Sittingbourne Tourist Guide
Sittingbourne is a town about eight miles (12.9 km) east of Gillingham, beside the Roman Watling Street off a creek in the Swale, a channel separating the Isle of Sheppey from mainland Kent.
The area around Sittingbourne has been lived in for at least 3000 years, that is 1000 years before the Romans came. These people were Celtic tribes moving westwards from continental Europe. A recent dig at Iwade confirms their presence in this area and there is a display in the town’s museum which includes finds from the settlement. These people were farmers and they developed trading links with nearby continental countries, France, Belgium and Holland, inhabited by the Franks and the Belgae.
Archaeology has revealed some 20 Roman villas and dwellings in the area around Sittingbourne. Excavations in the 19th century for brick earth uncovered a number of Roman cemeteries and many valuable artefacts. For military reasons great importance was attached to good communications and Watling Street, on which Sittingbourne lies, was the main artery from London to Dover. Sitttingbourne or Sedingbourne (usually translated as The Hamlet beside the Creek) was likely to have been a small tribal hamlet of just a few huts which became a staging post for travelers using Watling Street. It is known that Milton, a mile or so from Sittingbourne, and a port, became the Roman administrative centre for the area. Although there is plenty of evidence of Roman life in the area there is nothing to suggest that Sedingbourne was anything more than a hamlet. It may have had an inn and perhaps a market for local produce. Many finds in the area were from burials and under Roman law, burial within the town was not allowed. Therefore these burial sites suggest there were centres of residence nearby. The field known as Bexhill just east of Milton and close to the creek, yielded many Roman lead coffins and may well have been the main Roman cemetery. Another was East Hall, probably for a settlement in the area of Tonge.
After the Romans left around 400 A.D. Sittingbourne continued as a small hamlet, too small to be given an entry in Domesday Book in 1086 when the area was part of the Hundred of Middleton (Milton) with a total population of 309. However a village pond was recorded. Farming, salt pans on the marshes and oyster fisheries were among the local industries. Hasted wrote in the 1790s in his History of Kent that "Sittingbourne was anciently written Sedingbourne, in Saxon, Saedingburga, i.e. the hamlet by the bourne or small stream."
In the Middle Ages, Sittingbourne was a popular place for pilgrims to Canterbury and offered a thriving market. Sittingbourne developed a lucrative trade catering for pilgrims and the town had two hostels. The building of the parish church began around this time and it was added to in succeeding centuries. The parish church of St. Michael has parts dating back to the 13th century. On Saturday 17th. July 1762, workmen were repairing the lead on the roof of the church which necessitated having a burning brazier in place to work the lead. At about mid-day they broke for dinner. As a result of the warm yet windy day and the lit brazier the roof of the church was set ablaze. Within an hour the building was in ruins with only the outer walls and the central pillars remaining. The repair of the church was completed in 1766.
Sittingbourne has over its long history developed significant links with the history of the river barge, still in evidence today. At the centre of the town's paved high street is the sculpture of a bronze bargeman. North Kent is geologically rich in chalk, which is not found in many other places in Europe in such profusion. This led cement manufacturers to settle in the area, and the modern industry still flourishes locally today. Barges were needed to move many other raw materials and finished goods into the Thames and to London and beyond. Sittingbourne was perfectly suited for this purpose and a thriving barge-building industry developed at Milton Creek and elsewhere along the coast. The earliest known barge was built in the area by John Huggens in 1803.
These industries flourished during the 19th century when, as a result of the industrial revolution, Sittingbourne developed into a port from which Kent produce was transported to the London markets. Paper mills and brickfields were fed by barges that brought in sand, mud and household waste such as cinders for brick making, and took away the bricks once made. During this era over 500 types of barges are believed to have been built, but after World War II, these activities began to fall into a decline, so that only the Burley yard continued with the repair of barges until about 1965.
Kemsley Mill led to the foundation of a company village which was built about 1924, and by the 1960s 13 locomotives were in regular use on the line, one diesel and one battery electric and 400 wagons, with about 14 miles of track. The railway was after the Second World War used to carry passengers to and from the docks and mill, with carriages provided for the mill workers of Kemsley. In 1965 it was decided that the railway was uneconomic and so lorries were more commonly used for transporting produce. Consequently by 1969 the Bowater Light Railway, much loved as it was by the firm (and with assistance of Capt Peter Manisty) handed it over to the Locomotive Club of Great Britain to be preserved and operated as the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway. It has since become a significant feature in the town's tourist industry.
The Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway is the preserved southern half of the former Bowater's Railway built to move the raw materials for paper making and also the finished products around the mill at Sittingbourne. The line which is built to a gauge of 2' 6”, continues to use the steam engines and rolling stock that were supplied to operate the railway in its working life prior to preservation in 1969. How many other railways can claim that they operate the original engines on part of the original line with original rolling stock?
