Picture of Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe

places mentioned

Letter 2, Part 1: Kent Coast and Maidstone

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SIR,---As in my first journey I went over the eastern counties of ENGLAND, viz. ESSEX, SUFFOLK, NORFOLK, and CAMBRIDGE, and took my course on that side the river Thames, to view the sea-coasts, harbours, &c. so being now to traverse the southern counties, I begin with the other side of the Thames, and shall surround the sea-coast of KENT, as I did that of NORFOLK and SUFFOLK, and perhaps it is as fruitful of instructing and diverting observations as any of the other.

I took boat at Tower-Wharf, sending my horses round by land to meet me at Greenwich, that I might begin my journey at the beginning of the county, and here I had the advantage of making my first step into the county of Kent, at a place which is the most delightful spot of ground in Great-Britain; pleasant by situation, those pleasures encreas'd by art, and all made compleatly agreeable by the accident of fine buildings, the continual passing of fleets of ships up and down the most beautiful river in Europe; the best air, best prospect, and the best conversation in England.

The Royal Hospital for Seamen, though not yet finished; the park, the queen's house, the Observatory on the hill, commonly call'd Flamstead-House, are all things so well known, they need no particular description.

The ground, part of this hospital now stands upon, and is to stand upon, is the same on which formerly stood the royal palace of our kings. Here Henry VIII. held his royal feasts with justs and tournaments, and the ground which was call'd the Tilt-yard, is the spot on which the easternmost wing of the hospital is built; the park, (for it was even then a park also) was enlarged, wall'd about, and planted with beautiful rows, or walks of trees by King Charles II. soon after the Restoration; and the design or plan of a royal palace was then lay'd out, one wing of which was finished and covered in a most magnificent manner, and makes now the first wing of the hospital as you come to it from London: The building is regular, the lower part a strong Dorick, the middle part a most beautiful Corinthian, with an Attick above all, to compleat the height; the front to the water-side is extreamly magnificent and graceful; embellished with rich carv'd work and fine devices, such as will hardly be outdone in this, or any age for beauty or art.

They must be very ignorant of our English affairs, who have published very lately that Queen Elizabeth built the royal palace of Greenwich; whereas it is evident, that it was the palace of King Henry VIII. her father, before she was born; and this is prov'd beyond contradiction by this particular circumstance, that her majesty was born in this very palace which she is there said to have built.

But the beauty of Greenwich is owing to the lustre of its inhabitants, where there is a kind of collection of gentlemen, rather than citizens, and of persons of quality and fashion, different from most, if not all, the villages in this part of England.

Here several of the most active and useful gentlemen of the late armies, after having grown old in the service of their country, and cover'd with the honours of the field, are retired to enjoy the remainder of their time, and reflect with pleasure upon the dangers they have gone thro', and the faithful services they have performed both abroad and at home.

Several generals, and several of the inferior officers, I say, having thus chosen this calm retreat, live here in as much honour and delight as this world can give.

Other gentlemen still in service, as in the navy ordnance, docks, yards, &c. as well while in business, as after laying down their employments, have here planted themselves, insomuch, that the town of Greenwich begins to out-swell its bounds, and extends itself not only on this side the park to the top of the heath, by the way call'd Crum-Hill, but now stretches out on the east-side, where Sir John Vanburg has built a house castle-wise, and where in a little time 'tis probable, several streets of like buildings will be erected, to the enlarging and beautifying the town, and encreasing the inhabitants; who, as I have said, are already the chief beauty and ornament of the place: We are told also that leave will be obtained to build a new church on that side; the parish church, tho' new rebuilt, and very large and beautiful, not being sufficient to receive the inhabitants, much less will it be so, if the buildings go on to encrease, as they have done, and as they now seem to do.

The river of Thames is here very broad, and the channel deep, and the water at some very high spring-tides is salt; but in ordinary tides, is very sweet and fresh, especially at the tide of ebb.

The country behind Greenwich adds to the pleasure of the place: Black-Heath, both for beauty of situation, and an excellent air, is not out-done by any spot of ground so near the river and so near land in England.

On the east-side stands an hospital very particular for Its foundation or design, tho' thro' the misfortunes of the times, the generous design of the founder has been much straiten3 d, and in great part, defeated.

It was built by Sir John Morden a Turkey merchant of London, but who liv'd in a great house at the going off from the heath, a little south of the hospital on the road to Eltham; his first design, as I had it from his own mouth the year before lie began to build, was to make apartments for forty decayed merchants, to whom he resolv'd to allow 4ol. per annum, each ; with coals, a gown, (and servants to look after their apartments) and many other conveniences so as to make their lives as comfortable as possible, and that, as they had liv'd like gentlemen, they might dye so.

Sir John Morden and his lady lye bury'd in a vault in the chancel of the chapel of this hospital: The chapel is a very neat building facing the entrance into the court; the lodgings for the merchants, are on either side; two apartments in each stair case, with cellars for their conveniences, coals, beer, 8cc. and each apartment consists of a bed-chamber, and a study, or large closet, for their retreat, and to divert themselves in with books, &c.

They have a publick kitchen, a hall to dine in, and over the hall is a large room for the trustees (who manage the whole) to meet in; there is also a very good apartment for the chaplain, whose sallery is 50l. a year; there are also dwellings for the cooks, buttlers, porter, the women and other servants, and reasonable salaries allow'd them: And behind the chapel is a handsome burying ground wall'd in; there are also very good gardens; In a word, it is the noblest foundation, and most considerable single piece of charity that has been erected in England since Sutton's Hospital in London: I call it single, because it has been built and endow'd by one single hand; the situation is very pleasant, and the air very healthy and good.

There is erected over the gate, since Sir John's death, his statue in stone, set up by his lady, and since her death, her own is set up near it, by the trustees, she having been a benefactress to the foundation many ways since his decease.

