21st CENTURY BLUES: THE TOWN AND EAST KENT GAZETTE

The East Kent Gazette ran for 150 years. Its reports included the Crimean War, the building of the railway and a ‘barge strike and brickfields lock-out in the 1890s’. It closed in 2011 after the OFT prohibited its transfer (together with six other titles) from Northcliffe Media to the Kent Messenger Group. With a circulation of approximately 14,000, the East Kent Gazette served Sittingbourne and the surrounding area.

Today, when I walk through the town, I don’t recognize it.

Tattoo shops, nail parlours and To Let signs have replaced the bakers, butchers and greengrocers of my youth.

A brightly-lit mall has landed among the Dickensian shop-fronts, squatting among them like an alien spaceship. In the High Street a plaque commemorates ‘improvements to the town’.

Facing Central Avenue, the statue of a bargeman stands proudly at the wheel of his vessel; beside him, a dog whose bronze back has turned gold, burnished by children’s hands like the statue of a well-loved saint. The bargeman stares ahead, cheerful, confident. But the Creek is behind him. Where is he steering?

On the road to Canterbury, there’s a sign to the Barge Museum. But it’s been whited out. The museum burned down. Arson.

The town I knew is imploding.

A year after the mill was demolished, our local newspaper closed.

The Crimean War, brick-makers’ lock-outs, bargemen’s disputes and the spectacular crash of an enemy airplane in World War I, its three occupants falling to their deaths, one shattering his head against a brick wall: all were reported by The East Kent Gazette.

Our newspaper ran for 150 years. But modern regulation proved fatal. A failed takeover and the Gazette slipped out of sight.

The paper is gone. The presses are silent. Our story is ended.

Photograph: Traditional pawn shop sign, Sittingbourne High Street