Since Roman times, the strategic location of Sheerness—on the western tip of the Isle of Sheppey, where the Thames and Medway Rivers converge and spill into the North Sea—has enabled it to serve as a point of defense against naval attacks as well as a port for the largest of vessels. In the seventeenth century, Sheerness was attacked and invaded in what became known as the Dutch Raid, and the Isle of Sheppey is known as the only part of the country that has ever been controlled by a foreign power since the Norman Conquest of 1066.
Sheerness Dockyard, as it exists today, was meticulously designed and constructed in a single phase, completed in 1815. Its late-eighteenth-century Georgian-style docks, boathouse, and complementary structures were conceived as an entire landscape, and planned with the aid of a 1,600-square-foot (150-square-meter) scale model that survives to this day.
The naval dockyard was closed in 1962, and the site was purchased and transformed into a commercial port, which it remains today. Inaccessible to the public, the landscape and architectural ensemble have suffered from lack of stewardship and use, while multiple ownership issues compound preservation and accessibility challenges.
How We Helped
WMF’s advocacy campaign for Sheerness Dockyard began after its inclusion on the 2010 World Monuments Watch, and became more aggressive after plans to demolish a historic residential quarter to build a new residential complex were revealed in June 2010. In collaboration with SAVE Britain’s Heritage, the Georgian Group, and other local preservation groups, WMF helped bring much needed media attention in calling for the rejection of the new development and awareness to the dockyard’s precarious situation. The redevelopment plan was rejected, and in early 2011, the Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust acquired the endangered site, made up of Dockyard House and cottage, and Regency Terrace complex. The church rescue campaign later received a boost when English Heritage and World Monuments Fund, supported by the Paul Mellon Estate, funded a detailed feasibility study looking at how the restoration of the building could be achieved, and what uses would be most appropriate. The report was commissioned by SAVE Britain’s Heritage. Individual owners are currently restoring the Georgian houses. The future of the Dockyard church remains uncertain, and the church continues to be in a deep state of disrepair, with a missing roof, biological growth, and excess moisture contributing to its further deterioration.
Why It Matters
Sheerness Dockyard is of great significance in architectural, engineering, naval, and military history. The Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust’s recent acquisition represents a huge victory towards the preservation of this unique heritage site, which continues to look for viable solutions for its rehabilitation and conservation.