Wednesday, 7 October 2015


Fifty years ago Sheerness was generally declared by naval officers to be the most God-forsaken place on the face of the earth. There was no railway to it, and the only way of getting at it was by crazy little paddle-steamers from Chatham. The town itself was mostly composed of wooden hovels built of dockyard chips [chips are pieces of scrap wood produced in shipbuilding]; for in the old days - the very old days - the shipwrights were allowed to carry out of the dockyards, when they went home at night, the chips they had made during the day - partly to clear up the litter around the building slips and partly as perquisites, for firewood; but the indulgence had to be stopped, as it was found that they made an abnormal amount of chips, quite out of proportion to the finished article, and that the chips got bigger and bigger, until at last they were able to build houses with them. And thus it came about that the district known as ''Blue Town,'' where most of the dockyard workmen lived, was a collection of clinker-built houses built of dockyard chips; the term ''clinker'' or ''lapstrake,'' indicating, in technical language, that method of boat-building most commonly in use where one plank laps over the next one.”
Admiral Penrose, 1903
I grew up, in Blue Town, in one of those wooden 'chip', clinker-built, houses. One room up, one room down. No electricity and no running water in the house.

We used a kitchen-range for heating, cooking and just about everything else. My job as an eight year-old was to keep the fire burning and for this I took to beach-combing. Here I would find modern day 'chips' washed ashore from the Dockyard next door. My territory was three miles long and here I fought pirates all day long, along my Spanish Main!

One of those ‘Crazy little Paddle-steamers’ Admiral Penrose referred to (circa 1850)
   On the right the Dockyard; between the Dockyard and the pier lies ‘Rats Bay’. To
      the right of the pier was my Spanish Main – three miles of cobbled shoreline.
 It seemed a natural course of events then that I should enter the Dockyard as a shipwright apprentice and, in my turn, make 'chips'. By the same chain of events, albeit there is a 56 year globetrotting gap, it seems logical that I should now once more build a boat and again produce .....    chips!


  1. Fascinating story. There used to be some of those clap-board houses in the East End, too, but mostly they were the usual dirty brick, 2 up 2 down cottages, also with 'utilities' in the back yard! Valerie

  2. Yes there was a photo of one on the Spitalfiels blog yesterday. Thanks for dropping in.