The industrial revolution
This led to another of Sittingbourne’s industrial developments, the barge industry. The bricks and cement had to be transported to wherever they were needed and Sittingbourne rather conveniently stands on the bank of a waterway which could take the barges to almost anywhere in the country. In days gone by, waterborne transport was the preferred option, so rivers and canals were like early motorways; the barges can be likened to today’s juggernauts. As the country’s demand for more bricks and cement grew, it was found that larger vessels were needed to transport them. This resulted in the creation of the Thames spritsail sailing barge, large, flat-bottomed vessels with leeboards which made them ideal for use in shallow waters and despite their size, they could be crewed by only two people. They had a 40ft mainmast and a 30ft topmast which could be lowered when approaching bridges. They became the industrial workhorse of the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries.
Another major player in the town’s industrial revolution was paper making. It had been undertaken here since about 1737 but by the mid-nineteenth century Edward Lloyd had arrived and he began a major expansion programme which eventually included another paper mill at Kemsley, a dock at Ridham on the Swale and a narrow gauge railway linking all three. The paper mill became the town’s largest employer right up until the mid-twentieth century.