WHITSTABLE HARBOUR HISTORY

IN 1830 the Canterbury & Whitstable Railway Company introduced the world's first steam-powered passenger and freight railway service, running from a terminus near Canterbury's Westgate Towers to a station close to Whitstable's town centre. For nearly one hundred years the city and its seaside neighbour had been linked by a turnpike road; goods and passengers travelled by ship from London to Whitstable Haebour, and then by coach and cart to Canterbury. From May 3, 1830, they could take the `iron road' instead; but because transferring from ship to shore and then inland to the station was inconvenient and expensive, the railway company built Whitstable Harbour and extended its line to a station in the harbour and a network of sidings alongside the quays.

Whitstable harbour opened in 1832, providing shelter for 20 sailing ships of up to 150 tons, a dock for transferring freight between sea-going and river vessels, and sidings for 80 rail wagons. The trains were pulled by ropes along most of the six-mile route between Canterbury and Whitstable, the ropes being reeled in and out by stationary steamdriven winding engines at Tyler Hill and Clowes Wood.


For a few years Robert Stephenson's In victa locomotive hauled the trains to and from    Whitstable Harbour and Bogshole, at the foot of the Clowes Wood incline - from there on, the gradients were too steep to permit the puny pioneer to proceed any farther. Soon the trains became too heavy for In uicta to haul from the harbour to Church Street, about halfway to Bogshole. Horses took over until a third winding engine was built. This replaced both the horses and In uicto and was originally erected at Church Street. Later it was moved to East Quay, its chimney providing an ideal location for Whitstable harbour's light.

The South Eastern Railway leased Whitstable harbour and the C&WR (by now known as the `Crab and Winkle' line) from 1844 and bought them in 1853, introducing steam locomotives capable of operating along the entire length of the railway. Whitstable harbour's principal trade was importing Northumberland coal, distributed locally via Canterbury and carried to customers further afield along the SER's lines to Croydon and Reigate.

The `Crab & Winkle's' first locomotives were coke-fired, so two ovens were built between Whitstable East Quay and the beach to convert coal into coke. Coke production thus became Whitstable harbour's first manufacturing industry, ceasing 33 years later when coal fired locomotives took over in 1880. The ovens and their chimneys were demolished in 1892, providing a convenient supply of rubble for the foundations of Whitstable 's new roads and houses being built at Tankerton - an estate which at one time was expected to become `the Eastbourne of North Kent.'

Although many forms of trade and commerce have been conducted at Whitstable harbour during the past 165 years, few manufacturing industries have been based there for any significant length of time. Today, Whitstable East Quay is occupied by a `blacktop' plant and its associated wharfs, and the site of the coke ovens is occupied by the plant's stockpiles of roadstone. This 20th century industry has now been a major contributor to the harbour's economy for 60 years.

TARMACADAM was first used in England in the 1830s, when roadbuilders in Nottingham blended coal tar (a byproduct of town gasworks) and `macadam' (graded stones), spread the resultant hot, sticky mixture over a stone foundation, and dressed the surface with sand. Stones bound together with bitumen instead of coal tar - a product that eventually became known as asphalt - were also used for some roadbuilding schemes in the 19th century. Nevertheless, most roadbuilders continued to surface their roads with gravel, crushed stones and waterbound grit until well into the 20th century. `Tarmac' and bitumen-coated roadstone became more widely used when the suction effect of fast motor vehicles' rubber tyres started to reduce water-bound road surfaces to clouds of fine dust!

Kent's first `blacktop' roads were built following the publication of Kent County Council's `Joscelyne Report' in 1903. The KCC appointed D. Joscelyne, formerly Chief Engineer and Secretary to the Public Works Department of the Government of Bengal, to head an independent enquiry into the management and maintenance of the county's roads. Joscelyne reported that most of the laying and rolling of fresh stone was done in the winter. The advantage of this was that water was more readily available - although heavy rain affected the lasting quality of the new surface, and the traction engines that hauled the stone wagons caused further damage. Joscelyne noted: "The heavy engines grind up the surface ... often destroying some of it altogether. The motor cars and cycles, by their rapid impact, loosen the surface wherever it is not perfectly smooth ... they also disturb and scatter the binding material of the road surface, thus leaving the road still more susceptible to the combined effects of the weather and the wear of heavy traffic ... the fact must be faced that motor power has come to stay."

