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’.


  1. I love this drawing and the story of Bluetown, John.

    I especially like the Blue Door in The Magistrates' Court.

    Wikipedia states that: Blue Town (sic) grew up alongside The Naval Dock Yard during The Napoleonic Wars. It gained its distinctive name from the practice of the earliest inhabitants to preserve their wooden houses using Blue Paint “liberated” from their employers in The Dock Yard.

    1. Glad you liked it, David.

      In the beginning the dockyard workers and their families lived on the hulks of old warships, there being no houses on the malaria infested swampy marshes. Drinking water and food coming in by sea from Chatham. Shipwrights were allowed to keep the offcuts (chips) from the building-slips, supposedly for firewood, but gradually they built 'chip' houses which they painted blue with the paint they stole.

      I grew up in a wooden house, one room downstairs and one up. No water or electricity just an open fire. No wonder I became a shipwright :)

  2. Also, John. I visited the Catholic Church of Saint Henry and Saint Elizabeth, many times.

    As you know, this was quite close to The Dockyard and, therefore, very close to Bluetown.

    1. I was an altar boy in St H & E and we got married there. Father O'Donnell was always in and out of our school and one day he saw a patched and scruffy little boy, me, pencil drawing a house. He handed me his expensive fountain pen and said, "Now go over the pencil lines in ink!" The rest is history and forms most of this blog

  3. What a lovely story, John. God Bless Fr. O'Donnell (R.I.P.).

    Did you give him his Fountain Pen back !!!