The Dockyard story – Pepys

Samual Pepys plans a Dockyard

On the 8th August 1665 the Navy Board ordered the Commissioner of Chatham Dockyard to equip Sheerness Yard with materials and workers to clean the hulls of the ships, and in the same year Samual Pepys visited the Yard to begin the planning of the construction works. His diary reads: 

"To Sheerness where we walked up and down, laying out the ground to be taken in for a dockyard, a most proper place".


The first building to be constructed was a storehouse, used to store provisions that were to be sent out to ships. Three months later orders were sent from the Navy Board that all ships in need of cleaning, minor repairs and refitting go to Sheerness Dockyard; by doing this they relieved some of the work at Chatham Dockyard as the men there were struggling to keep up with the workload and they also avoided the plague that was raging at Chatham. To be able to accommodate this extra workload more buildings and more suitable cranes were planned, these plans and cost estimate were sent to Samual Pepys who agreed to the work.

The Dutch attack

During the following year plans were drawn up by Bernard de Gomme for the building of a new fort at Ness Point, adjacent to the new Dockyard to protect it and the King's fleet anchored at Chatham, however before the fort could be completed the Dutch attacked and invaded the fort and surrounding area. They removed as much of the stores as they could carry on their ships and burnt anything they could not keep, including destroying the new fort. They finally left with £3000 worth of stores, guns and ammunition. They then sailed up the River Medway to Chatham where they took the Royal Charles (the English flagship), another ship, and destroyed the rest of the fleet. By the end of 1668 both the fort and dockyard were operational again. The first dry dock was completed in 1673 and the first ship was launched four years later, one of many launched at Sheerness.

Growing dock, new technologies

Sir Phineas Pett was appointed Resident Commissioner of Sheerness and Chatham Dockyards on 19th April 1686, and resided at Chatham Dockyard on a salary of £500 per year. By this time the Dockyard had grown considerably and now consisted of around 20 buildings, a number of docks and slips and a mast pond. The buildings would have consisted of stores, saw pits, wheelwrights shop and other essential workshops. In 1794 a house for the Commissioner had also been built and Ordnance Stores are also marked near Powder Monkey Bay and the Gun Wharf. By this time a new telegraph system had been invented and was in use by the Admiralty between Chatham, Sheerness and Deal, this was to be replaced in 1822 by a semaphore system.

Plan and West Elevation of His Majesty’s Dockyard and Garrison at Sheerness


The next major event at Sheerness was the Mutiny at the Nore. Naval crews of 28 naval vessels started a Mutiny at the Nore anchorage, the sailors were angry due to poor working conditions, un-equal pay, not enough leave, poor rations and they wanted an end to people being forcefully enrolled in the Navy (press-ganged). 

Richard Parker, a former officer who had been voted president of the fleet by the mutineers, led the rebellion and blockaded access to London, this meant all trade was unable to carry on. The Garrison was increased to 3,000 men to protect the fort and dockyard if they attacked and the shot was kept warm for the batteries.

The mutiny was hijacked by radical delegates and started to turn sour, due to lack of food and disagreement between the mutineers they started to leave. Parker and co-conspirators were dealt with severely and were hanged by the Admiralty for treason, the executions taking place upon the ship 'Sandwich'.

We would like to thank the Sheppey Website for allowing us to feature some of their fascinating content about the history the dockyard and surrounding area.

See also : Posts in Heritage

The Navy Board ordered all ships in need of cleaning, minor repairs and refitting go to Sheerness Dockyard