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Author Topic: The Hulks of Sheerness  (Read 3849 times)

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Re: The Hulks of Sheerness
« Reply #2 on: February 09, 2009, 22:59:35 »
Just been reading something that ties in with the floor coverings of matted rope. At sea there would be long periods when the men had very little to do and so to stop them getting bored and arguamentative the captain would find them jobs around the ship. One of these jobs was to sort out any damaged ropes and various phrases have been fixed in the English language from those times. So a sailor who didn't have a lot to do would have been at a loose end or people have to tidy up some loose ends ;D when sorting things out. They would also gather old pieces of rope together and unpick the bits and sell them to shipyards for caulking the decks which became known as money for old rope.  o:) Incidentally for a sailor to do that was illegal but it was considered profitable work for residents in the workhouses. Joining two pieces of rope together meant you had to splice them hence the phrase used when people get married they get spliced.  :D
Excellent stuff  ;D


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The Hulks of Sheerness
« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2009, 17:26:36 »
John Wesley founder of the Methodist movement in England visited Sheerness in 1767 and found not a town but six old Men of War. These were split up into tenements up to sixty to a ship with little chimneys and windows and each containing a family. The entry in Wesley's journal says;

"In one of them when we called, a man and his wife and six little children lived. And yet all the ship was sweet and tolerably clean; sweeter than most sailing ships I had been in.
To this aquatic village were many convenient entrances from the land side and handsome bridges from the main deck of one ship another. They had their Kings Street, Queens Street, George Street and Princes Street, and many others.
It was truly pleasant to penetrate the dwellings of those good wives who were cleanly. Out of the portholes were their hanging gardens. If not so prolific as the hanging gardens of Alcinous, they were fully as useful to the laborious inmates, whose gratification arose from the humble salad and the simple flower.
Within the apartment, the bedstead was turned up in a corner of the room, and neatly covered with a quilt as white as the driven snow.
In another corner was a buffet well stored with china cups and saucers, and a little silver plate, such as tea spoons, and perhaps one for the table, the floor was spread with a carpet of matted rope: the fireplace was well secured from danger, and in all respects convenient.
In every street was a midwife, with her name and profession fixed in the most conspicuous part. Hundreds of children had been born on board these breakers, and seven tenths of the workmen of His Majesty's dockyard are not ashamed to own their aquatic birthplace."

What should be remembered by us in our modern spacious houses or flats that we live in today, is that what Wesley is describing is one tiny room containing two adults and multiple children. You'll notice that he describes the bed, as being 'turned up' and that is literally what it would have been. Stood against the wall with a rope around it ready to be let down at night. And that was for the adults, the children would, in all probability, sleep on the floor. Also, he says the floor was spread with a carpet of matted rope, again it should be remembered this does not refer to a 'fitted' carpet but a small section laid on the floor. And the 'matted rope' is quite possibly where the word mat comes from, though those are my thoughts, nothing confirmed.
John Wesleys rather rose coloured description of the hulks seems to have been at odds with the truth in fact they were noisy, smelly, dirty, overcrowded and the occupants overworked, underpaid and prone to all sorts of disease. Water was very scarce and prostitution was a fact of life and the area of Sheerness, being mostly marshland, was at that time full of 'noxious vapours' giving rise to all sorts of illnesses. Small pox, malaria, ague and cholera were all rife in the Sheerness area.  Certainly sanitation was non-existent.
Despite all the workers problems, and this very often happens, a sense of community arose on board the hulks which was so strong that when the Admiralty tried to empty the hulks of the mateys and their families in 1802, there were riots. The Dockyard Commissioner Sir Isaac Coffin was in fear of his life as the men attempted to hang him in a bid to retain their homes, but the Admiralty won the day and the hulks were then turned into prisons.

The quote by John Wesley was taken from Lisa Tylers History of Sheppey.


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