The Medway folks are celebrating the Battle of the Medway with various events climaxing in fireworks at Upnor Castle on the 17th June.
It looks great if you can do it on foot, though my plan to sail there to watch the fireworks has been shot away, as it seems great flotillas of Dutch yachties have booked all the nearby berths that can be found! Duh!
Over that weekend and the one before there’s quite a lot going on besides the fireworks, including living history events at Upnor Castle, Dutch and British warships, a a fun fair, food and drink stalls and a river pageant sail past the Dockyard and Upnor Castle. There’s also live music, walkabout entertainments and clog dancing performances will run throughout the evening. Check the leaflet for details!
As a regular Thames Estuary mudlarking sailor, I like the look of this!
The Thames Estuary is one of the world’s great deltas, providing passage in and out of London for millennia. It is silted up with the memories and artefacts of past voyages. It is the habitat for an astonishing range of wildlife. And for the people who live and work on the estuary, it is a way of life unlike any other – one most would not trade for anything, despites its many dangers.
Rachel Lichtenstein has travelled its length and breadth many times. Here she gathers these experiences in an extraordinary chorus of voices: mudlarkers and fishermen, radio pirates and champion racers, the men who risk their lives out on the water and the women who wait on the shore. Estuary is a thoughtful and intimate portrait of this profoundly British place, both the community and the environment, examining how each has shaped and continues to shape the other.
‘As the light slowly faded on the longest day of the year I sat on deck with the rest of the crew drinking bottled beers, sharing stories and watching the cityscape transform. By dusk a low mist had begun to obscure most of the buildings. The iconic dome of St Paul’s temporarily disappeared before re-emerging, floodlit, against the London skyline. Red-flashing beacons began to appear sporadically through the fog, marking the tops of tall cranes and skyscrapers. The skeletal frame of the Shard came suddenly into focus as every floor of the tall skyscraper lit up simultaneously. At the same time the beautiful gothic structure of Tower Bridge behind us was illuminated from above and below, throwing a sparkling reflection into the black waters of the Lower Pool of London – a place where so many of the world’s most important ships must have anchored at different points in time. As night fell the lights inside all the flats, hotels and offices along the riverside came on. We floated in the dark void of the river between time.
‘On the water the sounds of the city seemed altered. I could hear the distant hum of traffic on the bridge, the clatter of trains rumbling past, the constant backdrop of sirens going off but it was as if they were coming from another place altogether, not the great throbbing metropolis above. I sat and watched the vast twin bascules of Tower Bridge being slowly raised. A Thames Barge sailed silently past and drifted beneath the bridge before quickly disappearing into the shadows on the other side. On the remains of a wooden jetty nearby, I could just make out the shape of a large black cormorant standing perfectly still with its great wings outstretched.’
These days, it’s a low lying, marshy island Medway well known for its masses of noisy circling birds, but I had no idea it had so much history – or was was so ‘infamous’. I guess many small yacht and dinghy may not know either.
But thankfully the Rainham History website has come to our aid – check out the Burntwick Island story and more including this piece about Blower’s Wharf , this one about the HMS Princess Irene Disaster of May 1915 (caused by a faulty mine, it caused 350 or so deaths), and this one about Otterham Quay.
But back to Burntwick. It turns out the island was only cut off by the sea through erosion some time in the mid 18th century – and then became as great place for ships in quarantine – and smuggling and smugglers, who were also at times known as ‘owlers’.
In the early 19th century it became a base for the North Kent Gang, of who were discovered by two government officials unloading contraband in Stangate Creek in 1820 and a fight followed. Eventually three of the gang were executed and fifteen transported to Tasmania.
A grave maintained on the island by the Royal Navy is that of assistant ship’s Sidney Bernard died from yellow fever from the crew of a quarantied ship.
Later shepherd appropriately named shepherd James Woolley and his wife lived on the island, and the remains of their house is said to exist there today. Later it became a rubbish dump, and still later it was the site of gun emplacements and a forces training centre.
PS – Weblogger and across-the-estuary local sailor Nick Ardley has some points (and corrections) to make in the comments below. There’s more about Burntwick Island in his book Swinging the Lamp.
And he kindly sent over this photo of Sidney Bernard’s grave as it appears today. Thanks Nick!
Sunset over Burntwick Island