Monday, 20 February 2017

Remembering William Watson

Back in November 2011 I visited Arras in northern France to see the grave of a relative who was killed in action during the First World War.

A resident of the small settlement of Stoke here on the Hoo Peninsula, William Stephen Watson was my great grandfather’s nephew. He was only 21 when he was killed, on 17th February 1917 during the Battle of Miraumont.

With the passing of this centenary, I hope I will get the opportunity to visit Arras again in the near future.

Click here to view the full account of my 2011 visit to Arras.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Remembering Hazel

I found out this week about the passing of long-time Hoo Peninsula resident Hazel Stockbridge.

Back in 2010 I met Hazel several times at his home in High Halstow to discuss local history, particularly his own background, family and connections to the local community. 

Our discussions were recorded as part of my on-going film projcet to collect memories and stories about life on the Hoo Peninsula.

I send my condolences to Hazel's family.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Digging up the Past

Ahead of gravel extraction from ‘Kingsnorth Quarry’ near Hoo, recent investigations by a team from the Museum of London Archaeology, carried out between September and October 2016, on behalf of Tarmac, found evidence of multiple periods of occupation.

Archaeologists working on site, after the topsoil was stripped.

Much of what was discovered appears to relate to features illustrated on 19th century maps, such as former field boundaries and the remains of orchards, although predictably the majority of the archaeological features were in close proximity to existing buildings or those shown on historic maps, including rubbish pits from the 18th to the early 20th centuries.

However, some pits contained fragments of medieval pottery – testifying to the continuous and lengthy occupation of the area.

Many pits contained Roman or prehistoric pottery, suggesting that the area may have been more densely populated in the past, but due to the effects of ploughing over several hundred years, only the base of these older features survive.

The only direct evidence for human occupation was recovery of partially disarticulated human bones mixed up in the lower fill of a pit, pictured below.  It is uncertain whether these remains represent one of more individuals or whether they were deposited as part of a deliberate, but unusual, burial ritual.

Human bones in probable Roman pit.

The remains were sealed under a layer of debris from a collapsed wattle-and-daub building.  An adjacent pit also had a layer of wattle-and-daub debris containing Roman pottery.  It is possible to speculate that these findings may represent the residents of a Roman settlement that might have succumbed to a violent and untimely end, although further analysis is needed by osteoarchaeologists to determine the age and gender of the remains and possibly the cause and nature of their demise.

Probable Roman field ditch (marked in yellow).

The Roman pottery recovered from the pits consisted of ‘Samian’ pottery, pictured below, a fine red tableware imported from Roman Gaul.  This distinctive pottery suggests some of the Roman features may date from the 1st to 2nd century AD.

Roman pottery from Gaul with maker’s stamp on base.

Other findings discovered included prehistoric pottery, suggesting occupation in the area may stretch back into the Iron Age or Bronze Age periods.

Information and images appear courtesy of Museum of London Archaeology, Andy Richmond of Phoenix Consulting Archaeology Ltd and David Brown of Tarmac.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Historic barge in Hoo

The most well-known of the iconic sailing barges to have sailed along the River Thames arrived at Hoo Marina in early September, for winter storage, as she marks the end of her 110th year.

90ft-long sailing barge Cambria was built at the F. T. Everard and Sons Limited boatyard at Greenhithe in 1906 and is famous for being the last British registered vessel to carry cargo under sail alone – the final cargo being 100 tonnes of cattle cake in 1970 when she was owned by the folksinger and bargeman Bob Roberts.

Since being restored in 2007, thanks to £1.4 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Cambria has been able to provide life-changing experiences for hundreds of young people in association with the Sea Change Sail Trust as well as being hired out for private charters.  Cambria has also been active in the annual programme of traditional barge match races.

You can find out more about Cambria by visiting the Cambria Trust’s website here or take a look at the groups more up-to-date Facebook page here.

