It seems that the Oyster Eating Competition, part of the annual Whitstable Oyster Festival, may actually have its roots in history with the discovery of this article.
From the Evening Post, 28th October 1922.
The oyster feats which mark the opening of the season at Whitstable produce some interesting records in the consumption of this delicacy, but it is scarcely likely that existing records will be broken.
Frank Buckland told of a Cockney enthusiast who ate 370 oysters without injurious consequences to himself. Another record was set up by Sieur Laperte, who put away 32 dozen oysters and then began his dinner, “behaving like a starved man.” The real records, however, belong to the Roman times. Seneca is said to have consumed hundreds of oysters a day, and Vitellus is alleged to have eaten a thousand at a meal.
Stories such as these require more swallowing than the oysters do, but there is an authentic record of a young lady who, at Brighton in November, 1906, undertook to consume “300 oysters with a proportion of bread” for her supper.
In those days it was possible to set up records at a reasonably cheap rate, since dealers were then advertising “the choicest of oysters, picked, fat, and green, for three shillings a barrel.” Perhaps the cheapness was due to the fact that oyster-dredging then was frequently but a side-line, acting as a blind for the more profitable occupation of smuggling. French brandy was brought in by “oyster dredgers,” and transferred to British boats or ports as opportunity arose.
This is how we go about it now. It’s supposed to be a bit of fun but does get taken rather seriously by the competitors!