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`Tarmac' made from gravel and tar was a fairly durable material, but `tarmac' made from granite and blast furnace slag was known to be much stronger, and preferred for most roadbuilding schemes. The cheapest way to bring granite and slag to Kent from their suppliers in the west of England and Middlesbrough was by sea. Kent Tarmacadam therefore decided to build a new plant close to where the materials could be landed, rather than transport them inland to Canterbury. Whitstable Harbour, by now well established as an importer of bulky commodities like coal, grain and timber, was an obvious site for the new works: it also had the advantage of being close to the Thanet Way, the only major new road built in Kent in the 1930s. Although this was a concrete road, a big demand was created for `tarmac' by the housing and other building developments that went ahead in north Kent's coastal towns after the Thanet Way was completed.
In March 1936 Whitstable Urban District Council approved, in principle, a `tentative proposal' from Kent Tarmacadam to build a plant at the harbour, capable of making 40 tons of `tarmac' an hour. On April 30 the Southern Railway, which now owned the harbour, agreed to lease a site to the firm for a rental of £75 a year, with effect from August 4. On June 24 Bretts' directors agreed to proceed with the project at a cost of £6,000 - subject to what they called `satisfactory arrangements' being made with the Southern Railway. The plant's foundations were laid later that summer and by the end of the year the plant was substantially complete. Although some `tarmac' may have been produced during late 1936 the negotiations over `satisfactory arrangements' - an application to build railway sidings and a wider entrance at the plant - were not concluded until January 1937. Six months later, on July 10, the directors reported that the plant was working.
Trades directories for the period show that the firm's neighbours at the harbour were Daniels Bros. (freight contractors), Anderson & Company (coal factors), T. Browning & Sons (coal contractor), W. Coleman & Sons and Gann & Brown (coal merchants), the Seasalter & Ham Oyster Fishery Company, Joiner Brothers (whelk merchants), the Southern Railway Goods Office and F. Hollingsworth & Company's grit mill.
Several local men were taken on to work at the plant and at least one Kent Tarmacadam employee, foreman Jack Anderson, was transferred from Canterbury. Jack lived in Whitstable and cycled to and from Canterbury every day - a routine that required him to leave home at 4 o'clock in the morning. His new job earned him an extra hour in bed!
TONY Haydon, who has lived in Whitstable all his life, has clear memories of the harbour and the `tarmac' works in the 1940s:
"I joined Kent Tarmacadam as a weighbridge clerk on October 15, 1945, when I wa. 14. I took over from Doug Catt. Jack Anderson, the foreman, offered me the job wher I was still at school and the manager, Mr Shera, took me on a few weeks after I left school The other people at the plant were Harry Kimber, Ken ('Cockles') Clay, Bill Sergeant Ted Keen and Steve Keeler. We used shingle from Sturry Quarry, Durite from Riverdale Road Quarry, and sand from Shelford Quarry. We also received one or two wagonload of granite by train every day; it came in at 12 o'clock. One of my jobs was to collect the delivery notes, held in metal clips on the sides of the wagons. I recorded the amount o granite that had been received, and sent the delivery notes to head office.
"The weighbridge was just inside the harbour entrance, near the level crossing, sc when the crossing keeper closed the gates I knew the train would be arriving in a few minutes. The stone and sand from Canterbury were tipped on to the stockpiles by the lorries, but because the railway sidings were some distance from the stockpiles all the granite that came in by train had to be unloaded into a lorry and driven to the stockpiles
"Weighing was not the precision job that it is today. Ted Keen, the shovel operator had to load the stone and sand from the stockpiles into an old lorry, drive on to the weighbridge to weigh the load, and then tip it into a hopper, where an endless conveyo belt lifted the material into the plant. It's very different today, because all the materials are weighed automatically whilst they are being conveyed into the plant.
"The sales office for `tarmac' was at Bretts' head office in Canterbury. When any orders came in to Whitstable, I 'phoned them over. At 4.30 every afternoon I would ge a `phone call from head office, telling me what deliveries to organise next day - how many tonnes, their destination, delivery time and so on.
