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Sittingbourne in 2007.jpg
Sittingbourne is located in Kent
 Sittingbourne shown within Kent
Population 62,500 
OS grid reference TQ905635
District Swale
Shire county Kent
Region South East
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district ME9, ME10
Dialling code 01795
Police Kent
Fire Kent
Ambulance South East Coast
EU Parliament South East England
UK Parliament Sittingbourne and Sheppey
List of places

Coordinates: 51°20′N 0°44′E / 51.34°N 0.74°E / 51.34; 0.74

Sittingbourne is an industrial town about eight miles (12.9 km) east of Gillingham in England, beside the Roman Watling Street off a creek in the Swale, a channel separating the Isle of Sheppey from mainland Kent. The town is growing rapidly due to a number of large residential developments, and its train line links to London Victoria and HS1 to St Pancras International, the journey taking about an hour from Sittingbourne railway station.


A Copper Age grave group including a stone wristguard, copper dagger and bone belt fitting, dating from 2500-2100 BC, found at Sittingbourne

Sittingbourne owes its name to a modernised version of an observation on its location. The town's name came from the fact that there is a small stream or "bourne" running underground in part of the town. Hasted writing in the 1790s in his History of Kent states that:[1]

The Kent Hundred Rolls of 1274-5, preserved in the National Archives, record Sittingbourne as Sydingeburn in the following entries " Item dicunt quod Johannes Maresescall de Synele tenet unam parvam purpresturam in villa de Sydingeburn et solvit domino regi per annum 1d et dominus rex nichil perdit et quod Petrus de London tenet unam parvam purpresturam in villa de Sydingeburn et solvit inde per annum domino regi 1d et rex nichil perdit." Translated as, "Then they say John Marshall de Synele holds one small encroachment in the vill of Sittingbourne and he pays the lord king 1d. each year and the lord king loses nothing and that Peter of London holds one small encroachment in the vill of Sittingbourne and he pays 1d. each year to the lord king and the king loses nothing."[2]


Main article: Roman Britain

There is evidence of settlement in the area before 2000 BC, with farming and trading Celtic tribes living inland to avoid attack, yet close enough to access the sea at Milton Creek. In AD 43 the Romans invaded Kent, and to make access quicker between London and Dover, built Watling Street, which passed straight through Sittingbourne. As a point where sea access met road access, the port of Milton Regis became the Roman administrative centre for the area, with some 20 villas so far discovered, but Sittingbourne remained a minor hamlet throughout Roman times.[3] Most Roman finds in this area were due to the efforts of 19th century brick makers who used topsoil to make bricks, and uncovered the finds; and preserved thanks to banker George Payne, who preserved or bought materials and published his works in 1893 in Collectanca Cantiana.[4]

Middle Age Hostelry[edit]

There was no entry for Sittingbourne in Domesday book in 1086, merely a note attached to Milton with a population of 309. However, after the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket in 1170, pilgrims began to travel to Canterbury Cathedral and Sittingbourne became a useful hostelry for many travellers. Sittingbourne is mentioned as a stopping point in The Canterbury Tales, with the Summoner in the Wife of Bath's Prologue says:

At this time, the 13th century Parish church of St Michael was constructed, and the High Street contained 13 pubs and hostels. The Lyon - now the Red Lion - played host to King Henry V of England on his way back from the Battle of Agincourt, and Henry VIII visited Sittingbourne in 1522 and 1532.[5] In 1708 the Rose Inn was built, described by a noted traveller[who?] as one of the best in England, where Queen Victoria later stayed overnight.[6]

Railway and industrial revolution[edit]

After the railway came in 1858, Sittingbourne became less a market trading and hostelry stop-off, and more a 19th-century centre of production to fuel the expansion of London, by producing bricks and paper from its clay substrata.

The First World War[edit]

The area around Sittingbourne was subject to constant air raids by Zeppelins and aeroplanes during the First World War. The Germans used the town as a reference point for bearings on the way to London.

The first visit by a German aeroplane happened on Christmas Day 1914. Guns at Sheerness fired at the lone invader but still one shell dropped into a field at Iwade. The next event was to occur on 16 January 1915 when another solitary pilot from a German aerodrome in Belgium bombed Sittingbourne. This aircraft, a Taube, was pursued by two local airmen, but managed to escape after dropping a couple of bombs.