Photograph appears courtesy of Rob Powell at the Cambria Trust.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Old BAE Club to be demolished

Following the recent purchase by Bellway Homes Limited of land at the top of Bells Lane in Hoo, previously occupied by the BAE Sports & Social Club (later known as The Village Community, Sports & Social Club and, prior to its closure, as the Peninsula Club), demolition of buildings on the site is about to commence.

According to a notice on the perimeter fence the buildings could be demolished tomorrow (28th December) or thereabouts.  It will mark the beginning of a process involving potentially hundreds of new homes being built in this part of Hoo, although at the time of writing I have not seen a formal planning application.

My own memories of this site are relatively recent.  Back in 2013 I was one of the organisers of the semi-successful Hoo Village Fun Day.  We welcomed special guests Cllr. Josie Iles (then the Mayor of Medway), Mark Reckless MP and Rochester Town Crier Robin Burfoot, and we enjoyed many attractions, including the fabulous Big Sing Choir (under the instruction of T Jae Cole), a strongman contest and a helicopter flypast.  It was an exhausting day.

It is sad knowing that this once popular facility, including its double recreation ground, will not be hosting such events ever again.

Fun Day photographs appear courtesy of the Village Voices Community Magazine.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Merry Christmas!

I hope you have an enjoyable and relaxing Christmas.

If you'd like to see how festive the Hoo Peninsula landscape looked at this very same time back in 2010, click here for some photographs.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

New Year's Eve at Taggs

I popped into Taggs Coffee Shop in Hoo today and had a good chat with my old mate Tom Taggart.  He told me all about a fun evening he's planning at Taggs Wine Bar on New Year's Eve.

If you’re looking for somewhere fun and local to go on 31st December, Taggs Wine Bar is the place for you!

You'll be able to enjoy the last few remaining hours of 2016 with host Tom and a popular group called Sold on Soul, who'll belt out many classic soul, funk and disco tunes, from 9pm.  This group has performed at Taggs before and were well received.

Tickets are £15, just pop to Taggs (Church Street, Hoo, ME3 9AH) to get yours, but don't leave it too long.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Help fund important community project

The UJ Community Partnership is a community-based organisation with the objective of helping local residents gain/learn new skills as well as generally seeking to reduce levels of social isolation.

From learning something new by attending training and personal development courses, or making new friends by attending social events, the UJ Community Partnership has helped many residents from across the Hoo Peninsula since it was formed in 2003.

The long-established and much loved group is run by Veronica Cordier, who works hard to ensure the group’s survival.  Funding is always at the top of Veronica’s agenda – making sure the group can afford to offer new training courses and other opportunities for residents, as well as more routine expenses, such as heating, equipment, facilities and running costs.

With everyone tightening their belts, it has become more difficult to find funding, so if you run a local business and are able to offer funding support of any amount (it all helps), please get in touch with Veronica by phoning 01634 271807, or write to Veronica Cordier, UJ Community Partnership, The Chapel/Grain Library, Chapel Road, Isle of Grain, ME3 0BZ.

Next month the UJ Community Partnership is offering residents training/familiarisation workshops on using a tablet - particularly handy if you receive one for Christmas!  Book your place by phoning 01634 271807.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Seeing old Friends at Grain Coastal Park

I visited Grain Coastal Park last weekend and bumped into my old volunteering colleague Michael Dale.

Michael is now a leading-light in the park’s Friends group – a group of volunteers (mainly residents from the Isle of Grain) who spend many hours each week working hard looking after this increasingly popular and vast open space.

The Friends of Grain Coastal Park group has gone from strength to strength since it was created back in January 2012, following a successful community project undertaken by the Kent Wildlife Trust throughout 2011, in collaboration with St. James, Isle of Grain, Parish Council.  Those early project sessions were lots of fun and very interesting.

Michael and his volunteer colleagues have spent considerable time creating many great walks for visitors to enjoy.  In the noticeboard at the main car park (at the end of High Street, ME3 0BS) you will find a detailed map of the park showing all the walks.

