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Whitstable Harbour Fish Market and seafood restaurant - geograph.org.uk - 924215.jpg
Whitstable Harbour Fish Market
Grid reference: TR107667
Location: 51°21’39"N, 1°1’33"E
Population: 30,195  (2001)
Post town: Whitstable
Postcode: CT5
Dialling code: 01227
Local Government
Council: Canterbury

Whitstable is a seaside town in north-eastern Kent, to the east of the outlet of the Swale into the Thames Estuary. It is found some 5 miles north of the City of Canterbury and 2 miles west of the seaside town of Herne Bay.

Whitstable is famous for its oysters, which have been collected in the area since at least Roman times. The town itself dates back to before the writing of the Domesday Book. Whitstable's distinctive character is popular with tourists, and its maritime heritage is celebrated with the annual Whitstable Oyster Festival. Freshly caught shellfish are available throughout the year at several seafood restaurants and pubs in the town.

In 1830 one of the earliest passenger railway services was opened by the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway Company, and in 1832 the company opened Whitstable harbour and extended the line to enable passage to London from the port. The railway has since closed but the harbour still plays an important role in the town's economy.


Oysters were harvested in the area in Roman times.[1] The remains of a Roman building have been found in the centre of the town. Charters indicate that there were Early English settlements where salt-making and coastal trade were carried out.[2]

The town was first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, under the name Witenestaple, suggesting an Old English original along the lines Hwitnestapol, which would mean meaning "white post", perhaps a local landmark, though perhaps there are other derivations. At that time, Witenestaple commanded an area which stretched from the coast to the village of Blean, 2 miles north of Canterbury. The area contained three manors at Seasalter, Northwood and Swalecliffe. The Seasalter and Swalecliffe manors were owned by the church, and the manor at Northwood was run by noblemen on behalf of the king. Fisheries were located at the Seasalter manor, saltworks were at the Northwood manor, and pigs were farmed at the forest in Blean.[3] By 1226, the name of the area had evolved into Whitstaple. Saltworks were opened at the Seasalter manor around the turn of the 14th century, and a sea wall was built there in 1325 to prevent coastal flooding.[3]

Harbour Street in Whitstable Town Centre

By 1413, the three manors had combined to form the Whitstaple manor, and had been sold to a religious foundation in Essex.[3] The manor was seized by King Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, and was sold into secular hands. A Royal Patent was granted in 1574 to the manor owner for the fishing of its oyster beds,[1] and in the same year, the lands at Tankerton were incorporated into the manor. A copperas works was established at Tankerton in 1588, which operated until about 1830.[4]

Around the mid-18th century, goods and passengers began to be transported by ship between London and Whitstable, and a toll road was built to the cathedral city of Canterbury. These improvements in transport led to the town's development as a seaside resort; the first advertisements for bathing machines at Whitstable appeared in 1768.

In 1790 the manor was sold to private landowners, and three years later the rights to harvest the oyster beds were bought by the newly established Oyster Company of Free Fishers and Dredgers.[5] Between roughly 1775 and 1875 the well smacks or early longliners out of Barking and other local fishing ports would collect lugworms and whelks from Whitstable's bait-diggers and fishing dredge|dredgers before beginning their tour for prime fish north to Iceland. Whelks suspended in net bags in the well could live for a while due to circulating fresh water.[6]

Whitstable Beach

On 3 May 1830, the world's first steam-hauled passenger and freight railway service was opened by the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway Company.[7][8] Designed by William James, the line ran six miles from Westgate in Canterbury to Whitstable town centre. The railway line's initials, C&WR, and Whitstable's shellfish industry eventually led to its nickname, the Crab and Winkle Railway. Trains were drven by a locomotive for part of the journey, but on inclined planes were pulled on ropes by steam-driven stationary winding engines located at Tyler Hill and Clowes Wood.[7][9][10] The locomotive used was the Invicta, an 0-4-0 inclined cylinder tender locomotive built by Robert Stephenson, the son of engineer George Stephenson.[7][11] Whitstable harbour was opened by the railway company in 1832, and the rail line was extended to enable goods, mainly coal, to be directly transferred from ships onto the trains.[9] In 1834, the world's first season tickets were issued for the C&WR line.[7]

