. 1837 Queen Victoria ordered all the Churches to be restored.

1860

First bridge and railway built.

1888

Local and District councils formed, Sheppey Rural, Sheerness Urban and Queenborough.

1902-04

Sheppey Light Railway to Leysdown opened and electric trams in Sheerness.

1911

Eastchurch became the cradle of aviation.

1914

First World War breaks out - passports are now required to get on to the island.

1914

H.M.S Bulwark blows up at her mooring near the Naval Dockyard. 1915, H.M.S Irene blows up at her mooring near the Naval Dockyard.

1920

Great development in camping facilities at Leysdown.

1929

The Nore Lightship ceased to be used by Trinity House and is removed.

1931

Ferry tolls abolished after 525 years.

1939

Second World War starts. The Isle of Sheppey becomes a closed area and once again passports are required to get on and off.

1940

Eastchurch aerodrome bombed, great number of new recruits killed. Defence forts floated out in the Estuary and anti-submarine boom placed from Shoeburyness to Minster.

1948

Sheppey Light Railway closed.

1953

Flooding did great damage to Sheppey, seawall has to be rebuilt at Cheyne Rock and heightened along its 2 mile length.

1960

A new bridge for Sheppey opened by Duchess of Kent.

1962

The Dockyard closed after 290 years of service to the Royal Navy.

1974

The Island Council taken over and incorporated into Swale District Council.

1978

Island cut off from mainland by snow and floods. And again in 1979 with floods.

1983

An open prison with it's own pig farm is created on the site of the former Eastchurch Aerodrome, with two more prisons built at a later date.

1987

In February the island was cut off from the mainland by snow. The military used helicopters to deliver produce to the island.

1987

Hurricane force winds devastated the Island, the historic Holm Oak Tree known as the Crusaders Tree crashes down.

This chronicle of events was created from various sources too numerous to acknowledge individually. Compiled by Melvyn Ingram - April 2001

Abbey Well - A brief Synopsis by Leon Stanford
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The well dates back to approx 1500 B.C. (archaeologists have recovered bronze-age pottery, and Roman coins and artefacts from inside the well) but was adopted 1300 years ago by St Sexburga, who was canonised for using water from this well, mixed with herbs to 'effect magical cures in people and animals'. She later retired to Ely Abbey, where she died in A.D. 697. Her sister, daughter & grand-daughter all subsequently became Abbesses to the nunnery at Minster and were also canonised for their similar healing works (Saints Werburga, Etheldreda and Erminhilda).

The site of the Nunnery and Holy Well has now been scheduled as a 'Grade A' Ancient Monument of National Importance by English Heritage, who have recently produced a report on its history. Several archaeological excavations have been carried out on the site in recent years by Sheppey Archaeological Society, The Canterbury Archaeological Trust and last year by a team from Queens University Belfast (headed by Dr Mark Gardiner). All have produced a wealth of archaeological evidence to show that this was an extremely important religious site from pre-Roman times, then throughout the Roman occupation and subsequently adopted by the widowed Queen Sexburga of Kent who established an Anglo-Saxon religious settlement for nuns of 'high and noble birth'.

The Abbess's Holy Healing Well has been the subject of many television and radio programmes, extensive national and local press coverage, and receives a regular flow of visitors from all over the world, who come to drink its pure water to cure all manner of illnesses and afflictions (it is especially famous for the treatment of infertility in women). Water from this well is even collected on a regular basis by the nuns and monks from a nearby convent and adjoining monastery, and used as their own special drinking water.

The well, fed a spring deep under the Abbey itself, was re-lined with stone circa A.D. 1130 by Archbishop William de Corbieull, and has been remained in continuous use since, even surviving the reformation, when Minster Abbey was suppressed by Henry Vlll.


Sheerness
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With the rise in importance of the dockyard at Chatham it was decided that Henry VIII's protecting fort at Sheerness was outdated. This was, at the time, the only building at Sheerness, Sheerness being a point of marshland protruding into the River Medway at the north west part of the Isle of Sheppey.

In 1666, the new fort was designed and the building commenced. The fort was completely demolished in 1667 during the Dutch raid of the Medway. By 1672, a piece of land was enclosed with a store house in place.

The workmen working on the dockyards were allowed to take lengths of timber called "chips". These were to be not longer than three feet long and be capable of being carried on one shoulder. These were used to build makeshift houses adjacent to the dockyard area. These cabins were then painted with grey-blue naval paint giving rise to the local name of Blue Houses. This was later corrupted to "Blue Town", and now as "Bluetown".

While the Blue Houses provided accommodation for some of the dockyard workers, by far the majority were housed in hulks of old warships positioned to break the flow of tide in the river. This reduced the loss of shingle from the foreshore.

