Categories: Chatham, News, Peel Ports, Portsmouth, SheernessPublished On: 01.04.2020308 words1.6 min read

It was a dark day 60 years ago when the gates of Sheerness Naval Dockyard on the Isle of Sheppey slammed shut for the last time.

More than 2,500 skilled workers, many who had been apprenticed there, were scattered across the country, some ending up in Chatham and others in Portsmouth or Scotland.

The daily cycle chaos of dockers at Sheerness Naval Dockyard before it closed. Picture: Blue Town Heritage Centre

Sheerness has never fully recovered from the economic black hole left by the closure on March 31, 1960, and is still rated as one of the most deprived areas in the UK.

Betty Oldmeadow recalled: “Two of my uncles had to go to Chatham Dockyard to work. Some of my best friends moved to Portsmouth as their fathers were transferred and they were greatly missed.

“The town started to disintegrate. No more could we watch the dockies riding their bikes through the town at lunchtime. We had to wait to cross the road but it was a never-to-be forgotten spectacle.

“As pupils at the Girls’ Secondary School in Jefferson Road in the 1950s we were taken on a tour of the Dockyard and I remember a submarine being in the dry dock for repairs.

“I have happy memories tinged with sadness.”

The impressive main gate of Sheerness Naval Dockyard in 1959 just before it was closed. Picture: David Hughes

Tom Sedman-Smith also remembers the dockers’ daily bike rides to and from work.

He said: “I lived in Blue Town and went to school at Delamark Road so every morning in the late 1950s as I walked over the moat bridge hundreds of dockers would come the other way.

“On the way back from school at dinner time crossing the bridge, I was often nearly pushed back over the bridge by the rush of dockers racing out on foot or on bicycles or the occasional car.”

It was in 1958 that the government announced the closure. Marion Payne said: “It was like a bomb going off in our house .

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