Whitstable Harbour

The Invicta locomotive was retired in 1840 and replaced by horses until a third winding engine was built at South Street.[10] The Invicta was kept for scrap, but in 1898 work began on its restoration, which continued intermittently until its completion in 1977 by the National Railway Museum in York. On 3 May 1980 the locomotive was returned to Canterbury to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the line.[7]

In 1845, the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway Company was bought by the South Eastern Railway, who introduced steam locomotives capable of operating along the entire length of the railway.[7] A direct rail route from Whitstable to London was established in 1860 when the London, Chatham and Dover Railway opened a station on what is now the Chatham Main Line.[9]

On 16 November 1869, 71 buildings in the town were destroyed by a fire, which became known as The Great Fire of Whitstable. The fire started at a shop near the harbour.[12]

In about 1856 the first branch of the Sea Cadet Corps, then known as the Naval Lads' Brigade, was established in the town by the Reverend Henry Barton.[13]

Whitstable harbour with tarmac plant behind

A plant to manufacture tarmacadam was built beside Whitstable Harbour in 1936. The harbour gradually fell into decay after the Second Second World War, but in 1958 the Whitstable Urban District Council purchased and repaired the harbour with the intention of rejuvenating the town's economy.[14] By the early 20th century, the Oyster Company of Free Fishers and Dredgers had become the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company. Oyster harvesting drastically declined between the 1940s and 1970s due to pollution, disease, bad weather and underinvestment, although there has since been a gradual improvement.[1] The Crab and Winkle Line finally closed in 1953, but about a third of the line was reopened as a footpath and cycleway in 1999 under the stewardship of a local charity, the Crab and Winkle Line Trust.[10] One of the main developments to the town in recent years was the Horsebridge project. Completed in 2005, it was designed to regenerate a dilapidated area of the town with the construction of new shops and houses, a town square, and a community centre with a performance space and art gallery.[15]


The geology of the town consists mainly of London Clay (which covers most of North Kent).[16] The western part of the town is built on low-lying marshland resulting from the Swale outflow, and sea walls are in place to prevent coastal flooding. The land in the east is higher, with slopes down to the coast at Tankerton.[17] The whole of the north east Kent coast has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.[18]


The main activities at the harbour are fishing, fish processing, cargo handling and boat storage.[19] The harbour area is the site for other industries such as tarmac manufacturing and a maintenance port for an offshore windfarm.[20] Business parks located on the outskirts of the town provide premises for large retailers, offices and light industries.[21]

The town's distinctive character and ambience has led to a strong tourist industry, which is promoted each year by the Oyster Festival. As of early 2007, Canterbury City Council were planning to boost tourism by building retail developments in addition to the existing shopping centre.[22]


Whitstable Regatta

The Regatta is the town's longest established event, dating from a sailing contest between 26 boats from Whitstable and Faversham split into 3 classes (divisions) in 1792. A reporter at the scene wrote:

“Much nautical skill was displayed in the maneuvering of the various squadrons. Every hoy, smack, wherry etc. in the vicinity of Whitstable was crowded with company and formed quite a fair upon the ocean”.

In addition, at least two of the spectating boats had bands aboard and tents were erected along the shore which was lined with spectators.[23]

The Regatta continued to become the biggest event on the North Kent Coast in the 19th century. It has moved from the original Whitstable to Tankerton for more land based events with fairground and fireworks on the elevated Slopes. For many years run by the Council, the Whitstable and Herne Bay Lions Club have taken it on in the last 31 years. Future events will be more sea borne with yachting and rowing, and plans for swimming and even the traditional greasy pole.

Oyster Festival

The importance of oysters to the tradition of Whitstable is celebrated with the Oyster Festival in July each year. The nine-day festival starts with an opening parade on the nearest Saturday to St James' Day. The parade starts with the official "Landing of the Catch", followed by the procession of the oysters in a horse-drawn dray through the town, stopping to deliver the catch to local restaurants, cafés and public houses.

The rest of the festival consists of entertainment for both adults and children, with local art on display around the town, and many establishments offering local fish dishes.[24]

May Day

May Day is celebrated with the annual Jack-in-the-Green parade, with traditional English dancing throughout the town, a fair at Whitstable Castle and a maypole dance by local schoolchildren overlooking the sea. It has been run by Whitstable and Herne Bay Lions Club for 34 years.

