Flooding on Sheppey in 1953
Flood water being drained
from the land by means of cuts in the river wall near Kings Ferry
The two-day gale whipped the sea into such a frenzy that
the weakened flood defences at West Minster, Cheyney Rock,
Scrapsgate, Queenborough, Rushenden and Warden were breached.
Along the east coast of England, there were 1,200 breaches and
more than 300 people lost their lives.
In Sheppey, no lives were lost but cattle and sheep drowned and
thousands of homes flooded.
The Kingsferry Bridge was marooned in an expanse of water four
Such was the ferocity of wind and water that the submarine
Sirdar sank in dry dock and the frigate Berkeley Castle
The island was isolated as all road and rail communications were
The power failed, telephone lines were down and from Chatham
Dockyard to Sheerness the Royal Navy provided a vital lifeline,
maintaining a flow of essential supplies for Sheppey’s flood
RAF Drying Houses in
Sheerness after the floods of 1953
Eventually, after 10 days, Royal Navy explosive experts blasted
a way through to clear the Ferry Road and railway line and narrow
gaps were cut into the bank to drain flood water.
A rest centre set up at the Welfare Clinic, Invicta Road, had to
be moved to Sheerness Technical Institute when power failed.
Generators were brought in, and more than 150 evacuees were
given blankets, clothing and hot meals, before being transported to
a second rest centre at Halfway.
More than 30 people, suffering from exposure, were treated at
Sheppey General Hospital.
Damage at Sheerness Dockyard was estimated at £1.5million and
was described as the “worst peacetime catastrophe”.
The entire village of West Minster was flooded when water gushed
through two holes 30ft wide.
In Bredgar, Joyce Whitnell, now 84, says she and her
husband Jack were among the last people to leave the Island and get
back over to the mainland before the bridge was flooded.
Milk deliveries after the
flooding on Sheppey in 1953. Picture: Bel Austin
The couple lived in Ufton Lane, Sittingbourne, at the time and
had gone over to Sheerness for a performance of her husband’s band,
The Jack Whitnell Quartet, at the Wheatsheaf Hall in the High
Joyce said: “We left [the hall] as soon as we had packed up.
“The shows always finished at 11.45pm and by the time we got
away it was about 12.30am.
“As we came back over the old, old bridge the water was over the
wheels of the car – it was our very first car, a little Austin.
“I would have been 24. When we left we didn’t really know
anything about it. We realised when there was all this water that
it wasn’t normal – but we didn’t know the full extent of it until
the next morning.
"There were an awful lot of animals drowned and we certainly would have been stranded" – Joyce Whitnell
“I can’t remember
exactly, but I know we must have been one of the last over the
“It wasn’t until the next day when we realised what had happened
and how lucky we had been.
“I think the full force hit between 12.30am and 1am, so we were
really close to it.
“There were an awful lot of animals drowned and we certainly
would have been stranded.”
Cathie Lewis, of Holm Place Farm, Halfway, has also told of her
The 69-year-old was nearly 10 at the time and recalls the
terrible gales and how sheep caught in a gateway near the old
bridge later washed up dead at Whitstable.
She said: “In Halfway Road, the water came up to the lodge at
“Milk retailers were delivering to customers in Sheerness.
“In some roads – Clyde Street and Unity Street – they used the
boats from the boating lake in Sheerness to get up the waterlogged
streets and people would lower their buckets to get their milk.
“Some of my father’s cattle were stranded on the base of a straw
“The cowman rowed out to them and tempted them to follow with a
bale of hay in the stern of the boat.
“They swam to safety on higher ground behind Sheppey Court."
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