Job Opportunity: Freelance Fundraiser

Following the award of a Heritage Lottery Fund to Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust to develop and restore the Sheerness Dockyard Church, an exciting opportunity has arisen for the right calibre person/company to lead our fundraising campaign

This post will be directly reportable to the Project Manager and the Project Board. The successful candidate will work with both the Trust and the project development team and will be responsible for developing and delivering a £3.5m fundraising campaign. The project will be funded through the HLF Enterprise Grant scheme.

For detailed brief and instructions on how to apply please follow this link

To apply please send completed proposals to the Chair of the Trust here

Closing date for applications:  21st June 2017         

Anticipated Start Date: 3rd July 2017

Delight as Trust Secures National Lottery Funding

The Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust (SDPT) is delighted to announce the success of its £4.75m Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) bid for the rescue, repair and transformation of one of England’s great forgotten monuments, the Grade II* listed former Dockyard Church, Sheerness, on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent.

Full Press Release with contact details and images here

The Trust has received a Round 1 pass from HLF for a Heritage Enterprise Grant, which unlocks £500,000 of development funding, with a further £4.2m becoming available on the successful completion of the development phase. Over the coming months the Trust will be appointing its professional team, including project architect, first embarking on £200,000 of urgent works (joint-funded by Historic England and Heritage Lottery Fund) to secure the fabric of the building.

This pioneering project will transform Dockyard Church, providing a number of uses, including a new ‘enterprise centre’ and a permanent display space for one of the great wonders of British naval history, the vast Model of Sheerness Dockyard, created in the early 19th century and measuring 40ft square when fully assembled.

The HLF Enterprise Grant funding will enable the Trust to:

  • Secure the fabric of the Church by undertaking immediate urgent repairs.
  • Create a new Enterprise Centre – with partners including the London Youth Support Trust – which will bring together, in one place, all of the strands of support for young people to help them develop and sustain their businesses: from school leavers’ support and training, to premises, business mentoring and career development initiatives.
  • Conserve and return to Sheerness the great Dockyard Model and allow public access via the upper floor of the Church.
  • Provide a community café and event space venue for local and regional hire.

The grant award marks the end of a two-year initiative to find a beneficial and viable new use for the building since it was taken into the ownership of the new Trust, a process enabled by funding from HLF, Historic England, Swale Borough Council, the Architectural Heritage Fund and the Pilgrim Trust.

The total project cost is £8.5m and the Trust will be embarking on a major fundraising drive over the next year to raise the remaining match funding.

 Quote from William Palin, Chair of the SDPT:

‘The award of this major National Lottery grant represents a great moment both for Dockyard Church and for the Isle of Sheppey and a huge vote of confidence in our project. This is a building which just a few years ago appeared to be on the brink of collapse, with no future and no hope, standing as a melancholy reminder of the changing fortunes of this once proud naval Dockyard and community. Now it will become the focus of major investment to restore its dignity and give it a new future at the heart of the life in the region. At the end of the project, its monumental Classical portico will once again give entry to a building bustling with life, where people will come for work and leisure, with the great Dockyard Model drawing visitors from around the country.

Dockyard church has stood at the heart of the local community for generations. This strong affection and sense of association has generated widespread local interest and support for our project, as shown by the success of our public engagement and outreach projects including open days, schools events and the on-going Reminiscence Project.’

We are grateful to everyone who has supported us, in particular National Lottery players, without whom this grant would not be possible, and our partnership funders, Historic England, Swale Borough Council, the Architectural Heritage Fund and the Pilgrim Trust.

This campaign started back in 2012 with the compulsory purchase of the Church by Swale Borough Council, and we would also like to acknowledge the crucial support at this early stage from the World Monuments Fund Britain and SAVE Britain’s Heritage.

We look forward to the next chapter in this great adventure.’

Quote from Tessa Hilder, Support Officer for the South East, The Architectural Heritage Fund:

Without the courageous efforts of SDPT, the future of this wonderful historic building would remain bleak.  The impressive backing secured by the Trust for their innovative plans demonstrates the real difference that a community-led charitable organisation can have in turning round the fortunes of buildings that matter to people, locally and nationally.  The Architectural Heritage Fund is delighted to be supporting the Trust.’

Quote from Emma Wiggins, Interim Director of Regeneration at Swale Borough Council:

‘We are delighted to have been able to support the Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust in both securing the building and helping provide match funding for their successful bid. This marks a significant step towards Sheerness and the Isle of Sheppey bringing their considerable heritage to the fore, helping to support the visitor economy and acting as a catalyst for regeneration.

The prospect of a unique space for small businesses also presents a great opportunity. We see the Dockyard Church as a significant heritage project within the Island’s wider heritage strategy.’