About 100 air raid warnings were sounded in Sittingbourne during the First World War and anti-aircraft batteries were strengthened in 1917. The last big raid to pass over the town on Whit Sunday (19 May 1918), carried out by a number of Gothas, eliciting perhaps the most ferocious barrage from the ground defences the town had ever seen.

The local newspaper, the East Kent Gazette, reported:

"The first of these duels occurred about an hour after the raid had been in progress, and probably this machine was caught while on its way to London. It was engaged by a daring aviation officer while at a great height. The British airman attacked his opponent so fiercely that the German was forced down to a lower height, and ultimately, to the joy of the onlookers, the Gotha burst into flames, seemed to break in two and came down piecemeal, all aflame. The wrecked machine and the three occupants fell by a farm. Two of the Germans fell into marshy ground and their bodies were deeply embedded in the mud. The third man's head struck a wall and was shattered like an eggshell. All three bodies were removed to a local aviation establishment. The fall of the burning Gotha was seen for miles around."

The second Gotha was surrounded by British fighters shortly after, returning from a successful raid on London.

Donald John Dean VC OBE born and bred in Sittingbourne was awarded the Victoria Cross for deeds carried out in France in 1918 and is buried in the graveyard of Tunstall church.

Present day[edit]

Sittingbourne and its consumed suburb of Milton today is a growing town, with much recent expansion by way of house-building in the former chalk and brick clay works digs. Expansion is powered greatly[who?] by the fact that London is some 55 minutes away by high speed train (see Transport).

Paper manufacture at Kemsley Paper Mill is still the area's largest employer. Much of the surrounding Kentish countryside is good farming land, and being southerly in the UK many varieties of fruit are grown nearby, with this part of Kent being particularly famous for apples and cherries. Fruit preserving and packing are hence large employers, while new industrial and retail parks provide additional employment and services.

The current MP, is Conservative Party (UK) Gordon Henderson. The town is twinned with Ypres in Belgium.


The local clay was suitable for making bricks, and North Kent is geologically rich in chalk, which is not found in many other places in Europe in such abundance. This led to the development associated industries: water transport, paper, and cement; all of which continue today in the area.


Brickmaking continued in the town well into the nineteenth century. The bricks for the 3.45-mile (5,550 m) London Bridge – Greenwich Railway Viaduct were all made at Sittingbourne and transported to the site by barge.[7]

Bargebuilding & water transport[edit]

Dolphin Yard Sailing Barge Museum, Sittingbourne. The site includes the original sail loft and forge which have been converted to a museum devoted to the history of the Thames Sailing Barge and the associated industries of brick and cement making which once sustained the local fleet of barges.

Barges were needed to move many other raw materials and finished goods into the Thames and to London and beyond. Sittingbourne was ideally suited for this purpose and a successful barge-building industry developed at Milton Creek.

Sittingbourne developed into a port during the industrial revolution, from which Kentish produce was transported to the London markets. During this era over 500 types of barges are believed to have been built, centred around Conyer, a Roman hamlet of the village of Teynham, found at the head of a small creek between Sittingbourne and Faversham.[8]

After World War II, these activities began to fall into a decline, so that only the Burley yard continued with the repair of barges until about 1965. Charles Burley (was a brick maker and barge owner). He occupied the yard in Crown Quay Lane. Now occupied by a builders' merchant.[9] This lack of barge repairs led the creek to become silted and derelict. In 1968, the site was owned by Bourncrete Limited, manufacturers of concrete products.

The yard was then leased to the newly established Dolphin Sailing Barge Museum Trust.[8] The inlet alongside the Museum usually contains at least one vessel brought to the yard for restoration, including the famous sailing barge Cambria.[10]

The towns links with water transport survive today, through a bronze statue of a bargeman in the town centre. The Dolphin Sailing Barge Museum was destroyed by arson in 2008.[11][12] The museum is now awaiting relocation to a new site[13] It will be moving to Whitstable Harbour[14]


Paper mills and brickfields were fed by barges that brought in sand, mud and household waste such as cinders for brick making, and took away the finished product on the return journey.

