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Neil Clark

The Military Port of Richborough, Sandwich, Kent

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Neil Clark   
Neil Clark

Guess whose been playing on Google Earth for hours on end?

I have just been reading a book about the Port of Richborough during the Great War. This was a highly secret government facility built to service the B.E.F with it's logistics including Ammunition, Tanks, Horses, Rations and Fuel etc... The River Stour was widened in some places and cuttings were made to form small port areas. Apparently this thing was absolutely HUGE in size which makes sense if it was used to service the whole British Army on the Western Front.

Dover was used primarily to recover casualties and Folkestone was used to ferry drafts across the channel to war. Neither of these Kent ports were able to deal with huge quantities of logistics and for this reason Richborough was built.

The port was well served by Railway lines and a large Station and loading area. Traces of this Railway line can still be made by going to the existing Rail line nearby and following a straight patch of land towards the port.

The Port of Richborough was run by the Royal Engineers (Inland Waterways Department). Obviously the Army Service Corps (ASC) also did much work here too.

Looking at Google Earth there are still quite a few traces of the port left in the area. I understand that the main port area was located on the banks of the River Stour. A number of old buildings can be found on the bank facing the river. A huge tarmac hardstanding is also still clearly visable.

I thought I'd attach a few Google Earth photos to show the area in question. Anyone wanting to get a better look should open a copy of Google Earth and have a look themselves. It should be quite easy locating the exact position by refering to my post here...

I went to have a look at the port of Richborough a year or so back but couldn't find a way in! We asked a nearby car store company if we could cross their land to get to the old buildings but they rudely declined and called the Police! It looks as though access is still very difficult. I can't really see a way down to the River without crossing private land or company property. Any ideas...

I have been waiting all summer for a nice dry day to have a ride to Sandwich on my motorcycle to view the old port area. I'm still waiting for the Summer to start! It is my intention to visit this port and Port Victoria on the Isle of Grain (RNAS Sea Plane Station).

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joseph   
joseph

Neil,

From RE History

Richborough Cross–Channel Service.

In view of the congestion at the original Barge Depot at Dover and also at Longmoor Camp, it was decided in January 1916, to develop Richborough as a depot and base for inland water transport. At this time Richborough consisted of a short length of quay suitable for barges, and one dwelling house. By 1918, it had become a large and well- equipped seaport, of 2,000 acres, complete with all services and capable of handling 30,000 tons of traffic per week. Building yards and workshops were constructed to increase the supply of barges and other small vessels needed in all theatres of war. The River Stour was diverted by cutting a new channel to render possible 2,300 ft of new wharf for the cross-channel barge service, in which, at the end of the war, 242 barges were employed, including ten of 1,000 ton capacity. On 10th February 1918 a cross-channel ferry service, approved early in 1917, was brought into operation between Richborough and Calais with a supplementary service from Southampton to Dieppe. These ferries were invaluable for the transport of locomotives, rolling stock, heavy guns and tanks. In all some sixty miles of broad gauge railway were laid at Richborough.

Transportation units at Richborough IWT Depot Nov 1918

Workshop and Shipyard Coy's

11 to 17, 19 to 27, 37 to 40 and 43 to 48.

Construction Coy's

96, 97, 117, 118, 132, 136. 141 and 142.

Marine Coy's

HQ and 70 to 75

Traffic Coy's

HQ and 56 to 61

Train Ferry Coy's

HQ and 85,86.

Stores Coy's

HQ, 90 and 91.

Accounts Coy

95

Tugmasters

Maybe worth getting a boat and landing from the river, good photo opportunity and more fun!

Regards Charles

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Neil Clark   
Neil Clark

Charles,

Thats a great idea - landing from the river on a boat. I will have to look into it next summer (this summer didn't start and the weather is now closing in fast). Any other ideas gladly accepted?

Richborough Port during the World Wars

THE 1ST WORLD WAR

Locomotive repair and maintenance workshop, Richborough PortDuring the First World War 1914/18 a secret "Q" port by the banks of the River Stour was the starting point of a ferry service for troops and munitions to France and Flanders. Camps were occupied by thousands of soldiers who were taken by day or by night across the North Sea and the Channel to Dunkirk and Calais.

The chosen spot for the hidden port was under the Roman fortress of Richborough; and a railway was constructed from the main line which passes under the Saxon walls to the banks of the Stour. The river mouth was dredged; and a new port of embarkation was created. The camp was constructed in the marshlands on both sides of the river.