Quote from Tom Foxall, Historic England, Inspector of Historic Monuments & Places (Kent):

This announcement of a substantial grant from the National Lottery for major works to the Dockyard Church represents a significant moment in a long campaign to save this outstanding local landmark. We are delighted that the considerable efforts of the Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust, supported by the local community among many others, have been so justly rewarded. Historic England will continue its active involvement in this project, starting with a financial contribution to urgent repairs. We commend the overall objectives of the scheme and look forward to working with the project team on the details of a proposal that will finally see this building returned to its former glory and become a major asset to the community.

Job Opportunity: Project Administrator

Project Administrator: Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust – Deadline extended

One Year Fixed Term with possible option to extend. Three days per week. £33K Pro-rata.

Following the award of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust to develop and restore the Sheerness Dockyard Church and exciting opportunity has arisen for the post of Project Administrator to perform administrative duties associated with the project.

This post will be directly reportable to the Trust chairman. The successful candidate will work with both the Trust and the project development team.

This post was first advertised on 22 April but the deadline has now been extended to 30 June.

Duties will include:

– Meeting facilitation with partners/stakeholders
– Minute taking and distribution
– Acting as main point of contact for the project
– Trust book keeping
– Arranging and manage on site access
– Managing Project Database/Contact List
– Ensuring all legal and insurance requirements are kept up to date
– Creating and publish quarterly newsletters
– Managing  the development and upkeep of the website

For detailed Job description please follow this link

To apply please email your CV to the Chair of the Trust here

Closing date for applications: 30th June 2017     

Anticipated Start Date: 1st August 2017

 

Tales from the Dockyard Church – Reminiscence Project

We are delighted to have been awarded a grant by the Queenborough Fishery Trust to run an oral history project collecting stories from local people relating to the Dockyard Church.

  • Did a member of your family get married at the church? 
  • Do you remember when the clock worked? 
  • Did you worship or play sport there? 
  • Did you see the fire? 

Since we took on the building people have been eager to share their memories of the place as a church, social club and local landmark but we had no official way to capture their reminiscences. In response to this the Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust (SDPT) team are delighted to be working in partnership with The Oasis Academy and the University of Kent, for a six-month project during which University specialists will be training pupils in story gathering skills.

Local people of all ages are invited to join us at informal story gathering events on

Thursday 27 April at The Oasis Academy
Marine Parade, Sheerness 10.30am – 12.30pm

Saturday 29 April at Sheerness Gateway Library Hub 
(1st floor), High Street, Sheerness 10.30am – 12.30pm

There is no need to book a place, just turn up. The free sessions will be open to anyone with memories of the church or of former family members using it.

We are also keen to build an accompanying archive by taking copies of peoples photographs and memorabilia of the church.

Free tea and coffee will be available.

The collected stories will be recorded and shared in a publication, online and used as inspiration for parts of our education and restoration programmes.

The SDPT Makes Room for ‘Room’

The Trust are delighted to have been kindly loaned the ROOM container gallery/studio space. The striking blue container will be familiar to some residents as it hosted part of the promenade ‘Open Aviary’ exhibition and has enjoyed several Sheppey locations in the past. Tucked away behind the Dockyard Church and recently redecorated inside by the Trust, the space will host a series of artists in residence who will be creating and showing work often inspired by the site, as well as sometimes offering creative workshops and open studio events.

Our first artist is Steve Mace who will be exploring the textures, colours and surfaces of the building in January, culminating in an exhibition of the work created.

If you are an artist or maker working in any medium and interested in using ROOM please contact the Trust for details of how to apply. Early use of the space will be free to artists as we pilot the programme.

Allison Young
Community Outreach Officer

Tales from the Dockyard Church

Did a member of your family get married at the church? Do you remember when the clock worked? Did you worship there or play sport there? Did you see the fire? We are delighted to have been awarded a grant by the Queenborough Fishery Trust to run a reminiscence project collecting stories from local people relating to the Dockyard Church.

Since we took on the building people have been eager to share their memories of the place as a church, social club and local landmark but we had no official way to capture their reminiscences. In response to this the SDPT team have developed the six month project with the Oasis Academy and the University of Kent, who will be training pupils there in story gathering skills over ten weeks.

The partnership will be inviting local people of all ages to join us for a cup of tea at informal story sharing events at the Academy and Sheerness Library in the Spring. The free sessions will be open to anyone with memories of the church or of former family members using it. We are also keen to build an accompanying archive by taking copies of peoples photographs and memorabilia of the church.

Contact us if you are interested in participating or keep an eye on our website or future bulletins and the local press for details of dates.The collected stories will be recorded and shared in a publication, online and used as inspiration for parts of our education and restoration programmes.