There is a velvet pall given, by her ladyship in particular, to be laid up in the chapel for the use of the gentlemen; as also a large quantity of communion-plate; and the chaplain is obliged to read prayers twice every day, viz. at eleven a clock, and at three; at which all the pensioners are oblig'd to attend.

On the other side of the heath, north, is Charleton, a village famous, or rather infamous for the yearly collected rabble of mad-people, at Horn-Fair; the rudeness of which I cannot but think, is such as ought to be suppressed, and indeed in a civiliz'd well govern'd nation, it may well be said to be unsufferable. The mob indeed at that time take all kinds of liberties, and the women are especially impudent for that day; as if it was a day that justify'd the giving themselves a loose to all manner of indecency and immodesty, without any reproach, or without suffering the censure which such behaviour would deserve at another time.

The introduction of this rude assembly, or the occasion of it, I can meet with very little account of, in antiquity; and I rather recommend it to the publick justice to be suppress'd, as a nusance and offence to all sober people, than to spend any time to enquire into its original.

There are some very good houses lately built in this town, and abating the rabble and hurry of the 19th of October, as above, 'tis indeed a very pleasant village; standing on the top of a high hill, yet sheltered on one side by Shooter's-Hill, which is much higher, and on the other side, over-looking the marshes and the river Thames, on which it has a very agreeable prospect from London almost to Gravesend .

Thro' this town lies the road to Woolwich, a town on the bank of the same river, wholly taken up by, and in a manner rais'd from, the yards, and publick works, erected there for the publick service; here, when the business of the royal navy encreased, and Queen Elizabeth built larger and greater ships of war than were usually employ'd before, new docks, and launches were erected, and places prepared for the building and repairing ships of the largest size; because, as here was a greater depth of water and a freer chanel, than at Deptford, (where the chief yard in the river of Thames was before) so there was less hazard in the great ships going up and down; the croud of merchant-ships at Deptford, being always such, as that it could not be so safe to come up thither, as to put in at Woolwich.

At this dock the Royal-Sovereign was built, once the largest ship in the whole royal navy, and in particular esteem'd, for so large a ship, the best sailor in the world. Here also was rebuilt the Royal Prince , now call'd the Queen , a first rate, carrying a hundred guns, and several others: Close under the south-shore from the west-end of Woolwich, the Thames is very deep, and the men of war lye there moor'd, and as we call it, laid up; their topmasts, and all their small rigging taken down and laid in ware-houses; this reaches as high as the point over-against Bow-River and is call'd Bugby's-Hole.

The docks, yards, and all the buildings belonging to it, are encompassed with a high wall, and are exceeding spacious and convenient; and are also prodigious full of all manner of stores of timber, plank, masts, pitch, tar, and all manner of naval provisions to such a degree, as is scarce to be calculated.

Besides the building-yards, here is a large rope-walk where the biggest cables are made for the men of war; and on the east or lower part of the town is the gun-yard, or place set a part for the great guns belonging to the ships, commonly call'd the Park, or the Gun-Park; where is a prodigious quantity of all manner of ordnance-stores, such as are fit for sea-service, that is to say, cannon of all sorts for the ships of war, every ship's guns by themselves; heavy cannon for batteries, and mortars of all sorts and sizes; insomuch, that, as I was inform'd, here has been sometimes laid up at one time between seven and eight thousand pieces of ordnance, besides mortars and shells without number.

Here also is the house where the firemen and engineers prepare their fireworks, charge bombs, carcasses, and grenades for the publick service, in time of war; and here (if I remember right, it was in the time of a Dutch war) by mischance, the fire in the laboratory took hold of some combustibles, which spreading fir'd first a bomb or shell, and the bursting of that shell blew up all the works with such a terrible blast and noise, as shook and shattered the whole town of Woolwich almost in pieces, and terrify'd the people to the last degree, but kill'd no person as I heard of, except about eleven men who were in or near the fireworking house, where it first took hold.

In this park, close on the south bank of the river, a large battery of forty pieces of heavy cannon was rais'd, to have saluted the Dutch, if they had thought fit to have ventured up the river in 1667, as was given out they would when they burnt our ships at Chatham; and large furnaces and forges were erected to have furnish'd the gunners with red hot bullets for that service; but the Dutch had no design that way and did their business with far less hazard, and as much to our disgrace in another place.

Here is usually a guardship riding, especially in time of service; also here is a large hulk made of the carcass of an old man of war, sufficiently large for setting the masts of the biggest ships in the navy. The Thames is here at high water near a mile over, and the water salt upon the flood; and as the chanel lyes strait east and west for about three miles, the tide runs very strong; 'tis entirely free from shoals and sands, and has seven or eight fathom water, so that the biggest ships, and a great many of them, might ride here with safety even at low water.

From this town there is little remarkable upon the river, till we come to Gravesend , the whole shore being low, and spread with marshes and unhealthy grounds, except with small intervals, where the land bends inward as at Erith, Greenwhich, North-Fleet, &c. in which places the chalk hills come close to the river, and from thence the city of London, the adjacent countries, and even Holland and Flanders, are supply'd with lime, for their building, or chalk to make lime, and for other uses.

From these chalky cliffs on the river side, the rubbish of the chalk, which crumbles away when they dig the larger chalk for lime, or (as we might call it) the chips of the chalk, and which they must be at the charge of removing to be out of their way, is bought and fetch'd away by lighters and hoys, and carry'd to all the ports and creeks in the opposite county of Essex, and even to Suffolk and Norfolk, and sold there to the country farmers to lay upon their land, and that in prodigious quantities; and so is it valued by the farmers of those countries, that they not only give from two shillings and six pence, to four shillings a load for it, according to the distance the place is from the said chalk-cliff, but they fetch it by land-carriage ten miles, nay fifteen miles, up into the country.

