Ship and Barge Building on Milton Creek
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 a century 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.