Blue Town

68 Reviews

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Date of travel

July, 2021

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Adult family

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I’ve explored parts of North Kent in a bit more depth during the pandemic, mainly with my adult son, and we ventured onto the Isle of Sheppey on several occasions. Our most recent outing focussed on the area around Sheerness dockyard – once an important naval dockyard – and its associated military defences.

When the naval dockyard closed in1960, making 2,500 redundant, it was taken over by Medway Port Authority and run as a commercial docks; I remember a friend at school bringing in a Tarantula spider that her father had found in a consignment of bananas and I knew someone else who used to import timber from Scandinavia via the docks. From 1974 to 1994 the Olau Line ran a ferry service to Vlissingen (Flushing) in the Netherlands, but after the ferry service stopped it became difficult to enter the docks. Sadly, it’s estimated that 50 listed dockyard buildings and naval houses have been demolished in the intervening years – a terrible loss to our heritage. Luckily, ten of the houses inside the dockyard were saved from re-development with help from Spitalfields Trust which is restoring and refurbishing them. There are apparently many other listed buildings in the dockyard that are at risk or endangered. Peelports, under the name London Medway, currently run the docks which are used largely for importing cars, although a container shipping operation has recently started.

The area that grew up outside the naval dockyard when it was being built in the 18th century became known as Blue Houses, and later Blue Town, as the workers who built themselves wooden houses there painted them with grey-blue naval paint from the dockyard. In Blue Town High Street area there are numerous plaques and information boards and also a small heritage museum run by knowledgeable volunteers in the same building as The Criterion Theatre and cinema, where, pre-pandemic cream teas and other refreshments were available. for opening times. From being a thriving high street in the 1950s when I was a child there’s not now much left, apart from a pub, a bar and a fish and chip shop. Other old pubs and hotels are either empty or have been turned into flats. Along one side of the High Street runs the tall perimeter Dockyard wall, which is famously home to a large colony of yellow-tailed scorpions; they are not easy to find during the day, but it is possible to see them after dark as they glow turquoise under UV light. Behind Blue Town High Street there’s quite a lot of derelict land, some Victorian terraced houses and a selection of garages, building suppliers and Whelans, who have been making concrete garden ornaments there for years. The steelworks, which was built in 1971 on dockyard land to the south of the A249 (Brielle Way) closed in 2012, but I took a photo of the1850’s military hospital building that the steelworks used as an office block.

We crossed back over the road to look at Naval Terrace, a row of beautiful privately owned Georgian houses that are outside the dockyard walls. The Dockyard Church which stands at the end of this row was gutted by fire in 2001 but is currently being restored by the Sheerness Dockyard Trust for use as a community resource. Walking back towards Sheerness the road goes over a stretch of water – the remains of a moat that was built as a line of defence against land attack of the dockyard. This is one of many military defences built to protect the dockyard and I’ve written this review as an introduction to my next one which is a walk along the Queenborough Lines, the last earthwork defensive line to be constructed in this country.

There is plenty of free parking in Blue Town High Street, opposite the Red Lion pub and the Criterion; also Tesco’s car park on the west side of the Moat has free parking for customers for up to 3 hours. A public footpath heads up from the car park to the concrete seawall from where there’s a view of the Centre Bastion Martello Battery and a Battery Observation Point, both inside the dockyard. If coming on the train turn left outside the station and walk along Bridge Road to get to Blue Town, it’s only a 5-minute walk.


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