Published: 06:00, 02 April 2021
| Updated: 11:51, 05 April 2021
For more than 40 years the Good Friday Procession of Witness on Sheppey has made its way to Bunny Bank, Minster. But did the pilgrims know the land beneath their feet was actually not as it seemed? Bel Austin reveals its history...
For decades all the Island's denominations have converged on Bunny Bank, from Eastchurch, Sheerness and Queenborough, carrying between them three roughly hewn crosses - the largest depicting the one upon which Jesus died, and the smaller ones for the two robbers a baying crowd had demanded to be released
This was a reenactment of the Easter story and come sunshine, snow or high winds, upwards of 300 worshippers flocked to be part of it.
Although Churches Together in Sheppey organised the programme - which over the years featured the bands of Bowaters, Salvation Army, Girls Brigade, BAE Standford Hill Prison, and young people’s group NOISE - nobody organised the crowd. They simply formed a circle, remaining silent as the crosses were raised one by one.
Most readily admitted to not being regular churchgoers, if they went at all, but were uplifted by this open-air service. There was an atmosphere like no other. Family groups with youngsters in pushchairs, dogs on leads, and those in wheelchairs too. They were hauled to the top by small armies of helpers.
It was not an easy ascent, rain often turned the steep path into a muddy morass, making the climb difficult and people slipped and slithered, clutching at trees for safety. But if conditions were too bad, groups were out early creating a hand rail and laying down lengths of carpet for a firmer grip. Nothing stopped the service until Covid-19.
The pandemic caused its cancellation in 2020 and again this year.
But of the people who went regularly to Sheppey’s ‘green hill’, how many knew it was not as nature intended - not a real part of an undulating landscape into The Glen?
It is in fact man-made. Until 1874 it was just a field - one of the many which stretched for miles between Windmill Creek and the cliffs.
Exactly how is told by is told by historian Ken Ingleton.
He knows the story well. All Sheppey Ingletons were either farmers or builders and his mother-in-law the late Sheila Judge’s scrupulously researched book The Isle of Sheppey is a local “bible”.
Imagine if you will, a community growing up - a wide vista of fields, a few scattered farms and houses, then sharply rising hills.
The need to travel to outlying parts meant ever increasing loads in bigger carts which were easily overturned and horses were unable to negotiate those hills.
They had to divert to Lower Road. We say roads but they were little more than tracks for long sections.
Mill Hill (so named because of its windmill) was treacherous. So in 1874 the newly founded Sheppey Highways Board decided to do something about it.
Gangs of men, armed with nothing more than picks and shovels lopped off 20ft from the top and a further 30ft off Chequers Road - a fantastic achievement and back-breaking work with the most basic of tools.
At the crossroads the Chequers pub and a chapel were also demolished. When the road was filled in, the remaining spoil was taken in cartloads through the village, past the Gatehouse, and along what is now Brecon Chase to be tipped at the end.
As it rose higher and the grass grew and rabbits made it their home, Bunny Bank was born.