Curiosities No.4: The Dutch raid on the Medway

It’s been drilled into us British that the last time that Britain was successfully invaded was by the Normans in 1066.

While this is true, there have been numerous invasions since then, mostly by the Spanish or the French, better perhaps to call them incursions rather than invasions. There was one serious incursion by the Dutch that has generally faded from our national memory. In the mid to late 1600’s the British fought with the Dutch for control of the seas and trade routes, in which the British gained some successes, notably capturing New Amsterdam – now New York – from the Dutch.

Yet in the second Anglo-Dutch war of 1665 – 1667 it was the Dutch who were victorious. Part of that war was the Raid on the Medway, which was the worst ever naval defeat in British home waters. In the raid British naval losses were significant, losing three of the four navy’s big ships, plus the  capture, by the Dutch, of the navy’s flagship the Royal Charles. Dutch raiders got as far as Gillingham and Chatham dockyard, having sacked Sheerness and landing a raiding party of the Isle of Grain. Defensive action halted the Dutch advance up the River Thames. The Dutch retired having secured a major victory. Similar Dutch raids on Harwich and Woodbridge were repulsed. The Dutch victories were such that the British sued for peace with the Treaty of Breda.

This painting below, the Attack on the Medway, June 1667 by Pieter Cornelisz van Soest, painted c. 1667, shows the captured ship Royal Charles is right of centre

Curiosities No.3: The Grain Tower Battery

Another curiosity from our visit to the Isle of Grain in Kent. It’s the Grain Tower, an artillery tower built in late 1840′ and early 1850’s, standing 500 yards off-shore on the Grain Spit at the edge of the Medway channel.

Built as a defence to potential French invasion, the original oval tower was built of coursed of granite ashlar stone. It was subsequently altered and expanded during WW1, acting as one end of a boom defence stretching across the Medway to Sheerness. The massive iron chain from the boom is still present, wrapped around the base of the tower. For WW2 the tower was altered to cater for more modern guns, necessitating the addition of the fire direction tower and a barracks block on stilts to one side of the tower.

There’s a walkway to the tower, which is exposed at low tide, though it’s broken up in places, and covered with mud and seaweed. And no, we didn’t venture out, though we saw a couple returning along the walkway. Two of the photos are from Wikipedia. Should you want to know more about the Tower and see inside, then Jarrelook has the photos.

Curiosities No.2: The SS Richard Montgomery shipwreck

In my reply to PaulS’ comment on my reasons for visiting the Isle of Grain, I said I’d explain in a series of posts in the coming days.

One reason was to see the site of the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery, a shipwreck with more than 1500 tons of unexploded ordnance.  The wreck is 1.5 miles from shore, and lies at a depth of 15 m. At all states of the tide, her three masts are visible above the water.

I’ve long known about the wreck, and felt a need to see its location. The weather was misty on the day of our visit to the Isle of Grain, and such that I could barely see the three masts from the shore. Although I had a better view through our binoculars. I’ve no desire to see the wreck any closer than from shore. Curiosity now satisfied.

In August 1944 the ship was carrying over 6,000 tons of munitions. Arriving in the Medway estuary she was waiting to join a convoy to Cherbourg in France. Perhaps she was given poor directions on where to anchor, being to close too the Nore sandbank. After dragging her anchor, she ran aground on the sandbank, breaking her back in the process. The BBC’s report in 2015 of the events of the shipwreck and recovery of most of her cargo are reported HERE.

The state of the vessel is constantly monitored. The most recent Marine & Coastguard Agency survey report on its state is Dstl_Phase_2_Summary_Report 2017, and an earlier more detailed one – SSRM_2015_Summary_Report_final.  Rather than write more about the wreck here, I’ve attached two videos, both are overly dramatic, but then that’s the whole point.  The videos come after some photos of the wreck.

Curiosities No.1: The Isle of Grain

We’ve recently had a day exploring the Isle of Grain, the eastern most point on the River Medway in Kent, where we enjoyed a 5 mile coastal walk learning all about it’s historical curiosities. It’s these that I’ll tell you about.

The Isle of Grain is quite an odd place, sort of end of the worldish. While it’s no longer an island, the many creeks and tidal marshes mean it’s almost one. The area has had centuries of defensive fortifications and military activity, much of which have been removed leaving a somewhat ravaged landscape.

On the coastal fringes of the Isle of Grain is the London Thamesport container port, three power stations – Medway, Damhead Creek, and Grain, and two closed power stations which are now almost totally demolished, and a demolished BP oil refinery. Oh, and not forgetting the nationally important LNG [Liquefied Natural Gas] import terminal and storage site, and an electricity interconnector between the Netherlands and the UK.

A remarkable part of the country. For an idle few moments before I begin to describe the curiosities, type Isle of Grain into Google, and click on Maps. Here’s a photo I took of some of the National Grid LNG storage facilities – not exciting I know, but indicative of the landscape of the area.