"We started work at 7 in the morning and were very busy until 8, when we would take a half-hour break; after 11 we would be able to easeoff.
"Among the products we made were five grades of 'shinglemac' (shingle-based 'tarmac') Durite `tarmac' (very popular in the Thanet towns); and bituminous sand carpet or sand cover, for surfacing paths and tennis courts. All these materials except sand carpet were made using distilled coal tar which came in on road tankers from SETAR. I believe the granite was sold `dry' before eventually we started making granite 'tarmac'.
"Our biggest customers were Margate council's depot at Hartsdown Park and Ramsgate council's depot at St Luke's Avenue. We made grades that could be tipped out of the lorn on to the road and used immediately; and a special grade that could be stored - the type that had to be heated in a big tar boiler before it could be used.
"Kent Tarmacadam had two 5 ton Bedford lorries. They were BJG 343, based a Whitstable and driven by Fred Marsh and later by Sid Maple; and BJG 344, driven by Maurice Brunger. BJG 344 was based at a quarry at Little Chart which supplied us with dust, used as a binder for the 'tarmac'. We also used Bretts' sand and grave lorries to deliver `tarmac', and hired lorries from Wachers in Herne Bay when we needec extra transport."
Tony worked at the plant until 1947. He was then transferred to the `tarmac' sales officc in Canterbury, staying there until being called up for National Service in 1949. After he was demobbed he worked in several of Bretts' departments in Canterbury. In 1988 he moved back to Whitstable Harbour and for the next four years, until he retired, was the `blacktop' plant's weighbridge clerk - the job he was first taken on to do 40 years earlier
DURING the Second World War the harbour was kept busy receiving and despatching munitions, and importing grain. Only essential maintenance was carried out and by 1945 the harbour was in a poor state of repair and heavily silted, with East Quay unable to accept vessels more than 35 ft long. Kent Tarmacadam soon started to modernise its facilities and in 1948 built new foundations of concrete and railway sleepers at the northern end of the quay for a mobile crane and grab which unloaded stone from ships and barges.
In 1948 the harbour became part of British Railways, which was unwilling to invest in improvements. The sidings were unsafe for locomotives - so horses had to haul the wagons along the lines. Passenger services between Canterbury and Whitstable had been withdrawn in 1930 and such goods traffic as there was ceased in 1952. C Saturday, November 29, 1952, crowds gathered to see what they thought would I the last train to leave the harbour.
The line won a temporary reprieve after the great `North Sea flood' - the Ke coast's biggest natural disaster in living memory - devastated vast areas of Whitstable; on February 1, 1953. Part of the main line between Whitstable and Faversham was destroyed. While it was being repaired the `Crab & Winkle' was re-opened for a fe weeks, to bring flood relief supplies from Canterbury. The age of steam railway preservation and `heritage centres' would not dawn for several decades, by which tire the line to Canterbury had been ripped up and new buildings had encroached on to i track - destroying any chance of restoring the `Crab & Winkle.' Even though this mig never have happened, the track between the harbour and Whitstable's hinterland could have been developed into a heavy goods vehicle link to the Thanet Way.
Although not publicly proposing to close the harbour, British Railways did not strive to keep it open. After a controversial `Save the Harbour' campaign it was sold to Whitstable Urban District Council on January 1, 1958, for £12,500. Essential repairs and improvements started almost immediately. The reconstruction of East Quay was given priority and from April 1959 new shipping services began operating from the quay, which until then had been kept alive largely by the increasingly busy Kent Tarmacadam works.
RON Smith, another lifelong resident of Whitstable, was closely involved in 'blacktop' production on East Quay for 38 years, retiring in 1985. He recalls the post-war period:
"I joined Kent Tarmacadam - we knew it as `KTM' - in November 1945. I was in the Merchant Navy when war broke out. I arrived home on leave in Whitstable one afternoon in September 1939, only to receive orders to catch a train to Scotland from London at 10 o'clock that night and join the Royal Navy! I wanted to be an electrician after the war but the only job I could get was as a labourer at KTM. It was hard work but I'm glad I took the job as eventually I made my way up to mixerman and foreman, and for the last years of my working life I was production manager.