This is the practice in all the creeks and rivers in Essex, even to Malden, Colchester, the Nase, and into Harwich Harbour up to Maningtree, and to Ipswich; as also in Suffolk, to Albro', Orford, Dunwich, Swold, and as high as Yarmouth in Norfolk.

Thus the barren soil of Kent, for such the chalky grounds are esteem'd, make the Essex lands rich and fruitful, and the mixture of earth forms a composition, which out of two barren extreams, makes one prolifick medium; the strong clay of Essex and Suffolk is made fruitful by the soft meliorating melting chalk of Kent, which fattens and enriches it.

On the back-side of these marshy grounds in Kent at a small distance, lies the road from London to Dover, and on that highway, or near it, several good towns; for example, Eltham, formerly a royal palace when the Court was kept at Greenwich; and Queen Elizabeth, who (as before) was born at Greenwich, was often carry'd, as they say, to Eltham by her nurses to suck in the wholesome air of that agreeable place; but at present there are few or no signs of the old palace to be seen.

It is now a pleasant town, very handsomely built, full of good houses, and many families of rich citizens inhabit here: (As I observed of the villages adjacent to London in other counties) So it is here, they bring a great deal of good company with them: Also abundance of ladies of very good fortunes dwell here, and one sees at the church such an appearance of the sex, as is surprising; but 'tis complain'd of that the youths of these families where those beauties grow, are so generally or almost universally bred abroad, either in Turkey, Italy, or Spain, as merchants, or in the army or court as gentlemen; that for the ladies to live at Eltham, is, as it were, to live recluse and out of sight; since to be kept where the gentlemen do not come, is all one as to be kept where they cannot come. This they say threatens Eltham with a fatal turn, unless the scene alters in a few years, and they tell us, that all the ladies will abandon the place.

In the neighbourhood of this place at LVSVM, Sir John Lethulier, a Turkey merchant, liv'd for many years, and to a great age, and has establish'd his family in the separate houses of three or four several sons, to all which he has left plentiful estates in this country, but especially in Essex, where his eldest son has a very noble seat, and estate near Barking.

From this side of the country all pleasant and gay, we go over Shooter's Hill, where the face of the world seems quite alter'd; for here we have but a chalky soil, and indifferently fruitful, far from rich; much overgrown with wood, especially coppice-wood, which is cut for faggots and bavins, and sent up by water to London. Here they make those faggots which the wood-mongers call ostrey wood, and here in particular those small light bavins which are used in taverns in London to light their faggots, and are call'd in the taverns a brush, the woodmen call them pimps; 'tis incredible what vast quantities of these are lay'd up at Woolwich, Erith, and Dartford; but since the taverns in London are come to make coal fires in their upper rooms, that cheat of a trade declines; and tho' that article would seem to be trifling hi it self, 'tis not trifling to observe what an alteration it makes in the value of those woods in Kent, and how many more of them than usual are yearly stubbed up, and the land made fit for the plow.

As I passed, I saw Gravesend from the hills, but having been often in the town, I know enough to be able to say, that there is nothing considerable in it; except first that it is the town where the great ferry (as they call it) is kept up between London and East-Kent, it is hardly credible what numbers of people pass here every tide, as well by night as by day, between this town and London: Almost all the people of East-Kent, when they go for London, go no farther by land than this town; and then for six-pence in the tilt-boat, or one shilling in a small boat or wherry, are carry'd to London by water.

About 25 years ago one of these tilt-boats was cast away, occasioned by the desperate obstinacy and rudeness of the steersman or master, as they call him, who would tack again and stand over upon a wind, in the reach call'd Long-Reach, contrary to the advice and intreaties not of the passengers only but of his own rowers, who told him it blew a storm and she would founder; but he call'd them fools, bid the wind blow-devil, (a rude sailor's proverb) the more wind the better boat, till coming into the chanel where the sea ran very high, he took in a wave, or a sea, as they call it, which run her down, and founder'd her, as was foretold; and himself and three and fifty passengers were all drown'd, only about five escaping by swimming.

The other thing for which this town is worth notice, is, that all the ships which go to sea from London, take, as we say, their departure from hence; for here all outward-bound ships must stop, come to an anchor, and suffer what they call a second clearing, (viz.) here a searcher of the customs comes on board, looks over all the coquets or entries of the cargo, and may, if he pleases, rummage the whole loading, to see if there are no more goods than are enter'd; which however they seldom do, tho' they forget not to take a compliment for their civility, and besides being well treated on board, have generally three or five guns fir'd in honour to them when they go off.

The method of causing all ships to stop here before they go, is worth observing, and is as follows:

When a merchant-ship comes down from London, (if they have the tide of ebb under foot, or a fresh gale of wind from the west, so that they have, what they call fresh-way, and the ships come down apace) they generally hand some of their sails, haul up a fore-sail or main-sail, or lower the fore-top sail; so to slaken her way, as soon as they come to the Old Man's Head; when they open the reach, which they call Gravesend Reach, which begins about a mile and half above the town, they do the like, to signify that they intend to bring too, as the sailors call it, and come to an anchor.

As soon as they come among the ships that are riding in the road, (as there are always a great many) the centinel at the block-house, as they call it, on Gravesend side fires his musquet, which is to tell the pilot he must bring too; if he comes on, as soon as the ship passes broad side with the block-house, the centinel fires again, which is as much as to say, Why don't you bring too? if he drives a little farther, he fires a third time, and the language of that is, Bring too immediately, and let go your anchor, or we will make you.

