Since 2000, when the Society organised a tour of Sheerness Dockyard, it has been actively engaged with the Isle of Sheppey and Sheerness heritage societies in protecting the surviving heritage of the dockyard.
From 2005 until 2011 the Society was actively involved in opposing the inappropriate planning applications concerning the Georgian naval officers residential quarter at Sheerness, comprising six Grade II* and four Grade II properties. These include Regency Close (a terrace of five elegant properties) and the magnificent Dockyard House, formerly occupied by the Chief Superintendent. A London-based developer had acquired the properties in 2003 for a knock-down price and had plans inter alia to build flats over the gardens and breach the Grade II listed Dockyard Wall. Following the decisive rejection of the original proposals, the houses were acquired by the Spitalfields Trust in March 2011 for more sensitive regeneration.
The Society was very pleased to see the Trust also acquire the fire-damaged Grade II* St Paul’s Dockyard Chapel in July 2013. As reported in previous Dockyards, the church is included in the Historic England Register of Heritage at Risk and was part of the site included in the 2010 Watch List of endangered heritage sites by the World Monuments Fund. Following a feasibility study commissioned by SAVE Britain’s Heritage in 2013, the Grade II* listed building was compulsorily purchased by Swale Borough Council and transferred to the Spitalfields Trust on an interim basis. On 27 February 2014 the Trust was awarded a £10,000 Heritage Lottery Fund start-up grant. The SDPT (registered address 4 Naval Terrace, Sheerness, ME12 1RR) was incorporated on 1 September 2014. Trustees include Chairman Will Palin, a Spitalfields Trust Trustee, Howard Fisher, SDPT Treasurer, and Kevin Moore, who is also restoring several properties in the dockyard.
On 17 September 17 2014 the newly formed Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust opened the Church to 400 visitors. SDPT handed out questionnaires to canvass opinion for its future use, such as studios for small businesses and creative industries, a café, performance/rehearsal space, a heritage display and housing for the 1820 40 x 40ft Dockyard Model commissioned by John Rennie for its expansion 1813–23 and presently stored at Fort Brockhurst at Gosport (see August 2006, Two Views of the Society’s Visit to Fort Brockhurst on 22 October 2005, Dockyards, 11/1, pp. 10-11).
On 4 October 2014 the Sheerness Dockyard Church restoration project was launched. The trustees plan to restore the plasterwork, one of the cantilevered staircases to the clock tower, the windows and the clock mechanism, which is in storage. Initial drawings and designs carried out for the HLF application were displayed, plus artist drawings. These indicate that the gallery (first) floor would not continue fully across the width of the interior, but follow the existing longitudinal gallery profile, therefore this vista will remain. However, there seems to be some contradiction concerning the second (roof) floor, the architectural drawings indicating apartments, but the artist’s drawing showing the model. The NDS looks forward to seeing more precise plans. While the project needs to generate sufficient commercial income to refurbish and maintain the fabric, a crucial aim of housing the dockyard model has not yet been resolved.
The Society continues to monitor developments at Sheerness, including an discarded proposal for a vast wind turbine construction facility which would have had a serious impact on major dockyard buildings such as the Grade II* Mast House; and the Peel ports Masterplan (2014). The condition of other dockyard buildings such as the Grade I listed Boat Store continues to cause us concern. The Royal Navy left Sheerness in 1960 and since then major losses of dockyard heritage have occurred, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s. The Society is keen to ensure that the remaining dockyard buildings are both preserved and maintained in an appropriate fashion.