Medway Heritage Harbour Designate

'Medway Queen' at Gillingham Pier, 2016
©Wikimedia Commons, Clem Rutter

Introduction

The following proposal is a joint initiative by; the Maritime Heritage Trust (MHT), the National Historic Ships (NHS) Shipshape Network, and; the Medway and Swale Boating Association, with strong support from the European Maritime Heritage (EMH)

That the Tidal Medway, be designated as the first of a series of British 'Heritage Harbours’"

This follows similar initiatives in The Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany, where ageing ports and harbours, with areas of diminishing commercial shipping, have recognised the great value in developing the often superb, historic buildings and mooring facilities for historic vessels.

Martine van Lier is the Chair of the European Maritime Heritage Cultural Council and has been largely responsible for the establishment of the ‘Heritage Harbour’ concept in the Netherlands. The following are extracts from her email, after reviewing our proposals:-

‘You make a convincing and very attractive plea for uplifting the River Medway and the extension of the Chatham Dockyard with a Heritage Harbour for British historic vessels as well as visiting vessels from abroad. The ingredients and conditions are excellent as is the location relative to the continent.’

‘EMH do not yet have a strict definition, because every country that has heritage harbours makes its own set of criteria.’

‘In the Netherlands we use the term 'heritage harbour' for the ensemble of a traditional harbour with traditional ships that belong together and that tells the story of their history and development as well as their role in today’s surroundings and communities.’ 

‘Most of the Dutch heritage harbours started with telling the stories of the more tangible aspects as the harbour itself, the harbour architecture and the vessels, but more and more harbours recognise that people, neighbours and visitors are also interested in the intangible aspects, such as the maintenance, the traditional maritime food and music and songs. People like to be part of it and to experience the drive of the people who sail traditional vessels, instead of only reading technical data.’ 
Martine van Lier

On the Medway we already have the magnificent Chatham Historic Dockyard with great national and international footfall. We have one of the best collections of historic vessels in Great Britain, including three ‘in commission’ steam ships with TID 164 soon to join them. We have annual maritime events such as the Chatham Maritime Trust Food and Wine Festival and the Medway Council River Festival. Visitors to the Medway towns, locals and tourists, have a latent interest in maritime heritage, but the lack of marketing of facilities outside the historic dockyard, means that this interest is not stimulated. This is about to change.

In June this year the Medway Council and the local business communities joined forces to launch ‘Medway Place’ at the historic dockyard, as a means of promoting Medway as a leading waterfront city and economic powerhouse for the region. The key themes are; Making maritime history, celebrating our stories; Cultivating innovation and creativity, and; Valuing our Waterside. So, it can be seen how well our Medway Heritage Harbour proposal sits with ‘Medway Place’ initiative. The Queen of the Medway fleet should of course be the Medway Queen. The establishment of the Medway Heritage Harbour, together with other EMH proposals for the safe operation of historic ships, could gain the necessary derogations to enable her to carry passengers again. 

‘There are now about 30 heritage harbours in the Netherlands, small ones with 10 vessels or less and the biggest with 150. The endeavour to form ensembles of harbours and vessels that belong together is not always easy, because most vessels have private owners, who also have their own reasons for choosing a location for their vessel. But we see that harbours are developing more and more their own specific appearance and that is recognisable and attractive to the skippers as well as to the public. So for instance: Amsterdam wants to be the heritage harbour with the most original ships, Rotterdam wants to tell the full story of the development of the inland vessels, Zeeland has small harbours with just 5 or 10 wooden fishing boats, nowadays used as private yachts, in Friesland there is a harbour with wooden boats that still go out fishing in a traditional manner, Spakenburg has 30 wooden boats and a shipwharf that educate shipcarpenters, Kampen as a Hansa-town has a replica of a Kogge as the central vessel, Den Helder as a naval city also has naval vessels including a submarine and a dockyard.’
Martine van Lier

In the UK investment in maritime heritage has often been in areas long established as attractive tourist areas which also attract residency. The designation of ‘Historic Harbour’ status in urban ports, such as; Medway, Portsmouth, Hull etc.,  would bring enormous benefit to the lives of many. However, smaller attractive waterside towns, such as Faversham and Queenborough, would also benefit from ‘Historic Harbour’ status by providing a common objective theme to bring together factions and organisations with subtlety differing agendas. A national approach through Shipshape Network would provide a balance and identify specialisations.   

‘What we see is that the shipowners, sometimes together with maritime museums, took the lead in developing heritage harbours, sometimes even with opposition from the local authorities. Just the last few years the situation is tilting: local governments more and more recognize the potential of their harbours and the combination of harbours and traditional vessels as giving the environment a sense of place. This year the Dutch national government has also started to understand that heritage harbours have qualities, not only historical, but also spatial, social, educational, touristic and economical. I am working on a study commissioned by the Heritage Department of heritage harbours and the possibilities for juridical protection and policy measures to safeguard and consolidate them. I hope at least that this study will amplify the attention for maritime heritage by governments and stimulate them to think of ways of sustaining heritage harbours.’   
Martine van Lier

Brian Corbett, OGA representative at the Maritime Heritage Trust

Published: 
3 Jan 2019