If the ship continues to drive down, and does not let go her anchor, the gunner of the fort is fetch'd, and he fires a piece of cannon tho' without ball; and that is still a threat, tho' with some patience, and is to say, Will you come to an anchor or won't you? If he still ventures to go on, by which he gives them to understand he intends to run for it; then the gunner fires again, and with a shot, and that shot is a signal to the fortress over the river, (viz.) Tilbury Fort, (which I describ'd in my account of Essex) and they immediately let fly at the ship from the guns on the east bastion and after from all the guns they can bring to bear upon her; it is very seldom that a ship will venture their shot, because they can reach her all the way unto the Hope, and round the Hope-Point almost to Hole-Haven.

Yet I happen'd once to be upon the shore just by Tilbury-Fort, when a ship ventur'd to run off in spight of all those fireings; and it being just at the first shoot of the ebb, and when a great fleet of light colliers and other ships were under sail too; by that time, the ship escaping came round the Hope-Point, she was so hid among the other ships, that the gunners on the bastion hardly knew who to shoot at; upon which they mann'd out several boats with soldiers, in hopes to overtake her or to make signals to some men of war at the Nore, to man out their boats, and stop her, but she laugh'd at them all; for as it blew a fresh gale of wind at south-west, and a tide of ebb strong under her foot, she went three foot for their one, and by that time the boats got down to Hole Haven, the ship was beyond the Nore, and as it grew dark, they soon lost sight of her, nor could they ever hear to this day what ship it was, or on what account she ventured to run such a risque.

Another time I was with some merchants in a large yatch, bound to France; they had a great quantity of block-tin on board, and other goods, which had not been enter'd at the custom-house; and the master or captain told us, he did not doubt but he would pass by Gravesend without coming to an anchor; he lay, when this thought came into his head, at an anchor in Gray's Reach just above the Old Man's Head, mention'd above, which is a point or head of land on the Essex shore, which makes the bottom of Gray's Reach and the upper end of Gravesend Reach: He observ'd that the mornings were likely to be exceeding foggy; particularly on the morning next after his resolution of trying there was so thick a fog, that it was scarce possible to see from the main-mast to the bow-sprit, even of a hoy; it being high water, he resolv'd to weigh and drive, as he call'd it, and so he did: When he came among the other ships and over against the town, his greatest danger was running foul of them, to prevent which he kept a man lying on his belly at the bow-sprit end, to look out, and so, tho' not without some danger too, he went clear: As for Gravesend or Tilbury-Fort, they could see no more of us than they could of London-Bridge; and we drove in this fog undiscern'd by the forts of the custom-house men, as low as Hole-Haven, and went afterwards clear away to Caen in Normandy without being visited.

But such attempts as these, are what would very hardly be brought to pass again now, nor is the risque worth any body's running if the value be considerable that may be lost; and therefore one may venture to say, that all the ships which go out of the river from London, are first clear'd here, even the empty colliers and coasters go on shore, and give an account who they are, and take a signal from the customs-house office, and pay six-pence, and then pass on: As for ships coming in, they all go by here without any notice taken of them, unless it be to put waiters on board them, if they are not supply'd before.

From Gravesend we see nothing remarkable on the road but GAD'S-HILL, a noted place for robbing of sea-mem after they have received their pay at Chatham. Here it was that famous robbery was commited in the year 1676 or thereabouts; it was about four a clock in the morning when a gentleman was robb'd by one Nicks on a bay mare, just on the declining part of the hill, on the west-side, for he swore to the spot and to the man; Mr. Nicks who robb'd him, came away to Gravesend , immediately ferry'd over, and, as he said, was stopp'd by the difficulty of the boat, and of the passage, near an hour; which was a great discouragement to him, but was a kind of bait to his horse: From thence he rode cross the county of Essex, thro' Tilbury, Hornden, and Bilerecay to Chelmsford: Here he stopp'd about half an hour to refresh his horse, and gave him some balls; from thence to Braintre, Bocking, Wethersfield; then over the downs to Cambridge, and from thence keeping still the cross roads, he went by Fenny Stanton to Godmanchester, and Huntington, where he baited himself and his mare about an hour; and, as he said himself, slept about half an hour, then holding on the North Road, and keeping a full larger gallop most of the way, he came to York the same afternoon, put off his boots and riding cloaths, and went dress'd as if he had been an inhabitant of the place, not a traveller, to the bowling-green, where, among other gentlemen, was the lord mayor of the city ; he singling out his lordship, study'd to do something particular that the mayor might remember him by, and accordingly lays some odd bett with him concerning the bowls then running, which should cause the mayor to remember it the more particularly; and then takes occasion to ask his lordship what a, clock it was; who, pulling out his watch, told him the hour, which was a quarter before, or a quarter after eight at night.

Some other circumstances, it seems, he carefully brought into their discourse, which should make the lord mayor remember the day of the month exactly, as well as the hour of the day.

Upon a prosecution which happen'd afterwards for this robbery, the whole merit of the case turn'd upon this single point: The person robb'd swore as above to the man, to the place, and to the time, in which the fact was committed: Namely, that he was robb'd on Gad's-Hill in Kent, on such a day, and at such a time of the day, and on such a part of the hill, and that the prisoner at the bar was the man that robb'd; him: Nicks, the prisoner, deny'd the fact, call'd several persons to his reputation, alledg'd that he was as far off as Yorkshire at that time, and that particularly the day whereon the prosecutor swore he was robb'd, he was at bowles on the publick green in the city of York; and to support this, he produced the Lord Mayor of York to testify that he was so, and that the mayor acted so and so with him there as above.

This was so positive, and so well attested, that the jury acquitted him on a bare supposition, that it was impossible the man could be at two places so remote on one and the same day. There are more particulars related of this story, such as I do not take upon me to affirm; namely, That King Charles II. prevailed on him on assurance of pardon, and that he should not be brought into any farther trouble about it, to confess the truth to him privately, and that he own'd to his majesty that he commited the robbery, and how he rode the journey after it, and that upon this the king gave him the name or title of Swift Nicks, instead of Nicks; but these things, I say, I do not relate as certain: I return to the business in hand.

