Whitstable Tourist Guide
Come and explore this delightful town which is famous for its oyster festival!
Whitstable, with a population of around 30,000, is a seaside resort on the North Sea coast, facing Essex across the Thames Estuary and the Isle of Sheppey across the Swale. Whitstable is 5 miles (8 km) north of the historic cathedral city of Canterbury and 2 miles (3 km) to the west of the seaside town of Herne Bay.
Known as the ‘Pearl of Kent’, Whitstable is famous for its oysters, which have been fished in the area since at least Roman times. The town itself dates back to before the writing of the Domesday Book. Whitstable's individual character and atmosphere is popular with tourists and the maritime heritage is celebrated with a summer Oyster Festival in July each year. Freshly caught shellfish can be sampled throughout the year at several seafood restaurants and pubs in the town.
It is known that oysters were fished in the area in Roman times and charters have shown that there were Saxon settlements where salt production and coastal trade occurred. Whitstable itself was first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 under the name Witenestaple. It was given this name, meaning ‘the meeting place of the white post’, after a local landmark. It came from the Old English for ‘White Post’ - ‘hwitan stapole’ (commonly used as a land or sea mark at the time of its inception). The latest theory considers ‘Whit’ to be derived from Old English hwit or white - the thought being the collection of salt and the many salt works around the area would have given the terrain a white appearance. The second part of the name ‘staple’ is consistent with the Saxon ‘staple’ or market.
Fisheries were recorded as being positioned at the Seasalter manor, saltworks were at the Northwood manor and pigs were farmed at the forest in Blean. From around the mid 1700s, goods and passengers began being transported by ship between London and Whitstable, and a toll road was established to the cathedral city of Canterbury. These improvements in tranport 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 the rights to fish the oyster beds were then bought in 1793 by the newly established Oyster Company of Free Fishers and Dredgers.
After World War II the harbour gradually fell into decay and in 1958 Whitstable Urban District Council had to purchase and repair the harbour in order to rescue the town's economy. The ownership of the harbour later passed to Canterbury City Council in 1974. By the 20th century, the Oyster Company of Free Fishers and Dredgers had become the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company. The oyster production drastically declined between the 1940s and 1970s due to pollution, disease, bad weather and underinvestment. However, since the 1970s there has been a gradual improvement.
Whitstable harbour was built in 1832 by the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway Company in order to serve the ‘Crab and Winkle’ line, the world's first passenger railway service. The Crab and Winkle line also carried coal, and linked Canterbury and London via a steam ship from Whitstable harbour. By 1849, the town was reported in the local press as "Prospering rapidly thanks to the harbour and railways." During World War II, the harbour was used to transport munitions and grain, and sustained very little damage. However it fell into disrepair and was only kept alive by a group of local people after the closing of the Crab and Winkle line in 1952. After a town referendum, the Whitstable Urban District Council bought the harbour and repairs began. In 1947, the harbour came under the administration of Canterbury City Council and now covers fourteen acres with three quays. About 150 local people are employed by the harbour, where fishing, fish processing, coal and timber transport are still the main business activities. The harbour fish markets are popular with locals and visitors alike, and a restaurant is also situated in the harbour, ready to serve up the day's catch. In the summer months visitors flock to the stalls which spring up to delight their customers with all kinds of fresh sea food including the famous Whitstable oysters.
Whitstable is located on the north-east Kent coast. The town lies to the east of the outlet of The Swale into the Thames Estuary. The suburbs/villages of Tankerton, Swalecliffe and Chestfield lie at the eastern end of the town, Seasalter at the west, and South Street at the south. An area of protected woodland and grassland called Duncan Down lies to the south-east.
The geology of the town consists mainly of London Clay, which covers most of the North Kent coast. 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 hill slopes located by the coast at Tankerton. The whole of the north east Kent coast has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The Gorrell Stream, which rises in the hills at Duncan Down, flows into the sea near the harbour. The route of the stream is channelled down a covered conduit which runs under Stream Walk.
The 'Castle' used to be Whitstable's manor house, the oldest part being built in the 1790s by Charles Pearson, a London businessman who owned other interests nearby. He bought most of the land around the building and the title 'Lord of the Manor' from Lord Bolingbroke. The house was only used during the summer months as a residence by the sea. 1935 saw the building bought by the Whitstable Urban District Council to be used as local government offices. The billiard room was transformed into the council chamber! The grounds were opened as a public park in the same year to mark the Royal Silver Jubilee. In 1972, when Canterbury City Council took over local government, 'The Castle' became a busy community centre, and is now managed by the Voluntary Castle Association. Many events are held at the castle, including the annual May Day celebrations where all sorts of stalls are put up and live musicians and local artists put on displays for the town celebrations, as traditional local Morris dancers amuse the crowds. The castle also hosts many classes and workshops and the public are always welcome to visit and enjoy the attractive gardens surrounding the main building.