Culture and art

The Whitstable Museum and Gallery displays artifacts and portraits relating to the town's seafaring traditions, with special features on oysters, diving and shipping. In 2001, the Museum was awarded the international Nautiek Award for services to diving history.[25]

The Playhouse Theatre Whitstable is owned and administered by theatrical group, The Lindley Players Ltd. The theatre is regularly hired out to other local groups such as The Canterbury Players, Herne Bay Operatic Society, Theatrecraft & The Deborah Capon College. More recently Nick Wilty has adopted the venue to host the OyOyster Comedy nights, attracting stars such as Harry Hill, Jo Brand and Paul Merton.[26]

The Horsebridge Arts and Community Centre opened in March 2004 as part of the Horsebridge redevelopment. Built with an "upturned boat" design, and three floors, the centre contains an art gallery, a performance space, art workshops, a learning area, and conference rooms.[27][28]

There are monthly beach cleaning sessions carried out alone the Whitstable sea front. They are organised by the Canterbury Council Foreshore service in conjunction with the Marine Conservation Society. The location of the beach clean alternates each month between the beach by the Neptune pub and the Sea salter end. Times and dates can be obtained for the Fore shore services or the MCS South East Groups website, calendar page.

Sights about the town

Harbour Street
Whitstable Castle
Black Mill

The town has shingle and sandy beaches flanking the harbour, where sunbathing, swimming and water sports are popular. The beaches east and west are unique amongst seaside towns in the south east of England for having no promenade; making them generally peaceful. An exception is Long Beach to the immediate east of the harbour where there is a base for jet skis.

A notable feature is The Street, a natural strip of shingle on clay bank which runs out to sea at right angles to the coast, for a distance of about half a mile. It is the last remnant of the Swale river valley to the north of the town lost to sea erosion over millennia. Located to the east of the harbour, The Street is revealed only at low tide, when it is possible to walk out along it as well as swim either side in safe, sandy bottomed shallows.[29] A view of The Street can be seen on the hilltop lawns of Tankerton Slopes.[30]

The Slopes are home to the largest population in England of the rare Hog’s Fennel.[31]

Whitstable Castle is situated on the border of Whitstable and the suburb of Tankerton. It was originally built as an octagonal tower in 1789 by Charles Pearson, the owner of a copperas company in the town and a future investor in the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway. However, Pearson later added to the building, developing it into a manor house. In 1836 the house, then known as Tankerton Tower, was bought by London businessman Wynn Ellis, who by 1842 had added a west wing, a bell tower and a lodge. The building had become known as Tankerton Castle by 1897, although it is now commonly referred to as Whistable Castle. Now managed by the Whitstable Castle Trust, the castle grounds is the only public park in the town and is a centre for community activity.[32]

Off the coast of Whitstable is a windfarm, consisting of 30 turbine]]s, each 460 feet high, intended to provide enough electricity to power 70,000 households.[33]

A now-redundant offshore Second World War sea fort is visible from the town's coast.[34] The pattern is known as a Maunsell Fort, Whitstable's liying 9 miles off-shore. Octagonal in shape, supported by four legs jutting from the sea.

Sailing trips are available from the harbour to the windfarm, the fort and a seal watching spot in the Thames Estuary.[35]

Island Wall, the closest street to the seafront, has numerous buildings dating from the mid-19th century including the Neptune and Wall Tavern pubs, and the Dollar Row cottages, which were built from the proceeds of a salvage operation on a ship carrying silver dollars.[36] The street is home to the Favourite, one of the few remaining Whitstable oyster yawls.[37] Built in 1890, it is now managed by the Favourite Trust, a charitable trust who undertake fund raising to maintain the historical vessel.[38]

A traditional windmill on Borstal Hill, built in 1815, is used as a motel.

The town is criss-crossed by numerous small alleys, once used by fishermen to reach the beach. Many of these are now registered as public rights of way and are still in frequent use. Squeeze Gut Alley whose name suggests (erroneously) that most people have to walk sideways due to its narrowness, is one of the more notable.[39]

The town claims the largest village green in England at Duncan Down; 52 acres.[40][41]


The Maunsell sea-fort
  • Watersports: The town is a popular destination for watersportsmen:
    • Whitstable Yacht Club established in 1904 is one of the oldest yacht clubs in Britain and takes part in local and national competitions throughout the year.[42]
    • The International Waterski Championships are held here each year.[43]
  • Football: Whitstable Town FC

Kitesurfing has become in recent year very popular in Whitstable too, due to its flat water conditions and exposure to the open sea.