"We worked from 5 in the morning until 5 at night. When I started, most of the stone was shifted around the plant with shovels. `Mount Pleasant' granite - what we called `marble granite' - came in by rail to East Quay from Plymouth. There were only two trains a day - one at 10 to 8 in the morning and the next, the one carrying our granite, at 10 to 12. I spent the last hour of the day shovelling the granite from the rail wagons into the old lorry - it wasn't licensed to run on public roads - that took it to the stockyard. There's now a petrol station on the site of the stockyard.
"Obviously, when the goods line to the harbour was closed the granite no longer came in by train and we started seeing more ships at our wharf
"We also had tipper lorries and trailers coming in from Bretts' gravel quarries. TI tippers could unload themselves but we had to shovel all the stone out of the trailers
"We made granite `tarmac' for Kent County Council, for use as a base course: the preferred it to shingle `tarmac' for main roads. The `tarmac' was delivered by our ow lorries, or collected by haulage firms on contract to the KCC. Another of our product `bituminous sand carpet,' was placed as a top layer - called the `wearing course' - ov the shinglemac. The bitumen came from Berry Wiggins' distillery at Hoo althoug late:, when we went over to using bitumen instead of tar for all our `blacktop,' v started buying our supplies from Mobil.
"I left KTM in 1952 but I came back two years later as a lorry driver. When Ja, Anderson retired I became plant foreman.
"Our first job in the morning was to soak bucketfuls of cotton waste with diesel c We wrapped the waste around all the stopcocks which controlled the flow of hot t through the plant, and around the hinges to the hatches through which the tarred stogy passed into the various processes and hoppers.
"We then set light to the waste, to melt the tar which had solidified overnight a clogged up all the moving parts! After we had done that we could start-up the elect motors which ran the plant.
"Every evening in winter we drained the radiators in the site lorry and in the Rustc Bucyrus 10 RB grabbing crane which loaded the lorry for its trips around the plant; our next job after lighting the `flares' was to boil some water and refill the radiators
"The tar was pumped to the top of the plant and fed into a trough, and from the it went into two mixing drums - one for base course `tarmac', the other for weari course `tarmac.' You turned a handle to open a valve in the mixers and feed the finish product into one of four hoppers on the floor below. We had four grades of tar - for fast-setting, heavy-duty, base course and wearing course `tarmac' - and these were stored in tanks at ground level. The tanks had electric immersion heaters which were left on all night to stop the tar congealing.
"The stone was carried to four hoppers at the top of the plant on an endless rubber belt fitted with metal buckets. To empty the hoppers into the mixing drums, someone - usually me! - had to climb up a 70 ft ladder and pull a lever.
"KTM was receiving crushed granite by sea before I joined the firm. It was delivered from the West Country in coasters. Until we bought a crane and grab a gang of stevedores, who probably worked for Daniels, unloaded all the stone from the holds into baskets. Some of the granite was sold `dry' to the KCC, and the rest was made into `tarmac'. During the 1960s we started receiving dredgers from Mistley on the Suffolk Stour. They brought in seadredged gravel. Not much of this was used in `tarmac' - it supplemented the gravel that Bretts produced at their quarries.
"The first big contract for sea-dredged gravel was the A2 Bridge by-pass near Canterbury. We sometimes found unexploded wartime bombs and shells in the gravel and had to employ a man to stand by the conveyor belt and look out for them. On one occasion we found a shell in a sand hopper and had to call in a bomb disposal team; they blew it up on the beach.
"In the 1950s we started to make bagged macadam, called Durive, from slag dust and bitumen. At first it was discharged on to the ground under the plant and then shovelled into paper sacks. We improved things by building a hopper, to allow the bags to be filled by gravity. Until mechanical handling equipment became common towards the end of the 1950s, we had to do an awful lot of shovelling.