Allison Young
Community Outreach Officer

Milestone Reached as £4.75m Funding Bid is Submitted

2016 saw the development and submission of our £4.75m application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. On site, the focus was on securing the structure and improving the surrounding landscape. Meanwhile, the development of a virtual reality model of the building will provide exciting new opportunities for interpretation.

The last year has seen our young building preservation trust make huge strides towards securing the necessary funding for the repair and reuse of Dockyard Church. Working with a professional team (led by Simon Hawkins of Glevum Consulting) the Trust has developed a scheme for the repair and reuse of the church which forms the basis of our application to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a major Enterprise Grant. The business plan was produced by Jasmijn Muller of Fourth Street with input from prospective partners The London Youth Support Trust and Innov8 On Sheppey.

Our HLF application was submitted on 8 December 2016 and we will hear in March 2017 whether our bid has been successful. Should we receive a ‘pass’ the project will move up several gears as we develop the scheme in detail and raise match funding ready for delivery in 2018/19. If it goes ahead, this will be a landmark project delivering major cultural, social and economic benefits to Sheerness and the Isle of Sheppey.

Meanwhile, funding continues to arrive from other sources. We are particularly grateful to Swale Borough Council who in November pledged £70,000 towards the project.

Our HLF application (backed by a detailed viability study and a comprehensive business plan) sets out a proposal to save the building and transform it into an innovative and viable business / events centre for the local community, creating a new hybrid incubator & skills centre for local young people. In addition the building will provide a home for the unique and beautiful 19th-century model of Sheerness Dockyard – currently in the care of Historic England – and measuring 40ft square when fully assembled.

Meanwhile, with support from Historic England, our trust has completed a detailed condition survey of the building and has now submitted a separate application for urgent works to stabilise the fabric and prevent further decay. Earlier in 2016 works were carried in the portico of the building to remove loose material and secure against roosting pigeons.

The land behind the church has now been cleared of rubble and re-seeded to provide a large open space for activities and events pending the restoration of the building itself and, excitingly, the trust has taken custody (on loan) of the ‘Room’ mobile arts space – a converted shipping container which will give us a unique place venue for school groups as well as housing our artist in residence programme. We our proud to host Room and look forward to benefitting from its creative energy!

Another exciting project has been a Virtual Reality model of the church, initiated by trustee Chris Foulds and developed by Rupert Lawrence. Viewers require a headset to fully experience the model, but a preview is now available on Facebook. It is hoped that the VR model will become a key interpretation tool both for our outreach work and as part of the display of the great 1820s model once the project is complete.

Lastly, we would like to trustee Andrew Deeley, for creating this splendid new website. You can make a donation quickly and easily through the ‘Donate’ button on the homepage.

So, 2016 has been a year of development and preparation in order to secure the funding needed to secure and transform Dockyard Church. We now find ourselves poised for a great new adventure.

Needless to say we would not be in this position were it not for the the hard work and contributions of time and money from our trustees, supporters and partners. So thank you to everyone who has helped bring us this far.

William Palin
Chair, SDPT

Built for the dockyard workers

The Dockyard Church

Until the eighteenth century the Navy did not usually provide dockyard or garrison chapels, relying on local churches to serve the needs of relatively small numbers of workers and residents. The new dockyards of the eighteenth century were considerably larger than before and the new workers' settlements that developed beside the yards were often at some distance from a parish church. The official concern to ensure that dock workers should have the opportunity to attend the established church (as they were, of course, nominally required to by law) was reinforced both by the dissolute reputation of dockyard settlements, and by the challenge of non-conformism. The need for dedicated dockyard chapels was also a result of the fact that Navy personnel (especially officers) were based only for short periods at a particular establishment, and were therefore unlikely to rent pews as required by parish churches.

Sheerness Dockyard was typical in that its location was remote from any existing settlement, the nearest parish church to the new dockyard being at Minster, four miles away, although there was a nonconformist chapel in Blue Town from as early as 1768. At the same time Sheerness was exceptional, the dockyard and garrison having their own chapel from early in its history.

The first "dockyard" chapel, dedicated to St Mary, stood over the Baroque gateway to de Gomme's citadel. It is not entirely clear whether it formed part of his original 1667 design. One source suggests that it was destroyed in the Dutch raid of that year, but a brief history of the dockyard chapels at Sheerness compiled by the then Chaplain, Rev. Hamlet Millet, in 1892, records that it was built it is supposed in about 1690. The earliest baptism registers for the dockyard chapel date from 1688.

