Bluetown


For a long time the dockyard workers and their family’s in Sheerness lived in hulks in the estuary but the conditions inside were very poor, each worker was allowed to carry a piece of wood, no longer than three foot and which could be carried on one shoulder out of the dockyard, its from these chips that they built cabins to live in. The cabins were built around the storehouses in the yard and painted with naval paint, which was a blue-grey colour this is where the name blue houses came from.

In 1754 there was sixteen blue houses and in 1792 there were thirty, as time went on more were built. In 1730 Minster Abbey started recording Christenings and Marriages from Bluehouses, it is known that in 1744 there were three small streets and four hundred and fifty five men living there, this must have included the people on the hulks too.

Unfortunately living in these cabins was no more hygienic than the hulks and in 1765 it was realised the town was swarming with the Malaria Mosquito, the swampy ground that was Sheerness was a breeding ground. Anyone who died from malaria or other highly infectious diseases was buried on a small island just off Queenborough. This island is called Deadmans Island, many prisoners and workers were buried here and I believe its still checked regularly to make sure the diseases are gradually dying away.

There was no drinking water in Sheerness, it was brought by boat from Chatham so in 1774 a well was dug at Fort Townsend, this is now known as Wellmarsh and is where the steel mill now stands. It is recorded at this time there were four hundred and twenty five people living in one hundred and ninety two cabins and five hundred and fifty one men living in two hundred and fifty eight rooms on the hulks. More housing was built in 1794 in the form of great alleys, but the workers preferred to live on the hulks.

At the end of the 18th Century workers were prohibited from wearing wide trousers and overcoats, this was due to the amount of thefts in the yard. It was around this time that barracks were built within the yard, the workers were evicted from their cabins and moved into the barracks, twenty years later a fire destroyed the remaining blue houses and the area became known as Bluetown.

In 1827 the dockyard wall was built, convicts that were living in the hulks provided most of the labour. This was the first time the dockyard was closed off from the general public. By this time Bluetown had a horrendous reputation, fighting was a big problem, probably due to the amount of public houses along the High Street. It was rumoured that every other building was a pub and every third a brothel. This was still a problem in the early 1900’s, the poorest of the Sheerness townspeople lived in Bluetown and there were still many pubs along the High Street and lots of fights going on.

In 1873 St Pauls Church was built and Bluetown was made into a separate parish from Minster. Before this church services were held wherever there was room, in 1755 services were held in a carpenters shop. In 1763 a meeting-house was built for Bethal Chapel followed by a larger chapel, school rooms and a ministers house in 1784.

In the 1950’s-60’s the remaining wooden houses in Bluetown were demolished, due to them being unsafe. It was 1960 that the dockyard closed, this caused many shops and pubs to close leaving the High Street a shadow of its former self. Many buildings were left empty and were pulled down due to decay, there are only a few old buildings left now.

Designed & built by - Kevin Ali