Sheerness Dockyard put on WHF's list of Watch sites for 2010

Sheerness Dockyard, nominated by SAVE Britain's Heritage, has been included on the WMF's list of Watch sites for 2010.

93 sites have been placed on the World Monuments Watch for 2010, and one of the six UK sites is Sheerness Dockyard in Kent, nominated by SAVE Britain's Heritage.

Sheerness Dockyard, a masterpiece of engineering laid out by the engineer-architect John Rennie and built between 1813 and 1830, is a much neglected treasure trove of late Georgian architecture.

The 60-acre site included monumental stores and warehouses, basins, dry docks, an infirmary, barracks and accommodation for officers in the form of mansions and terraces. The multi-storey iron framed Boat Store added in 1858 was the first of its kind in the world and a precursor to the skyscraper.

The dockyard continued in naval use until 1962 when it closed and was sold to a commercial dock company. The site was very little known and in the course of the next two decades over 50 listed structures were destroyed with the minimum of public outcry. Despite the terrible losses, the site still contains a wealth of historic buildings. The problem now is that a majority of these structures stand empty and decaying.

One of these buildings, Dockyard Church, has been on the SAVE Buildings at Risk Register for several years. A fire in 2001 reduced it to a shell and, recently, an application was approved for a residential conversion which now looks unlikely to happen. In the meantime this magnificent Grade II* building, continues to decay.

There is now, at last, a real sense that the historic dockyard has turned a corner. The historic buildings are split between three owners. One, the commercial port, has recently leased a dry dock building to the Medway Maritime Trust which will restore it for the repair of historic vessels. It is hoped that the inclusion on the WMF Watch List will also embolden the Local Authority to put the other owners under renewed pressure either to carry out repair and maintenance work, or sell at a realistic price to a building preservation trust.

So, for Sheerness Dockyard inclusion on the Watch comes at a key moment. The site has huge potential as a tourist attraction, a heritage hub and a residential quarter. The various parties involved in its guardianship can now sit down with the local community, heritage bodies, preservation trusts and the planning authority and move forward to achieve these aims.

For further information about the World Monuments Fund and the 2010 Watch list click here.

Article by Marcus Binney in Saturday Times, 10 October 2009

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