Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Isle of Sheppey
|Isle of Sheppey|
|Region:||South East England|
The Isle of Sheppey is a small (36 square miles, 94 km≤) island off the northern coast of Kent in the Thames Estuary, some 25 miles (40km) to the east of central London. Sheppey is derived from the ancient Saxon "Sceapige", meaning isle of sheep, and even today the extensive marshes which make up a considerable proportion of the island provide grazing for large flocks of them. The island, like much of North Kent is comprised of London Clay – and a plentiful source of fossils.
Much of the island is very low-lying, although two areas – the Isle of Harty and the Isle of Elmley – show slightly higher contours. The following is about life in Sheerness in the 1860s, taken from a report in The Sheerness Times in 1931:
"The sea wall of this period consisted solely of a mud bank. On the seaward side of this bank at Marine Parade was a water pump for the purpose of pumping sea water to fill the water carts for street watering – a method used to conserve the town's water supply. Records show that the original esplanade was built at a cost of between £6000 and £7000. The money was raised by loan, the last instalment being paid in 1906."
Some Sheppey inhabitants like to call themselves Swampies – a term that began as an insult but has become a term of endearment.
Sheppey is separated from the mainland by a narrow 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.
There were two ferries operating between the mainland and the Isle: one to the west, called the King's Ferry; the other, giving access from Faversham, the Harty Ferry. Both had extremely long histories: particularly the latter (see external link below). Neither operate today: the Harty Ferry ceased operation at the start of the First World War
During the reign of Edward I, according to the historian Charles Igglesden, a bridge connected Sheppey to the mainland at Elmley. It was called the Tremsethg Bridge but was lost in a freak tidal wave and never replaced.
In much more modern times, the Kingsferry Bridge (replacing the ferry) has been built. There have been three bridges, each having to be built to allow passage along the navigable waterway to The Swale:
- July 19 1860: The South Eastern Railway built this first bridge to an Admiralty design. It had a central span raised from two towers. Trains and road traffic were able to use it, as with the following two bridges.
- November 6 1906: The South Eastern and Chatham Railway replaced the first bridge with one having a "rolling lift" design. It was originally worked by hand, but later by electricity.
- October 1959: The present bridge was built. It is a lifting bridge, able to lift both the road and the railway line to allow ships to pass beneath.
(Information on the bridge from Railways of the Southern Region Geoffrey Body (PSL Field Guide 1884)
A gradual increase in traffic flows to and from Sheppey brought increasingly bad vehicle holdups, and construction of a second road bridge began in early 2004; it is due to be completed by summer 2006.
Shurland Hall, near Eastchurch, is named after its first owners, the De Shurland family. In 1188 Adam De Shurland posessed 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 had 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. Sir Robert died from blood poisoning.
In World War I 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; although a Grade II listed building, it awaits reconstruction by English Heritage.
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, seeing in his noble manner, on such a humble vessel not their king but the notorious Jesuit Father Petre , locally hated, and so took from him 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 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 have been.
Blue Town, an outlying residential area overlooking the sea, was chiefly designed for various government officials. It is so named because many of the houses were decorated with blue paint acquired from the dockyard.
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 have just been 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.
The isle has a long history of aviation development in England. It was home to Lord Brabazon's Royal Aero Club which formed in Leysdown in 1901 to popularise balloon-flying. The club took to the aeroplane with relish, and in July 1909 the Short Brothers established Shellbeach aerodrome on nearby marshland to accommodate six Wright Flyers, moving a few kilometres the next year to Eastchurch where a new aerodrome had been built for the club.
The Eastchurch airfield played a significant role in the history of British aviation from 1909 when Frank McClean acquired Stonepits Farm, on the marshes across from Leysdown, converting the land into an airfield for members of the Aero Club of Great Britain.
The Short Brothers, Horace, Eustace and Oswald, built aircraft at Battersea to be tested at the site; later Moore-Brabazon, Professor Huntington, Charles S Rolls and Cecil Grace all visited and used the flying club's services. Wilbur Wright and his brother Orville came to the Isle of Sheppey to visit the new flying grounds of the Aero Club.
A stained glass window in the south side of All Saints' Church, Eastchurch, was dedicated to Rolls and Grace, who were killed in July and December of 1910 respectively.
The largest town on the island is Sheerness. Other towns include Minster which has a pebble beach and Leysdown-on-Sea which has a coarse sandy one. The whole north coast is dotted with caravan parks and holiday homes; there is also a naturist beach. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has a site at Elmley Marshes.
In the 2001 census it had a resident population of 37,852, many of whom commute via the Sheerness-Sittingbourne rail link.
The garden in the centre of the roundabout on the main road opposite Queenborough Corner has been dedicated to Screaming Lord Sutch, who was to brighten up the politics of the UK with the Monster Raving Loony Party.
- The Ingoldsby Country: Charles G Harper 1906.
- Sheppey Gazette
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