If you’re looking to burn off some Christmas calories this weekend or during the festive period, or would simply like to get out of the house and enjoy fresh air and great views of the Essex coast and Isle of Sheppey – pop along to Grain Coastal Park.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Rolling back the years to 1982

Formed in 2014, the Thomas Aveling Society (Hoo), also known as TASH, is hard at work developing a project to formally recognise the life, work and professional achievements of notable agricultural engineer Thomas Aveling (co-founder of the Aveling and Porter Company).

Thomas was born in Cambridgeshire in 1824, although he and his mother moved to Hoo during his childhood.  As well as his business interests, his relatively short life saw him become active in the community – serving as Mayor of Rochester, a trustee of the Watts’ Charity and governor at the Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School.  He died at Boley Hill House in Rochester in 1882 and is buried in the churchyard at St. Werburgh Church, Hoo.

TASH volunteers (I am one) hope to install an interpretation board in Hoo and erect name plaques at places associated with Thomas and his family.  Work commenced a while ago on researching his life, compiling information and producing/submitting grant applications.

Back in 1982 an event was held in Hoo to mark the centenary of his death.  This included steam rollers (and enthusiasts from around the country) driving through the village and along Church Street and Vicarage Lane (to St. Werburgh Church).

If you have any old photographs of this centenary event, I would very much like to hear from you.  If you have hard-copy photographs – they can easily be scanned and returned, just get in touch by emailing me here.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Get in touch with the Village Voices Community Magazine

I regularly receive emails and letters from people wanting to promote events and bring to my attention interesting items of local news and history.

If you live on the Hoo Peninsula – the best way to ‘spread the word’ about an event coming up, share news from where you live or to promote a local business – is in the dedicated Village Voices Community Magazine.

The publication is produced and delivered every month by a dedicated team of local people. It is delivered across the whole of the Hoo Peninsula – even the most remote properties in each parish!

Village Voices is a great magazine, with lots of community news, diary dates, updates from community groups and a superb collection of adverts from many of our local businesses.

13,500 copies of Village Voices are delivered every month, to Allhallows, Chattenden, Cliffe, Cliffe Woods, Cooling, Frindsbury, High Halstow, Hoo Marina Park, Hoo St. Werburgh, Isle of Grain, Spendiff, St. Mary Hoo, Upnor and Wainscott.

You can visit the Village Voices website by clicking here, where you will also find information about their quarterly publication The Strood & Hoo Peninsula Times (32,600 copies delivered by Royal Mail every quarter).

You can get in touch with Village Voices by emailing here.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Step up to oppose a massive game-changer in Hoo!

It’s (almost) that time again for battle plans to be decided upon and drawn up to oppose yet another mad-cap idea of building even more houses in Hoo – destroying what I thought were precious greenfield sites!

Although housing developer Taylor Wimpey are yet to submit a formal planning application for ‘their’ land west of Hoo, a leaflet about their proposal claims they are looking to build up to 500 houses.

Taylor Wimpey recently submitted a ‘scoping opinion document’ to Medway Council’s Planning department, number MC/14/1391. The purpose of this is to inform an Environmental Impact Assessment, which will eventually accompany an outline planning application.

For me, the idea of building west of Hoo is a massive game-changer. Not only would it destroy the existing ‘entry landscape to the Hoo Peninsula’ of open green fields, but it would just about join the villages of Hoo and Chattenden together, albeit with a road acting as an insignificant separation.

For what it’s worth – I feel a proposal to build 500 houses west of Hoo is completely unacceptable and would destroy something very special forever.

I will certainly add more information to this blog when more details are known about the contents of the planning application, but in the meantime – it is worth attending the exhibitions planned by Taylor Wimpey this week.

