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Ship and Barge Building on Milton Creek


Ship Building and Barge Building

This part of Kent has favourable rich soil suitable for fruit growing and it also has an abundance of brick earth for brick making, with chalk and mud for the manufacture of cement. Explosives were made and stored in the marshes around Faversham and much hay was exported from these marshes. The most effective way to get these goods away was by water in some flat-bottomed craft that would sit in a berth quite stably to be loaded as the tide came in and out. This then, was an obvious place to build the transport needed for these industries. Milton Creek at Sittingbourne was by far the largest of the ship/barge building areas on the Kentish Swale. 

Don Sattin, in his book Barge Building and the Barge Builders of the Swale, estimates that there were over 400 spritsail rigged sailing barges being built on the banks and wharves here from the early 19th century onwards. John Huggens was an early builder here, but there were about eighteen well known barge builders on Milton Creek. Stephen Taylor was building barges in 1825 and his descendants were still building acentury later at Adelaide dock. The better-known builders were R M Shrubsall,Mantle, Wills & Packham, Masters, White, W B Spencelaugh, Eastwoods and of course George Smeed (later Smeed Dean, Burley and Eastwoods).

George Smeed was building barges from the 1840s and 1850s and he was typical, in that he was doing it for a reason, and that was to support his main interests and industries, those of brick and cement making. At his death, the company of Smeed Dean owned 63 barges, and they continued building for another 32 years.

The Taylor brothers built at various places along Milton Creek,including Crown Quay, and a yard at Murston. As with many of these barge builders, they built for the local industries but also for anyone that needed them. The first world war so a lot of work for the war effort, building new barges and refurbishing old.Wills & Packham took over Taylor’s yard in 1899 and built up until the 1930s. The first steam powered ship to be built in Sittingbourne was built by Wills & Packham in 1914. After this time many barges had engines fitted. Shrubsalls operated from Milton Wharf barge yard, and then Eastwoods the cement company took the yard over in 1899, building barges for their own use.

White’s building yard was at Station Brickworks Dock, previously runby Mantle. White was purely a builder and had no other industrial interests.White’s son also started his own yard at Conyer and barge building continued apace. During the first world war, A M White built and launched defence booms at Conyer. Charles Burley started at the Station Brickworks Dock after Mantle,but then leased the Dolphin Yard from Smeed Dean. It wasn’t all sailing barges by any means – lighters and canal boats.

Up until the second world war, there were still considerable fleets of sailing barges working, especially in the brick, cement, and grain trades.During the war, many of these were taken over by the government, anchored in strategic places and had barrage balloons tethered to them.

The yards, especially the former Smeed Dean, taken over by APCM in 1933 at Adelaide Dock, and Wills & Packham now called Sittingbourne Shipbuilding Company, was worked on small vessels for the Admiralty, Harbour Launches,Motor Torpedo Boats and the like. After the war the trade went into decline,although there was some repair work.














Wills & Packham sailing barge
W&P Barge 1904
Wills & Packham sailing barge
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Waiting to be loaded with bricks
Barges at Adelaide Dock
Waiting to be loaded with bricks
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1920s
Sittingbourne Shipyard Workers
1920s
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Wills & Packham's Yard - The Raybel
Barge Launch 1920
Wills & Packham's Yard - The Raybel
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Built at Sittingbourne, 1943
Harbour Launch
Built at Sittingbourne, 1943
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Ship | barge | Sittingbourne | Milton Creek | Wills & Packham | shipbuilding | bargebuilding | Raybel | Olive May | Sailing
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