Conditions were very primitive and thieving commonplace. Men could not be persuaded to come to work at Sheerness and despite the reopening of a well at Queenborough, (on the site of the present steelworks), there was a water shortage.

The yard grew slowly, the first dry-dock was built in 1708. An extension to the dockyard was proposed in 1765, but malaria, lack of water and sanitation caused it to be shelved.

In the 1820's a serious fire destroyed many buildings at the dockyard including all the remaining cabins made from "chips". This led to a major rebuilding programme being undertaken. The new houses became part of the development of Sheerness. In 1827 the dockyard was enclosed by a high brick wall. Convicts from the hulks provided much of the labour.

A moat was dug outside the garrison and dockyard as a defense measure, a drawbridge being the entrance. This was in place until the end of the century. The town extended away from the dockyard and Mile Town came into existence. This was a series of courts and alleys. Sheerness was not granted the status of town until the end of the 19th century, until that time it had been a part of Minster parish. Conditions improved, mains water being installed in 1863, although it was provided by standpipes in each street, only the wealthy residents being able to afford to have it supplied direct. Bluetown had a particularly unsavoury reputation. Theft, drunkenness and fights were common. It was claimed that every other building was a pub and every third one a brothel. The railway came to the island in 1863, the first station being built in the Dockyard.

The housing in Bluetown was rebuilt several times, however in the late 1950's and early 1960's all the wooden houses were demolished and none of the older houses of Blue Town remained. With the demise of the dockyard in 1960 most of the houses, pubs and shops disappeared and although the name Blue Town is still used it is largely an industrial area dominated by the Steel Works and Sheerness port.

The Sheerness Boat Store

Completed in 1860, the Sheerness Boat Store was the world's first multi storey building with a rigid portal frame and so was the direct forerunner of the modern skyscraper.

It is the first surviving example of a multi-story building having a complete iron framework. The structure of the store is of cast iron columns, four metres off the ground which support seven metre long cast iron beams. All have an I or H shaped cross-section and brackets support the points where they interlock, forming a completely rigid iron frame. This contrasts with the more elaborate and decorated forms of the period.

Queenborough - Flushing Pier
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During the early 1870's, the Dutch government was looking for a quicker and more convenient route for mail and passengers than the Harwich to Rotterdam route. At this time the Continental Traffic Agreement was in place. This regulated the pooling of revenue, in various percentages, arising from Kent Coast to the Continent services to the several companies involved in this traffic. Kent Coast in this agreement referred to all ports between Margate and Hastings.

The London, Chatham and Dover Railway had a railway line in operation between Sittingbourne and Sheerness, which commenced on 19th July 1860. They successfully tendered for the new mail and passenger contract and decided to use Queenborough as a continental port, Queenborough being outside the Continental Traffic Agreement. Queenborough Pier was to provide a rail link to the existing local line joining it between Queenborough and Sheerness.

The Zeeland Steamship company was formed when agreements between the Dutch Railways and the London, Chatham and Dover Railway were signed for the conveying of passengers, mails, and freight via Queenborough and flushing. The rail link between Queenborough and the pier opened on 15th May 1876, although the Zeeland Steamship Company had commenced its service the previous year using Sheerness Pier until Queenborough Pier was opened. The Queenborough to Flushing service soon became known as the Flushing Ferry. Queenborough Pier was of a "T" construction and extended sufficiently far into the Swale that the paddle steamers could use it at any state of tide. The railway station platform ran the length of the pier and cranes at the head of the pier handled the freight and luggage.

Queenborough Pier was damaged by fire on 18th May 1882 and the Flushing service was temporarily operated from Dover. A serious fire on 9th July 1900 extensively damaged the pier and services from the pier were not possible until the following January. In the meantime the passenger service was operated from Port Victoria, (Isle of Grain). Freight was diverted via Tilbury. The pier was almost completely rebuilt over the next four years. A rival railway company, The South Eastern Railway, had hoped to attract the passenger ferry to its deep water berths at Port Victoria. This did not materialise and the rail companies eventually amalgamated. The S.E.R. provided a ferry service from Port Victoria to Queenborough Pier but this was not well used and withdrawn in 1901.

Soon after amalgamation, in 1899, the Dutch mails were transferred to the Harwich - Hook route when the Great Eastern Railway undertook to provide suitable turbine powered vessels.

A further blow to the service occurred when the night sailings' were transferred to Folkestone, the new larger Zeeland ferry being unsuitable for navigation in the Medway. The day sailings continued from Queenborough Pier until the outbreak of the First World War.

The Flushing route reopened in 1919 but used Folkstone as the terminal. Parkestone Quay, Harwich, superseded this in 1926.

