The Isle of Sheppey: context
The name Sheppey derives from the name by which the Saxons knew it: Sheep Island. The Island, some 9 miles (16km) long and half as wide nestles up against the north Kent coast from which it is separated by a narrow channel called the Swale. Archaeological evidence reveals that Sheppey was occupied in prehistoric times. It was also inhabited during the Romano-British era and, subsequently, by the Saxons. In AD 674, Sexburga, a widowed Queen of Kent, established a nunnery at Minster, one of the highest points on the Island. This nunnery, which suffered from two devastating raids by the Vikings in the ninth century, was finally closed in 1536 by Henry VIII when he ordered the dissolution of the monasteries.
The history of Sheppey is intertwined with the history of the Naval Dockyard, established in Sheerness in 1665. In the early twentieth century, it was the major employer on the island. This is indicated by demographic and employment data. Sheerness had a population of 18,000 in 1901 (compared to less than 12,000 at the time of the 2001 census). In 1931, 60% of local men who were employed worked in the Dockyard. The very existence of a technical school that trained boys to take the entrance exams and get apprenticeships indicates the extent to which the island was geared around the Dockyard. By the time of its closure in 1960 however, employee numbers had dropped to ca 2,500 people.