From Gad's-Hill we come to Rochester Bridge, the largest, highest, and the strongest built of all the bridges in England, except London-Bridge; some indeed say, the bridge of Newcastle upon Tyne , exceeds all the bridges in England for strength; and it is indeed very firm and wide, and has a street of houses upon it like London-Bridge, and a gate in the middle as large as a little castle, of which in its place; but then it is neither so high nor so long as this bridge at Rochester.

Rochester, Stroud, and Chatham, are three distinct places, but contiguous, except the interval of the river between the two first, and a very small marsh or vacancy between Rochester and Chatham.

There's little remarkable in Rochester, except the ruins of a very old castle, and an antient but not extraordinary cathedral; but the river, and its appendices are the most considerable of the kind in the world. This being the chief arsenal of the royal navy of Great-Britain. The buildings here are indeed like the ships themselves, surprisingly large, and in their several kinds beautiful: The ware-houses, or rather streets of ware-houses, and store-houses for laying up the naval treasure are the largest in dimension, and the most in number, that are any where to be seen in the world: The rope-walk for making cables, and the forges for anchors and other iron-work, bear a proportion to the rest; as also the wet-dock for keeping masts, and yards of the greatest size, where they lye sunk in the water to preserve them, the boat-yard, the anchor yard; all like the whole, monstrously great and extensive, and are not easily describ'd.

We come next to the stores themselves, for which all this provision is made; and first, to begin with the ships that are laid up there: The sails, the rigging, the ammunition, guns, great and small-shot, small-arms, swords, cutlasses, half pikes, with all the other furniture belonging to the ships that ride at their moorings in the river Medway: These take up one part of the place, having separate buildings, and store-houses appropriated to them, where the furniture of every ship lies in particular ware-houses by themselves, and may be taken out on the most hasty occasion without confusion, fire excepted.

N.B. The powder is generally carry'd away to particular magazines to avoid disaster.

Besides these, there are store-houses for laying up the furniture, and stores for ships; but which are not appropriated, or do not belong (as it is expressed by the officers) to any particular ship; but lye ready to be delivered out for the furnishing other ships to be built, or for repairing and supplying the ships already there, as occasion may require.

For this purpose there are separate and respective magazines of pitch, tarr, hemp, flax, tow, rosin, oyl, tallow; also of sail cloth, canvas, anchors, cables, standing and running rigging, ready fitted, and cordage not fitted; with all kinds of ship-chandlery necessaries, such as blocks, tackles, runners, &c. with the cooks, boatswains, and gunners stores, and also anchors of all sizes, grapnells, chains, bolts, and spikes, wrought and unwrought iron, cast-iron work, such as potts, caldrons, furnaces, &c. also boats, spare-masts and yards; with a great quantity of lead and nails, and other necessaries, (too many to be enumerated) whose store looks as if it were inexhaustible.

To observe these things deliberately, one wou'd almost wonder what ships they were, and where they should be found, which cou'd either for building, or repairing, fiting, or refiting, call for such a quantity of all those things; but when, on the other hand, one sees the ships, and considers their dimension, and consequently the dimension of all things which belong to them; how large, how strong every thing must be; how much, of the materials must go to the making every thing proportionable to the occasion, the wonder would change its prospect, and one would be as much amaz'd to think how and where they should be supply'd.

The particular government of these yards, as they are call'd, is very remarkable, the commissioners, clerks, accomptants, &c. within doors, the store-keepers, yard-keepers, dock-keepers, watchmen, and all other officers without doors, with the subordination of all officers one to another respectively, as their degree and offices require, is admirable. The watchmen are set duly every night at stated and certain places, within the several yards, with every one a bell over his head, which they ring or toll every hour, giving so many strokes as the hour reckons, and then one taking it from another through every part of the yard, and of all the yards, makes the watching part be performed in a very exact and regular manner. In the river there is a guard-boat, which, as the main guard in a garrison, goes the grand-rounds at certain times, to see that every centinel does his duty on board the ships; these go by every ship in the river, and see that the people on board are at their post: If the ship does not challenge, that is to say, If the man plac'd to look out does not call, Who comes there? the guard-boat boards them immediately, to examine who is deficient in their duty.

They told us an odd story of a guard-boat which having not been challeng'd by the person who ought to have been walking on the forecastle of the ship, boarded them on the bow, and as the boat's crew was entering the ship by the fore-chains they found a man fallen over board, but the lap of his coat catching in a block, was drawn so hard in by the running of the rope in the block, that it held the man fast; but he was fallen so low, that his head and arms hung in the water, and he was almost drown'd: However it seems he was not quite dead; so that catching hold of him, and pulling him out of the water, they saved his life: But they added, as the main part of the story, that the man could never give any account of his disaster, or how he came to fall over-board, only said that it must be the Devil that threw him over-board, for nothing else could do it. How true this passage may be, I do not undertake to enter upon the debate of.

The expedition that has been sometimes used here in fitting out men of war, is very great, and as the workmen relate it, 'tis indeed incredible; particularly, they told us, That the Royal Sovereign , a first rate of 106 guns, was riding at her moorings, entirely unrigg'd, and nothing but her three masts standing, as is usual when a ship is lay'd up, and that she was completely rigg'd, all her masts up, her yards put too, her sails bent, anchors and cables on board, and the ship sailed down to Black-Stakes in three days, Sir Cloudesly Shovell being then her captain.

