Richborough - Encyclopedia

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"RICHBOROUGH, a port on the left bank of the mouth of the Stour river, Kent, England, 14 m. N. of Sandwich, created by the Government during the World War as a base for the expedition of materiel to the armies in France and Flanders. The port was planned in June 1916, primarily to relieve Dover of this class of transport. The site chosen consisted of an expanse of marshland through which the Stour flowed as an insignificant stream. The work of construction was under the control of the Inland Waterways and Docks Section of the Royal Engineers, and involved the reclamation of a large tract of swampy foreshore, the widening and deepening of the waterway, the construction of a wharf and jetty nearly a mile in length equipped with powerful cranes and of docks for the building and repair of certain kinds of craft, the erection of acres of hutments and store-sheds, and the laying of some 50 m. of railway sidings. The work was rapidly pushed forward, the workers at one time numbering 20,000; and eventually a self-contained cantonment arose, having its own postal, police, lighting and other services.

The base was operated in a comparatively small way at first but developed into an undertaking of gigantic proportions. At the outset, steamers and barges were used to convey the war material across, until the French ports became congested; then special barges were introduced to take goods direct into the French canals and thence as close to the firing line as possible. In 1917, speed of transport of material becoming extremely urgent, it was decided to establish a train-ferry service; it came into operation at the end of that year, and the hoisting of cargoes by cranes into barges was largely superseded. Three ferries plied incessantly between Richborough and Calais and Dunkirk, connecting railhead in England with railhead in France. In all, 4,000 barge loads of ammunition, 17,818 guns and limbers, and over 14 million tons of other stores were sent across.

The ferries, specially designed and built at the works of Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth & Co. of Elswick, were of 363 ft. overall length, 61 ft. beam and 3,654 tons displacement. Four lines of rails on deck gave accommodation for 54 ten-ton wagons carrying an average load of 900 tons. A lifting bridge at the wharf-end, which the ferry approached stern on, enabled accurate connection of rails at all suites of the tide, the process of embarking a train requiring ordinarily not more than 15 minutes.

For the protection of the base, a monitor was stationed in Pegwell Bay, and searchlights and heavy and anti-aircraft guns were mounted at many points. Repeated air-raids took place in the vicinity and there were several bombardments from the sea, but Richborough itself was never seriously damaged, the low-lying, featureless character of the marshland probably affording its best protection, more especially at night.

For a year after the Armistice, Richborough continued to deal with vast quantities of material returned from the western front. After the sale and disposal of the surplus military stores and equipment, the port, with the remaining equipment and the fleet of ferries and barges, was sold by the Disposal Board for £1,407,000 (plus the cost up to £40,000 of acquiring the land by the Government) to the Queenborough Development Co., who thus acquired 1, 500 ac. of land including 250 ac. that were reclaimed from the swampy foreshore. In 1921, the company proposed to work Richborough as a barge and train-ferry port, ancillary to Queenborough, both centres to serve the requirements of a comprehensive scheme of industrial development in the surrounding districts including the Kent coal-fields.

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