Millet goes on to write that the original chapel was enlarged in 1718; "became insecure" in 1737 and was rebuilt on the same site in 1744. It "became again insecure" in 1805 due to faulty foundations and was demolished in 1815. A new chapel was built at the centre of the Dockyard and opened in 1814 but this too was taken down in 1820, "removed" to its present site outside the Dockyard walls and reopened in 1828. Little is known about the eighteenth century chapels at Sheerness, which seem largely to have escaped the attention of recent historians, and it is not known whether they set any architectural precedents for the later type.

The first chapel known to have been built by the Navy at public expense to serve a dockyard was St Anne’s, Portsmouth, in 1785. It is a simple, handsome, brick "preaching box", strongly reminiscent of a non- conformist chapel. It was probably designed by John Marquand, Surveyor to the Navy Board. Marquand's successor, Edward Holl, designed a new chapel, St Anne's, for Chatham Dockyard in 1805, completed in 1810, again on the preaching box model. It is almost identical to the first well- documented chapel at Sheerness, which Holl also designed, in 1810 (see Fig. 9). It had tiered galleries on fluted cast iron columns and a Venetian east window, comparable to what little is known of the original, pre-1881 interior of the present Church at Sheerness. 


Figure 1: Holl's 1810 elevation for the Royal Dockyard Chapel, Sheerness (TNA)

The short-lived nature of Holl's Sheerness chapel (see Fig. 1, designed 1810, completed 1814, and demolished 1820) seems to reflect the confusion surrounding the redevelopment of the Dockyard as a result of administrative squabbles between the Admiralty and the Navy Board during the period 1806-1812. In 1810, presumably because the existing chapel was unfit for use, as described by Millet, the officers of Sheerness dockyard submitted a request to the Navy Board for a new chapel within the Yard. They noted that there were at that time at least three non- conformist places of worship in Blue Town, the "pernicious tenets" of which the Commissioner of the dockyard felt "the necessity of counteracting". The Commissioner's influence seems to have been sufficient to ensure that work started on the chapel c1812, before the redevelopment of the Yard. The chapel was completed by the end of 1814, despite the fact that Rennie had by then been commissioned to redesign the Yard as a whole. Evidently the work on the chapel took place during the hiatus between Rennie's appointment and the end of the war in 1815. Curiously, it seems that the crypt was used for general storage rather than in connection with the Church.

Figure 2: Holl's 1810 plan for Royal Dockyard Chapel, Sheerness (TNA)

The 1826 map of the dockyard as it was in 1813 shows a chapel with a very similar footprint to the present Church on a site roughly in the middle of the Yard as laid out by Rennie, adjacent to the small section of Blue Town to the west of the High Street that was cleared and incorporated in the new Yard. This is, presumably, the site at the centre of the dockyard to which Rev. Millet refers. The site was clearly in the way of Rennie's plans for the expansion and rationalisation of the facilities, as it stood in the industrial heart of the new Yard.

The extant and fourth Dockyard Church at Sheerness was designed by George Ledwell Taylor (1788-1873), civil architect to the Navy Board between 1824-37, in succession to Edward Holl. The chapel was part of the second (northern) phase of Rennie's development, and a set of drawings of the chapel signed by Taylor and dated 1826 are preserved in the National Archives. Taylor's church is evidently a different building on a new site, with a grand tetrastyle Ionic portico and prominent tower, in contrast to Holl's modest brick box and cupola, but Taylor's drawings are somewhat enigmatic and they have been interpreted to mean that his design was an enlargement of Holl's chapel rather than a wholly new building. Whilst this hypothesis can now be discounted, there is a close relationship between the two designs. The possibility exists that Taylor 
may have incorporated fabric from Holl's building in his own, as hinted at by the tantalising use of the phrase "removed to its present site" in Millet's account, although this could well refer merely to the use rather than the fabric.

Figure 3: West elevation, G L Taylor, 1826 (TNA)

George Ledwell Taylor was articled to James Burton and subsequently JT Parkinson, for whom he worked on the development of Montague and Bryanston Squares for the Portman Estate. He travelled widely in Europe and published books on both classical and medieval architecture. For the Navy Board, as well as his work at Sheerness, he undertook major work at Chatham and Woolwich and he designed the Royal Clarence Victualling Yard at Gosport. His interests and industry were considerable and ranged from the antiquarian to the most up-to-date aspects of engineering, including the use of concrete. After losing his post for the Navy Board (as a result of reorganisation) he laid out much of Hyde Park Square, Chester Place and Gloucester Square in London, was appointed District Surveyor for Westminster and became involved in railway projects. His most memorable architectural work, if not his most practical, is the 170-foot tall Gothick folly of Hadlow Castle, Kent (1835-6). By contrast, in the same year, he also designed the plain and only superficially Gothic Holy Trinity Church in Sheerness town.