Queenborough Pier remained open as a cargo berth, but Queenborough lost its status as a continental passenger port. Cargo to the pier gradually declined until it was almost disused by 1933. During the Second World War administration of the pier passed to the Admiralty.

From this period onward the pier was disused and the structure progressively decayed. The end eventually came in 1955 when its demolition commenced. At low water the stumps of the pier supports are all that remain to be seen. The rail lines are still in place and used as sidings for freight.

S.S.Richard Montgomery
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Length overall 441ft 6in
Length (BP) 417ft 8in
Length (waterline) 427ft
Breadth (extreme) 57ft
Breadth (moulded) 56ft 10in
Depth (moulded) 37ft 4in
Freeboard 9ft 8in
Tons (registered) 7176 Gross 4380 Net
Tons (deadweight) 10.865
Tons (displacement) 14.245
Main Engine
direct acting, condensing, three cylinder
2500HP at 76 RPM
triple expansion
Speed 11 knots


The Stranding
After taking on bombs and munitions at Hog Island, Philadelphia, the Richard Montgomery sailed from the Delaware River to the Thames Estuary, to await a convoy for Cherbourg.
On arrival off Southend, she came under the authority of the Thames Naval Control at HMS Leigh, which was, in fact , Southend Pier. The Kings' Harbour Master, who controlled the shipping movements and anchorages in the estuary, ordered her to anchor off the north end of the Sheerness Middle Sand in about 33ft of water at low tide.
The birth was not the most suitable for a vessel of her size, particularly since she was trimmed to a draft of 31ft aft, over 3ft more than usual for a 'Liberty' ship.

Richard Montgomery grounded on Sunday, 20th August 1944 when the wind went northerly.

She was stranded on top of the Sheerness Middle Sand at the height of the spring tide. She was therefore beneaped until the next spring tide due two weeks later. She grounded across the ridge of the shoal with her bows nearly due north.
As the tide ebbed, the strain on her hull caused some welded plates to crack and buckle with a loud report. This sudden noise was heard and remarked upon by the crew of the motor launch British Queen, fishing over a mile away. They then saw the crew of the Richard Montgomery conducting an emergency evacuation of their ship.

Cargo Salvage Operation
A firm of stevedores from Rochester was engaged to carry out a cargo salvage operation. This commenced three days after the stranding when the vessel did not appear damaged or taking water. The ships own cargo gear was used, with the winches powered by steam from a vessel moored alongside.
On Thursday, 24th August, the hull cracked transversely at the fore end of No 3 hold. This flooded through to No 1 and No 2 holds. The vessel finally broke her back on Friday, 8th September and was permanently stranded.
As the cargo was removed from Nos 4 and 5 holds, the buoyancyof the stern increased, until by 20th September, it was hinging on the bow section at deck level and tilting with the tidal movement. The whole of the skeg and propeller showed at high water.
After finally flooding, the stem section separated and moved several feet southwards and picoted approximately 12 degrees clockwise about the after mast before settling aground. The interaction between the two sections of the wreck has induced a scouting action which has changed the sea bed structure, and has had an effect on the velocity of tidal movement.
Salvage continued until 25th September, when the after holds, nos 4 and 5, were cleared. The wreck was then abandoned.

Today the submerged sections of the hull are now three. A further transverse break in the bow section between the forward mast and the forward end of No 2 hold occurred in the 1960's. Banks of silt and sand have built up around the hull and powerful tide rips build up with the current at half tide.
The principle source of explosive hazard is the concentration of GP and SAP bombs in the forward section.
Some experts feel the explosives have become safer with their length of submergence. Others feel the opposite.

For the people of Sheerness, Southend-on-Sea, and the adjacent towns, who would be affected by an explosion and resulting ridal wave, there are two glimmers of hope.
  1. The cargo will eventually deteriorate to the safety level.
  2. If an explosion occurs, it should be hoped that it will occur at low water, when impact of the ensuing tidal wave will be greatly diminished.

S.S. Richard Montgomery was launched in July 1943. She was the seventh of 82 dry cargo 'Liberty' steamers to be built by the St. John's River Shipbuilding Co at Jacksonville, Florida.

Richard Montgomery
The vessel was named after an Irish soldier, born in Dublin in 1738. He settled in America, was elected to congress, and also fought in the war against the British in Canada. He helped capture Montreal and was killed in the assault on Quebec on the last day of 1775.


Also known as...
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The Romans knew Sheppey as "Insula Orium".

The Saxons called Sheppey "Sceapige".

Sceapige translates to "Sheppey" the modern name of the Island.

See also: An Introduction to the Isle of Sheppey.

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