First Roll-on Roll-off FerryMost of the work undertaken by the Royal Engineers and much of the equipment and arms for the Ypres Salient were sent across from Richborough Port, using sea going barges and the very first roll-on roll-off ferries.

BETWEEN THE WARS

After the end of the war the port silted up, the Quay was deserted, and the mile of camps lay derelict. Some years later, the area was sold by the Government to a combined industrial enterprise of Dorman, Long, one of the biggest steel firms in the Kingdom, and Pearsons, a big contracting firm who had carried out major constructions in many parts of the world. They made plans for the develop­ment of light industries on a large scale, using the camp, the railway, the river water, and the Kent coal for power but the plan did not get off the ground.

For nearly twenty years the Richborough Camp was not used until the end of the year 1938, when Sandwich received Jewish and political refugees from from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, driven out by Nazi persecution.

THE 2ND WORLD WAR

At the end of August, 1939, Britain was at war with Germany and a large majority of the men in the camp volunteered and eventually were accepted for service in and attached to the British forces.

Plaque commemorating Richborough Transit CampA plaque was placed on the wall of the Barbican, in 1971. to commemorate the Richborough Transit Camp, where five thousand people found refuge from Nazi persecution

In their place battalions of English infantry engaged in home defence were quartered in the Richborough Camp.

In 1942 Richborough Camp became a post of the Marines, named H.M.S. Robertson: and the former Q port was again a hive of industry. Part of the Mulberry harbour to be towed to the Normandy coast, for "D Day" attack on the German wall, was built there by the Royal Engineers., The secret of the factory was well kept; high walls shut off the workshops from the roads, and buses travelling along that stretch of road were blacked out until "D" Day. when the cumbersome block of a breakwater was taken out to sea.

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green_acorn   
green_acorn

Neil,

Thank you for posting that, my maternal Great Grandfather was a RAE IWT officer, ending the war as the Deputy Director.

cheers,

Hendo

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NigelS   
NigelS

Neil

If you haven't already come across the site, there are some old maps of the area available at:

http://www.old-maps.co.uk/indexmappage2.aspx

Unfortunately there's no coverage between 1908 and 1938 (secrecy possibly?), but from what's been said previously, with the sight abandoned, the latter may represent how things were at the end of WWI

NigelS

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horatio2   
horatio2

As well as being a massive service port for the BEF, Richborough was a ship-building yard in WW1. The Fleet Air Arm Museum is currently restoring the destroyer-towed aircraft lighter H.21 - the oldest surviving 'aircraft carrier' in the world, dating from 1918. The lighters were designed to extend the range of the Curtiss 'America' and 'Feliixstowe' flying boats of the RNAS and some were later fitted with a wooden flying-off platform that could launch a 'Camel' fighter. H.21 and several others were built in the government shipyard at Richborough by the Royal Engineers. There were four building berths with two lighters built on each berth.

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The Guardroom   
The Guardroom

I read this topic with real interset today after making a search for the inland water companies of the RE.

I spent the weekend in Kent and happened to walk into the local cemetery at Minster, Thanet when taking my son for a walk.

I was surprised to see rows of RE graves, most dated 1917 / 1918 and thought I would seek info on the forum when I get back.

To little surprise, the comprehensive GWF comes back with an answer to why the RE graves were there in Minster, it being colse to the port establishment mentioned.

I guess that the deaths were caused by accidents on the river or in the port and the men buried nearby in Minster ? Was this dangerous work ?

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scotchegg75   
scotchegg75

There are very little remains in the area....

Just above your marking on the top right picture you can see the few bits of wood and metal shuttering from the berths. You can see these from the back of the Pfizer Social Clulb if you walk in without being spotted !

http://maps.live.com/default.aspx?v=2&...1&encType=1

I am not aware of anything else but could be proved wrong !!

Further south was Pearson's Wharf, Royal Engineer Warehouses, but these were within the main Pfizer Complex, and were demolished a couple of years back. I wandered around the site a few times when I was working there but nothing else remained.

Best source of information is "Richborough Port by Robert Butler - this was available locally (I got mine free when working there!)

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Neil Clark   
Neil Clark

Paul,

Thats helpful information thank you. I shall try get access from the Social Club and report back (hopefully with a few photos). Pity these buildings are being destroyed like this, they represent an important aspect of our heritage.

Neil

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Oldwisebadger   
Oldwisebadger
There are very little remains in the area....

