Peggotty House

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.

The 1893 plan of Tankerton Estate (West part).

The 1893 plan of Tankerton Estate (West part).

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.



Development of Tankerton front by 1927

Development of Tankerton front by 1927

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?

Pegotty House

Peggotty House, Marine Parade, Tankerton.

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.

A still from the first filming of David Copperfield

A still from the 1913 film of David Copperfield, with Peggotty’s house on the beach at Whitstable.

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.”

A short update on Seasalter

A short update on Seasalter.

It’s pleasing to find some people moving into an area then starting to take an interest in their new surroundings as this is the beginning of integrating into a community. This article was put together to give an understanding of the history of Seasalter as a parish in its own right and now as a part of Whitstable.

In the Doomsday Book (1086) ‘Seasaltre’ was shown having a church and eight fisheries. There were 48 husbandmen who each held a small house and some land, on condition that they supplied small provisions to the lord of the Manor. The western boundary of Seasalter abutted that of Graveney. The northern side was at the southerly higher ground towards Canterbury and its eastern boundary was at a point about halfway along Whitstable Street (now the High Street) and the northern boundary from this point to the sea and all the way along the coast to its boundary with Graveney.

At this time the land extended further out to sea than it currently does. The original church was situated some distance out from the Blue Anchor corner, and a boat landing stage is thought to have existed past that. This church was most likely destroyed by the great storm of 1099, a new church was built in a safer position in 1100 where the current smaller old Seasalter Church can now be found.

Most of the parishioners were involved in agriculture on the higher ground, working fishing weirs along the shore, in salt production and sheep rearing in the marsh area. Some families earned a living by harvesting wild oysters from the Pollard Spit.

The church had difficulty in placing vicars at Seasalter. It was regarded by the Clergy as an unhealthy place and many barely lasted a year in the position before moving on. One did remain in the job from 1711 to 1764, Thomas Patten, although he was actually buried in 1763. Thomas was frequently condemned by the Bishop and shunned by his colleagues, but it seems his parishioners were fond of him. He was a lovable rogue by all accounts, involved in smuggling and kept a mistress quite openly. He often ended his sermon early if the parishioners offered to imbibe him at the Blue Anchor Hotel, wore ragged and dirty clothes to embarrass the Bishop into increasing his stipendiary and filled the parish register with such records as, in 1734 “John Powney, Huntsman to that antient Corporation of crucketsoles the City of Canterbury and Miss Eliz. Johnson, daughter to the Devil’s Own, commonly called a Bailiff, were married at the Cathedral of Seasalter”.

Whereas the original church had been called St. Peter’s the name was changed to St. Alphege’s. The reason for this goes back to when Danish invaders ruled this part of the country. Alphege was the Bishop of Winchester, later the Archbishop of Canterbury, and was used by King as an emissary to pay off the Danes. When the Danes returned in 1007 they besieged Canterbury, but after being bought off by a local ‘Gafol’ of £3000 they left and marched onward to Berkshire pillaging and burning as they went. In September 1011 they besieged Canterbury again and Alphege could only delay the inevitable. The city was sacked and the lesser dignitaries were allowed to ransom themselves, but not Archbishop Alphege as he was the greatest prize. The negotiations for a ‘Gafol’ for Alphege dragged on for 7 months but at last an acceptable amount was offered by the King. Danish seamen were entrusted to take Alphege, still chained, to London but on the way there, at Greenwich whilst under the influence of a Mediterranean shipment of wine one of them turned on Alphege and sank his axe into his head, killing him instantly. His body was collected and placed in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Eleven years later King Canute, in more peaceful times, decreed that Alphege’s body be taken back to Canterbury. This journey was mainly by sea with the last landfall being at Seasalter. Alphege’s body rested for three days in the church at Seasalter before being taken on to Canterbury.

So now we can understand why the old Seasalter church and its larger replacement in Whitstable’s High Street are called St. Alphege and that they are both within the old parish boundaries of Seasalter.

The old Seasalter church off Church Lane is a reminder of the older church that stood on that spot and the even older church lost to the sea. There have been times over the last two centuries when the tide has receded far enough for bones to have been found from its graveyard.

Seasalter Church 1150-1840

Seasalter Church 1150-1840

Time Travel Tourist Information Exhibition

I shall be assisting in this exhibition which will take place at the Horsebridge Centre in Whitstable, from 12th to 27th January 2013, 9am-6pm daily.

The Horsebridge Centre’s will be transformed into a Time Travel Tourist Information Centre from 12th – 27th January 2013 as part of an art installation by artist Alexis K Johnson in

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Dave Lee MBE

Dave Lee MBE

It was the summer of 1969 when I first met Dave Legge. Dave worked as a washing machine engineer for the same company that my father worked for as a TV engineer. My father, in an effort to increase his income, purchased two ice-cream vans and Dave helped him out as a driver

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Whitstable in 1907

I bought a map and it arrived today. A map of Whitstable from a survey in 1872, with additions to 1906 and printed in 1907. At a scale of 25 inches to one mile it’s a bit on the large size for scanning at around 40 inches by 30 inches so I guess it will

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A new car for the New Year

We start 2012 off with a Whitstable Times picture from exactly 50 years ago.

Ford Anglia – I bet these guys thought they had reached the pinnacle of their jobs with these.

Fifty years on: Garage gone, Arthur Collar Ltd gone, Rover gone. Residential flats now where this picture was taken – Tankerton Road, to

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Bullet relics from Seasalter mud-flats

I was fortunate to be able to purchase these from David Rawkins to ensure they stayed in Whitstable. David collected these in his youth between 1947 and 1953. The collection consists of 40 expended bullets of various calibres (30 lead and 10 with other metal jackets) plus 3 lead bullets which have impacted robustly and

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Whitstable Daily Image 2010

Zero Knots

Some of us get really into photography, learn every aspect of their camera and then use it to create and display the results as an art form. Some of us purely use a camera to record memories of people, place or events for the family album.

I belong to the second group but in

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Another Whitstable Trade - by John Bevan pt.1

Another Whitstable Trade by John Bevan

Today I had the great pleasure of meeting up once again with Dr. John Bevan of the Historical Diving Society. The occasion was the Whitstable launch, at Whitstable Museum, of his new illustrated book of helmet diving history, very appropriately named “Another Whitstable Trade” – the title Charles Dickens

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Oystertown goes Green

As you explore Whitstable from the past you soon realise that the early industries here, particularly the Oyster fisheries, were extremely efficient in terms of usage of natural resources – so much so that today they would have been regarded as examples of Green management (no pun intended) at its best.

Oysters themselves help purify the

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