Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Sheerness Dockyard Church rescue deal celebrated

The future of one of Kent’s most important buildings looks to be secure following a landmark rescue deal between a council and a building preservation trust. 

Grade II* listed Dockyard Church at Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey has lain empty and derelict since a fire in 2001. However, on 5 July, the compulsory purchase of the building by Swale Borough Council will be complete. Ownership will then be passed to the Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust.

The church, with its impressive classical portico, was built in 1826-28 to the designs of George Ledwell Taylor (1788-1873) to serve the officers of the new naval dockyard at Sheerness. The dockyard was built in one campaign to a masterplan by the great engineer John Rennie (1761-1821).

Since the closure of the naval base in 1961, the dockyard has been run as a commercial port. A number of important buildings were demolished in the 1960s and 70s with others, including the church, sold off to private developers.

In 2001 the church suffered a devastating fire, and has since stood as a forlorn ruin as plans for its redevelopment failed to materialise. Now, as part of an initiative backed by English Heritage and local campaigners, Swale Borough Council has stepped in with a compulsory purchase of the church to enable its restoration by a building preservation trust.

The Spitalfields Trust, which in 2010 fronted the successful purchase of 10 listed buildings in the residential quarter of the dockyard, has stepped in to take on the building and implement emergency works. The church will then be passed to a new trust which will oversee its restoration to provide community space, small business units and, it is hoped, a display area for the magnificent 40ft square model of the dockyard (pictured above) that was made in the 1830s and is currently in the care of English Heritage.

The church rescue campaign project received a boost in 2011 when English Heritage and World Monuments Fund Britain funded a detailed feasibility study looking at how the restoration of the building could be achieved, and what uses would be most appropriate. This report was commissioned by SAVE Britain’s Heritage.