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Sittingbourne in the twenty-first century

Home / History / The History of Sittingbourne / Sittingbourne in the twenty-first century
Sittingbourne today is very different from how it was, say, 150 years ago. It is not a town people visit for the quality of its shops or sightseeing, and it has never made the most of its history or heritage, but that said, a heritage museum was established in 1997 by a group of like-minded people. It was founded and funded on a voluntary basis and is housed in a former shop, thanks to the generosity of its owner, optician John Frewin. Most of the old inns and hotels upon which the town was founded have gone, replaced by shop units. Up until the mid-twentieth century these shops were mostly local businesses but from then on they were gradually replaced by multi-national stores. And today we find many High Streets in Britain are in serious decline due to customers’ preference for shopping electronically via the Internet rather than trudging from shop to shop. 

Many factors have conspired to increase the size of the town’s population from 93 in 1566 to 3,000 in 1801, 8,000 in 1861 and 16,800 in 1921. This has been brought about by the town’s economy changing from agrarian-based, to industrialisation, to what we have today which is difficult to define. The electrification of the railway in the 1950s made Sittingbourne a dormitory town for London commuters and new housing estates sprung up to accommodate them. These new estates gradually eroded away our remaining agricultural land and the town’s population continued to rise to 23,600 in 1961 and 41,409 in 2001. By now this figure will have significantly increased. 

As we go into the twenty-first century Sittingbourne is once again poised for change but in what direction it is not certain. The use of its High Street is declining at an alarming rate and shops shut down almost every month. A new commercial stimulus is urgently needed.