Just above your marking on the top right picture you can see the few bits of wood and metal shuttering from the berths. You can see these from the back of the Pfizer Social Clulb if you walk in without being spotted !

http://maps.live.com/default.aspx?v=2&...1&encType=1

I am not aware of anything else but could be proved wrong !!

Further south was Pearson's Wharf, Royal Engineer Warehouses, but these were within the main Pfizer Complex, and were demolished a couple of years back. I wandered around the site a few times when I was working there but nothing else remained.

Best source of information is "Richborough Port by Robert Butler - this was available locally (I got mine free when working there!)

Sorry to drag up this old thread but I too have been researching the Port at Richborough. On page 14 of Robert Butlers book there is mention of an derelict Guard Room near Pearsons bridge (part of the old railway which serviced the port). Following the old train route and using the all powerful Google Earth I managed to locate the building which still stands. I went for an explore at the weekend and took these….

PICT0039.jpg

PICT0009.jpg

PICT0036.jpg

I hope this may be of some interest.

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phil@basildon   
phil@basildon

The Inland Water Transport Section of the RE was formed in December 1914 to operate and develop transport on the canals of northern France and Belgium. They were origionaly based at Dover but this proved unsatisfactory so a place was sought for them elsewhere. Work commenced at Richborough in 1916 and it was opened as a train ferry port on the 10th Feb. 1918. The port was connected to the East Kent Railway, one of the Col. Stevens lines. After the war problems were found with silting up of the river Stour and the port was abandoned. A lot of the equipment was removed and sold to the Great Eastern Railway who used it at Harwich. There were also 3 Train ferries (named TF1,2 and 3) that were also sold to the GER.

Col. Stevens tried to reopen the port in the 1920's but did not succeed.

A lot more information can be found in "Military Railways in Kent" by R.M.Lynne (1983)

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NigelS   
NigelS

Richborough Port's WWI service featured in tonight's (27/01/11) Great British Railway Journeys with both modern & WW1 footage of the site included. Click for programme details and iPlayer link (alternatively Click to skip the opening part and go directly to the start of the coverage on Richborough.)

NB only available on iPlayer until 5:59PM Fri, 11 Feb 2011

NigelS

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sotonmate   
sotonmate

Neil

The two ports at Richborough and Southampton were developed simultaneously for ro-ro rail and vehicular military traffic. I was surprised to read of and see this in an Archive file in Southampton Civic Centre,as I hadn't thought that Ro-Ro had begun anything like that early !

There are a few photos of the Southampton Ro-Ro berth in two photo albums entitled DOCKS EAST P143/1 and 2,which were presented to the Archive by relatives of two sisters (The Misses TEBBUTT) who attended the Docks in association with Welfare for the troops, and returning wounded for Netley Hospital. These developments must have been of a very similar nature.

Sotonmate

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EastSurrey   
EastSurrey

I read this topic with real interset today after making a search for the inland water companies of the RE.

I spent the weekend in Kent and happened to walk into the local cemetery at Minster, Thanet when taking my son for a walk.

I was surprised to see rows of RE graves, most dated 1917 / 1918 and thought I would seek info on the forum when I get back.

To little surprise, the comprehensive GWF comes back with an answer to why the RE graves were there in Minster, it being colse to the port establishment mentioned.

I guess that the deaths were caused by accidents on the river or in the port and the men buried nearby in Minster ? Was this dangerous work ?

Almost opposite the village cemetery at Minster stood the workhouse at Hill House.I believe a number of servicemen were treated in the infirmary there and some died.Some deaths in 1918 could be pandemic influenza related.I helped close Hill House Hospital in the mid 1980s and it was then demolished.

Michael

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ianjonesncl   
ianjonesncl

Fascinating !!!

Picture on LLT

Some further information on Kent Local History forum Richborough Train Ferry

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ianjonesncl   
ianjonesncl
NigelS   
NigelS

Thanks for posting those links Ian; The pictures in the first give an indication of the scale of the undertaking which is not really reflected in what's left today. Can't help wondering what might have happened to the area had the port been taken over for commercial operations post war.

NigelS

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nperkins   
nperkins

hi everyone

this is a really interesting thread and you guys have been very helpful to neil, and me.

my relative was Bertie Alfred MARTIN

A Tugmaster in the RE IWT

i would love to find out what this would have involved. from reading the thread it seems the IWT were used to ferry accross the channel and along the canals in france. does anyone know what the Tugmasters would have done?

his service record mentions Longmoor camp. was this the training base?

thanks

norman

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lmeyerovich   
lmeyerovich

I am checking facts for a memoir publication, and will be grateful for any information that either confirms, or corrects the fragment below about Richborough. It is written by a Russian traveller who visited it in 1921. The text below is a rough draft of the unpublished translation.