Taylor designed a second chapel for the Navy Board at Pembroke Dock (Garrison Chapel, 1830-32). It is within the main dockyard and forms part of a semi-formal group with the officers' houses, as at Sheerness. Curiously, Holl had also made designs for a chapel at Pembroke, in 1820, which would have stood outside the dockyard, facing the town, like Sheerness Dockyard Church. The Pembroke chapel is notably plain; stuccoed with spare limestone dressings, and having in place of the grand entrance portico at Sheerness and a central three-bay projection, with the simplest of pilasters, pediment and mouldings. 

We know very little of the thinking behind Taylor's work for the Navy. His eccentric and self-aggrandising autobiography is chiefly a record of his travels and especially his explorations of classical Greek and Roman monuments, and of the esteem in which he believed himself to be held among the great and the good. He describes his work as Navy Board architect in a tone that suggests he regarded his post as a slightly tiresome necessity. He writes that he "found the [Holl's] arrangements for the Sheerness works satisfactory and had no reason to alter [them]". He says little of his own work, although he notes that the foundations of the Admirals' House were formed of concrete. His Dockyard Church repeats the key features of Marquand's and Holl's simple preaching boxes, but Taylor developed the pattern to reflect his own academic neo-classical taste, expressed equally in the grandiose portico at Sheerness and the spare front of the chapel at Pembroke Dock.

On plan, the Dockyard Church is situated at northern end of the Yard's central streetof which the present Church Road is the surviving fragment), the formal and ceremonial axis of the Yard, alongside which were its principal architectural (as opposed to engineering) elements, the Commissioner's house and office and the officers' residences. The west (liturgical east) end of the Church is relatively plain, although this effect is exaggerated by the loss of the original entablature. The Venetian window, which is the focal point of the interior has no more than a plainly moulded architrave externally. However, although the dockyard is invisible from outside behind the blind Piranesian mass of the Dockyard wall, and the Church and the adjacent terrace of officers' houses at Naval Terrace are outside the Dockyard proper, the Church forms an impressive termination 
to the view from inside the Yard. The Church and houses within and outside the wall form one of the significant and impressive architectural ensembles of their date in England.

Figure 4: Dockyard Church from the west (2011)

Early plans of the Dockyard suggest that the line of partly extant railings enclosing the forecourts of Naval Terrace, the Church and running north- west along Garrison Road to meet the dockyard wall was the boundary of Rennie's development. The Admiralty owned a strip outside this boundary sufficient to accommodate an access road, but between this and the defensive lines, the ground seems to have been undeveloped. The wall and gateway between the Church and the dockyard proper seem to have been part of the original plan, although the wall here is less substantial than those on the north and south sides of the Yard.

Figure 5: Site plan, probably by G L Taylor (TNA)

It is not entirely clear why the Church was placed outside the Yard, rather than inside it as was the case with earlier chapels at Chatham, Plymouth and Portsmouth, but it is significant that the Church also faces outwards. The location may be no more than a matter of function or security (since the Church served both the garrison and the civilian workers) or a desire to separate the Church from the industrial grime of the Yard, but it makes a public architectural statement that would have been impossible had it been within, or faced towards the Yard. The plan of 1828 (Fig. 5) on which Naval Terrace is shown by a dotted line and annotated "should more Officers' Houses be hereafter required they may be placed as shewn..." is evidence that while the houses were not necessarily planned from the outset, the Church was always intended to provide a visual termination to the axis of the dockyard. This setting has no clear precedent. The architecturally similar Royal Dockyard Church at Chatham (Holl 1811) is within the dockyard, but it entirely lacks the formal relationship with other buildings nearby. The Pembroke chapel has a formal relationship with the Officers’ houses that bears some comparison with Sheerness, but the chapel is invisible from outside the dockyard.

Figure 6: Section, G L Taylor, 1826, with 1884 pencil over-drawing (TNA)

The drawings (Figs. 3, 6, 7) at the National Archives show Taylor's east (liturgical west) elevation much as built, but the plans are annotated in such a way that might suggest that the building was an enlargement of an earlier one, and have, as noted above, been thus interpreted. One drawing (Fig. 7) is entitled "design for the chapel at.... Sheerness increasing the length 15 ft..." and the note in the bottom left hand corner "the red tint shows the additional work". In fact, since there can now be no doubt that the present Church is on a different site from Holl's 1810 chapel, the red ink must show either an alteration from an earlier design rather than an earlier building, or illustrate the extent to which the new Church was larger than that designed by Holl. It differs from the completed building in one significant respect, namely that pilasters were omitted from the long elevations other than to define the end bays.

