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.