They will be held at Hoo Village Hall (Pottery Road) on Friday 27th June from 3pm to 8pm and on Saturday 28th June from 10am to 2pm.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Hoo Clean Up on Saturday 24 May 2014

If you can spare a couple of hours on Saturday 24 May, from 9.30am, join the Hoo Clean Up!

Meeting outside Hoo Library (Church Street, Hoo), the monthly litter picking session is always a great opportunity to meet up and chat with other villagers.

After the session, everyone goes back to the library for free tea, coffee and nibbles, as generously supplied by Spar Supermarket.

See you there!

Friday, 9 May 2014

Village Voices (Edition 12) for Stoke, St. Mary Hoo, Allhallows and the Isle of Grain

The latest edition of Village Voices is now available online, just click here to take a look.

Take your time to browse the  selection of local businesses featured in Village Voices and show your support for them in these difficult economic times.

This edition includes local news, reports, photographs and information about community groups and events.

Take a look at the Village Voices website here.

Village Voices (Edition 53) for Hoo, Chattenden and High Halstow

The latest edition of Village Voices is now available online, just click here to take a look.

Take your time to browse the  selection of local businesses featured in Village Voices and show your support for them in these difficult economic times.

This edition includes local news, reports, photographs and information about community groups and events.

Take a look at the Village Voices website here.

Allhallows Life (May 2014)

The latest edition of Allhallows Life, a magazine produced by Allhallows Parish Council, is now available to read online, just click here.

This edition includes a range of local news and events.

Take a look at the Allhallows Parish Council website by clicking here.

High Halstow Times (May 2014)

The latest edition of the High Halstow Times, a magazine produced by High Halstow Parish Council, is now available to read online, just click here.

This edition includes a range of local news and events.

Take a look at the High Halstow Parish Council website by clicking here.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

A lovely cuppa at Grain Coastal Park

I popped over to the Isle of Grain earlier today to explore the ever improving Grain Coastal Park - located at the most easterly point of the Hoo Peninsula. It was a great surprise to find ‘The Beach Hut’, conveniently located opposite the main entrance to the beach car park.

The Beach Hut, with its comfortable outdoor seating area (sheltered from the wind), offers a variety of hot and cold drinks, cakes, ice cream, hot food, homemade filled baguettes, baps and sandwiches and much more.

Such a treat to have somewhere so close to Grain foreshore to enjoy a nice cuppa and something tasty to eat after enjoying a walk in the fresh air.

The Beach Hut is open every weekend and throughout the Easter holiday (see below).

Well done to proprietor Kerry Theobald and her mum Barbara, pictured above, who I met today. You’re doing a great job.

Keep up to date with The Beach Hut by viewing their Facebook page here.

Don’t forget - you can now go on a guided tour of Grain Coastal Park. Click here to find out more.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Great Escape - a walk from High Halstow to Allhallows

With improved weather and a need to lose a few pounds (or more), I escaped the hustle and bustle of village life last weekend, to explore some of the great wilderness right here on the Hoo Peninsula.

With my Gravesend, Rochester and Hoo Peninsula map (Ordnance Survey 163) and some tasty spam sandwiches in hand, I set out on Saturday morning along footpath RS42, at the end of Longfield Avenue in High Halstow.

After zig-zagging through fields and a bluebell filled woodland I eventually joined up with Decoy Hill Road, where I headed north for Egypt Bay – on the signposted ‘Curlews, Convicts and Contraband’ walk.

Egypt Bay is at the end of Manor Way, along Halstow Marshes, and this quiet spot marked the completion of my first couple of miles – making it the perfect place to grab a bite to eat (a spam sandwich no less). Aside from imagining Abel Magwitch wading ashore from a dirty old prison hulk, made famous in the opening sequence of Great Expectations, Egypt Bay is a great place to observe shipping activity on the Thames and to glimpse over to the container port at London Gateway and neighbouring Canvey Island. The only interruption was a herd of curious cows (there must have been more than 50).