Figure 7: Plan, G L Taylor, 1826 (TNA)

Taylor and Holl's designs are very alike: the plan is almost identical, the only substantive difference being the reversal of the direction of the twin staircases. It is only in his exterior that Taylor departs markedly from the earlier model; the portico transforming a modest dockyard chapel into an explicitly public building. The gallery seems to have had the same form in both designs and it is possible that the fluted cast iron columns that supported it were reused; they are now lost and this must remain a conjecture. It seem likely too, that the three-decker pulpit with its curved stair, shown in both Holl's and Taylor's drawings, was one and the same.

Figure 8: Naval Terrace and the Dockyard Church c1870

A further detail underlines the possibility that Taylor adapted Holl's design, and also suggests that construction may have actually begun before Taylor's plans were finalised in 1826. The apparently blind recesses to the east ends of the north and south elevations (behind the stairs) has actually been blocked. Its brick is identical to that of the remainder of the Church but it is not coursed with the adjacent walls, suggesting that initially, it was intended that the stairs should follow Holl's arrangment. The interior, like Chatham, had an exceptionally wide clear span, and its sense of space would have been emphasised by the way in which the gallery seating continued through the tower arch. The surviving interior of the Chapel at Chatham provides a good model for how that at Sheerness must have looked.

Figure 9: Interior of Royal Dockyard Chapel, Chatham, Edward Holl, architect, 1811.

A serious fire broke out on 26 November 1881, probably as a result of sparks from the heating system setting the roof alight. Drawings prepared following the fire show the "cockle" (a small furnace) in a basement to the south-west corner of the Church, beneath the vestry. One man died and four were severely injured. The interior was gutted and the roof destroyed. However, it was reported that "with the exception of the parapet of the south front which was thrown over by the falling roof and some of the masonry of the colonnade and tower, which has been damaged by the heat, the walls are uninjured, and quite able to carry a new roof". A prolonged discussion about the merits of rebuilding the chapel took place between the Commissioner at Sheerness and the Lords of the Admiralty, who took some convincing that the cost was justified, perhaps partly because a new church, St Paul's, had been built in Terminus Road, Blue Town, in 1873. Finally, after the Commissioner had, inter alia, supplied the names of all those who worshipped at the Dockyard Church, the decision was taken to repair it, and Mr Bernays, (probably Edwin Arthur Bernays, c1822-1887), Civil Engineer to HM Dockyards at Woolwich and Chatham, was appointed to supervise the works, which he estimated to cost £5,000.

The Church was rebuilt by 1885, with an altered roof form. No drawings of the rebuilding scheme have been found, but the copies of Taylor's drawings preserved in the National Archives have been worked over in pencil, and the new roof, for example, has been roughly sketched over the original design. Originally the Church had wall-head parapets in the form of a substantial entablature with a moulded cornice below the blocking course. The new roof was pitched and hipped but in place of the parapets it extended to form broad eaves at each side. As a result, the east (liturgical west) end elevation was re-formed as a gable with the tower rising from its apex, behind the portico. The top few courses of the external walls were reconstructed to carry over-sailing eaves. The 1828 chimneys survived to the west (liturgical east) end- the scars of the original parapet and the later eaves may be seen. The low stone parapet to the tower was replaced with a simple iron railing.

The changes gave the Church a slightly Italianate cast, which sits uneasily with the correct neo-classical portico. One possible reason for the change is pragmatic; the original parapet gutters may not have drained satisfactorily, or been prone to blockage. It may have simply been a stylistic choice, but it was more likely an economy. The estimated budget of £5,000 was relatively modest, and the replacement of the high quality stonework of the original parapet entablature with a crude plaster moulding and bracketed eaves would have represented a considerable saving. The replacement of the tower parapet with iron railings is also strongly suggestive of frugality.

The interior was recreated broadly to Taylor's plan, but the original gallery structure, supported by slender cast iron columns, was replaced by the substantial full-height cast iron-frame that survives today, which also supported the new roof. At lower level the frame is formed of H-section columns, designed to be boxed in, with exposed slender fluted Corinthian columns from gallery level to the roof. The gallery was also reduced in size. It had originally extended the full length of each side of the Church, over the vestries, and across the east (entrance) end where the gallery seats were formed on a continuous rake, up to the external wall. The 1884 gallery was on the two sides of the Church only, stopping two bays from the west (liturgical east) end, and forming a full width "chancel". New doors had to be formed immediately facing the head of each staircase to give access to the first floor of the tower.

