I went to the reserve earlier today but with a gale force wind and horizontal drizzle blowing across the marsh and me getting very damp, I quickly decided that I'd leave such unrewarding conditions to those that feel it classes them as somehow superior, and returned home after an hour.
No such weather on Saturday afternoon when in hot, humid and sunny conditions I enjoyed for the first time in my life the opportunity to look round the recently repaired remains of Shurland Hall, it was open to the public for just three hours.
To those of us that have lived all of our lives on Sheppey, Shurland Hall has always been this mysterious and empty Elizabethen hall that stand on its own in fields to the rear of Eastchurch village on Sheppey. Somewhere that we could never visit or get close too as it yearly fell into disrepair and our only ancient building of great historical significance. Recently however a London based charity, with grants from the government and others, spent a few years replacing the Hall's derelict roof, rebuilding the chimneys, re-pointing large parts of the outside and repairing all the inside rooms, although they remain bare.
In the picture below you can see members of the public enjoying views of the surrounding Sheppey countryside from the roof.
The chimneys had to be rebuilt exactly as they were, with only old photographs as a guide and even used mortar mixed with local seashells, exactly as originally. Even more impressive, if you double click on the photo and enlarge it, is the fact that the brick work in the chimney spirals, a superb piece of re-created skill by a modern day lady bricklayer!
Something that impressed me whilst on the roof, were the views, it must be one of the few places on Sheppey where the view on all four sides remains pretty much as it was hundreds of years ago - no housing estates etc. just old farmland.
Shurland Hall has connections with two of Sheppey's most famous families from the Middle Ages - the de Shurlands and the Cheyneys.
The original Shurland Hall, some say castle, had stood on the site and been owned by the de Shurlands for many years before being inherited by one Sir Thomas Cheyne in 1496. He did not like what was by then an old hall and so between 1510 and 1518 built a new and splendid hall, surrounded by twelve, square, walled quadrangles. It was classed at the time as a "stately residence" and had no expense spared on it. It was the main hall to a huge estate that took in most farms and marshes at that end of Sheppey.
In 1532 King Henry VIII and his new wife Anne Bolyne stayed at the Hall for a few days whilst on their honeymoon and en-route to see Francis I in France. They were entertained at near financially crippling expense by Sir Thomas Cheyne, to great feasts and much hunting on the estate.
It seems that by the early 1600's the Hall had already begun to fall into disrepair and went through several changes of ownership, none of them continuing to spend much money on it.
Apparently the last time it was occupied was during WW1 when soldiers were billeted there, resulting in the place being left much damaged. And that was how it remained until recent renovations, a mystery place to us Sheppey dwellers and now up for sale at 1.8 million pounds.