18 November 2015
I recently attended Kent Archaeological Society’s Kent Historic Buildings and Industrial Archaeology Conference at The Criterion in Blue Town on the Isle of Sheppey (www.thecriterionbluetown.co.uk). The Criterion is one of Kent’s last remaining Victorian music halls and owners Jenny and Ian Hurkett have done a fantastic job in bringing not just the building back to life but also its spirit. The Criterion doubles as the local heritage centre and after the conference Jenny gave a guided tour of Blue Town. The area is an historic gem, once a thriving dockyard, it was the place Nelson’s body was brought after the battle of Trafalgar. The harbour wall still dominates the neighbourhood and there are countless fascinating buildings of all ages. Some have been redeveloped, but the Dockyard Church gave us all cause for grave concern such was its state of dilapidation. The entire area is a heritage asset and should be cherished, but as Jenny correctly pointed out to us, “It’s on Sheppey.”
Perhaps there is such a thing as heritage prejudice. Just a short drive from Blue Town are leafy Kentish villages where pretty houses and pubs are in abundance. Closer to Sheppey are the Medway Towns and here the neglect of the less pretty - but just as important - industrial heritage has been in the spotlight for years. Most recently residents protested fruitlessly to preserve the Aveling and Porter steam engine factory site on the Strood side of Rochester bridge. Designed by George Bond and built in the 20th century, it was not as attractive as some of the buildings in nearby Rochester High Street, but it certainly did not lack architectural merit. Strood has suffered badly over the years in Rochester’s shadow and most of its old buildings are now gone. Even the World War Two tank defences were taken away from the railway station, a move which I am sure will be seen as madness by future generations.
Which is why it is important to save our heritage now! Here in Hertfordshire the village of Batford is, I feel, in a similar position to Strood. The area suffers from heritage prejudice, the result of a lack of understanding of our past and the importance to preserve our industrial history.
However, that is enough for today and I will return to Batford in a later post.