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Early Local History

Hoo St. Werburgh has a long history. The patron saint was the daughter of King Wulferce of Mercia (now West Midlands). She renounced her royal status to become a nun, eventually taking charge of all the nunneries in Mercia. One legend has it that she aided the farmers of Hoo when, in the year 675, they were losing their crops to the depredations of geese. She spoke to the birds and they forthwith went away. Another legend has it that she brought a goose back to life after it had been killed by a servant in the fields. Statues of the saint always show her holding a goose and her badge is a basket of geese. She died around 706, following which pilgrims began to journey to her grave in search of miracles.

Roman and Saxon remains have been found in the general area of Hoo St. Werburgh riverside and marshes. Between the church and the river a Roman burial site is shown on the Ordnance Survey. Nothing of interest has been found in the river although all operatives working on the dredging of the 1985 marina development were particularly asked to look out for artefacts: none were discovered.

Naval connections

The history of the area is linked to the proximity of Chatham Dockyard. There is a story that the Dutch admiral, de Ruyter, sailed through Hoo Creek in 1667 in order to avoid the blockade at Gillingham and set fire to several ships in Chatham. It was after this experience that the fort at Cockham Wood was constructed. The forts at Hoo and Darnett were built during 1865 and at that time an attempt was made by the Admiralty to build a railway bridge from next to Buttercrock Wharf to Hoo Fort. Page 27 of 'River Medway - Historical and General Account' describes this project: 'In connection with the Hoo Fort, which had been built about 1865, it was proposed to construct a tramway communicating with the Army Magazines at Chattenden. The tramway was to run across the marshes and over the Middle Creek. The construction of the work was entrusted to Messrs.Jackson and Shaw by the War Department. In 1876 the Corporation of Rochester commenced proceedings against these contractors for constructing works on the bed and foreshore of the river without their sanction.'

The bridge was not completed but the piles are still visible along the line of islands. In order to compensate the farmer over whose land the railway was to run and on whose land the construction work took place, the Admiralty donated to him a strip of land across the marshes and mud flats. Prisoners of war were used to reinforce the sea walls with rock and the low tide causeway between Ford Marsh and Hoo Island is believed to have been constructed at this time. Hoo Island was owned by the Admiralty and has been used for many years as a place to deposit dredged material. Now owned by the Port of Sheerness Ltd. it is still used for this purpose and planning permission has recently been granted for a staging in Hoo Creek where barges will lie while their cargoes of dredges material are pumped ashore.

Twentieth century

On 17th July 1905 George Francis Armytage of Hoo leased some land on the waterfront at Hoo to Walter St.John Brice, his father, Solomon John Brice and Franklin Boucher Evans. These three set up an operation to dig the brickearth and make bricks, which were shipped out on sailing barges by S.J.Brice and Sons who were large barge owners and clay diggers on the Medway. Their wharf was the one outside the chandlery and the brickfield eventually covered the whole area of the marina, mobile home park and yacht club.

In the course of time the three partners in the brickfield formed Hoo Brick Company Ltd and when Mr. Armytage died in 1927 they purchased the freehold from his estate. The Hoo Brick Company was taken over by the Newington Brick Company Ltd which sold the whole of the brickfield to the Whitewall Barge, Yacht and Boat Company Ltd in 1947 for £4000.

The Whitewall Barge, Yacht and Boat Company Ltd was formed by J.H.Briant with two brothers, Hugh Stanley Burge and Charles Geoffrey Burge, to build yachts to the design of sailing barges. Operations started in Whitewall Creek and moved to Hoo when they bought the brickfield. It was this company which set out the concrete barges and started the caravan park. At that time it was a weekend and holiday park with the marina attached.

The Whitewall Barge, Yacht and Boat Company Ltd ran into difficulties and in 1952 sold out to Marina Club (Medway) Ltd in which Charles Burge also held an interest together with Geoffrey Dutson. In 1953 the name was changed to Marina Services (Medway) Ltd. In 1963 the Brice family became involved again when Walter Brice, the son of Walter St.John Brice, purchased the majority of shares in Marina Services (Medway) Ltd.

The caravan park was converted to a residential mobile home park and full main drainage was installed. On completion of the development the park was sold to Godfrey Davies Park Homes Ltd. It has since changed hands again and is now owned by the Berkley Leisure Group Ltd.

The proceeds of the sale together with other funds were invested in the marina that exists today. Plans for a marina at Hoo go back to 1975 when the Brice family joined forces with Robin Aisher and Robin Knox-Johnson. This proposal was for a very large development with 2000 marina berths. As the economy suffered a downturn in the late 70s the scheme did not go ahead.

Development of the marina based activity really began when Colin Ryan joined the company in 1982. A new method of boat movement was installed and the scale of winter storage greatly increased.

The dredged marina was constructed in 1986 with the developments for pontoon mud berths and houseboats following in 1988 and 1990. The new workshop building was erected in 1988.

Martin Richards

Date Published 27th Jun 2011