Paper manufacture started in Sittingbourne in 1708, when Peter Archer was recorded as a Paper Maker. Sittingbourne Mill existed from circa 1769, which by 1820 had grown and was owned by Edward Smith. The Daily Chronicle owner Edward Lloyd bought the site in 1863. Using pulped straw from the local farmers and esparto (imported from Algeria and Southern Spain) as a replacement for expensive cotton rag which was becoming more expensive; the output supplied newsprint his mills in Bow.[15]

To speed production, in 1904 Lloyd built a wharf on the tidal inlet at Milton Creek, and a horse-drawn tramway to carry materials to the mill. On what is now known as the Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway, in 1906 the first of three steam locomotives, Premier, came into service, all 0-4-2 Brazil type tank engines sourced from Kerr Stuart. In 1913 the railway was extended to the new dock built at Ridham. In 1912, Sittingbourne Paper Mill was the largest producer of newsprint in the world,[15] with its 1,200 employees using 17 machines to make over 2000 tonnes per week, supplying the demands of Fleet Street.

In 1924, Lloyd's son built a new factory at Kemsley, together with a model village for employees. He died in 1936, when the Lloyd group was taken over by Sir William Berry, who in 1936 formed the Bowater-Lloyd Group.[15] After both plants were acquired by Metsa Serla in 1998, the decision was made to close the Sittingbourne Mill in October 2006, with the last reel produced on 23 January 2007.[15]


Sittingbourne and the surrounding area have a number of primary schools.[16] The main secondary schools in the town are Fulston Manor School, Sittingbourne Community College, The Westlands School and two single sex Grammar Schools, Borden Grammar School (Boys) and Highsted Grammar School (Girls).[17] The grammar schools select chldren at age 11 using the Kent Test, an eleven-plus exam.[18]

Sittingbourne Adult Education Centre provides some post-16 and adult training in the town and there is an Adult Skills centre located in the town centre.[19][20]


Transport has always played a large part of Sittingbourne's history, geographically located midway between the major port of Dover and the important capital of London was the reason for an enlarged settlement at Sittingbourne.

Roads came early to Sittingbourne, with the Roman construction of Watling Street. The equally straight A2 main road and M2 motorway now follow a similar route, and provide access to the town. The A249 passes the town on the west, heading between Maidstone and Sheerness. In Kemsley, a new road was constructed (Sittingbourne Northern Relief road) to link with the Eurolink Business Estate and East Hall Farm residential development (on the north-east of the town), opening in 2012.[21] Bus services are provided mainly by Arriva Southern Counties.[22]

From 1853, after the agreement to connect Strood to Canterbury via the East Kent Railway of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, Sittingbourne has had a railway station. Today the three platform station is served by both the Chatham Main Line and the Sheerness Line, and is located 44 miles 1260 yards from London Victoria according to the mileage sign on the footbridge. Train services are provided by Southeastern.

Since 2010, Southeastern have opened up a service from Faversham involving the HS1 line, this service runs from Faversham to London St Pancras. It also links with the Eurostar service (to France) from Ebbsfleet International.[23]

Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway[edit]

Triumph arriving with a train on the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway

The preserved former paper mill railway the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway still exists today. In 1965 it was decided that the railway was uneconomic, with the significant progress made in the use of the car, and so lorries were more commonly used for transporting produce. Consequently by 1969 the Bowater Light Railway, much loved as it was by the firm (and with assistance of Capt Peter Manisty) was handed over to the Locomotive Club of Great Britain to be preserved and operated as the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway. It has since become a significant feature in the town's tourist industry, and provides the only method of transport to the annual Sittingbourne Beer Festival. However, it has been under threat of closure since 2008 when M-real sold the site to a property developer.


The local newspaper is the KM Sittingbourne Messenger and the mid-week edition KM Sittingbourne News Extra, published by the KM Group. In December 2011, the East Kent Gazette, the town's other local newspaper, closed down with the loss of 39 jobs, having been the town's local news outlet since 1856.[24]

Sittingbourne also has a local community radio station, 106.9 SFM, which launched on the 25th July 2012 and provides a full-time local radio service 24 hours a day. The station has been highly successful and has put Sittingbourne on the local radio map in the UK.

