Thurrock Local History Society
Greenwich and the Sheerness Project:
AT our October meeting we welcomed Will Palin (a descendant of Rev William Palin of Stifford) chair of the Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust who, together with The Spitalfields Trust, aim to preserve the buildings and bring back life to the area.
The Royal Naval College in Greenwich remained a college until the 1990s, the University of Greenwich being its main occupants. The Greenwich Foundation has now opened up the site to visitors. It has a visitor centre and is open to the pubic daily, free of charge, with guided tours available. James Thornhill decorated the dining hall, crammed full of historical figures, representing wealth and prosperity in London.
The 18th century dockyard at Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey was marshy with little fresh water. John Rennie was brought in to engineer the building of the dockyard, driving millions of piles into the ground at a cost of over £2million. It closed 1960 and became a commercial port.
In 1820 Rennie’s superb large scale model of the dockyard was constructed and today many of the buildings depicted on it have been demolished. The model itself was saved from destruction, put in a cellar and is now in store in Gosport, awaiting display in new premises.
Several of the buildings surrounding the dockyard had fallen into disrepair and were on the “at risk” register; some of these, including the Boat Store and Naval Terrace were acquired by a developer who wanted to build 200 flats on the site. After planning consent was refused the Spitalfields Trust stepped in and they and residents got together to find money from other sources (including a dinner to invite support) to form a new company to rebuild, repairs starting after only two weeks.
It has now been beautifully repaired, restored and landscaped with gardens, high walls and fruit trees, including an avenue to the Dockyard Church, costing less than the new flats would have.
There have been several fires in the Dockyard Church over the years and it was burnt out in 2001. It was bought by a developer who wanted to build flats; however there was a successful campaign to persuade the council to buy it in 2015. The aim of the Trust is to restore the church to its original state in 1820, with space inside for young people. It could be hired for lectures etc. The Trust still needs £5million before work starts, hoping to complete in 2022.
The project started with just £10,000 from the archaeological heritage fund for development. Since then money has come from the Heritage Lottery Fund and others to see this project to its fruition. Thanks to the hard work and enthusiasm of its supporters, the Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust is well on the way to achieving its aim. The Isle of Sheppey is relatively unknown, but thanks to this informative talk by Will Palin it will come alive again.
Our next meeting is on Friday 15 November at the Adult Education Centre in Richmond Road, Grays, when Richard Walsh will be talking about the Goldsmiths of Grays. Visitors are welcome.