After the excitement of the cows, it was time to head east along the northern coastline, in the direction St. Mary’s Bay, St. Mary’s Marshes and Dagnam Saltings.

Although only a handful of miles from some of our local villages, the route along the Hoo Peninsula’s northern edge can feel extremely remote and distant. I met only four other walkers, a cyclist and a couple fishing the entire time I was out.

Four hours after setting off from High Halstow and having covered a distance of eight miles – I finally arrived in Allhallows, to the rear of The British Pilot pub. I didn’t have time though for a swift ale on this occasion.

It was great getting out to enjoy the fresh air and nice weather, and to spend some time appreciating our unique local landscape.

I hope to go for more long walks this summer, but maybe with fewer spam sandwiches next time!

Friday, 4 April 2014

At the heart of the Hoo Peninsula - Village Voices for Hoo and Chattenden (Issue 52)

The latest edition of Village Voices for Hoo and Chattenden is now available online. Click the image below, which will take you to the relevant editions page on the Village Voices website - then all you have to do is click ‘Issue 52’.

This edition includes information about the 90th birthday of the Medway Queen, good news from the Hundred of Hoo Academy as pupils receive recognition for their business skills, a special report about the refreshed outline planning application at Lodge Hill (for a new town), news from Hoo St. Werburgh Parish Church about a war memorials project, details of a petition handed to local MP Mark Reckless from residents of Hoo Marina Park and huge amounts of other parish and community information.

Take a look at the Village Voices website by clicking here.

At the heart of the Hoo Peninsula - Village Voices for Stoke and St. Mary Hoo (Issue 11)

The latest edition of Village Voices for the parishes of Stoke and St. Mary Hoo is now available online. Click the image below, which will take you to the relevant editions page on the Village Voices website - then all you have to do is click ‘Issue 11’.

This edition includes updates and reports from both Stoke Parish Council and St. Mary Hoo Parish Council, the latest news from Stoke Village Hall, more great photos of the ‘muddies’ working on the Stoke Saltings and lots more other useful community information. 

Take a look at the Village Voices website by clicking here.

Visit the website for Stoke Parish Council here, and visit the website for St. Mary Hoo Parish Council here.

At the heart of the Hoo Peninsula - Village Voices for the Isle of Grain (Issue 4)

The latest edition of Grain Village Voices is now available online. Click the image below, which will take you to the relevant editions page on the Village Voices website - then all you have to do is click ‘Issue 4’.

The bi-monthly publication is produced in partnership with St. James, Isle of Grain, Parish Council.

This edition includes reports and news from St. James, Isle of Grain, Parish Council, news from St. James’ Church, updates from the UJ Community Partnership and huge amounts of other parish and community information.

Take a look at the Village Voices website by clicking here.

Allhallows Life - April 2014

The latest edition of Allhallows Life is now available online. Click the image below to see the full copy.

This edition includes a summary of what happened at last month’s Project Day - when 17 volunteers turned out to help plant tree saplings, the latest news from Allhallows Parish Council, an appeal for help from Allhallows Youth Club, details of the Allhallows Summer Fete (to be held on Saturday 28th June) and lots more other useful community information.

Allhallows Life is the magazine for Allhallows Parish Council, take a look at their website by clicking here.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Help throw the Lodge Hill project into the dustbin of bad ideas!

Yep, the outline planning application to build a new 5,000 dwelling town (or a ‘new heart for the Hoo Peninsula’ as I was unashamedly told by project architects last month) is set for its grand appearance at Medway Council’s Planning Committee within a matter of months.

The application, originally submitted in 2011, has reared its ugly head once more and local people are encouraged to speak up loud and clear.

Land Securities say numerous and extensive consultations have been carried out with local people over many years - and rightly so of course! That said, I think it strange, even bizarre, that so many local people are completely unaware of the Lodge Hill project. And those that do have knowledge of it either believe the whole thing is a done deal (because the site is owned by the Ministry of Defence) or that it’s a dead duck (referring, I suppose, to the SSSI notification - Site of Special Scientific Interest - confirmed by Natural England last year).

