THE OLD SHEER NONSENSE
By Jack Vaughan
On page 5 of the November newsletter a small item caught my eye under “Bygone Kent” Vol. 22. An Ashford Lady recalls being raised next door to an old public house, which she refers to as ‘Ye Olde Sheer Hulk’. I remember it (just about) and I looked it up in Volume 1 of Vincent’s’ "Records of the Woolwich District". An excellent ‘Plan of West Woolwich in 1748 is on page 41. It covers the streets and alleys adjacent to the Royal dockyard main gate in one of which the pub stood. It appears on the map as ‘New Alley’ but at the time that Vincent was writing his two volumes this name had been changed to "Martyrs Passage".
In recent years the area, has, needless to say, been destroyed. I have a map of Woolwich Pubs drawn in 1950, which shows the pub but not the passage. I would welcome knowledge of the survival of Martyr’s passage.
Perhaps the name of the pub is of interest. ‘Sheers’ (or Shears) were a special type of lifting structure used in dockyards for inserting or removing masts in wooden vessels. The word 'hulk' is famously used to describe cut down obsolete battleships for accommodating convicts for deportation- the practice ended with the American War of Independence.
It is likely that some shears were carried in hulks to form a type of floating crane. I recall that the pub was said to have been built using timber from the Royal Dockyard, which closed in 1869.
I have found further information on the pub in a booklet on ‘Woolwich, Plumstead and Neighbourhood’ – the date is unknown by certainly no later than 1890. Some of this is reproduced below.
The " Old Sheer Hulk," Church Street, Woolwich -
The " Old Sheer Hulk," another of the branch establishments, (of the Woolwich Distillery and the Old Shakespeare’s Head) is a house with many associations, having been one of the institutions of Woolwich for many years. In the porch of the house attention is attracted by a painting of the " Old Ship," and the words of the song, "Tom Bowling," by Dibdin, appear below. Many of our readers may regret that the "Old Sheer Hulk" has been restored and improved under Mr. G. H. Campbell's proprietorship. It has, however, now been brought into line with modern requirements, and it is fitted up in the very latest and. most effective style. The house stands opposite to the Royal Dockyard gates, and has always been well patronised by the navy, this patronage still being extended to it, even in its rejuvenescent form. The hotel is singularly well conducted, being under the personal management of Mr. Walter Campbell, the brother of the proprietor. We should also mention that this is the head quarters of, the West Woolwich Cycle Club.