The Isle of Sheppey
I have never been to the Isle of Sheppey although I have probably looked out at it from the other side of the Thames Estuary at Southend - it seems to be more or less directly opposite as the map below shows. But I would love to go there, particularly now that I know that one branch of my family tree seems to have lived there for at least a generation or two. It’s always seemed somewhat mysterious to me I don’t know if Dickens’ Great Expectations is set there, but it seems the perfect setting for Pip’s encounter with Magwitch the convict. Misty and mysterious and wet and flat. As in this mid eighteenth century painting by Jonathan Skelton of the Medway and the Isle of Sheppey. That is what it means to my imagination. So let’s find out if this is indeed the case.
Interestingly, there are not a lot of websites created by fervent locals, as there are in some other areas.
Wikipedia - The basic facts
Mapping London - This site has a very impressive animation of all the lost rivers of London, which, of course, includes the River Fleet.
Sheppey Website - A very comprehensive site about the history of the island, focussing on buildings and places and local people.
Sheerness Heritage Centre - A somewhat amateurish site and a bit difficult to navigate but there’s lots there.
Kent Online Parish Clerks - Minster in Sheppey -Quite a comprehensive source for where to find Parish records for the area.
Kent History Forum - The home page - just type in your search statement and you will find a whole lot of postings on this blog site on the topic of interest to you.
Sheerness/Sheppey/Penney -The Penney family website that also has a lot of information about the Island and also on sources,
Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide - Lots of maps and information here
The name is derived from the ancient Saxon sceapige meaning sheep - well its marshland basically and even today there are a lot of sheep there. Minster in Sheppey, where the Berrys seem to come from is the highest point on the island at 76 metres above sea level. It was a winter camp for the Vikings and was briefly captured and occupied by the Dutch in 1667. They withdrew after a few days for some reason.
But after the sheep and the marshes, Sheppey has mostly been known for its dockyard - which along with Chatham and Deptford, was owned by the Royal Navy and repaired and maintained boats for the British Navy for centuries. The Royal Navy gave up the dockyard in 1960 but Sheerness is apparently now one of the largest and fastest growing of England’s container ports.
The north west prospect of Sheerness in the County of Kent 1739 by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck
Sheerness is the main town on the island in the north-western corner. The name means bright headland apparently. Henry VIII built the fort that still stands, as protection for the River Medway and the Chatham Royal Navy dockyards. This fort was later extended, but was destroyed by the Dutch. The new dockyard was built under the direction of Samuel Pepys as an extension to Chatham. The dockyard workers apparently built their homes out of leftovers, and used the blue paint to paint their homes, resulting in the name of Blue Town for a particular section of the town.
Because of the low rainfall and the sandy beach Sheerness also became popular with tourists and remains so to this day.
Minster in Sheppey
Sheerness with warships at anchor by Samuel Scott
On the highest point of the island stands the Abbey of The Blessed Virgin Mary and St Sexburgha - the queen who first established it as a nunnery way back in 665AD. Although partly destroyed, first by the Vikings and then in the 11th century, it was rebuilt under William the Conqueror and survived the dissolution of the monasteries because of its unique arrangement of two adjacent churches - though quite why this should save it I am unsure. It gradually fell into decay but was restored in the late nineteenth century and is now a listed heritage building.
My Berry ancestors lived here and there seem to be a few Berry families scattered around the area, even today. Maybe some of them are distantly related.
A contemporary painting of Queenborough at low tide and a photograph of Elmey Marshes, which shows the typical landscape of the area. Wet and flat.