I do not vouch the thing, but when I consider, first, that every thing lay ready in her store-houses, and wanted nothing but to be fetch'd out and carry'd on board; a thousand or fifteen hundred men to be employ'd in it and more if they were wanted; and every man, knowing his business perfectly well, boats, carriages, pullies, tacklers, cranes, and hulk all ready, I do not know, but it might be done in one day if it was try'd; certain it is, the dexterity of the English sailors in those things is not to be match'd by the world.

The building-yards, docks, timber-yard, deal-yard, mast-yard, gun-yard, rope-walks; and all the other yards and places, set apart for the works belonging to the navy, are like a well ordered city; and tho' you see the whole place as it were in the utmost hurry, yet you see no confusion, every man knows his own business; the master builders appoint the working, or converting, as they call it, of every piece of timber; and give to the other head workmen, or foremen their moulds for the squaring and cutting out of every piece, and placing it in its proper byrth (so they call it) in the ship that is in building, and every hand is busy in pursuing those directions, and so in all the other works.

It is about sixteen or eighteen miles from Rochester Bridge to Sheerness Fort by water on the river Medway, of this it is about fourteen miles to Black-Stakes, the channel is so deep all the way, the banks soft, and the reaches of the river so short, that in a word, 'tis the safest and best harbour in the world; and we saw two ships of eighty guns, each riding a float at low water within musquet-shot of Rochester Bridge. The ships ride as in a mill-pond, or a wet-dock, except that being moor'd at the chains, they swing up and down with the tide; but as there is room enough, so they are moor'd in such manner, that they cannot swing foul of one another; 'tis as safe (I say) as in a wet-dock, nor did I ever hear of any accident that befel any of the king's ships here, I mean by storms and weather; except in that dreadful tempest in 1703, when one ship, (viz.) the Royal Catherine was driven on shoar, and receiving some damage sunk, and the ship also being old, could not be weigh'd again; but this was such a storm as never was known before, and 'tis hoped the like may never be known again.

There are two castles on the shore of this river, the one at Upnore, where there is a good platform of guns, and which guards two reaches of the river, and is supposed to defend all the ships which ride above, between that and the bridge; also on the other shore is Gillingham Castle, form'd for the same purpose, and well furnish'd with guns which command the river, besides which there is a fort or platform of guns at a place call'd the swamp and another at Cockham Wood. But all these are added, or at least additions made to them, since the time that the Dutch made that memorable attempt upon the royal navy in this river (viz.) on the 22d of June, in the year 1667; for at that time all was left unguarded, and as it were, secure; there were but four guns that could be used at Upnore, and scarce so many at Gillingham, the carriages being rotten and broke; and in a word, every thing concurring to invite the enemy. There were about twelve guns at the Isle of Shepey, where since, Sheerness Fort is built; but the Dutch soon beat them from those guns, and made the place too hot for them, dismounting also most of the guns, after which they went boldly up to Black-Stakes with their whole squadron; and after that seven of their biggest men of war went up as high as Upnore, where they did what mischief they could, and went away again, carrying off the Royal Charles , a first rate ship of 100 guns, and burning the London , and several others, besides the damaging most of the ships which were within their reach; and all things consider'd, it was a victory, that they went away without ruining all the rest of the navy that was in that river.

But as this is a dull story in it self, so it is none of my present business farther than to introduce what follows; namely, That this allarm gave England such a sense of the consequence of the river Medway, and of the docks and yards at Chatham, and of the danger the royal navy lay exposed to there, that all these doors which were open then, are lock'd up and sufficiently barr'd since that time; and 'tis not now in the power of any nation under heaven, no, tho' they should be masters at sea, unless they were masters at land too at the same time, to give us such another affront; for besides all the castles, lines of guns, and platforms on each side the river Medway, as we go up, as above; there is now a royal fort built at the point of the Isle of Shepey, call'd Sheerness, which guards that entrance into the river: This is a regular, and so compleat a fortification, and has such a line of heavy cannon commanding the mouth of the river, that no man of war, or fleet of men of war, would attempt to pass by as the Dutch did; or at least cou'd not effect it without hazard of being torn to pieces by those batteries.

SHEERNESS is not only a fortress, but a kind of town, with several streets in it, and inhabitants of several sorts; but chiefly such whose business obliges them to reside here: The officers of the ordnance have here apartments, and an office, they being often oblig'd to be here many days together; especially in time of war, when the rendezvous of the fleet is at the Nore, to see to the furnishing every ship with military stores as need requires, and to cheque the officers of the ships in their demands of those stores, and the like.

Here is also a yard for building ships, with a dock; the reason of which, is to repair any ship speedily that may meet with any accident, either riding at the Nore, or in any service at sea near the river. But then 'tis to be observ'd, that those are but fifth and sixth rate ships, small frigats, yatches, and such vessels; at biggest, nothing above a fourth rate can come in here. The Sheerness galley, as I am told, was built here, and had her name on that occasion. This yard is a late thing also, and built many years since the fort.

This fort commands only the entrance into the Medway, or that branch of the Medway, properly, which they call West-Swale: The East-Swale, not navigable by ships of force, goes in by the town of Queenborough, passes east, makes the Isle of Shepey, parting it on the south side, and opens to the sea, near Feversham, and Swale-Cliff, and is therefore of small consequence. As for the expression of a certain author, that Sheerness divides the mouth of the two rivers, Thames and Medway, 'tis not said for want of ignorance, and cannot be true in fact; the mouth of the Medway opening into the Thames, and the mouth of the Thames, not being within twenty miles of it, (viz.) from the Nase and North-Foreland.