Local media

  • Newspapers:
    • Whitstable Gazette
    • KM Extra
    • YourCanterbury
  • Whitstable Times
  • Radio: KMFM Canterbury

Whitstable in literature and popular culture

The playwright and novelist W Somerset Maugham was sent to live with his uncle in Whitstable, at age 10, after the death of his parents.[44] His novels Of Human Bondage (1915) and Cakes and Ale (1930) are set in the fictional town of Blackstable. It is likely that he based this town on Whitstable, as the names and description of places around Blackstable, including The Duke of Cumberland Inn and Joy Lane, are identical to places around Whitstable.[45]

The Old Neptune Pub on the seafront was used as a filming location for the 2006 film Venus (for which the Peter O'Toole earned an Oscar nomination).[46]

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Whitstable)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Whitstable Oyster Company". Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company. Archived from the original on 1 May 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20070501102314/http://www.oysterfishery.co.uk/history+of+the+company.html. Retrieved 29 March 2007. 
  2. Hallam, et al (1988). The Agrarian history of England and Wales. p. 922. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "1000 - 1500". Canterbury City Council. http://www.canterbury.gov.uk/cgi-bin/buildpage.pl?mysql=2426. Retrieved 29 March 2007. 
  4. "1500 - 1700". Canterbury City Council. http://www.canterbury.gov.uk/buildpage.php?id=2427. Retrieved 29 March 2007. 
  5. "1700 - 1800". Canterbury City Council. http://www.canterbury.gov.uk/buildpage.php?id=2428. Retrieved 29 March 2007. 
  6. March, Edgar J. (1950). Sailing Trawlers. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Searle, Muriel Vivienne (1982). Lost lines. pp. 11–13. 
  8. Railway Economics. 1912. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Armstrong, Alan. The economy of Kent, 1640-1914. p. 195. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 "Crab and Winkle Way" (PDF). Canterbury City Council. http://www.canterbury.gov.uk/assets/transport/crabandwinkle.pdf. Retrieved 29 July 2009. 
  11. Marshall, Chapman Frederick Dendy (1831). A history of railway locomotives down to the end of the year 1831. 
  12. Goodsall, Robert (1938). Whitstable, Seasalter and Swalecliffe. 
  13. "Whitstable Sea Cadets". Canterbury City Council. http://www.canterbury.co.uk/cgi-bin/buildpage.pl?mysql=334. Retrieved 21 April 2007. 
  14. "South Quay public consultation". Canterbury City Council. https://www.canterbury.gov.uk/buildpage.php?id=2323&prn=y. Retrieved 21 April 2007. 
  15. Glover, M. R. (2005). Whitstable Then and Now. Nonsuch Publishing. 
  16. Woodward, Horrace B (1904). Stanford's Geological Atlas. 
  17. "Kent". Encyclopedia.jrank.org. http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/JUN_KHA/KENT.html. Retrieved 21 April 2007. 
  18. "Geological Sites Map". Natureonthemap.org.uk. http://www.natureonthemap.org.uk/map.aspx. Retrieved 24 April 2007. 
  19. "Whitstable Harbour Annual Report 2006-07" (PDF). Canterbury City Council. http://www.canterbury.gov.uk/assets/harbour/harbourannualreport2006.pdf. Retrieved 23 April 2007. 
  20. "Whitstable Harbour". Canterbury City Council. http://www.canterbury.gov.uk/cgi-bin/buildpage.pl?mysql=1419. Retrieved 23 April 2007. 
  21. "Whitstable Enterprise Centre". Canterbury City Council. http://www.business.canterbury.gov.uk/buildpage.php?id=11. Retrieved 23 April 2007. 
  22. "Whitstable planning strategy". Canterbury City Council. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20070927040653/http://www.canterbury.gov.uk/buildpage.php?id=534. Retrieved 21 April 2007. 
