Before you read on, understand that this is an opinion article based on historical fact and a love of Whitstable which encompasses all of its parishes.
In one of my Whitstable Times history articles in 2013 and expanded on in a talk to a Women’s Institute meeting, I used the phrase that some supermarkets like to use in shifting some bought-in merchandise, WIGIG for short, meaning “When it’s gone, it’s gone”.
However, I was using this as an analogy to describe the loss of parts of Whitstable’s heritage over the years and the current acceleration in regard to houses, particularly along Marine Parade in Tankerton.
There are perfectly clear reasons why this is happening:
When the Tankerton Estate was mapped out in 1893 the plots sizes were fixed, but the uptake at first was slow. The plans were quite adventurous and this was the first time that a project of this size had been attempted within the town’s boundaries. This was to be ‘Tankerton-on-Sea’, a modern development with a gridded system of road layout, with more space for each house, with the north part avoided the working class terraced street style of Whitstable’s town centre. Within the plans the mainline railway would have a halt where visitors could alight from London and walk along a wide avenue, full of shops and businesses, straight to the Slopes and the sea where a pier was to be built.
Some of these aspirations, reliant on third parties, never saw the light of day. Pier Avenue was built and did indeed take walkers to the front, but by that time businesses had set up along the main thoroughfare through Tankerton, starting from the junction of St. Anne’s Road and Tankerton Road. The pier was built, known locally as the ‘Iron Bedstead’ because it resembled one, but was purely functional to provide a safe landing stage for all the hoped for hoards of visitors arriving by sea and had nothing of the grandeur we would expect from a Victorian seaside pier. It barely lasted into the 20th century.
The shape of the western and southern perimeters of the estate were influenced by the remaining parts of Tankerton Castle’s grounds and the mainline railway track. To the east it abutted the original Herne Bay Road, which started near the top of Church Street and eventually became sectioned into Ham Shade’s Lane, Bennell’s Avenue, Herne Bay Road and St. John’s Road in 1947.
The current road layout is fairly true to this plan, but with Kingsdown Park becoming residential instead of recreational. Whereas the sale of inland plots was steady those of the larger sea-facing plots was much slower. There were early substantial constructions such as Cliff House and what we now know of as the Marine Hotel, but despite auctions other progress along Marine Parade was patchy and piecemeal.
This picture, taken in 1927, 34 years after the original plan, gives an idea of the problem. In fact the area most filled along the front was that taken up by beach huts on the lower parts of the Slopes.
Over the years the plots were gradually purchased and built on. What this long period of development left us with was a road, overlooking the sea, with a large range of architectural styles and therefore with no common vernacular for new buildings to adhere to. To add to this, many people who bought plots did not build large houses to fill them, often just as large as they needed them for their family and sometimes only single storey such as a bungalow.
In a way the differences in style and size over the years that gave Marine Parade its muddled appearance tells this story visually and is part of the character of this area.
Nowadays, when sea views command an optimum price and with some properties that cover only a small proportion of the footprint of the plot they were built on, it is easy to see why older, smaller buildings are being demolished and more than one new dwelling is being built to replace them. In addition we have seen larger properties partially demolished and rebuilt as apartments. If the land these sat on was not worth more than the property previously on it, we would never have witnessed this. All the time that the demand outstrips the cost of this type of redevelopment then it will continue until the character of the road and the area is lost forever.
All of the reasons why Marine Parade developed the way it did mean that it’s virtually impossible to lodge a successful appeal against plans for further development of this type.
Now we come to Peggotty House. When this went on the market in 2013 I warned that the price suggested that the plot would be redeveloped. I assumed that the house would remain but the side part of its wide plot would have another house built on it. I was wrong. The plans are to demolish Peggotty House and build apartments on the whole plot. The argument that this house has architectural significance have been discounted, so why can’t I accept that all is lost?
The house was built in the early 1930s, although it looks much older, so historical importance as a reason to leave it alone appears to be invalid. My counter to it not being architecturally important is, that for this to be valid, then the whole of the Chestfield Tudor Estate, built about the same time would also have to be decreed as such. I cannot believe that permission would be given for any of those houses to be demolished as they are an integral part of the modern Chestfield Village.
The connection between these houses and Peggotty House is that they not only were built by the company owned by George Reeves, their frames of oak all come from the demolished, much older, building that was Hales Place in Canterbury, just the other side of the ancient Blean Forest from Chestfield. This means that the (mock) Tudor Estate and Peggotty House are, in part, very much older than the 85 or so years since they were constructed.
