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SHEERNESS DOCKYARD

BY

BERT SHARDLOW.

(Copied from the manuscript by Colin Penney.)

 

To men who had served a lifetime in the dockyard and the Royal Navy something seemed to out of their lives when an establishment closes its gates for the last time.

Enclosed in the original geographical boundary of  Kent there have existed in a period  of 500 years no fewer than 7 active Royal Dockyards , that is without including any of the  Cinque Ports Naval Stations such as Hythe and Sandwich . Of the seven ,Deal navy Yard which closed in 1864 had its origin in the days of the Cinque Ports Navy .Erith was a Royal Dock from about the year 1485 as a convenient port for repair and laying up of the fleet, but after finalising the fitting out of the Woolwich built “ Great Harry “ it sank into gradual oblivion.

Deptford had a known history from 1485 until closure in 1869 although it ceased activities for a period of 24 years  1818 to 1842 in the later year it was re-opened and saw the introduction of  steam in the Royal Navy.

The first ship accepted as being specifically built as a man-of-war  ,the Henry Grace A Dieu  or Great Harry was laid down at Woolwich in 1512 to the design , it is believed , of Master Shipwrights brought from Florence by Henry VIII the principle being Brygandine and the design of ornate carvings remained for years to distinguish naval ships from private ones. It  is not believed that Woolwich was a Royal Yard at the time of the building of the Great Harry because the shipwrights and the caulkers were pressed into service from Harwich and members of the Pett family began their connections with the Royal Dockyards at that time. The Woolwich Yard can be said to have  existed under the Crown  from 1516 to 1869 and throughout its history was known  as the “ Mother Yard “ ,but this referred to the modern navy and  the birthplace of the Great Harry. Southampton ,Burlseden,  Hythe and Portsmouth had earlier connections dating from the reign of King John  and the latter port had a dry dock of boats as early as 1490 .Deptford and Woolwich Dockyards ,although closed in 1869 retained naval connections until recent years  and although utilised  for various purposes both yards have original buildings and docks which remain as left in 1869.

In historical order Chatham was the fifth of the Royal Yards in Kent. Originally known as Gillingham Water it was established in 1547 and  adopted its present title of Chatham some 20 years later and remains today ( 1990) the only Royal Dockyard in Kent .

1667 was the year of the establishment of  the Royal Dockyard of Sheerness although the site had been used by Chatham Dockyard for 30 years before that time for the cleaning and caulking of the hulls of North Sea vessels .Sheerness actually replaced Harwich in Essex  as an offensive yard  for the repair of the North Sea fleet .Harwich was founded by Cromwell in 1650 and continued as a Royal Yard ( part Royal , part private ) and private until transferred to the Post Office in 1827 in case it was said that it might be required again by the Navy.  It was , but not until 1940 when it was utilised for repairing minesweeping trawlers.  With the exception of the small Dover dockyard which was founded in the early part of  the present century  as an appendage to trhe naval station and found to be within easy reach of German guns all had the same purpose.  The traditional wars with France  , Spain held Netherlands and Holland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bert was a very keen and a  very helpful historian  . As a very senior Dockyard Foreman ,a post equilavalent,  to say a Managing Director of a very large Business ,he had access to all Naval Dockyard records and  after his retirement  was allowed access  to all Naval Establishments for his research . Most of his research he sent to The Maritime Museum who were very grateful  for Bert’s interest ,he spent a lot of time there with his research. 

He also researched his Family Tree , the Ratcliff family and many Queenborough Families. And he helped many people sort out their Family Tree problems.