  23. Robert Goodsall, quoting Kentish Gazette of 1792 (1938). History of Whitstable, Seasalter & Swalecliffe. 
  24. "Whitstable and the Oyster Festival history". Whitstable and the Oyster Festival. Archived from the original on 19 December 2006. http://web.archive.org/web/20061219183705/http://www.whitstableoysterfestival.co.uk/cgi-bin/buildpage.pl?mysql=11. Retrieved 21 April 2007. 
  25. "Whitstable museum and art gallery". Canterbury City Council. http://www.canterbury.gov.uk/buildpage.php?id=2394. Retrieved 21 April 2007. 
  26. "The Playhouse Theatre". theplayhousewhitstable.co.uk. http://www.theplayhousewhitstable.co.uk/. Retrieved 21 April 2007. 
  27. "Horsebridge Arts and Community Centre". Horsebridge-centre.org.uk. http://www.horsebridge-centre.org.uk/?q=node/5. Retrieved 1 August 2009. 
  28. Smith, Melanie K.; Robinson, Mike (2006). Cultural tourism in a changing world. Channel View Publications. p. 301. 
  29. "Top 10 beaches in the UK". SHE magazine. http://www.allaboutyou.com/escape/daysout/topbeaches/?MemID=6. Retrieved 19 April 2007. 
  30. "Tankerton Slopes". Canterbury City Council. http://www.canterbury.co.uk/thedms.asp?dms=13&p1=c&feature=1&venue=3030643&easi=true. Retrieved 21 April 2007. 
  31. "Whitstable". MaritimeHeritageTrail.co.uk. http://www.maritimeheritagetrail.co.uk/EN/loc_history.php?id=14. Retrieved 21 April 2007. 
  32. "Whitstable Castle Lottery bid". Canterbury City Council. http://www.canterbury.gov.uk/buildpage.php?id=3319. Retrieved 29 July 2009. 
  33. "Kentish Flats Offshore Wind Farm". Vattenfall. http://www.vattenfall.com/www/vf_com/vf_com/365787ourxc/366203opera/555848newpo/557004biofu/1466604ourxw/599930kenti/index.jsp. Retrieved 19 April 2007. 
  34. "The Maunsell Sea Forts". Whitstablescene.co.uk. http://www.whitstablescene.co.uk/forts.htm. Retrieved 19 April 2007. 
  35. "Bayblast Marine". VisitCanterbury.co.uk. http://www.visitcanterbury.co.uk/thedms.asp?dms=13&areaid=148&venue=3030676. Retrieved 21 April 2007. 
  36. "Diver's trail". Canterbury City Council. http://www.canterbury.gov.uk/cgi-bin/buildpage.pl?mysql=2420. Retrieved 19 April 2007. 
  37. "Favourite Oyster Yawl". National Historic Ships. http://www.nationalhistoricships.org.uk/ships_register.php?action=ship&id=1824. Retrieved 24 April 2007. 
  38. "Favourite Trust". Favourite Trust. http://www.favourite.org.uk. Retrieved 24 April 2007. 
  39. "Whitstable Alleyways". SeeWhitstable.com. 2006. http://www.seewhitstable.com/Whitstable_alleys.html. Retrieved 24 April 2007. 
  40. Duncan Down, Green Flag Awards, Keep Britain Tidy, retrieved 2011-09-28
  41. [/http://issuu.com/whitstableimp/docs/imp_oct "Duncan Down village green"]. Independent Media Publications. /http://issuu.com/whitstableimp/docs/imp_oct. Retrieved 30 September 2009. 
  42. "Whitstable Yacht Club". Whitstable Yacht Club. http://www.wyc.org.uk/. Retrieved 21 April 2007. 
  43. "Canterbury Guide to Places to Stay". Resort-guide.co.uk. 2005. http://www.resort-guide.co.uk/pagedest.php3?destcode=42. Retrieved 19 April 2007. 
  44. "Somerset Maugham". Spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Jmaugham.htm. Retrieved 21 April 2007. 
  45. Lonsdale, Sarah (24 April 2002). "Sea for sadness and solitude". London: The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/main.jhtml?xml=/property/2002/04/24/pwhitst.xml. Retrieved 19 April 2007. 
  46. "Peter O'Toole, A winner in waiting". TheIrishWorld.com. http://www.theirishworld.com/article.asp?SubSection_Id=10&Article_Id=1911. Retrieved 5 June 2007.