Unit History: HM Dockyard Sheerness
Sheerness (pronounced /ˈʃɪərnɪs/) is a town located beside the mouth of the River Medway on the northwest corner of the Isle of Sheppey in north Kent, England. With a population of 12,000 it is the largest town on the island.
Sheerness began as a fort built in the 16th century to protect the River Medway from naval invasion. In 1665, plans were first laid by the Navy Board for a Royal Navy dockyard where warships might be provisioned and repaired, a site favored by Samuel Pepys, then Clerk of the Acts of the navy, for shipbuilding over Chatham. After the raid on the Medway in 1667, the older fortification was strengthened; in 1669 was established the Royal Navy dockyard in the town, where warships were stocked and repaired until its closure in 1960.
Beginning with the construction of a pier and a promenade in the 19th century, Sheerness acquired the added attractions of a seaside resort. Industry retains its important place in the town and the port of Sheerness is one of the United Kingdom’s leading car and fresh produce importers. The town is the site of one of the UK’s first co-operative societies and also of the world’s first multi-storey building with a rigid metal frame.
century. As the settlement expanded eastwards, away from the dockyard and the Blue Houses, the wider area became known as Sheerness, taking its new name from the brightness or clearness of the water at the mouth of the River Medway. Completed in 1860 and still standing today, the Sheerness Boat Store was the world’s first multi-storey building with a rigid metal frame. In 1863, mains water was installed in the town, and the Isle of Sheppey’s first railway station opened at the dockyard. Towards the end of the 19th century, Sheerness achieved official town status and formed its own civil parish, separate from Minster-in-Sheppey. The 1901 Census recorded the Sheerness parish as having 18,179 residents and 2,999 houses.
The town’s low rainfall and ample sunshine made it popular as a seaside resort, with tourists arriving by steamboat and train. The Sheppey Light Railway opened in 1901, connecting the new Sheerness East station with the rest of the island. However, by 1950, lack of demand led to the railway’s closure. The Sheerness tramway, which opened in 1903, only lasted until 1917.
Terraced houses near the seafrontIn 1944 the United States cargo ship SS Richard Montgomery ran aground and sank 1 mile (1.6 km) off the coast of Sheerness, with 3,172 tonnes of explosives on board. Due to the inherent danger and projected expense, the ship and its cargo have never been salvaged; if the wreck were to explode, it would be one of the largest non-nuclear explosions of all time. A 2004 report published in New Scientist warned that an explosion could occur if sea water penetrated the bombs.
In March 1960 the Royal Navy ceased operating the Sheerness dockyard and the Medway Port Authority took over the site for commercial use. The dockyard closure led to thousands of job losses, and most of the nearby houses and shops in the Bluetown area were eventually abandoned and demolished. By the 1961 census, the population of Sheerness had fallen to 13,691.The dockyard closure also led to the decline of the Sheerness and District Cooperative Society, as many of its members were dockyard workers. At the time, the society was the island’s main retailer, but it has since been reduced to a few shops and been merged with a larger society. As of 2007, Bluetown is an industrial area, and Sheerness has become the largest port in the UK for motor imports.