Because George built Peggotty House for himself and his family to live in, he saved one piece of timber especially for it. This was a section taking from over an inglenook fireplace from Hales Place. He reconstructed that fireplace in his new home and included that section. On it is carved the date when it was originally built into Hales Place. I saw this some 15 years ago when I visited Peggotty House on business and having told the lady owner that no house along Marine Parade could possibly be that old, she recounted the house’s history to me.
Why choose a name like Peggotty for the house? This is simply explained. From George’s younger days in Whitstable, he would have had the memory of an aged oyster smack of the local fleet, the ‘Two Sisters’, which was hauled up on the beach and upturned. The local shipwrights made a door and windows then cut them into the hull. This was used in the original silent film made of Charles Dicken’s ‘David Copperfield’. It was of course Peggotty’s house. When you look at the current Peggotty House in Marine Parade, you will now understand why its shape is reminiscent of the upturned hull of a boat.
Whilst planning committees find it difficult to reject building plans these days with the pressure to build more and more houses, it is not beyond them to reject an application to demolish a perfectly usable dwelling.
Peggotty House is quintessential Whitstable at its best, quirky, unassuming and honest. All it wants is a family to fill it and to remain watching over the sea as it was built on this spot to do, otherwise it would have been part of the Chestfield Tudor Village.
None of the reasons that it should be simple left to do this are likely to satisfy the civil servant, draughtsman or developer, but by continuing this vandalism unheeded it ultimately destroys the resident’s perception of the town they call home. That perception and the sense of community it induces is a major factor in its popularity and the reason incomers want to live here. This a fine balance and I fear that the loss of Peggotty House may tip the scales and burst the bubble.
We glory in the praise of our High Street, with less vacant shops than most and the fact that it isn’t the same as all the clone towns, but we don’t seem to notice the creeping menace of the cloning that is happening to many of our most characterful residential areas.
Perhaps it is now time to take stock. Is Peggotty House part of the Whitstable we want, or are we happy to see it go?
Remember, when it’s gone, it’s gone. That means forever.
1) From The National Archives in reference to Hales Place.
In 1658 the Hales family of Woodchurch inherited the St Augustine’s Abbey site, Canterbury, and the gatehouse through the marriage of Edward Hales, 2nd Baronet, with one of the co-heirs of the Wootton family. With this property they also possessed hop gardens in the North Holmes in Canterbury. The St Augustine’s property was known as ‘Lady Wootton’s Palace’. The Throckmorton material also came from the Wootton family.
Sir Edward Hales, the 3rd Baronet Hales of Woodchurch bought the Elizabethan mansion, Place House in St Stephens, Canterbury in 1675 from Col. Thomas Culpeper, whose father had bought it from the Manwoods. This house was replaced in 1766-1768 by ‘a new sumptuous ediface built on a more eligible site’, according to Seymour’s New Topography of 1776. Cozens writing in 1773 in Through the Isle of Thanet suggested it was ‘more fit for the residence of a monarch than for a simple country gentleman’. Plans of the house, now renamed Hales Place, show that it was fronted by a terrace overlooking the city and the cathedral.
In the days of the Edward, 1st Baronet Hales, d. 1654, the family was one of the wealthiest in Kent, but gradually their properties were sold off to raise money. With the death of the 6th Baronet the title became extinct. On the death of Sir John Hales in 1744, the estates were put in trust in Chancery in an attempt to prevent the succession of his son.
The estates were inherited by Edouard de Mourlaincourt, the son of the youngest sister of the 6th Baronet who changed his name to Edward Hales. His daughter, Mary Barbara Felicity Hales, inherited the estate at the age of one year.
Mary Barbara Felicity became a Carmelite novice, and with the idea of bringing the Carmelites to England, started to transform Hales Place into a nunnery. When this idea failed, she then started a Benedictine nunnery. After her death, in 1880 the property was bought by the exiled Jesuits from Lyons. They extended the house on the northern side to form St Mary’s College.
In or about 1924 the Jesuits returned to France. The building was demolished in 1930 and developed as a housing estate. The fittings of the house were purchased by speculative builders, such as Revell, who used them in other properties, particularly at Chestfield, in new houses built there in the 1930s, and in the conversion of the north and south tithe barns into houses. Some of the pieces are very easily recognisable.
From “Lucky April Fool”, the memoirs of a Whitstable Native (Albert Stroud).
Albert was born around the same time as George Reeves. He recalls:
“During my schooldays, I remember a film company coming to Whitstable to film some shots for “David Copperfield”. There was a very large and old smack, the “Two Sisters” lying at the top of the beach, and the near-by shipyard workmen heaved her right over, bottom upwards and cut a door and a window in her side for Pegotty’s house. After the film was finished she was broken up.”