The chancel arch was inserted, and the vestries that flank the sanctuary slightly enlarged towards the centre to line up with the new gallery structure. The westernmost window of the south elevation seems to have been cut down to form a doorway into the vestry at this time. An organ (now in Maidstone Prison) was installed above the north-west vestry. The central pulpit, if it had survived this long, was replaced with a smaller one in the usual Victorian position on the liturgical north (but here, south) side of the nave. A new heating system was installed, of which the pipework 
and floor grilles survive in places. Air vents were formed in each window cill. The Church was elaborately redecorated in the typical style of the 1880s. The changes reflect the ecclesiastical fashion of the later 19th century, in contrast to the low church habits of the 1820s. Thus, whilst the exterior was simply repaired or rebuilt, the opportunity was taken to bring the interior liturgically up-to-date.

Figure 10: Interior of the Church c1900

The lobby, with its twin cantilevered stone staircases, was relatively less damaged by the fire and its original architectural form is evident. The extant plasterwork is largely in lime, with substantial patches of late-19th century repair. As with the rest of the interior, the stairs at Holl's Chatham Dockyard chapel suggest how Sheerness must originally have appeared, and offer guidance for their restoration.

Figure 11: Stairs and gallery door at Royal Dockyard Chapel Chatham, Edward Holl architect, 1811

After the decision to close the Dockyard was made c1958, the Admiralty proposed to dispose of the Church separately from the remainder of the Yard. Ironically, the new St Paul's Church in Blue Town had become dangerous and the Diocese of Canterbury agreed to lease the Dockyard Church for fifty years at a peppercorn rent, as a replacement. It may be that at this point the Dockyard Church became known as St Paul's Dockyard Church, but the arrangement did not last, if indeed the sale was actually completed. The Church does not seem to have been used as the parish church of Blue Town, and it is understood to have closed for worship c1962. Blue Town parish was united with what was by then the town of Sheerness-on-Sea, to become the parish church of Holy Trinity with St. Paul, Sheerness. The altar and some panelling from the Church were moved to Holy Trinity. At some point the monuments were taken into the care of the Historic Dockyard, Chatham, where they remain.

Title to the Church seems to have reverted to the owners of the dockyard, and planning permission was granted in February 1983 for the change of use of the former Church to a sports and entertainment centre for the Medway Ports Authority Sports and Social Club. The Church was used as a sports centre for some time with squash courts being formed out of its principal space. This use ceased c1990s, and Medway Ports disposed of the building to a private individual for conversion to a residence.

The Church was again gutted by fire in 2001 when the roof and the interior, including the galleries and internal finishes, were lost and the stonework and brick structure were damaged. This is the condition in which it survives at the time of writing (2015).

Figure 12: Interior of Church, looking west, 2011

The dockyard through the ages

On the 8th August 1665 the Navy Board ordered the Commissioner of Chatham Dockyard to equip Sheerness Yard with materials and workers to clean the hulls of the ships, and in the same year Samual Pepys visited the Yard to begin the planning of the construction works. His diary reads: 

"To Sheerness where we walked up and down, laying out the ground to be taken in for a dockyard, a most proper place". 

The first building to be constructed was a storehouse, used to store provisions that were to be sent out to ships. Three months later orders were sent from the Navy Board that all ships in need of cleaning, minor repairs and refitting go to Sheerness Dockyard; by doing this they relieved some of the work at Chatham Dockyard as the men there were struggling to keep up with the workload and they also avoided the plague that was raging at Chatham. To be able to accommodate this extra workload more buildings and more suitable cranes were planned, these plans and cost estimate were sent to Samual Pepys who agreed to the work.

During the following year plans were drawn up by Bernard de Gomme for the building of a new fort at Ness Point, adjacent to the new Dockyard to protect it and the King's fleet anchored at Chatham, however before the fort could be completed the Dutch attacked and invaded the fort and surrounding area. They removed as much of the stores as they could carry on their ships and burnt anything they could not keep, including destroying the new fort. They finally left with £3000 worth of stores, guns and ammunition. They then sailed up the River Medway to Chatham where they took the Royal Charles (the English flagship), another ship, and destroyed the rest of the fleet. By the end of 1668 both the fort and dockyard were operational again. The first dry dock was completed in 1673 and the first ship was launched four years later, one of many launched at Sheerness.

Sir Phineas Pett was appointed Resident Commissioner of Sheerness and Chatham Dockyards on 19th April 1686, and resided at Chatham Dockyard on a salary of £500 per year. By this time the Dockyard had grown considerably and now consisted of around 20 buildings, a number of docks and slips and a mast pond. The building would have consisted of stores, saw pits, wheelwrights shop and other essential workshops. In 1794 a house for the Commissioner had also been built and Ordnance Stores are also marked near Powder Monkey Bay and the Gun Wharf. By this time a new telegraph system had been invented and was in use by the Admiralty between Chatham, Sheerness and Deal, this was to be replaced in 1822 by a semaphore system.