The town of Whitstable grew from the main road to Canterbury, now known as the High Street, and the alleyways developed as local residents needed greater access to the sea. The multitude of alleys also served as convenient escape routes for smugglers, as Whitstable was, like most Kentish coastal towns, awash with the illegal trade in tobacco and spirits, as well as people during the Napoleonic wars. Squeeze Gut Alley was once known as Granny Bell's Alley, due to the fact that a grandmother of sixteen children lived there. The reason for its present title quickly becomes clear as you try to pass through it! The walls on each side loom high and dark as the alley bottlenecks at the Island Wall end. The Old Favourite originated when various Whitstable pubs would take possession of nearby stretches of land in order to provide their customers with safe passage to and from their establishment. This alley was one such example, however today it is the site of ‘The Old Favourite’, an oyster yawl built over a hundred years ago for the oyster trade. It now serves as a traditional exhibit, and has recently been restored. Coastguard's Alley was where the coastguards built their quarters in an attempt to combat Whitstable's once thriving smuggling trade. Collar's Alley dates to the great freeze of 1895 when dozens of children would use this alley every morning to go to Mr. Collar's store where food, cocoa, and warmth were supplied free of charge. It was also once the site of a saw pit where planks would be cut for boats' timbers. The Horsebridge slipway once served as the approach route for horses to sailing ships lying off shore. The horses could paddle up to the flat-bottomed Thames barges which would sit on the sea bed at low tide. Oysters and iron pirates produced in Whitstable would be loaded here. The name may have been different in the past though, as apparently, a local pub called ‘The Bear and Key’ may hint at an older name – ‘The Baron's Quay’, named after a local lord of the manor.
In July each year, Whitstable celebrates its Oyster Festival. The nine day festival traditionally 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 various restaurants, cafes and public houses. The parade involves an assortment of entertainers including marching bands and people in costume. The rest of the festival consists of entertainment for both adults and children, with local art on display around the town and plenty of places to taste local fish dishes.
Whitstable Museum and Gallery is in Oxford Street and is open daily (except Sundays, Good Friday and at Christmas). Whitstable's distinctive coastal community and seafaring traditions are the main themes of the town's lively museum, with special features on oysters, diving and shipping. The fascinating collection - with frequent new additions - give townspeople and their visitors an idea of why Whitstable is here, how it grew and how it is changing over the years. In 2001 the Museum was awarded the international Nautiek Award for services to diving history. This was the first time the trophy had been awarded in the UK - the last recipient was the Naval Undersea Museum in Washington, USA. Further galleries show pictures of Whitstable's coast and the notable collection of ship 'portraits' which capture the town's trading links around the globe. A special display focuses on the rich wildlife of the local shoreline - the plants, fossils, shells and birds to be discovered there. Visit www.whitstable-museum.co.uk for further details.
Whitstable is very fortunate in having its own theatre, The Playhouse, which is owned and managed by The Lindley Players Limited. The theatre is hired out to other groups such as the amateur Phoenix Theatre Group and the professional Playtime Theatre Company. The Lindley Players, first formed in 1946 by Ralph Lindley, performed in local church halls until eventually - in 1980 - they purchased the then United Reformed Church. A lot of hard work by the members over the next year converted the church into a theatre seating 186. Various areas were later extended to give more rehearsal room, a scenery dock, a costume store and a workshop. Technical developments in all of the main areas continue as an ongoing project, the most recent being the computerization of the Box Office. The Lindley Players are renowned for their drama productions, pantomimes (queues forming from the night before the tickets go on sale) and Music Halls - these not only staged at The Playhouse but also at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, and the Central Conference Centre Theatre, London. Checkout www. theplayhousewhitstable.co.uk for details of events or call the Box Office on 01227 272042.
Tankerton Beach, Whitstable, is a popular seaside town with a well established commercial harbour supporting a small fishing fleet, mainly looking for shellfish. Tankerton beach is situated at the base of Tankerton slopes approximately 1 mile east of Whitstable town centre. The beach is of shingle composition giving way to sandy mudflats at low tide. There are a number of wooden beach huts along the length of the beach and a sailing club to the eastern end. There is free on-road parking at the top of Tankerton slopes and a number of pay and display car parks within the area.
