History Of Sheppey, Kent
Sheppey is separated from the mainland by a channel called the Swale. In common with the Wantsum Channel separating the Isle of Thanet from the mainland to the east; and Yantlet Creek at the Isle of Grain these were used in ancient times to allow shipping to reach ports such as Chatham and London without encountering the bad weather from the North Sea.
Three ferries have operated between the mainland and the isle: one to the west, called the King's Ferry; one at Elmley; and another, giving access from Faversham, the Harty Ferry. All had long histories: particularly the latter (see external link below). None operates today: the Harty Ferry ceased operation at the start of the First World War. But the slipways at Harty and Elmley can still be seen today. That at Harty is below the Ferry House Inn (the landlord owns the ferry rights), while seeing the one at Elmley requires a walk of about a mile and a half from the RSPB car park. Additionally the South Eastern Railway operated a connecting passenger ferry to Sheerness from Port Victoria railway terminus on the Grain peninsula for some years. Several ferry services to Southend have also been tried but proved short-lived. A number of continental ferry services have operated from the Isle of Sheppey.
A large ferry terminal was built by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway at Queenborough Pier in 1876 and operated a nightly service to Flushing (Vlissingen) in Holland, as well as a German mail service. These services ceased during the First World War but it was then used for military traffic. The port there was closed and dismantled in the 1930s. A passenger, car and lorry ferry operated to Vlissingen (Flushing) from Sheerness through the 1980s and 1990s, but there has been no ferry service of any kind in recent years.
Shurland Hall, near Eastchurch, is named after its first owners, the De Shurland family. In 1188 Adam De Shurland possessed a mill with more than a 1,000 acres (4 km²) of mixed land, mostly marsh with a small meadow: he also let a number of cottages thereabouts.
A curious tale surrounds a 14th-century member of the family, Sir Robert de Shurland. According to legend, Sir Robert killed a monk and resolved to ask the King for a pardon. In 1327 he rode to where the King's ship was anchored, off the Isle of Sheppey, and gained forgiveness. Returning, he met a witch who said that de Shurland's horse, Grey Dolphin, which had borne him so bravely to the ship, would be the death of him. Sir Robert immediately killed the horse and cut off its head. A year later Sir Robert was walking along the shore when a shard of the horse's bone pierced his foot. Blood poisoning set in and Sir Robert died.
Henry VIII visited the hall; about this time it became the family home of William Cheney (1453–87), whose son Thomas was a Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.
In the First World War troops were billeted at the great hall, but it suffered considerable damage as a result. There has been no record of anyone living in the hall since. It is a Grade II listed building and awaits reconstruction by English Heritage. Planning applications have been made to use part of the site for housing.
A grant of £300,000 has been made to restore the fascade of the building by English Heritage (2006)
Capture of James II
Three miles across the Swale lies Whitstable. The Swale channel was the point of departure selected by James II, when departing in some haste "from the Protestant deliverance of the nation" by William of Orange in December, 1688.
A hoy having been chartered, the fugitive king landed at Elmley, only to be mobbed by local fishermen. They thought such a noble on such a humble vessel was the locally hated Jesuit Edward Petre and so took his money, watch and coronation ring. At length he was recognised by one of the assailants and the group took him in custody to Faversham, where he was detained.
Sheerness is a commercial port and main town of the Isle of Sheppey and owes much to its origins as a Royal Naval dockyard town. Samuel Pepys established the Royal Navy Dockyard in the 17th century. Henry VIII, requiring the River Medway as an anchorage for his navy, ordered that the mouth of the river should be protected by a small fort. Garrison Fort was built in 1545.
Sheerness was the focus of an attack by the Dutch navy in June 1667, when 72 hostile ships compelled the little sandspit fort there to surrender and landed a force which for a short while occupied the town. Samuel Pepys at Gravesend remarked in his diary "we do plainly at this time hear the guns play" and in fear departed to Brampton in Huntingdonshire.
The dockyard served the Royal Navy until 1960 and has since developed into one of the largest and fastest expanding ports in the UK. The Port of Sheerness contains at least one Grade II listed building, the old Boat House. Built in 1866, it is the first multi-storey iron framed industrial building recorded in the UK. Decorated with ornate ironwork, it features operating rails extending the length of the building, for the movement of stores, much like a modern crane.
The dockyard and fort at Sheerness today are a significant feature of the Isle of Sheppey's economy, which includes the extensive export-import of motor vehicles, and a major steel works, with extensive railway fixtures. The island is, however, suffering from an economic recession and these industries are not as extensive as they once were.
The area immediately outside the dockyard was occupied by dockyard workers, who built wooden houses and decorated them with Admiralty blue paint illegally acquired from the dockyard. This area was, and still is, known as Blue Town, though it is now mostly occupied by the Sheerness Steel works.
Beyond Blue Town, an outlying residential area overlooking the sea was chiefly designed for various government officials. This area became known as Mile Town because it is one mile from Sheerness.
About 200 shipwrecks are recorded around the coast of Sheppey, the most famous being the SS Richard Montgomery, a liberty ship loaded with bombs and exposives that grounded on sand banks during the Second World War. As of 2004 plans were discussed with a view to removing the threat from the Montgomery. These include encasing the ship in concrete or removing the bombs; no firm decision has yet been made.
New research commisisoned by the Government in 2005-06 has suggested that the threat has passed and that constant surveillance should ensure the safety of the immediate community.
The Eastchurch airfield was also the site, in July, 1911, of the Gordon Bennett Trophy air race, attended by flyers from all over the world, and won that year by the American pilot C T Weymann.
A stained glass window in the south side of All Saints' Church, Eastchurch (built in 1432), was dedicated to Rolls and Grace, who were killed in July and December of 1910 respectively.
Sheppey Heritage Group has established a Flying Start project (2004) to commerate the centenary of flying in the UK and has won an initial Lottery award to enable it to bid for a further £2-£3 million.