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MARKET TOWNS OF KENT (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Sheerness in 1841

SHEERNESS, a town in the isle of Sheppey, in Milton hundred, in the lathe of Scray, in the county of Kent. It is 48½ miles from London, by Dartford, Gravesend, Rochester, and by the King’s ferry over the West Swale. It stands at the north-west point of the Isle of Sheppey, on the east side of the Medway, at the junction of that river with the Thames.

In the time of Charles I the site of the town was a swamp, at the extremity of which, after the Restoration, a fort was built, and mounted with twelve guns to secure the passage up the Medway. When the Dutch war broke out, it was intended to augment the fortifications ; but on the 10th July, 1667, the Dutch forced their way up the Medway, beat down the defences, and took the fort, which was incomplete. It was however soon restored on an enlarged scale, and has been from time to time augmented by additional works ; and a dockyard has been established, which has given increased importance to the place. In 1798 the mutiny of the fleet at the Nore excited great alarm ; and in 1827 the town suffered seriously from a fire, which destroyed forty-five houses, chiefly of wood, and destroyed property to the value of £50,000.

The town consists of three parts - Sheerness proper, including the fortress and dockyards, and the suburbs of Blue-town and Mile-town : an outer line of fortifications comprehends Blue-town within its enclosure, but not Mile-town. The place has been much enlarged within these last few years, and new streets have been laid out. The streets are generally paved, and lighted and cleansed under local acts of parliament.

The ‘garrison’ or fortress occupies the extreme point of the island ; the principal batteries front the Thames. The dockyard was originally designed for the repair of vessels which had been injured by any sudden accident ; and for the building of ships of war of smaller size, such as frigates and fifth and sixth rates ; but it has been improved and extended at a heavy expense since the peace, and is now one of the finest in Europe. The wharf fronts the Medway. The yard is surrounded by a well-built brick wall, and has docks sufficiently capacious to receive men-of-war of the first class. There are a fine basin with 26 feet of water in depth, and two smaller basins ; an immense storehouse, victualling-storehouse, mast-house, rigging-house, sail-loft, smitheries, &c ; together, with a navy pay-office, and residences for the port-admiral, the commissioner, and other principal officers of the establishment. The whole occupies an area of 60 acres. Blue-town is close outside the dockyard wall, on the south side, and Mile-town is more distant to the south-east.

There is a handsome chapel just close to the dock-gates, the appointment to which is in the Board of Admiralty ; and a new church of Gothic architecture in the town ; there are several places of worship for dissenters. The trade of the town is chiefly dependent on the dockyard ; but some shipments of corn and seed, the produce of the island, are made to London ; and the oyster fishery is prosecuted on the adjacent shore in the creeks. There are copperas-works at no great distance. Saturday is the market-day.

The population is very dense ; that of Sheerness proper was, in 1831, only 61 ; but the parish of Minster, in which Blue-town and Mile-town are included, had 1,430 houses inhabited by 1,695 families, 76 houses uninhabited, and 13 building, with a population of 7,922, the greater part of which by far was in the two towns. This population is exclusive of the troops in garrison, and, we presume, of the convicts employed in the dockyard. Some years since there were a number of families residing in the old ships of war which had been stationed as breakwaters along the shore. They had chimneys raised of brick from the lower-deck.

The living of Minster is a perpetual curacy in the deanery of Sittingbourne and archdeaconry and diocese of Canterbury, of the clear yearly value of £169, with a glebe-house : the minister presents to the perpetual curacy of the district church at Sheerness.

The whole parish contained, in 1833, an infant school partly supported by subscription, with 160 children, 86 boys and 74 girls ; twenty infant or dame schools, with about 200 children of both sexes ; an endowed day-school, with 12 boys ; a free school in the poor-house, with 10 boys and 12 girls ; a proprietary school, with 38 boys ; twenty-three other day-schools (including three boarding-schools), with 637 children, 368 boys and 269 girls ; and three Sunday-schools, with 992 children, 483 boys and 599 girls.