At the south-west point of the Isle of Shepey, where the East-Swale parts from the West, and passes on, as above, stands a town memorable for nothing, but that which is rather a dishonour to our country than otherwise: Namely, Queenborough, a miserable, dirty, decay'd, poor, pitiful, fishing town; yet vested with corporation priviledges, has a mayor, aldermen, &c. and his worship the mayor has his mace carry'd before him to church, and attended in as much state and ceremony as the mayor of a town twenty times as good: I remember when I was there, Mr. Mayor was a butcher, and brought us a shoulder of mutton to our inn himself in person, which we bespoke for our dinner, and afterwards he sat down and drank a bottle of wine with us.

But that which is still worse, and which I meant in what I said before, is, that this town sends two burgesses to Parliament, as many as the borough of Southwark, or the city of Westminster: Tho' it may be presumed all the inhabitants are not possessed of estates answerable to the rent of one good house in either of those places I last mentioned: The chief business of this town, as I could understand, consists in ale-houses, and oyster-catchers.

Here we took boat, and went up the East-Swale to a town, which lies, as it were hid, in the country, and among the creeks; for 'tis out of the way, and almost out of sight, as well by water as by land, I mean Milton; it lyes up so many creeks and windings of the water, that nobody sees it by water, but they who go on purpose out of the way to it; and as to the road, it lyes also about a mile on the left-hand of the great road, as we pass thro' Sittingbourn, so that no body sees it on that side neither, unless they go on purpose out of the road to it; and yet it is a large town, has a considerable market, and especially for corn, and fruit and provisions, which they send to London by water.

From hence following the coast, and the great road together, for they are still within view of one another, we come to Feversham, a large populous, and as some say, a rich town: Tho' here is no particular remarkable trade, either for manufacture or navigation; the principal business we found among them, was fishing for oysters, which the Dutch fetch hence in such extraordinary quantities, that when I was there, we found twelve large Dutch hoys and doggers lying there to load oysters; and some times, as they told us, there are many more: This is greatly to the advantage of the place, as it employs abundance of men and boats in drudging for the oysters, which they catch in great plenty, in the mouth of the East-Swale; which, as I said above, enters in this part of the country into the sea, and opens very wide.

It was at the mouth of this Swale, namely, at Shell-Ness, so call'd from the abundance of oyster-shells always lying there, that the smack in which the late King James II. was embark'd for his escape into France, ran on shoar, and being boarded by the fishermen, the king was taken prisoner; and I must mention it to the reproach of the people of Feversham, let the conduct of that unfortunate prince be what it will, that the fishermen and rabble can never be excus'd, who treated the king, even after they were told who he was, with the utmost indecency, using his majesty; (for he was then their sovereign, even in the acknowledged sense of his enemies) I say, using him with such indignity in his person, such insolence in their behaviour, and giving him such opprobrious and abusive language, and searching him in the rudest and most indecent manner, and indeed rifling him; that the king himself said, he was never more apprehensive of his life than at that time. He was afterwards carry'd by them up to the town, where he was not much better treated for some time, till some neighbouring gentlemen hi the county came in, who understood their duty better, by whom he was at least preserv'd from farther violence, till coaches and a guard came from London, by the Prince of Orange's order, to bring him with safety and freedom to London; where he was at least for the present much better received, as in the history of those times is to be seen.

While I was near this town some years ago, a most surprising accident happen'd, namely, the blowing up of a powder-mill, which stood upon the river, close to the town; the blast was not only frightful, but it shatter'd the whole town, broke the windows, blew down chimneys, and gable-ends not a few; also several people were kill'd at the powder-house it self, tho' not any, as I remember, in the town: but what was most remarkable in it all, was, that the eldest son of the master of the powder-mill, a youth of about fifteen years of age, who was not in the mill, or near it, when it blew up; but in a boat upon the river, rowing cross for his diversion, was kill'd by a piece of the building of the mill, which blew up into the air by the force of the powder, and fell down upon him in the boat: I know nothing else this town is remarkable for, except the most notorious smuggling trade, carry'd on partly by the assistance of the Dutch, in their oyster-boats, and partly by other arts, in which they say, the people hereabouts are arriv'd to such a proficiency, that they are grown monstrous rich by that wicked trade; nay, even the owling trade (so they call the clandestine exporting of wool) has seem'd to be transposed from Rumney Marsh to this coast, and a great deal of it had been carry'd on between the mouth of the East-Swale and the North-Foreland.

As to the landing goods here from Holland and France, such as wine and brandy from the latter, and pepper, tea, coffee, callicoes, tobacco, and such goods, (the duties of which being very high in England, had first been drawn back by debentures) that black trade has not only been carry'd on here, as I was informed, but on both sides the river, on the Essex as well as the Kentish shores, of which I shall speak again in its place.

From this East Swale, and particularly from these last three towns, Queenborough, Milton, and Feversham, the fish-market at Billingsgate is supply'd with several sorts of fish; but particularly with the best and largest oysters, such as they call stewing oysters: which are generally call'd also Milton Oysters; some of which are exceeding large, as also with a very great quantity of others of a lesser size, as they are from the Essex side, with a smaller and greener sort, call'd Wallfleot; so that the whole city of London is chiefly supplied with oysters from this part of the Thames.

From hence also are sent by water to London very great quantities of fruit; that is to say, apples and cherries; which are produc'd in this county, more than hi any county in England, especially cherries; and this leads me to cross the hills from Milton to Maidstone, a town on the river Medway, about ten miles distant.

This is a considerable town, very populous, and the inhabitants generally wealthy; 'tis the county town, and the river Medway is navigable to it by large hoys, of fifty to sixty tuns burthen, the tide flowing quite up to the town; round this town are the largest cherry orchards, and the most of them that are in any part of England; and the gross of the quantity of cherries, and the best of them which supply the whole city of London come from hence, and are therefore call'd Kentish cherries.

