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Royal Hotel in Sheerness built by Sir Edward Banks in 1825 gets new owners and a facelift


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One of Sheppey's most iconic pubs is under new ownership.

The 196-year-old Royal Hotel in Sheerness has been bought by friends Rashmi Dedigama, 28, and Peter Karan, 60.

The Royal Hotel, Sheerness, has new owners. Rashmi Dedigama, centre left, and his friend Peter Karan, are investing £600,000 in the prominent building and have welcomed back former staff Kat Cordier, left, as manager and Jill Gray. Picture: John Nurden
The Royal Hotel, Sheerness, has new owners. Rashmi Dedigama, centre left, and his friend Peter Karan, are investing £600,000 in the prominent building and have welcomed back former staff Kat Cordier, left, as manager and Jill Gray. Picture: John Nurden

The pair from London are sinking £600,000 into the Victorian premises which were built in 1825 by Sir Edward Banks who also built parts of Sheerness Royal Dockyard and the London and Waterloo Bridges.

Peter said: "We saw The Royal advertised by Christie's last June and made about 50 visits to the Island before deciding to buy."

The couple's firm Dedigama Holdings completed the purchase on March 31.

Although they had a "soft' opening on Saturday (May 22) a team of painters, decorators and electricians is still busy. The front bar with its impressive wooden counter is finished but work is going on behind the scenes to upgrade the hall and carvery at the back of the building.

Rashmi admitted: "We originally bought the property thinking we would rent it out but the more we came to know Sheppey the more we realised we had the opportunity and the space to do it ourselves. Sheerness and the Island has a lot of potential."

The Royal Hotel at the junction of Sheerness Broadway and Royal Road
The Royal Hotel at the junction of Sheerness Broadway and Royal Road
The Royal in 1922. Picture: courtesy of Sheppey Local History Group
The Royal in 1922. Picture: courtesy of Sheppey Local History Group

He added: "We looked around and saw there were many takeaways and kebab shops but not many restaurants. Since this is one of the town's most iconic and prestigious properties we thought this would be the perfect opportunity. There is a lot of passion on the Island. We want to light the fire and see where it goes."

They have already hired back Katherine 'Kat' Cordier, 41, to manage the place and have taken on Jill Gray, 54, who has been serving behind the bar, on and off, for 24 years. Kat said: "It's wonderful to be back. I love it here. It is very exciting."

The premises, on the corner of Sheerness Broadway and Royal Road, has 13 letting rooms upstairs and a function room which has been used for weddings and live entertainment. For a while it served as the official headquarters of the Rock 'n' Roll Loony Party.

The Royal is a former Shepherd Neame hostelry and for a while was run by Island businessman Kevin Burgess who is still behind the Flying Dutchman and Aviator pubs.

Under his tenure, managers Sarah and Gareth Segrove put the building on the map with a feisty appearance on Channel 4's bed and breakfast TV battle Four In A Bed.

Cheers: Sarah Lewry and Gareth Segrove, before they wed, behind the bar of the Royal Hotel, Sheerness, after appearing on Channel 4's Four In A Bed TV programme in 2018
Cheers: Sarah Lewry and Gareth Segrove, before they wed, behind the bar of the Royal Hotel, Sheerness, after appearing on Channel 4's Four In A Bed TV programme in 2018

After they left, it also had an unfortunate visit from our own Secret Drinker in December 2019 who was warned on arrival by one of the staff: "The beer is not on, it hasn’t been on all week. If you want beer then you’re better off going to Wetherspoons round the corner.”

He admitted: "It wasn’t quite the welcome I was expecting."

The Royal has had a number of makeovers in recent times including a £100,000 facelift by Shepherd Neame in 2013 and a revamp by Mr Burgess in 2015. It was named Sheppey Pub of the Year in 2008 and 2010 under the control of landlord Dave Ingram.

It has also played host to a ghost or two, according to Sheppey psychic Charlotte Clark who held a "spook school" in the bar with her crystal ball to track down a different type of spirit.

Charlotte, a mum of five, said at the time: “I’ve looked upstairs and seen the ghost of a senior Royal Navy officer standing in one of the bedrooms with his hands behind his back. I also saw two little children on the stairs and a maid called Mary in Room 5 with keys and a packet of Polo mints in her pocket.”

