Queenborough is a small town in Kent, on the north-west coast of the Isle of Sheppey, where the waters of the Swale, Medway and Thames meet; it’s close to Sheerness, the island’s main town. A lot of people visiting the Isle of Sheppey drive past the turning to Queenborough and never venture into the town, but I think it is definitely worth the short diversion to spend a couple of hours exploring this historic borough. Edward III had built a castle in the existing village in 1365 to protect the passage of ships along the Swale during the 100 years war with France, and then renamed it in honour of his consort, Queen Philippa of Hainault. He also gave the town the status of royal borough. In 1667 the Dutch destroyed much of the British fleet in the Thames and invaded Queenborough, but only stayed a couple of days as apparently they didn’t like the place very much! Queenborough is now twinned with Brielle in the Netherlands, so these days both communities regularly invade each other’s territories. As a result of the invasion of 1667 naval defences of the Medway were improved and many naval dignitaries, including Nelson, often visited the town, and reputedly Lady Hamilton also stayed when he was there.
“For information about Queenborough’s historic buildings”:http://www.queenboroughsociety.org.uk
The centre of the town has a wide main street with some attractive Georgian cottages with back gardens overlooking the harbour and the Guildhall, built in 1794, has a museum of local history on the ground floor; the museum is run by volunteers so even before lockdown it was only open on Saturday afternoons during the summer months so it’s best to check online before visiting as a booked time-slot might be required “for details about visiting the Museum”:http://www.queenboroughguildhallmuseum.co.uk The oldest remaining building in Queenborough is Holy Trinity Church, begun in 1366, and is well worth a look inside. The High Street also has a number of interesting 17th, 18th and 19th century houses, and the road leads to the waterfront where in recent years rather ugly, though necessary, concrete sea defences have been built; there’s also a small park with public conveniences. A walk can be taken north along the sea wall where there are lots of benches on which to sit and watch the boats: a pharmaceuticals firm, one of the town’s surviving industries, is just behind the sea wall. When the tide is out a lot of mud is exposed and this mud attracts wading birds, particularly in winter. Dead Man’s Island is one of the low islands in the estuary and the place where bodies of men who died of disease while incarcerated on nearby prison hulks in the 18th and 19th century were buried. The distant views are largely industrial – cranes and fuel storage on the Isle of Grain and Thamesport in Kent – Southend in Essex can also be seen on the horizon. About two miles away is Sheerness, which was once an important naval dockyard, however the docks are now largely used for importing cars and vans from Europe – up to 1000 a day. On our latest walk, we ventured along a well fenced public footpath through and over a bridge spanning acres of parking space where hundreds of VW cars and vans were in the process of being driven off an enormous ship in the harbour to await delivery all round Britain.
There are several remaining pubs, the Flying Dutchman and The Old House at Home, are both near the water front, and the Admiral’s Arm Micropub is in West Street, the road that leads to Queenborough Creek, which is a busy working harbour with fishing boats and mooring for private yachts. Locally caught fish is available from a hut that has opened in the harbour. Next to the micropub is the Mint and Chocolate Eatery, about which I’ve written a review, and this week we saw that a new tearoom/coffee shop called Bosuns had opened on the corner of West Street with the High Street, and appeared very popular, although I shall continue to support the lovely lady running Mint Choc.
There is a Victorian built railway station and most of the trains just run to and from Sittingbourne on the mainland where travellers can change onto mainline services, although there are a couple of commuter trains in the morning and evening that connect the Island direct with London, using a loop line that misses out Sittingbourne. Pre-Covid, there were plans to run more services direct to London from Sheerness. Near the railway station is a public open space that is the site of Queenborough Castle that Time Team excavated several years ago. If arriving by car Junction 5 of the M2 is only a 15-minute drive away and once in Queenborough there is plenty of free parking – on the roadsides and in the small car park opposite the Flying Dutchman pub in the High Street. If you don’t mind somewhere a bit rough round the edges I recommend going soon as I think Queenborough is on the up – the attractive old houses will be bought by DFLs, making the town as busy as Whitstable, with hordes of visitors and not enough parking. My latest visit was in August, but some of my photos were taken in the winter.