Here likewise, and in the country adjacent, are great quantities of hops planted, and this is call'd the Mother of Hop Grounds in England; being the first place in England where hops were planted in any quantity, and long before any were planted at Canterbury, tho' that be now supposed to be the chief place in England, as shall be observ'd in its place: These were the hops, I suppose, which were planted at the beginning of the Reformation, and which gave occasion to that old distich:

Hops, Reformation, bays, and beer,
Came into England all in a year.

Maidstone is eminent for the plenty of provisions, and richness of lands in the country all round it, and for the best market in the county, not Rochester, no not Canterbury excepted.

From this town, and the neighbouring parts, London is supplied with more particulars than from any single market town in England, which I mention in pursuance of my first resolution of observing, how every part of England furnishes something to the city of London.

  1. From the wild of Kent, which begins but about six miles off, and particularly from that part which lyes this way; they bring the large Kentish bullocks, fam'd for being generally all red, and with their horns crooked inward, the two points standing one directly against the other, they are counted the largest breed in England.
  2. From the same country are brought great quantities of the largest timber for supply of the king's yards at Chattham, and often to London; most of which comes by land carriage to Maidstone.
  3. From the country adjoining to Maidstone also, is a very great quantity of corn brought up to London, besides hops and cherries, as above.
  4. Also a kind of paving stone, about eight to ten inches square, so durable that it scarce ever wears out; 'tis used to pave court-yards, and passages to gentlemens houses, being the same the Royal Exchange at London is pav'd with, which has never yet wanted the least repair.
  5. Also fine white sand for the glass-houses, esteem'd the best in England for melting into flint-glass, and looking glass-plates; and for the stationer's use also, vulgarly call'd writing-sand.
  6. Also very great quantities of fruit, such as Kentish pipins, runetts, &c. which come up as the cherries do, whole hoy-loads at a time to the wharf, call'd the Three Cranes, in London; which is the greatest pipin market perhaps in the world.

At Maidstone you begin to converse with gentlemen, and persons of rank of both sexes, and some of quality: All that side of the county which I have mentioned already, as it is marshy, and unhealthy, by its situation among the waters; so it is embarass'd with business, and inhabited chiefly by men of business, such as ship-builders, fisher-men, seafaring-men, and husband-men, or such as depend upon them, and very few families of note are found among them. But as soon as we come down Boxley Hill from Rochester, or Hollingbourn-Hill, from Milton, and descend from the poor chalky downs, and deep foggy marshes, to the wholesome rich soil, the well wooded, and well water'd plain on the banks of the Medway, we find the country every where spangl'd with populous villages, and delicious seats of the nobility and gentry; and especially on the north-side of the river, beginning at Aylesford, on the Medway, and looking east towards the sea: This Aylesford was formerly the seat of Sir John Banks, and since descended, by his daughter, to Heneage Lord Finch, brother to the Earl of Nottingham, and created Earl of Aylesford, which estate he came to in right of his said lady: the country this way, I say, is full of gentlemens houses, reckoning from this Aylesford, below Maidstone, on the Medway to Eastwell, near Ashford, the seat of the Earl of Winchelsea; another noble family of the name of Finch also; tho' not nearly ally'd to the Nottingham house.

Among these are the antient families of Fane, Colepeper, Deerham, Honywood, Wotton, Roberts, Hales, and others, with some good families extinct and gone, whose names however remain in memory.

This neighbourhood of persons of figure and quality, makes Maidstone a very agreeable place to live in, and where a man of letters, and of manners, will always find suitable society, both to divert and improve himself; so that here is, what is not often found, namely, a town of very great business and trade, and yet full of gentry, of mirth, and of good company.

It is to be recorded here for the honour of the gentry in this part of England; that tho' they are as sociable and entertaining as any people are, or can be desir'd to be, and as much fam'd for good manners, and good humour; yet the new mode of forming assemblies so much, and so fatally now in vogue, in other parts of England, could never prevail here; and that tho' there was an attempt made by some loose persons, and the gentlemen, and ladies, did for a little while appear there; yet they generally dislik'd the practice, soon declin'd to give their company, as to a thing scandalous, and so it drop'd of course.

There is not much manufacturing in this county; what is left, is chiefly at Canterbury, and in this town of Maidstone, and the neighbourhood; the manufacture of this town is principally in thread, that is to say, linnen thread, which they make to pretty good perfection, tho' not extraordinary fine. At Cranbrook, Tenterden, Goudhurst, and other villages thereabout, which are also in the neighbourhood of this part, on the other side the Medway, there was once a very considerable cloathing trade carry'd on, and the yeomen of Kent, of which so much has been fam'd, were generally the inhabitants on that side, and who were much enrich'd by that clothing trade; but that trade is now quite decay'd, and scarce ten clothiers left in all the county.

These clothiers and farmers, and the remains of them, upon the general elections of members of parliament for the county, show themselves still there, being ordinarily 14 or 1500 freeholders brought from this side of the county; and who for the plainness of their appearance, are call'd the gray coats of Kent; but are so considerable, that who ever they vote for is always sure to carry it, and therefore the gentlemen are very careful to preserve their interest among them.

This town of Maidstone is a peculiar of the Archbishoprick of Canterbury, and the Archbishop for the time being, is the proper incumbent, or parson of the parish, and puts in a curate to officiate for him. Here is the county gaol also, and generally the assizes, and always the elections are held here: Here was a hot action in the time of the Civil Wars, between a party of gentlemen who took arms for the king, and who being defeated here, march'd boldly towards London, as if they had intended to go directly thither; but turn'd short, and to their enemies surprise, unexpectedly cross'd the Thames, and joining some Essex gentlemen of the same party, went to Colchester, where they suffered a furious siege and blockade; and defended the town to the last extremity, as you have seen hi my account of that place.

Daniel Defoe, A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies (London: JM Dent and Co, 1927)

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