Posted by: madkentdragon | March 28, 2011

Quirky Kent Part 3 A Mutiney an Abbey and a Dockyard

First Nore Light Ship

Sorry to drag you all over the Island, but it was the only way to fit a small item in after a longer one, don’t want to bore you for too long! This time we’re heading back past Queenborough and towards Sheerness and taking the road to Blue Town. It’s an area of Sheerness near the docks and once housed all the dock workers in wooden houses the wooden being taken from the dockyard, with permission from the Navy – they were only meant to be temporary structures, but it is believed one or two exist to this day. These houses needed painting each year to protect the wood from the salt air and the easiest way was to purloin the paint from the dockyard – which was of course Royal Navy Blue; hence the name of the area.

Most of these houses are long gone and much of it is now industrialised, but no one can pass the area without popping into the “concrete factory”, here you can buy everything from a small frog for your pond to gate pillars and even the lion to crown them. The factory supplies many of the garden centres in Kent and beyond, but many people like to pop in and trawl the site for the ornaments.

Right now on to Sheerness which began its life as a fort during Henry VIII’s time, it was built to protect the mouth of the Thames and the Medway which also flows in to the sea here. In 1665, the dockyard was built to serve the Navy for repairs and provisions and was further  fortified with a fort and garrison and walls and ditches after the Dutch captured the town in 1667! Bit late really – but the town prospered after this and is the largest town on the Isle of Sheppey.

The area of the sea that the ships protected was called “The Nore” and it is here in 1797 that there was a mutiny. Twenty-eight ships of the Royal Navy mutinied, took control of their ships as they demanded better pay or shareout from the privateering, and an end to the war against France. When their demands were refused, the mutineers blockaded London and there were fears that they would attack Sheerness.

The garrison was reinforced to 3,000 men but eventually, after a few days, the mutiny was subdued with little violence and the ringleaders were hanged. One ship’s captain refused to hang any mutineers which will surprise you when I tell you that his name was Captain William Bligh – he of the Bounty!

After the Napoleonic Wars, in 1820 there was a large fire which spread to, and destroyed most of, the houses in Blue Town and new houses
were erected and a major re-development of the dockyard which was formally reopened by the Duke of Clarence in 1823. The town of Sheerness expanded and its nickname of Sheerness, meaning bright water, became the official title of the town, but did not receive a full town charter until 1863.

There had been ferries running from Sheerness to Holland for over a century, but unfortunately these closed in the mid 1980s and the
dockyard was closed in 1960.

One further point of interest is that the first light-ship in Britain was stationed here off the sandbanks in 1730. Also off the coast of
Sheerness is the wreck of the American SS Richard Montgomery ran aground and sank about a mile off shore in 1944. The 3172 tons of explosive are still aboard and no salvage work has ever been done on it. If the ship was ever to explode it would be one of the largest non-nuclear explosions of all time. Despite this Sheerness has evolved into a quiet coastal resort and has one of the oldest cooperative societies in the UK.

Now we’re are going to Minster, not to be confused with Minster on the Isle of Thanet, the abbey stands on the highest point of the Island and the abbey was founded as a nunnery by Queen Sexburgha in 664AD, and her son King Ercombert of Kent endowed it with some land. The actual stone to build it came from Boughton Monchelsea, near Maidstone, which also supplied the stones for the Romans to build the walls of Londinium, the stones were transported mainly by the River Medway to here, Roman tiles were also “recycled” and there were at least three wells on the site.

Although badly damaged by Viking raids in the 9th Century, it continued in use and William the Conqueror allowed nuns to come to the island to live here. The nunnery was impoverished and further attacked in the 11th Century, but Archbishop de Corbeuil had the place rebuilt finally being finished in 1139. There were two churches, one for the nuns and one for the parishioners and some of the stone for these came from Caen as did the stone for Canterbury Cathedral. However, this saved the Abbey church from destruction during the dissolution as the two churches shared an outside wall (semi detached!).

After the dissolution, the Abbey was acquired by Sir Thomas Cheyne but most of the buildings were demolished except for the church and the abbey gate-house. The buildings were neglected over the centuries until 1881, the Reverend William Branstone restored the church and the Abbey is now a Grade I listed building, the gatehouse is now a museum which houses various monuments and displays of armour down the centuries. The earliest is Baron Robert de Shurland [died 1327] who reclines on an altar tomb on the southside. At his feet is the head of his
horse, Grey Dolphin. According to local legend, Sir Robert killed a monk and resolved to ask the King for a pardon. In 1326 he rode to where the King’s ship was anchored, off the Isle of Sheppey, and rode out through the water to gain forgiveness from the King. 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, killed by his horse as predicted by the witch.

Next time, we’ll come off the Island and back on to mainland Kent



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