A small but unique seaside wooden shop built in the 1930s, BlueBirds located in Whitstable is now home to a collection of paintings by Jon Bird, acrylic on a variety of media and the shop also features artwork of local views and seascapes with landscapes from Tuscany and cat pictures. Tel: 01227 273952.
Between Borstal and Millstrood Hills lies a green wedge of land that extends toward the centre of Whitstable. The eastern section is still farmed but to the west an area of public land has been preserved for recreation. This is known as Duncan Down. Duncan Down is carefully maintained but retains a natural look with shrubs, trees and sweeping swathes of roughly cut grass. The southern section forms a plateau that dips gently eastward to a small dyke (The Gorrell Stream). The northern section is more severe - descending sharply towards the town and providing splendid views of the Thames Estuary.
The Whitstable Fish Market at South Quay, The Harbour, 01227 771245 is a premium UK retailer of fresh seafood fish and shellfish. It is also situated on the site of the original Crab & Winkle Railway Line Goods sheds, and is one of the biggest retail fish / seafood markets in Britain.
In St. Johns Church, Argyle Rd, Whitstable Farmers Market is where organic farmers from within 30 miles of Whitstable sell their own produce in the very heart of the town. Beef, lamb, pork, bacon, sausages, vegetables from 3 farms, fruit juice, wild food lunch, game, bread, cakes and buns all made in Whitstable with organic flour. Also cheese from Kent and Sussex. Telephone 01227 770836.
In Bellevue Road, Whitstable Sport Centre offers more energetic ways of enjoying a holiday (Tel: 01227 274394) and Whitstable Swimming Pool in Harbour Street (Tel: 01227 772442) is located on the seafront and within walking distance from the town centre. The pool provides a varied swimming programme that includes sessions for serious swimmers, general swimmers and children. There are also a number of water fitness classes available for those that want to get fit in the water. A fully equipped gym is also included as a part of this fitness complex. If you fancy laying back and enjoying the latest feature film visit the Imperial Oyster Cinema in the Royal Native Oyster Stores Tel: 01227 770829.
Fancy a round of golf? Visit Chestfield Golf Club.
Abacus Cars Taxi Kiosk Station Approach Railway Avenue Tel: 01227 277728
Ace Taxis 1 Red Lion Lane Tel: 01227 262120
Airport Cars 2000 44 Downs Avenue Tel: 01227 262444
Airports Plus 28 Norview Rd Tel: 01227 264855
Chariot Taxis 114-118 Cromwell Rd Tel: 0800 654321
Chestfield Cars 25 Laxton Way Chestfield Tel: 01227 793090
Elite Business Travel 31 Ivy House Rd Tel: 01227 282300
Hunters Cars1 Red Lion Lane Tel: 01227 261161
Road Cruisers 59 Sherwood Drive Tel: 01227 363620
Rose's Taxis 12 Lucerne Drive Seasalter tel: 01227 772068
Tower Cars114-118 Cromwell Rd Tel: 01227 771770
Whitstable Taxis1 Red Lion Lane Tel: 01227 261561
Whitstable railway station is on the Chatham Main Line which runs between Ramsgate in East Kent and London Victoria. Other stations on this line include Broadstairs, Margate, Herne Bay, Faversham, Gillingham, Rochester and Bromley South. Whitstable is around 1 hour and 20 minutes from London by fast-service train. The ‘via Chatham’ description is important to spot as there is another route to Margate and Ramsgate that meanders through the centre of Kent missing the North Kent coast and Whitstable altogether! A selection of trains run to London's Cannon Street station, mainly for business commuting.
A National Express coach service runs between London Victoria and Ramsgate, around every two to three hours during day time. There is a Stagecoach bus service running every twenty minutes to neighbouring Herne Bay and Canterbury, where many Whitstable residents go to work and shop.
The A299 road, known as the Thanet Way, runs between Ramsgate and Faversham via Herne Bay and Whitstable, and merges with the M2 motorway at Faversham.
Whitstable and Tankerton Hospital is at 174-176 Northwood Road, Tel: 01227 594400 http://www.kentandmedway.nhs.uk/local_nhs_services/hospitals/whitstable_and_tankerton.asp
Harbour Dental Practice, The Harbour St. Tel: 01227 770639.
Chestfield Dental Practice, 41 Chestfield Rd, Chestfield, Whitstable, Tel: 01227 793799.
Kelvin House Dental Surgery, 2 Nelson Rd. Tel: 01227 771323
Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015