Court Hall Museum in the High Street, Milton Regis is a 15th century timber-framed court building, with exhibits relating to local history and archaeology. The museum traces the history of the manor of Milton and there is also a pictorial display of royal and industrial heritage.
One of the best narrow-gauge railways in the UK is the Bredgar and Wormshill Light Railway in Bredgar. It is home to a fine collection of 12 steam locomotives. On open days at least two operate a regular passenger service on the 1km line between Warren Wood and Stony Shaw and visitors can take unlimited rides. A large building houses steam locomotives, steam traction engines, model locomotives, vintage vehicles and a working beam engine built in 1870. The railway is in beautiful secluded rural Kent and is close to Leeds Castle and the M20. www.bwlr.co.uk will tell you more.
Doddington Place Gardens has ten acres of landscaped garden with a formal sunken garden, Edwardian rock garden and pond, rhododendrons and azaleas. There is also woodland with clipped yews, extensive lawns, avenues, fine trees and a 2-storey folly. Tel:+44 01795 886101 for details.
At Gore Farm, Upchurch are the Barn-Yard farm shops. These area collection of farm shops, day time restaurant, ‘pick your own’, tranquil trails through woodland and ducks to feed, and an exciting summer maze, all nestling in the Kent countryside. Tel: 01634 235059.
The Avenue Theatre is in the Avenue of Remembrance. Before becoming an exquisite 89-Seater theatre, The Avenue Theatre was formally the original Council Chambers for Swale Borough Council. The theatre was born out of a dream from local Dramatic Societies & Swale Borough Council, whom wanted the Old Council chambers in Avenue of Remembrance converted into community theatre & sort local dramatic societies to achieve the impossible. The theatre offers a wide range of productions and services from full-scale musicals like 'Me and My Girl' to the most heart-warming tales of 'Steel Magnolias' and fun children’s productions or perhaps you prefer an evening of live music – We have it!
Sittingbourne Heritage Museum began in 1997 when John Frewin, a local optician, allowed use an empty shop he owned at 67 East Street. He further agreed that displays of artefacts could be set up and all this for a peppercorn rent. Then began the long task of converting the building, creating displays and organising a programme. The dedicated members who did all this were rewarded when in June 1999 the museum was officially declared open. Since that time the museum has gained a considerable number of interesting exhibits, has opened to more and more visitors each year and has a steadily growing membership.
Restaurants (please check before visiting)
Just a selection…
Aida Fish Bar, 58 West Street Tel: 01795 439140
Aida Kebab House, 59 West Street Tel: 01795 426361
Angel Spice, 25 High Street Tel: 01795 422665
Charcoal Grill, The Britannia, 111 High Street Tel: 01795 475825
Hempstead House Hotel & Restaurant, London Road Tel: 01795 428020
Hot Wok's, 3 Northwood Drive Tel: 01795 428118
La Gondola Inglenook, 53-57 High Street Tel: 01795 843836
Le Restaurant Fabrice, 53-57 High Street Tel: 01795 521330
New Spice, Periwinkle Court, Church Street Tel: 01795 420460
North Kent Charcoal Grill, 61 East Street Tel: 01795 420805
Oad Street Tea Room, Oad St Craft Centre, Oad Street Tel: 01795 844182
The Corner Plaice, Unit 1a, Grove Park Shopping Centre Tel: 01795 474283
The Plough Inn, Lewson Street Tel: 01795 521348
The Tapster Bar & Bistro, Parsonage Farm, Seed Road Tel: 01795 890711
The Teynham Chinese Takeaway, 107 London Road Tel: 01795 520288
Three Tuns, The Street Tel: 01795 842840
Tudor Rose, Chestnut Street Tel: 01795 842575
New Century cinema, High Street Tel: 0845 1662386
1st Cabs, 83 Kent Avenue Tel: 01795 420000
A2 Cabs Ltd, 8b East Street Tel: 01795 478888
Ace Taxis, 119 William Street Tel: 01795 422222
Bourne Taxis, 59 Gadby Rodd, Bobbing Tel: 01795 437000
Cab-It, rear Of 9 West Street Tel: 01795 436666
On Time Taxis, 23 Perwinkle Close Tel: 01795 439999
Pooks Station Taxis, Station Place Tel: 01795 423184
Swale Cabs, 86 West Street Tel: 01795 470000
Voyager Cabs, within Summit Retail Church Street, Milton Regis Tel: 01795 476666
Sittingbourne Memorial Hospital, Bell Road ME10 4DT Tel: 01795 418300
London Road Dental Practice, 20 London Road Tel: 01795 472020
Milton Regis Dental Clinic, 95b High Street, Milton Regis Tel: 01795 477679
J K Murphy & Associates, 62a High Street Tel: 01795 477931
Sittingbourne Market General Retail Market in the Forum car park on Fridays Tel: 01895 632221
Please check any details above by contacting the Tourist Information Centre in East Street, Sittingbourne, ME10 3HT or telephone 01795 41747.
Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015