Memories of a tiny Fishing Port – R.D. Dale

Folk often say to me, “You must have seen many changes in your long life.”

And I remember that when my schooldays ended in February 1905, Whltstable was a compact small fishing town with 100 sailing, fishing vessels moored in the bay, and a harbour full of saIling ships bringing coal from Newcastle and South Shields.

Most of the coal went on to the single-line raIlway to Canterbury to be distributed all over Kent. There was also a fleet of sailing barges, bringing corn and cattle food from the London docks.

The world-renowned Whitstable oysters were the interest of most of the fishing fleet and in summer the bay would empty each day on the outgoing tide. On a large area known as the Kentish Flats there could be seen 100 boats, of from about 30 to 40 feet in length drawing from five to six feet of water, each with a crew of three or four, dredging for oysters of any sIze to sell to the two oyster fishery companies.

Some of the boats moored in the bay would at times be engaged In trawling for Dover soles which in Victorian and Edwardian days commanded a price of one shilling per pound if over nine inches in length, ninepence If not shorter than six inches and sixpence if not to small below six inches.

Other boats would be trawling for pink shrimps which they would sieve to a reasonable size, boil and dry aboard, and sell at one shilling a topped-up gallon. Some would salt when boiling, and others In a trough in the store houses.


Skate were trawled tor when they came in from the North Sea to lay their eggs in the spring. Shoals of sprats would come into the Thames Estuary every winter and some boats would catch sprats by watching the birds squealing and diving. They would watch the direction the tide was carrying them, anchor farther down, and with a large tunnel shape net, hope to make a good catch with much of the shoal entering the mouth. It they were in large quantity, getting them onboard was hard work.
There was no machinery in those days of sail. The anchor had to be wound in on a windlass by handsplkes, and capstans needed a similar method, the crew pushing bars round.

Work was hard but methods were intelligent. All types of people would buy a bushel of sprats in those days apart from the sardine factories. The coster would retail, fish shops would display them on marble or stone slabs, some would place them in brine and later dry and smoke in sheds burning oak sawdust. Tied up in bundles of a dozen to 20, they were a tasty bundle tor tea.


Nelson Road, Whitstable.