- Isle of Sheppey
:"This article is about the Isle of Sheppey in northern Kent not to be confused with
Shepwayin south-eastern Kent"
:"For the W. Somerset Maugham play, see
infobox UK place
country = England
official_name= Isle of Sheppey
population = 37,852 (2001 Census)
region= South East England
constituency_westminster= Sittingbourne and Sheppey
post_town= SHEERNESS|postcode_district = ME11/ME12
postcode_area= ME |dial_code= 01795
static_image_caption="View towards Minster from Elmley Marshes."
The Isle of Sheppey is an island off the northern coast of
Kent, Englandin the Thames Estuary, some 38 miles (62 km) to the east of central London. It has an area of 36 square miles (94 km²). The island forms part of the local government district of Swale. "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 sheep. The island, like much of North Kent, comprises London Clayand is a plentiful source of fossils.
The land mass referred to as Sheppey comprises three main islands: Sheppey, the Isle of Harty and the Isle of Elmley (it was once known as the Isles of Sheppey before the channels separating them silted up), but the marshy nature of the land to the south of the island means that it is so crossed by channels and drains as to consist of a multitude of islands. The ground is mainly low-lying, but at Minster rises to about convert|240|ft|m|0|abbr=on.
Some Sheppey inhabitants like to call themselves "Swampies", a term that began as, and for some people remains, an insult; for others it has become a term of endearment or a phrase for reinforcing identity.
Sheppey is separated from the mainland by a channel called
The Swale. In common with the Wantsum Channelseparating the Isle of Thanetfrom the mainland to the east, and Yantlet Creekat the Isle of Grain, it was 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 RSPBcar park. Additionally the South Eastern Railway operated a connecting passenger ferry to Sheernessfrom 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 Railwayat Queenborough Pier in 1876 and operated a nightly service to Flushing ( Vlissingen) in the Netherlands, 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 from Sheerness through the 1980s and 1990s, but there has been no ferry service of any kind in recent years.
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 tidal wave and never replaced.
In much more modern times, the Kingsferry Bridge (replacing the ferry) has been built. There have been four bridges, each having to be built to allow passage along the navigable waterway to The Swale:
July 19 1860: The London, Chatham and Dover Railway built the first bridge to an Admiraltydesign. It had a central span raised between two towers. Trains and road traffic were able to use it, as with the next two bridges.
November 6 1906: The South Eastern and Chatham Railwayreplaced the first bridge with one having a "rolling lift" design. It was originally worked by hand, but later by electricity.
* October 1959:
Kingsferry Bridge, a lifting bridge was installed, 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)
* May 2006: The
Sheppey crossingwas completed and opened on 3 July. This four-lane road bridge rises to a height of 20 m above The Swale, and carries the A249 trunk road. Pedestrian, animal and bicycle traffic, as well as the railway, are still obliged to use the lifting bridge, which still provides the most direct link between the island and the Iwade/ Lower Halstowarea.
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 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.
In the First World War troops were billeted at the great hall, and 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 was made by English Heritage in 2006 to restore the hall's facade.
Capture of James II
Three miles (5 km) 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 Petreand 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 Pepysestablished the Royal Navy Dockyard in the 17th century. Henry VIII, requiring the River Medwayas 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 Pepysat 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 large 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 complex.
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 (1.6 km) from Sheerness.
About 200 shipwrecks are recorded around the coast of Sheppey, the most famous being the "
SS Richard Montgomery", a liberty shiploaded with bombs and exposives that grounded on sandbanks 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 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.
Edward Jacob(1710 - 1788) purchased the little Manor of Nutts, Isle of Sheppey, in 1752. There, he pursued his hobby as a naturalist. He discovered much of interest to the antiquarian, naturalist, geologist and zoologist, although there was little prior knowledge. In 1777, Jacob published about his various fossil finds, including what he called the remains of an elephant. [ [http://www.todayinsci.com/11/11_26.htm#JacobEdward Today in Science History] ]
The isle is noted as the northern-most place to have an established
scorpionpopulation. " Euscorpius flavicaudis" has been resident since the 1860s. [cite web |url=http://www.ub.ntnu.no/scorpion-files/e_flavicaudis.htm |title="Euscorpius flavicaudis" |accessdate=2008-06-13 |last=Rein |first=Jan Ove |date=2000 |work=The Scorpion Files |publisher= Norwegian University of Science and Technology] . In 2008 a team of palaeontologists unearthed the fossil skull of a large flying bird from the Eoceneperiod called Dasornis[ [http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080926143908.htm Mother Of A Goose! Giant Ocean-going Geese With Bony-teeth Once Roamed Across SE England] ] in the deposits of the London Clay.
