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Author Topic: The building of Sheerness Sea Wall  (Read 2877 times)

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The building of Sheerness Sea Wall
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2008, 22:27:52 »
This is an article, written in 1909, which tells the story of Tom Akhurst; he was the Town Crier for Sheerness at the time. He sounds quite a character, described by the writer as an episcopalian-hatted old gentleman. I think it means he wore a big hat and he was 86.
His yarn took place two years after Queen Victoria came to the throne.

It was seventy years ago when Mr Akhurst and his mother used to pay occasional visits to the captain of the convict ship, then lying at Sheerness. (She was a widow) The convicts were, at that time, engaged in making the seawall, which, until a comparatively recent date, did not extend beyond Neptune Terrace. Gangs of men were marched from the convict ship in the charge of a guard, and would be busily employed for hours at the time in building the seawall. Whatever reforms have been introduced into the convict system, it is quite certain that convicts of the present day do not fare as regards one consideration at any rate quite so well as some of those on the seawall, seventy years ago, did. For this reason the youth of the town used to find it excellent sport to approach the gang of convicts, and furtively give the men tobacco, sweets, and other articles which were, of course, hugely appreciated by the men of the broad arrow.
Bad as some of these men were, they could appreciate kindness, and it speaks well for the moral calibre of the younger generation of the town, as it then existed, that they tried to do good by stealth, and had compassion on their unfortunate male brethren, who, even if they sinned grievously, were, at the same time, paying an enormous penalty for their offences. As Mr Akhurst said, they would be pleased and these men would break into a smile broader than the broadest arrow, especially  as was often the case - if they were given a clay pipe in addition to the tobacco.  
I never really believed that prison uniforms ever existed and that they were covered in large arrows - I thought it was some sort of cartoon type gag but calling the prisoners - men of the broad arrow - maybe puts a different light on it?
I wonder how they went about building the wall which at that time was simply a mud bank. Maybe the clay was dug offshore at low tide?  :o If it was, and I presume they were shackled, then that would have been a horrendously back breaking task.


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