The overlays that highlight 17th century London features are approximate and derived from Wenceslaus Hollar’s maps:

Open location in Google Maps: 51.440192, 0.764064

3 Annotations

Second Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

The Isle of Sheppey, which is about 9 miles long and 4-1/2 wide, lies on the south side of the Thames estuary and is separated from the north Kent coast by a narrow channel called the Swale.

Sheerness in the mid-17th century was a short point of uninhabited marshland jutting out of the north-western tip of the Isle of Sheppey. Mariners referred to it as the Ness or the Point.

The Ness had strategic potential as it lay at the mouth of the River Medway -- up river at Chatham was the fleet anchorage. Whoever controlled the Ness controlled England’s warships.

Sheerness held potential for another reason. The three royal naval dockyards on the Thames and Medway – Deptford, Woolwich and Chatham – were all up rivers, away from the sea. Ships needing repair found the passage up river a tedious exercise which, for a large sailing ship relying on favorable winds and tides, could take days.

A similar problem existed for ships at the yards when they were ordered to put to sea. They had to negotiate the Thames or the Medway before entering the Thames estuary.

The Nore (a long east-west sandbank producing a large stretch of calmer water used by the navy as a convenient anchorage) lies just off the Ness. Ships anchored at the Nore in need of small repairs could carry out the work themselves; the crews used materials that were shipped down to them, occasionally employing shipwrights if more specialized tasks were involved.

Re-victualing could also be done from the Ness. Supplies were delivered from Chatham, or from Queenborough (the little Sheppey borough that stands on the banks of the Swale about two miles to the south of Sheerness Point). Likewise fresh powder and shot could be conveyed down river to the waiting ships.

When the second Anglo-Dutch war began in March 1665, the two enemies faced each other across the North Sea, dictating the likely arena for engagements, meaning ship maintenance would fall mainly to the dockyards of the Thames and Medway.

The Admiralty considered ways to overcome the problems presented by these river dockyards to aid quick turn-round of ships coming in for stores and repairs.

The Isle of Grain on the bank opposite the Ness was considered, as was Queenborough. Also contemplated was Sheerness, where the broad mudflats exposed at low tide on the southern side of the Ness had been used for the careening of ships' hulls. Sheerness was selected as the most suitable.

In the spring of 1665, a small ready-to-use victualing storehouse was erected adjacent to the foreshore near the Ness. As readily-available supplies of spare masts, yards, rigging and canvas came into demand to keep the fighting ships at sea, a stockpile of stores was developed at Sheerness in what rapidly became a ramshackle little depot.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

On 18 August, 1665 the Navy Board landed at Sheerness to survey the ground and layout the proposed new dockyard.…

In mid-November 1665 it was announced that large warships would be refitted at Sheerness Dockyard adjacent to which, at the Ness, work on a fort to contain 29 pieces of ordnance was underway, but progress on the fort was slow.

Sheerness fort was still not completed when, in June 1667, the Dutch fleet sailed to attack the English fleet in the Medway -- precisely the event the fort was being constructed to prevent, but it was under-manned and only 7 guns were serviceable. After an exchange of fire, the defenders abandoned the fort.

The Dutch marched into both Sheerness fort and dockyard without opposition and laid waste to them both.

The Dutch ships also advanced up the River Medway, and decimated the English fleet. The triumphant Dutch then sailed back to Holland.

A few weeks later a peace treaty was concluded.

To prevent repetition of this disaster, plans were immediately drawn up to build a powerful fortress at Sheerness, and work started on the dockyard to make it operational as fast as possible.

By the end of 1672 work on the sturdy fort and adjacent dockyard were complete.

Initially, Sheerness Dockyard functioned as an extension of Chatham and was overseen by Chatham’s resident commissioner. Conceived primarily for the repair and maintenance of naval ships, no shipbuilding took place there until 1691.

Sheerness fort and dockyard had no supporting town. Low quality housing, a poor water supply and a high risk of contracting ague (a form of malaria) led to construction delays and a lack of workers.

The lack of available land caused operational problems. Several hulks were positioned on the foreshore to act as breakwaters, but soon they were accommodating workers, navy personnel and dockyard activities so spaces between the hulks (and later the hulks themselves) were infilled with soil so new hulks could be added.

The first dry-dock was completed in 1708, the second in 1720. By 1738 dockyard workers had built the first houses in a small shanty area they named Blue Town – so-called from the grey-blue paint they purloined from the dockyard.

By the end of the 18th century Mile Town (a mile from the Dockyard) had sprung up, forming the nucleus of the modern town of Sheerness.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.