Sheppey psychic Charlotte Clark used her crystal ball to investigate spirits at the Royal Hotel, Sheerness, in 2017 pictured with manageress Sarah Lewry and her daughter Jazmin, 8.
Sheppey psychic Charlotte Clark used her crystal ball to investigate spirits at the Royal Hotel, Sheerness, in 2017 pictured with manageress Sarah Lewry and her daughter Jazmin, 8.

Manager Sarah said with a gasp: “My mum went to a psychic years ago who told her I would be contacted one day by a lady called Mary. This is very weird.”

The Royal was built by Sir Edward Banks, an English civil engineer and pioneer of steam ships.

He was born at Hutton Hang near Richmond, North Yorkshire, on January 4, 1770, and after spending two years at sea became a builder's labourer in 1789.

He worked under engineer John Rennie on the Lancaster and Ulverston canals and was chief controller in Jolliffe and Banks, a partnership between him and William John Joliffe. The pair built dockyards, lighthouses and prisons including the Staines, Waterloo, Southwark and London bridges - for which Banks was knighted in 1822. They also created new channels for the rivers Ouse, Nene and Witham in Norfolk and Lincolnshire.

Banks ended up on Sheppey to help Rennie rebuild Sheerness Royal Dockyard between 1812 and 1830. The contract for excavation, piling and walling to build and equip "ships of war of the largest dimensions" was worth a staggering £3m.

Sir John Rennie (Senior) who designed Sheerness Dockyard
Sir John Rennie (Senior) who designed Sheerness Dockyard

Banks and Joliffe failed to win a further contract in 1817 when they refused to reduce their price to within £2,000 of the lowest tender but went on to build another section for £850,000.

While on Sheppey, Banks designed and built The Crescent, where Sheerness clock tower now stands, Bank Terraces and the Royal Hotel with "pleasure gardens" (now Beachfields) to the seafront. He added a road in front of the hotel which was modestly called Edward Street in his honour. It was later renamed simply Broadway.

He and Joliffe also launched a thrice-weekly steamboat service from Sheerness. The pair invested in the General Steam Navigation Company in 1824.

Around the same time, Banks bought Red House, a nearby farm at Halfway, and created Sheppey Court, a large imposing mansion as a country retreat. It is still standing, although a new housing estate is being built around it.

Sheppey Court, later turned into a nursing home, became his third abode. He already had property at Oxney Court, Dover, and Adelphi Terrace off The Strand in Westminster.

Sketch of Sheppey Court, in Halfway Road, Halfway. Picture: Bel Austin
Sketch of Sheppey Court, in Halfway Road, Halfway. Picture: Bel Austin
Sheppey Court development with Grade II listed mansion house and 33 new homes. Picture: Clague Architects
Sheppey Court development with Grade II listed mansion house and 33 new homes. Picture: Clague Architects

On a personal note, Banks married Nancy Franklin in 1793 and the couple had five sons and three daughters. After Nancy died in 1815, Banks married his business partner's sister-in-law Amalia Pytches in 1821. Banks died at one of his daughters' houses in Tilgate, Sussex, on July 5, 1835, and is buried in Chipstead churchyard.

One of his sons, Delamark (there is a Delamark Road just a few yards from The Royal), also spent a lot of time on Sheppey and helped to improve the island. He built a horse-racing track opposite Sheppey Court which was initially hugely popular but closed in 1857 when numbers dwindled.

Delamark later acquired land in Eastchurch and Leysdown and also owned Warden Court which he reshaped and added gardens to. By this time, Warden church, which later had to be demolished before it slipped over the cliffs, was in a terrible state and in 1836 Delamark rebuilt it with stones taken from Old London Bridge.

He added a turret, stone floors, a ceiling and sound pews. Another two stones from London Bridge were laid in gardens at Warden. One was at Warden Court and one in his bailey’s garden inscribed "London Bridge 1176-1832".

A stone removed from the church tower during demolition was placed at Stone Bridge House and inscribed: "The tower of this church was erected at the expense of Delamark Banks Esq, magistrate of this county, AD 1836 with the stone of Old London Bridge which was built in the year AD 1176 and was taken down in the year 1832."

The Crescent at Sheerness built by Sir Edward Banks
The Crescent at Sheerness built by Sir Edward Banks

Delamark Banks died in the late 1830s. His tombstone, which lay in Warden churchyard, was removed and placed in Eastchurch churchyard where it can still be seen. There is also a commemorative plaque on the north wall of Minster Abbey.

Read more: All the latest news from Sheppey

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