The earliest mention of inhabitants in Queenborough was around A.D. 669-690 when the area the town now stands on was an island, due to the marshes surrounding the high ground flooding at high tide. At this time there were only a few fishing huts on the creek, the village was named Bynne (an island).
On this high ground a powerful fort was built by the Danish Prince Hoestan in A.D. 893. The village of Bynne was owned by the Monastery of St Sexburgha at this time.
15 years after Queen Phillippa of Hainault found this marsh by being driven ashore after the Battle of Crecy in 1346, her King, Edward III, built the Castle and established the town which he named Queenborough in respect of his consort, Queen Phillippa. The castle was to protect the mouth of the Thames and Medway Estuary and also the Swale, which at the time was the safest route for boats travelling from the Estuaries to the south coast or France. The boats would pass down the Swale close to shore and stop at Dover before crossing the English Channel.
Queenborough town was built around the castle and became known as the major wool port along the coast from Gravesend to Winchelsea. King Edward III made Queenborough a free town and made the townspeople burgesses, power to choose yearly a mayor and two bailiffs to make their allegiance yearly to the Constable of the castle. They were also granted two markets per week and two fairs per year. On top of this the Mayor wasn’t ordered to pay tolls and was given many other privileges. One of the many privileges given to Queenborough was the right of admiralty jurisdiction, on 10th May 1368, this was only given to places that were important to the crown. Queenborough and Rochester were the only places, apart from the Cinque Ports, in the country to be honoured.
Some time around 1558 Queenborough Mayor, John Cokerham, and Jack Cade led nearly 10 rebels that lived in Queenborough to attack the castle. This resulted in the Constable of the castle and his small group of soldiers taking the rebels prisoner, the names of the rebels appear on a list of people that were tried for rebellion in Kent.
In 1571 Queen Elizabeth gave the town two members of parliament, this privilege lasted 261 years until the Reform Bill was passed in 1832. It is recorded that in this year, despite the town being a major wool exporter, the town only held twenty-three houses, twelve boats from four to sixteen tons, a quay and a landing space.
Mattias Falconer of Barbant established the first copperas factory in Queenborough in 1579, this was the first of factory of this kind in the England.
Dr William Parry an M.P. for Queenborough was convicted for conspiring to murder the Queen in February 1585 and he was executed in March of the same year.
July 1588 saw a Spanish Admiral, Don Geronimo, land at Queenborough. His ship had been captured by Sir Francis Drake and the Spaniard was held prisoner at Queenborough Castle until his death, he was buried at Minster Abbey.
During the reign of Charles I the principal employment in the town was the local oyster fishery, this was still one of the primary jobs until the mid 19th century. The king gave Queenborough a new charter, and under this charter the town was governed until Queen Victoria’s granted a new municipal charter in 1885. Both of the Members of Parliament of Queenborough, Sir Michael Livesy of Parsonage Farm Eastchurch and Augustine Garland of Tam’s Farm Minster, were judges at the trial of Charles I for treason. They both signed the death warrant of the King and he was executed in Whitehall on January 30th 1649 in view of the public.
By 1650 the Castle had fallen into disrepair and was seen as obsolete. It was agreed that it should be sold off and dismantled. The castle was sold to Mr John Wilkinson by the Commissioners of Parliament for £1,792, and was demolished. The agreement of the sale of part of Queenborough Castle is written below:
Know ye all men by these presents that I, Daniel Judd of London, Merchant, have received and had certified by sealing hereof of Henry Seager of Quinburrowe in the County of Kent, manor of the same, the sum of thirty pounds of lawful money of England and is in full payment of and for that barne stable and coachhouse, with ate appurtenances, situated and being within the walls of Quinburrowe Castle aforesaid and late belonging to the same castle and of and for all and every the timbers, stone, brick, tyles and others, the materials thereunto belonging, and of and for all my whole rights title and interest of in and to the same premises and any part hereof, and the whole golg for me of….by me received as aforesaid, I do freely aquit and discharge the said Henry Seager, his eyers, administrators and assignes and every of them for ever, by these presents sealed, with my seal dated the sixth day of December 1650.
