For some time, I have had one ‘close to home’ bucket list item missing from my history of Tita Falcieri, and there’s really no excuse for it. Just a half hour drive or so from my parents house lies the first point of call for Lord Byron after he was returned to England following his death in April 1824. There isn’t much information regarding the arrival. We have to turn to John Cam Hobhouse for the best information.
On 1st July 1824 he had travelled from London to Rochester in Kent where he spent the night and on the 2nd, travelled by road out to the Medway to meet The Florida, the brig that had arrived from Greece on 29th June carrying Byron’s body and his attending household. His diary reads:
‘Up early – off, a little before eight, in a chaise for Stangate Creek – fifteen miles. Could not get within two miles of the shore, but walked over the marshes and got into a boat which took me to the Florida, which was just under weigh.’
The Florida had moored temporarily for quarantine purposes on a sandbank called The Nore which sits about half way between Shoeburyness on the Essex coast and Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. You can’t see it from the shore although evidence can be picked out on Google maps. The Nore had been a quarantine point for boats heading up the Medway for the Thames and London, for hundreds of years, and the Florida’s placement there was a part of procedure that could not be avoided. It remained there for five days before being cleared to sail onwards for London.
The land around that part of Kent is treacherous and marshy and today, thanks to private land orders, even less accessible than it was back in 1824. We don’t know how close Hobhouse managed to get to the boat in the creek or from what point on the marshes he had to walk to pick it up, but today the closest you can get is Raspberry Hill Lane just outside Lower Halstow. The ordanance survey map below shows just how tricky it was:
From there you can see over Barksore Marshes to the mouth of Stangate Creek:
The vista, I don’t suppose, has changed much apart from the obvious wind turbines, pylons and smoke belching chimneys that denote the horizon. Yet it is so quiet here you can hear nothing but the call of Curlews and Oystercatchers. There is a definite atmosphere to it but there is nothing else much to see.
Our next point of call was Sheerness where you can stand on the beach and see the stretch of water where the Florida had waited patiently for its next instruction in the summer of 1824. It is a pebble beach, strewn intriguingly with many large oyster shells. On a pleasant day, such as the one we were lucky enough to have just after Christmas, it is serene, and equally quiet as the marshes, save for the odd dog walker.
From the sea wall and promenade you can scan the horizon across to Garrison Point Fort to the left, around which Hobhouse’s boat would have had to of travelled…
…and across that stretch of the Medway to Essex. Somewhere in the midst of all this lies The Nore.
Afterwards we headed back via Lower Halstow and took a late but much needed lunch and a pint at the very welcoming The Three Tuns, a pub which may well have seen Hobhouse’s passing as he headed towards Stangate Creek, built as it was, in 1468.
Neither Tita, nor any of the crew from the Florida stepped on land at this point. Hobhouse joined the Florida, and when Zambelli’s thorough paperwork had been examined and cleared, the boat was cleared to head for London where Byron’s body was removed and laid in state at Edward Knatchbull’s premises.
There aren’t too many images of The Medway or Stangate Creek from Byron’s time but Turner did use it for some of his paintings and it shows a far more bustling waterway than what we see today. Most craft are now for pleasure rather than for business but I don’t think the serenity of this place has changed much over the last 194 years.
If you are looking for somewhere to gather your thoughts and immerse yourself in what the landscape may have been like back then, this is the place to come.