The next major event at Sheerness was the Mutiny at the Nore. Naval crews of 28 naval vessels started a Mutiny at the Nore anchorage, the sailors were angry due to poor working conditions, un-equal pay, not enough leave, poor rations and they wanted an end to people being forcefully enrolled in the Navy (press-ganged). Richard Parker, a former officer who had been voted president of the fleet by the mutineers, led the rebellion and blockaded access to London, this meant all trade was unable to carry on. The Garrison was increased to 3,000 men to protect the fort and dockyard if they attacked and the shot was kept warm for the batteries. The mutiny was hijacked by radical delegates and started to turn sour, due to lack of food and disagreement between the mutineers they started to leave. Parker and co-conspirators were dealt with severely and were hanged by the Admiralty for treason, the executions taking place upon the ship 'Sandwich'.

The dockyard steadily grew and by 1800 it consisted of two dry docks, two slips and around 30 buildings. It was soon realised that the present dockyard was struggling to keep up with the work expected of it, the building were badly placed and room was short. With this in mind it was decided the dockyard needed a complete overhaul. John Rennie was asked to survey and design the new dockyard and work began on 23rd December 1813 with the first piles being driven. In total the works cost £2,586,063 and took 10 years to complete. The docks were re-opened by HRH the Duke of Clarence on 5th September 1823 and Howe, a 1st rate ship, was floated into No.1 dock as part of the ceremonies. During this works, in 1816, dockyard workers set up the Sheerness Economical society to buy food in bulk to distribute to other workers and their families at a reduced cost compared to local shops. The company Joliffe and Banks (Sir Edward Banks) were contracted to build a number of buildings including the Captain-Superintendants House, the Admirals House, to be the home of the Commander-in-Chief The Nore and Naval Terrace to name a few in 1827.

Sheerness Dockyard was the scene of a riot in 1830 after a Warden accused one of the workers of being in possession of the 'Kings stores'; as he was leaving the dockyard to go home. A large number of workers heard this accusation and tried attacking the Warden. Three Constables and Commissioner Lewis attempted to get the Warder to the safety of his home but by the time they reached the Barrier Gate they realised that the Military Guards had to be called to help, by this time Commissioner Lewis had been struck with thrown stones and bricks. The worker, a mechanic, pleaded guilty to theft at his trial and was fined and discharged from the Yard. Eight years later the Temeraire, a 2nd rate ship, fired her guns for the last time as a 21 gun salute for Queen Victoria's coronation on the 28th June. Moored at the Nore, the crew were treated to a double issue of rum and shore leave to Sheerness as part of the celebration.

The ship Actaeon was commissioned at Sheerness as a Torpedo School on 6th June 1905, she was later moved to Chatham. Four years later in June 1908 the gunnery school, HMS Wildfire, was closed and all courses were moved to Pembroke although the firing range remained in use. The same year Agincourt, a battleship, arrived at sheerness Dockyard to be stripped and converted into a coal hulk. 1000 extra labourers were hired to help in this task and she was later moored just off Sheerness until Trafalgar Day in 1960. On the 10th January 1912 Sheerness was involved in another history making exercise when the battleship Africa was moored off the dockyard, her purpose being the first Royal Naval warship to launch an aircraft, a Shorts S27 seaplane from a ramp over the forward gun turrets. In 1914 and 1915 two ships exploded causing a great loss of life off the coast of Sheerness, both were unfortunate accidents.

Before and during WWII ships entering the River Medway were ordered to remove all their ammunition at Sheerness Dockyard so to prevent any serious and damaging explosions at Chatham Dockyard or near the Ordnance Store at Upnor. The dockyard was still in use during this time repairing and making adjustments to ships, it also played a vital role during the Dunkirk evacuation with many small boats being brought to Sheerness to be checked over by the Navy. It was here they were provided fuel, rations and charts and arranged in convoys before they were sent to Ramsgate before entering the deep waters on a dangerous mission to save all they could from the beaches of Dunkirk.

The 18th February 1958 brought bad news to the dockyard workers when an announcement from the Government confirmed the dockyard at Sheerness was to close, they had two years to find alternative employment.

Fortunately the dockyard remains open to this day and its owners, Peel Ports, announced in 2015 plans to expand its operations and regenerate the area.

​(We would like to thank the Sheppey Website for allowing us to feature some of their fascinating content about the history the dockyard and surrounding area) 

Charitable status granted

The Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust (SDPT) has recently acquired charitable status. This means work can begin on transferring ownership of the Dockyard Church from the Spitalfields Trust to the SDPT.

Once ownership has been transferred the trust will start building upon the foundations that have already been laid with relevant stakeholders and quickly work towards finalising our bid for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

We would like to thank all our supporters for all the donations, words of encouragement and support over the last year or so and we look forward to working with you as we strive to restore such an important local, indeed national, heritage site.