Tuesday 21 June 2022



In the 1940s, Bluetown, on the Isle-of-Sheppey, was ghetto-like: surrounded by walls, cut off by a moat, with one road in and one out. The people of Sheerness generally viewed Bluetown as a slum populated by a class of people they distrusted. It was into this area that my family brought me to live as World War Two was raging.

If Sheerness people of the 1940s had looked at Bluetown on a bad day, they might have seen many buildings collapsing, collapsed or in ruins, an abundance of pubs spewing hordes of drunken sailors, gangs of ragged children, domestic violence, poverty, and despair.

However, if those people of the 1940s had looked at Bluetown on a good day, they might have seen a small close-knit community with its own church, school, police station, theatre, railway station and pier where paddle steamers landed their passengers. They may have seen cobblers, grocers, butchers, chandlers, hairdressers, bakers, laundry, collar factory, crisp factory not to mention the Magistrates Court. If that wasn’t enough, Charles Dickens had once lived there, and Lord Nelson had stayed at Bluetown’s grand hotel, the ‘Fountain’.

Bluetown was all those things and more, for it lay in the shadow of an army garrison and Samuel Pepys’s Naval Dockyard which provided the main source of employment for the island and surrounding area.

So, as you can see, Bluetown was always a series of contradictions, not least in its architecture. On one hand were the ramshackle dwellings, whilst on the other, there were grand buildings such as the one we Bluetowners called, the Magistrates Court; more correctly, I’m assured, it was officially the County Court.

It was built, in 1852, opposite the now bricked up South Gate of the Dockyard, at a cost of £2000.

One part of the court's history I loved, is that of the judge complaining about the noise made by the passing horses and carts as they trundled over the cobbled High Street. In response, the High Street was tarmacked. There are still a few cobbled areas left: the road between the 'Royal Fountain Hotel' and the 'Jolly Sailor' pub, for example

As a very poor and scruffy Bluetown boy, the Magistrates Court was a breath-taking wonder-of-the-world to me, which is why is features so high on my ‘drawing list’.


The "Old Ferry Bridge"

(John Simlett Pen & Ink)
I recently put together a chapter about the time Patsy and I came back to Sheppey to celebrate our Golden Wedding Anniversary in 2009. We’d got married in 1959 and left the island shortly after, never suspecting we wouldn’t be coming back.

Our adventures had led us a merry dance around the world, and our 25th move was here to the West Coast of Wales. On the way our kids and grandkids married - amongst others - a Japanese, an American, an Australian and a French Algerian … it was a complex journey from which we emerged a mixture of ‘The Mafia, the United Nations and, with all the great grandchildren… a Plague of Locusts,’

Without really thinking about it, Patsy and I must have imagined Sheppey would stay frozen in time, waiting for us to come back, or at least have had the patience to remain largely unchanged. Wrong! When we arrived, not only had the old bridge gone, but so had the new bridge. Now we were faced with a road that vanished up into the clouds… ‘The Crossing’….The Twilight Zone?

This chapter I have written came to mind when I was looking for old buildings I planned to draw or paint. With the drawing of the Rio and the Royal done, the old ferry bridge seemed a good place to restart, just as our visit had begun in 2009.

We had loved the old cantankerous clanky bridge which, when it felt like it, joined road and rail to the mainland. It was a bit like the old currency and cricket: it was impossible for outsiders to understand and kept the world at a safe distance.
When it was up, it was up.
And when it was down, it was down.
But when it was stuck halfway up …
… no bugger was going anywhere


 Those that know me, realise that I only paint and draw in the Realist mode, NEVER impressionism or abstract.

I have just seen this young chap drawing ‘Chaos Art’ and was fascinated by the whole process. I just HAD to have a go’ so I bought some compressed charcoal (soft) sticks, a kneadable eraser (feels like bread dough), charcoal pencils, and began drawing on cartridge paper.

The idea is to scribble a chaotic mess, and then pull an image out of it using the tools that I have just listed. Here is my first attempt, took 1.5 hours.

I was totally flabbergasted. I had a second go .... and out popped Adam Lambert (of
'Queen') in 45 minutes.

I can't get my head around drawing these straight off, if you knew me you'd not quite understand how it happened.......
     .......... at 84 I might have found another string to my brush pencil