The Isle of Sheppey

The Isle of Sheppey is an island off the northern coast of Kent in the Thames Estuary, some 38 miles to the east of central London. The island comes under the local government district of Swale.

Sheppey is derived from the ancient Saxon "Sceapige", meaning isle of sheep, and still today the wide-ranging marshes which make up a substantial part of the island offer grazing for large flocks of sheep. The island, like most of north Kent, consists of London Clay and is an abundant source of fossils. Sheppey comprises three main islands: Sheppey, the Isle of Harty and the Isle of Elmley - it was once known as the Isles of Sheppey before the channels separating them silted up -  but the marshy nature of the land to the south of the island means that it is so crossed by channels and drains as to consist of a whole host of islands. The ground is for the most part low-lying, however at The Mount near Minster rises to 250 feet (76 metres) above sea level.

Sheppey is split from the mainland by a channel called the Swale which was used in earliest times to permit shipping to reach ports such as Chatham and London without experiencing the dreadful weather from the North Sea.
The latest crossing to Sheppey was opened in  May 2006: The Sheppey Crossing was concluded and opened on 3 July. This four-lane road bridge rises to a height of 115 ft above the Swale, and carries the A249 trunk road. Pedestrian, animal and bicycle traffic, as well as the railway, are still forced to use the lifting bridge, which still allows the most straight link between the island and the Iwade/Lower Halstow area.

In 855, Sheppey became the Winter camp of an occupying Viking force.
Shurland Hall, near Eastchurch, is named after its first owners, the De Shurland family. In 1188 Adam de Shurland owned a mill with more than 1,000 acres  of mixed land, predominantly marsh with a small meadow. He also let a number of cottages in the surrounding area.

Henry VIII visited the hall and about this time it became the family home of William Cheney (1453–87), whose son Thomas was a Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.  During the First World War troops were billeted at the Great Hall, and it suffered extensive damage as a result. There has been no record of anyone living in the hall since. It is a Grade II listed building and awaits renovation by English Heritage.

In June 1667 a Dutch fleet sailed up the Thames Estuary for the Medway and captured the fort at Sheerness. The fort was incomplete and the garrison underfed and unpaid, so little resistance was put up to the heavily armed Dutch Navy. The Dutch rapidly overran and occupied the whole island for a number of days before withdrawing.

Sheerness is a commercial port and chief town of the Isle of Sheppey and owes much to its beginning as a Royal Naval dockyard town. Samuel Pepys set up the Royal Navy Dockyard in the 17th century. Henry VIII, needing the River Medway as an anchorage for his navy, ordered that the estuary of the river should be protected by a small fort. Garrison Fort was built in 1545.
The dockyard and port at Sheerness today are a major feature of the Isle of Sheppey's economy, which includes the extensive export/import of motor vehicles, and a large steel works, with considerable railway fixtures.

About 200 shipwrecks are recorded around the coast of Sheppey, the most famous being the SS Richard Montgomery, a liberty ship laden with bombs and explosives that grounded on sandbanks during the Second World War.

The principal town on the island is Sheerness. Other villages include Minster, which has a pebble beach, and Leysdown-on-Sea, which has a coarse sandy one. The whole north coast is scattered with caravan parks and holiday homes. There is also a naturist beach beyond Leysdown, towards Shellness. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds manages a reserve at Elmley Marshes, a small part of the National Nature Reserve managed by Elmley Conservation Trust.

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