At the suggestion of the trade mission, engineer V.P. Ivitsky, Head of the Arcos technical section, and I went to Richborough, where these ferries were laid up. This harbor during World War I served as an embarkation point for almost all traffic from England to France, and was so well camouflaged, that it became known as the Mistery Harbour; ferries inspection gave us the opportunity to learn about this harbor.

During the First World War, for transportation across the channel, the British arranged in the mouth of the river Stour, located 4 miles south of Ramsgate, a special port, well-equipped with railways, cranes, all sorts of loading devices, with numerous barges and tugs, warehouses, barges for the troops, and so on.

This equipment included the abovementioned ferries. All port buildings are one-story, their walls and roofs are painted to match the general background of a low-lying area and as a result are camouflaged.

The military secret was so strictly and carefully observed by the British, that the existence of the port had been unknown to the Germans during the whole war; the port was often passed by the airplanes flying to drop bombs on London, where the bombs were striking civilians, and no bomb was dropped on Richborough, no airplane was ever targeted with a spotlight from it, and no shot, even from a rifle, was ever made.

The future of the port is remarkable. With all of its property and equipment, after the end of the war it was sold at an auction, and was bought by the town of Queenborough (the terminus of the line Flissingen - Queenborough), and, fearing competition, having purchased it, decided to destroy it: close the port, bring in part of equipment and sell the rest, sell the barges to be scrapped. This is why the ferries were available for sale or charter, but they were not suitable for the transportation of our locomotives.

Thanks,

Laura

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Terry_Reeves   
Terry_Reeves

Laura

It is true that the site was bought by the Queenborough Development Company who also put in bids for the Inland Water Transport dock facilities at Calais and Boulogne. The company intended to develop the docks, over a five year period, as a civilian port, but in 1923 the Government repossesed the site as Queenborough was unable to find the money to complete the sale. In the event, the port area was purchased by Pearson, Dorman, Long, the former having occupied the area pre-war, using it for making concrete blocks, and I believe was the owner of the gravel pit which became the lake that can be seen now.

Papers tracing the history of the sale can be found at The National Archives in MUN4/5081 and T161/114

TR

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NigelS   
NigelS

Laura, if you have access to The Times archive a search on 'Richborough' will find you quite a bit of general background information on the port post WW1; the ferries (there were three) were included as part of the original sale, and from 1924 served on the Harwich to Zeebrugge train ferry service. Some details of the ferries are given Here The gantry mentioned, removed from Richborough to Harwich, still survives and is now listed Click

NigelS

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lmeyerovich   
lmeyerovich

TR and Nigel,

Thank you for pointing me in the right direction! Based on your info, I found also this link http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1925/jul/29/sandwich-port-and-haven-bill to a Parlament Bill that adds to the history of the sale.

It appears that the sentence " With all of its property and equipment, after the end of the war it was sold at an auction, and was bought by the town of Queenborough" is not precise, and I should add a note that it was bought by a private Port of Queenborough Development Company, Limited. For a Russian traveller, the idea of private ownership of a port was rather alien, so the confusion is understandable.

Regards,

Laura

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NigelS   
NigelS

Thanks for the Hansard link Laura; the opening paragraphs give a concise history of the port up to 1925

NigelS

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Destroyerman   
Destroyerman

Wonderful thread and I hope that I can manage to resurrect it after more than three years!

I'm in mid process of building a 1:72 scale radio controlled version of Train Ferry No 3 at, or around acceptance from the builders, Fairfields of Govan, Glasgow in 1917.

Obviously I'm in need of information, not about the vessel itself, but such detail as "who crewed her"; Royal Engineers, RASC or neither. This info is required in order to understand which ensign to use for the vessel under War Department control; with it's own particular "defacement" if any. Also to capture the crew in their uniforms/fatigues in order that they may be accurately represented. (We don't want scabby matelots cluttering up the rail deck do we)??

If it is of any interest to members, I'm blogging the build on a website called "World Naval Ships Forums" and the link is here:

http://www.worldnavalships.com/forums/showthread.php?t=17522

The site is probably the foremost naval history website anywhere and, in order to see the images displayed in all blogs, it is necessary to join (for free)!! Just in time for Christmas.

Hoping I have managed to resurrect this thread on such an interesting subject.

Kind regards and Seasons Greetings.

Sandy.

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