I believe the Lodge Hill project would have a major impact on the identities of existing villages and communities on the Hoo Peninsula. Despite this, the only ‘public’ sign of its re-emergence that I have so far seen is a solitary laminated A4 size yellow notice tied to a lamp post near SPAR supermarket in Hoo village centre - and it only uses the words ‘Lodge Hill’ once. (Update on 13/03/2014: Have seen two more signs - one opposite the parade of shops on Knights Road in Hoo and the other at Main Road (Chattenden) at the junction with Elm Avenue.

As far as I am concerned, the Lodge Hill project would bring chaos and disruption to our communities for the best part of 20 years. I see it as one of the biggest threats to the way of life enjoyed by so many on the Hoo Peninsula. Generation after generation of local families have appreciated our unique local landscape and we must do all we can to protect it for future generations.

Aside from the destruction of more countryside and the impact on wildlife (including the nightingales), there are many other reasons why the Lodge Hill project should be confined to the dustbin of bad ideas. We are told that it is ‘the most significant development in Medway’s history’, but the latest plans don’t even show any major changes or significant improvements being made to the existing road network, which already feels pressured by increased usage.

Local people can submit their views about the Lodge Hill project to Medway Council, as part of the consultation for the ‘refreshed’ outline planning application. The consultation formally closes on Wednesday 2 April, although I understand Medway Council will continue accepting responses until 12 noon the day before the application is presented to the Planning Committee. A specific date for this meeting is not yet known. (Update on 11/03/2014: The formal closing date on the consultation has been extended to Tuesday 15th April).

My advice to anyone reading this blog: get writing straightaway and submit your views to Medway Council. Be sure to tell all your friends, family and neighbours as well. Everyone needs to take this opportunity to voice their concerns, views and opinions in what is probably the very last chance to do so.

Only two exhibition events about the Lodge Hill project (concerning the refreshed outline planning application) have been organised by Land Securities (agents acting on behalf of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation). Despite the impact that this proposal would have on everyone living on the Hoo Peninsula - both events will be held in Chattenden. It is, of course, completely understandable and correct that events are held in Chattenden, as it is the front line community affected. I do think though that it would have been appropriate for additional events being held in other villages too. Nevertheless, the scheduled events will take place at Chattenden Community Centre (Swinton Avenue, Chattenden, ME3 8PH) on Thursday 20 March (6pm to 8.30pm) and Friday 21 March (4pm to 8pm).

Should approval be given - it will mean valuable parts of the Hoo Peninsula are permanently deleted from the map, no doubt opening the door to developers for many more years to come.

I wish someone somewhere had the imagination, vision and confidence to look seriously at the advantages of protecting the entire Hoo Peninsula landscape. If handled correctly, sensitively and in partnership with local communities and interest groups - our area, particularly the natural environment, historically important locations and sites of local heritage, could be positively transformed for the benefit of the whole community and visitors. This could be achieved without damaging or destroying the things we care about. Take a good look at other parts of the UK, like Scotland, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, Norfolk, Suffolk, Wales etc. These areas have sympathetically and fundamentally protected important areas like the Hoo Peninsula. By doing so they have created thousands of new jobs and opportunities for local people. It can be done!

To read the refreshed outline planning application for the Lodge Hill project (MC/11/2516) click here. By clicking the ‘documents’ tab you will find all application documentation. To go directly to the feedback section, click here.

Alternatively, you can email your responses to: and quote reference MC/11/2516. You can also write to: Development Control, Medway Council, Gun Wharf, Dock Road, Chatham, Kent, ME4 4TR - remembering to quote the application number on all correspondence.

If you would like further reading - take a look at an informative article by Martin Harper (RSPB Conservation Director). This was produced earlier this year - click here.