If a letter came into your possession that was originally written to the Oyster Company in Whitstable warning them not to remove the shingle from their beach you might well assume that it had been written recently.
In this case your assumption would have been nearly two centuries out and once you had read the name of the signatory, Thomas Foord, then you would know that you had a document which said much about Whitstable history all those years ago.
First a look at a scan of this letter:
Now the transcribed text:
Canterbury 21st Aug. 1827
The experditor of the Valley of Whitstable informs me that Beach has lately been taken from the Seashore at Whitstable for Ballast for Boats belonging to the Company of Dredgers and that if it done in future he must report the same, a thing which he wishes to avoid, because it would subject the parties so offending to a penalty.- It may appear to you somewhat hard that a person cannot make use of his own property – and that the Beach at Whitstable is the property of the Company I do insist on – yet it cannot be taken away, if the Commissioners of Sewers think that by doing so the valley will be liable to injury – it seems they do think so, and have made an order to prevent it. – I write this by way of a friendly hint, for I am sure Mr. Gann does not wish to be unnecessarily officious in the matter – but he must do his duty or he will be severely censured and certainly removed from his present situation. – I promised Mr. Gann I would mention the matter to you, I therefore wish you to show this to him, that he may see what I have written.
With good wishes for the prosperity of the Company collectively, and for yourself individually,
I remain Sir
Foreman of the Whitstable
Company of Dredgers
A few words of explanation:
The lower areas of Whitstable are basically the dried delta of the Gorrell stream which originates in the ancient woods of Blean. We forget this now and just regard it as the area behind the sea wall but in 1827 it would have been more obvious as a valley with drainage ditches. The houses existed mainly on the ‘walls’ such as Island Wall and on the ‘Islands’ such as Lower Island which had always been higher than the surrounding tidal salt marshes.
It appears that in 1827 Mr. Gann was locally responsible for these drainage ditches and the condition of the walls built to stop the sea from flooding the area. He reported to the Commissioner of Sewers who had overall responsibility.
The Oyster Yawls were not easy boats to sail. They required a large keel to counteract the area of sail they carried. This amount of sail was required so that, whatever the wind strength and direction, it could be trimmed to provide the exact speed for the correct angle of the dredges being dragged across the beds – too shallow and they skimmed the bed, too high and they dug into the stones and mud. Putting readily available shingle into the hold in varying amounts according to the weather and permitted oyster collection for that day made controlling the yawl easier and it could always be jettisoned overboard away from the beds if the wind speed changed.
The shingle beach is the first defence against the sea flooding the town as it breaks ups the waves as they reach it and absorbs their energy. Without it the defence earth walls, or today, concrete sea-walls, would be undermined by the action of the waves, weaken and break with disastrous consequences.
As the letter tactfully explains – It might be your beach but you can’t do what you like with it! The right of ownership is not a question as far as Thomas Foord sees it but the exact point up the foreshore the Company owned appears to be questionable by some then as it is today.
You will see in the image of the letter crease lines and some holes. These came about as a result of the sheet of paper being folded and then sealed with wax – envelopes were not common in those days. I managed to buy this letter to ensure it remains in Whitstable.