From 1894 to 1968, Sheppey contained the
Queenborough Municipal Borough, Sheerness Urban Districtand Sheppey Rural District(consisting of the civil parishes of Eastchurch, Elmley, Harty, Leysdown-on-Sea, Minster-in-Sheppeyand Warden). 1968 saw all these merged to form a single Queenborough-in-SheppeyMunicipal Borough covering the entire island. [http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/relationships.jsp?u_id=10492051] In 1974 the area was merged with districts on the mainland to form the SwaleDistrict.
The isle has a long history of aviation development in England. It was home to Lord Brabazon's
Royal Aero Clubwhich formed in Leysdown in 1901 to popularise balloon-flying. The club took to the aeroplane with relish, and in July 1909 the Short brothersestablished Shellbeach Aerodrome on nearby marshland to accommodate six Wright Flyers, moving a few kilometres the next year to Eastchurchwhere a new aerodromehad 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
Batterseato 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 Wrightand his brother Orville came to the Isle of Sheppey to visit the new flying grounds of the Aero Club. In 1909, Moore-Brabazon made the first live cargo flight by fixed-wing aircraft, by tying a waste-paper basket to a wing strut of his Shorts-built Wright aircraft. Then, using it as a "cargo hold", he airlifted one small pig.
The Eastchurch airfield was also the site, in July 1911, of the competition for the Gordon Bennett Cup for powered air racing, 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 1910 respectively.
Sheppey Heritage Group has established a Flying Start Project (2004) to commemorate 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.
The largest town on the island is
Sheerness. Other villages 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 beyond Leysdown, towards Shellness. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birdsmanages a reserve at Elmley Marshes.
There are three prisons on the island, all located to the south of the village of
Eastchurch: HMP Elmley, HMP Standford Hill, and HMP Swaleside. The total inmate population is in the region of 2,200.
In the 2001 census, it had a resident population of 37,852, many of whom commute via the Sheerness-Sittingbourne rail link.
*SFMThe SFM group has been campaigning since August 2002 for a local commercial radio licence. [http://www.sfmforswale.com 87.9 SFM]
*BRFM Bridge 95.6 BRFM broadcasts 24 hours a day to Sheppey only (under its strict licensing conditions) from studios in on the Minster cliffs on the Isle of Sheppey. [http://www.brfm.net BRFM]
*Swale Local RadioSLR operated as a commerical Hospial radio group operating in the Sittingbourne area under the licensing of the 28 day Restricted Service License (RSL).
*The Link FM/Kingsferry FMThe Link and Kingsferry FM, also part of the BRFM Group, using numerous 28 day licenses whenever possible to help to secure a Commercial license for the Island, this resulted in the 2 amalgamating and becoming what is now known as today's BRFM, although the two stations are now defunct.
On 21st September 2008, Mayor of London Boris Johnson said that an airport off the coast of the Isle of Sheppey would be a viable alternative to "Jam packed" Heathrow. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/7627926.stm]
Sheppey Light Railway
Islands in the River Thames
* [http://tourism.swale.gov.uk/isleofsheppey.htm Swale Borough Council's Sheppey Tourism Page]
* [http://www.clcshe.eclipse.co.uk/ Sheppey Access]
* [http://www.sheppey.free-online.co.uk/home.html Sheppey Link site]
* [http://www.faversham.org/history/hartyferry.asp History of Harty Ferry]
* [http://www.sheppey.free-online.co.uk/history/dockyard/ History of Sheerness Dockyard]
* [http://www.brfm.net/ BRFM Community Radio for The Isle of Sheppey]
* [http://www.sheppeyonline.co.uk/ Sheppey On-Line Community Website for the Isle of Sheppey]
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