In the summer of 1903 the KCC laid an experimental stretch of tarred road at Farningham. This was followed in 1905 and 1906 by dust-laying experiments in which `painting' road surfaces with tar proved to be the most effective remedy. In 1907 a KCC contractor applied two coats of tar to a few main roads (at a cost of 1/2d a square yard!) and in 1908 the KCC bought its own tar spraying equipment. By 1911 the council was spending nearly £30,000 a year on tar spraying and on repairing its roads with bitumen, pitch and tar.

The Farningham experiment was followed by trials and tests in which tarmacadam was used instead of waterbound macadam to rebuild road surfaces. In the years immediately before the First World War the County Surveyor, Henry Maybury, reported that local roadbuilding materials were not strong enough to withstand the increasing
volume and speed of motor traffic, and that the passing of `light cars' was accompanied
by `a shower of flints.' Granite was imported at great cost from outside the county to
create stronger surfaces, only to crumble under the assault of the anti-skid studs that
motorists were now fitting to their tyres; the studs `cut right through the granite surface, leaving saucer-shaped holes which are extremely difficult to repair.'

In 1913 Maybury declared: "The waterbound-system of repairs will have to be discarded in favour of bituminous grouting or similar treatment." Public transport aggravated the situation. In1914 H.T. Chapman, Maybury's successor, reported that before motor omnibuses
became popular, waterbound granite macadam or flint could be used to keep roads in
good condition, but now they had to be strengthened and surfaced with bituminously
bound material at twice the cost - "Anyone travelling over roads that have not recently
been specially surfaced can tell at once that they are passing over a `bus route' by the
waviness, corrugations and deep holes."

   
Kent became one of the pioneer counties in the extensive tarring of roads, the
KCC's use of `tarmac' increasing twelvefold (from 2,728 tons to 31,905 tons a year) 1910 and 1913. When road maintenance and construction returned to normal
levels after the war, waterbound granite was soon discarded almost entirely in favour of
. `tarmac.' For a time this was produced at the KCC's own plants - those that served east
Kent were at Faversham and Pegwell Bay - but in the early 1930s privately owned
plants, such as the one at Whitstable Harbour, became the council's suppliers

FIVE years after opening its first plant in Canterbury the Kent Tarmacadam Company - a subsidiary of Robert Brett & Sons Ltd - decided to relocate to Whitstable Harbour and build a new, larger, plant at East Quay.
Bretts first became involved in the `blacktop' trade in 1928, after winning a contract from South Eastern Tar Distillers Ltd to collect crude coal tar from Kent's gasworks, take it to SETAR's distillery in Broad Oak Road, Canterbury, and deliver refined tar to Kent County Council's tarmacadam works and to the gangs that tarred and gritted the county's roads. In those days every town had its own gasworks, whose processes produced abundant quantities of tarry residues which were ideal for making `tarmac' and road dressings.

SETAR's distillery was near Bretts' sand and gravel quarry in Riverdale Road, about a mile from the centre of Canterbury. In 1931 the quarry was producing more gravel than it could sell, so in August the directors decided to build a tarmacadam plant to use the surplus material. A 1.54 acre site next door to SETAR's distillery was acquired for£260; Mr Arthur Dundas Shera, general manager of the Road Maintenance Stone Supply Company, was appointed general manager of the new Kent Tarmacadam Company (on a salary of £880 p.a., plus a motor car); and in October a plant capable of producing ten tons of `tarmac' an hour was bought from Millar's Machinery Company for £2,336 -less 5% discount for cash! A Blackstone 32 bhp oil engine was purchased, to power the plant.

A few years later Bretts set up another new venture at Riverdale Road Quarry - a calcined flint plant. This consisted of huge coal-fired kilns which `roasted' flint gravel and shattered it into small, variegated particles (marketed as `Durite Canterbury Spar') which when spread on freshly-tarred roads created an attractive, skid resistant surface. Durite could also be coated with tar to make `Durite tarmac.' The kilns had previously been operated by a small tar distilling firm at Rye Harbour. SETAR bought the firm, closed the distillery, and sold the kilns and calcining `know how' to Bretts, who were now able to offer not only conventional `tarmac' but also Durite tarmac and Durite surface dressing material to the highway authorities.

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