Monday, June 13, 2011

Raid on the Medway

‘No sooner up but hear the sad newes confirmed of the Royall Charles being taken by them, and now in fitting by them — which Pett should have carried up higher by our several orders, and deserves, therefore, to be hanged for not doing it — and turning several others; and that another fleete is come up into the Hope. Upon which newes the King and Duke of York have been below —[Below London Bridge.]— since four o’clock in the morning, to command the sinking of ships at Barking-Creeke, and other places, to stop their coming up higher: which put me into such a fear, that I presently resolved of my father’s and wife’s going into the country; and, at two hours’ warning, they did go by the coach this day, with about 1300l.…Every minute some one or other calls for this or that order; and so I forced to be at the office, most of the day, about the fire-ships which are to be suddenly fitted out: and it’s a most strange thing that we hear nothing from any of my brethren at Chatham;…
But we hear that the fleete in the Hope is not come up any higher the last flood; and Sir W. Batten tells me that ships are provided to sink in the River, about Woolwich, that will prevent their coming up higher if they should attempt it. I made my will also this day, and did give all I had equally between my father and wife, and left copies of it in each of Mr. Hater and W. Hewer’s hands, who both witnessed the will, and so to supper and then to bed, and slept pretty well, but yet often waking.’

Samuel Pepys was in a dismal state on June 13, 1667, as the Dutch Raid on the Medway commenced.  Most of London must have been in the same state.  The Dutch completed a major naval victory over the British the next day.

Medway/Chatham have been an important component of Britain’s defences, and they are discussed approximately 150 years in the Edinburgh Annual Register, which Walter Scott edited.  ‘The arsenal of Sheerness offers works much more worthy of notice than those at Woolwich. Built on a swampy island formed by the conflux of the Thames and Medway, it was necessary, in the first instance, to close up a factitious ground with the carcases of old vessels sunk in the mud, side by side. A short time since government bought the half of the town, and have taken down the houses to enlarge the arsenal. They have also built along the Medway a magnificent quay of Cornwall granite, upon piles sunk forty-eight feet below the surface of the water…. The arsenal of Chatham also presents some new important hydraulic constructions. The old docks, which were in wood, are rebuilding on a very large scale in Portland stone. The old wooilen docks did not close with gates on turning their hinges, but with three great wooden pannels, set at low water, and kept in their places by solid stancheon«. They propose to enlarge the arsenal at Chatham very much : in fact they wish to double it, by taking advantage of a spacious island formed before the old part by the conflux of the Medway. The new part they intend solelj' for the building of new ships, and the other for re-fining the old ones. Thus, in spite of the colossal grandeur of the English navy, government aspire still higher; and, in the calm of peace, display more and more the essential elements of naval war…’

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