Sealed and delivered in the presence of Ralph Smith and John Wright.
On the 10th June 1667 the Dutch invaded Sheppey, they removed goods worth £40,000 from the Dockyard and garrison in Sheerness. The Mayor of Queenborough crossed the mud to them waving a white flag, the submission was to prevent any blood-shed in his town. The Dutch were under strict orders not to indulge in any looting or destruction so left the town intact but troops from Wales, Scotland and England destroyed the town, they looted houses and destroyed private property before running in fear of the enemy. As a result of the surrender the Dutch flew their flag from the Guildhall, making Queenborough the only town in England to fly an invaders flag since the time of William of Normandy.
During the 18th Century a number of houses were added to the town due to growth in the Merchant trades, Queenborough was a thriving, successful town.
During the years 1815-1820 the Corporation of Queenborough was having some financial difficulties and records from this period show that they were in debt of £14,500, most likely caused by the Mayor and other officials being rather dishonest with the funds. There was no way in which they could recover the money although they tried by increasing charges to the local oystermen and fishermen, this drove them to “unlawful and riotous assembly” in protest against unwarranted charges made upon them in the course of their trade. The problem was so serious that by the middle of the 19th Century the corporation was bankrupt and parliament was called in to solve the issue. They did this by selling much of the land, property and the ancient oyster fishery. The oyster fishery had already become corrupt by smuggling and the islands Members of Parliament using bribery.
Over the years the Navy housed prisoners in hulks just off the coast of Queenborough and Sheerness and the prisoners were used for labour in the Dockyard. Due to the poor hygiene and living conditions in the hulks many prisoners died, this did not include the deaths from Cholera. The dead were mostly buried on a small island opposite Queenborough, the island was called Deadman’s Island locally and can still be found on maps today with the same name. Next to Deadman’s Island is another small island called Burntwick Island, this island could possibly have one of the loneliest graves in England. The grave is the resting place of a local surgeon, Sidney Bernard, that devoted his time treating victims of Cholera.
Queenborough was given renewed hope when in 1885 a Borough Charter was granted, it took 52 years before the Charity Commissioners were able to appoint a borough council, the town or fisheries never fully recovered.
With improved Navigation between London and the mouth of the Thames Estuary Queenborough lost most of its importance as a port but that all changed at the end of the century when the Navy stationed themselves there. There had been a Naval Barracks at Sheerness Dockyard since 1899, it was called HMS Wildfire III. Their job was keep the shipping lanes clear of mines in the Medway and Thames Estuaries and along the coast. Due to lack of space at the local Dockyard the Minesweeper base was stationed in Queenborough where the flushing pier used to be. This gave Queenborough back its importance as a coastal town and has given it even more history to be proud of. A few feet away from where HMS Wildfire III was stationed is a plaque and memorial to all those who died during WWII working from this base. The plaque reads:
This plaque commemorates the lives of those who died during the Second World War whilst stationed at this Royal Navy base. Minesweepers, including converted trawlers operated from a pier which stood some 400 yards north of this park. Their dangerous task was to keep open the allied shipping routes by clearing mines from the Thames Estuary and English Channel.
“Let light perpetual shine upon them”
In 1967, 300 years after the Dutch raid in 1667, the town of Queenborough was twinned with Brielle in the Netherlands.
Queenborough is now under control of Swale Borough Council who incorporated the old borough council during the reorganisation in 1974. Queenborough now has a town council and a town Mayor.
The current street plan and property boundaries are much the same as it was in the 14th Century, the Medieval Church still stands also, its wooden carved altarpiece that was made by an oaken beam from the demolished castle and its tower which was restored using stone from the castle are a lasting memorial of the impressive building that once stood in this town.
There are many other buildings around the town that have withstood the test of time such as the Guildhall. The town is a conservation area and as such the history remaining will be protected.