Launched in July 2013 www.Sittingbourne.Me is a community website for the people of Sittingbourne created by people from Sittingbourne who passionately believe in and care for the live, work and enjoy their free time.


The town has two senior football teams, Sittingbourne F.C. (nicknamed "The Brickies") and Woodstock Sports F.C. (nicknamed "The Sports"). Sittingbourne F.C. currently play their games at Bourne Park, a former training pitch behind the main Central Park Stadium, which is currently used for greyhound racing. The club play in the Ryman League Division One South. Woodstock Sports F.C. (formerly Norton Sports) play their games at Woodstock Park (renamed The W.E.Manin Stadium as part of a sponsorship deal) near the Kent Science Park. The club play in the Kent League. They share their ground with Woodstock Park F.C..

The town has two hockey clubs: Gore Court Hockey Club, who play at Westlands School and share the clubhouse at Gore Court;[25] and Old Bordenians Hockey Club, who play at Borden Grammar School.[26]

Motorcycle speedway racing has been staged near Sittingbourne for a number of years. The track was originally used for training alone but since 1994 the Sittingbourne Crusaders took part in the Conference League and other competitions. The track remains today as a popular speedway training facility open to riders all over the country.[27]

Twin towns[edit]


  1. ^ "The name Sittingbourne". Sittingbourne Heritage Museum. Retrieved 8 May 2010. 
  2. ^ (Kent Hundred Rolls Project, Kent Archaeological Society, 2007)
  3. ^ "The Romans in Sittingbourne". Sittingbourne Heritage Museum. Retrieved 8 May 2010. 
  4. ^ George Payne (1893). Collectanca Cantiana. 
  5. ^ "Our History". The Red Lion, Sittingbourne. Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
  6. ^ "A brief history of Sittingbourne". Sittingbourne Museum. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  7. ^ Turner, J.T. Howard (1977). The London Brighton and South Coast Railway: Part 1. Origins and formation. Batsford. p. 41. ISBN 0-7134-0275-X. 
  8. ^ a b "Dolphin Yard and Milton Creek". Retrieved 6 October 2011. 
  9. ^ "Local History Study Group". Sittingbourne Museum. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  10. ^ "The famous Sailing Barge Cambria". Retrieved 6 October 2011. 
  11. ^ "Sailing Barge Museum suspected arson attack". Retrieved 6 October 2011. 
  12. ^ Jarrett, Ian (27 October 2008). "Sittingbourne sailing barge museum destroyed in blaze". This is Kent. Retrieved 6 October 2011. 
  13. ^ White, Joe (29 October 2008). "Barge museum will rise from ashes". This is Kent. Retrieved 6 October 2011. 
  14. ^ "Barge museum on the horizon". Whitstable People. Retrieved 6 October 2011. 
  15. ^ a b c d "Sittingburne Mill - History". Sittingbourne Mill. Retrieved 8 May 2010. 
  16. ^ Admission to primary school in Kent, 2011: Canterbury and Swale, Kent County Council, 2010. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  17. ^ Admissin to secondary school in Kent, 2011, Kent County Council, 2010. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  18. ^ Secondary school, Kent County Council. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  19. ^ Sittingbourne Adult Education Centre, Kent Adult Education. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  20. ^ Skills Plus in the Forum, Sittingbourne, Kent Adult Education. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  21. ^ "Sittingbourne Northern Relief Road". 2 November 2009. Retrieved 6 October 2011. 
  22. ^ "ARRIVA - 333,334 - Summary of buses between Maidstone and Sittingbourne". 18 September 2011. Retrieved 6 October 2011. 
  23. ^ "Tickets, Bookings, Timetables, fares and offers". Eurostar. Retrieved 6 October 2011. 
  24. ^ East Kent Gazette closes after 156 years in print, Press Gazette, 7 December 2011. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  25. ^ "Gore Court Hockey Club". Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  26. ^ "Old Bordenians Hockey Club". Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  27. ^ "Sittingbourne Speedway Website". Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  • D. L. Sattin: Barge building and barge builders of the Swale, 1990.
  • Alan Major: Hidden Kent, 1994

External links[edit]