THE HARBOUR'S prospects and facilities improved from the late 1950s onwards. A programme of repairs and reconstruction began in 1958, and in 1959 Crescent Shipping introduced a regular motor coaster service between Whitstable and the Danish port of Esbjerg. East Quay was redeveloped, the job being completed in May 1963 after delays caused by the winter's severe weather. To make way for the project many of the fishermen's huts in the area, and the old harbour light, were demolished - the latter being replaced by a new light on a steel tower. Now served by better roads, East Quay became the centre of Bretts' rapidly expanding shipping operations: these now covered importing roadstone for highway construction and 'tarmac' production, and exporting Durite Canterbury Spar.
South Quay was rebuilt in 1963, an extension to West Quay was opened in 1968, and Daniels' grain hoppers at north head were rebuilt.
Kent Tarmacadam, which had become a limited company within the Brett group it 1954, was by now such a successful business that its proprietors decided to seek contract for building `tarmac' roads and car parks, and to take on mains drainage schemes and other `groundworks.' A subsidiary company, Kent Tarmacadam (Contracts) Ltd, was, formed in 1962. This became the precursor of Bretts' construction division, whicl now has a multi-million pound annual turnover and is often seen at work in the Whitstable area - most recently on the Thanet Way improvement scheme at Whitstable and Herne Bay.
In 1965 Bretts became a partner in a gravel dredging company and chose Whitstable Harbour as its terminal for a fleet of vessels which operated off the Suffolk coast. Thi venture had far-reaching benefits for Whitstable, since the availability of sea-dredge gravel, combined with the harbour's improvements and the ability to import crushes granite and limestone in bigger and better ships, encouraged Bretts to build an equally bigger and better `tarmac' plant at East Quay. This was erected in 1968 and commissioned in 1969, the year in which 1,000-ton gravel dredgers were seen at th harbour for the first time.
The `1968 plant' saw the introduction of several improvements, such as a moder mechanical loading shovel to fill the hopper that fed the stones into the plant; mor efficient `screens' to grade the stone into the required sizes; and semiautomatic and al electric machinery with pneumatic controls for the valves and doors. All this meant les manual effort. "We certainly didn't miss having to light flares all over the plant ever morning, to free the valves," said Ron Smith.
IN THE 1970s shipments of roadstone into East Quay grew rapidly, exceeding 150, 000 tons in 1973 and 250,000 tons in 1975. The materials included granite from Cornwall, limestone from Plymouth, Gilfach gritstone from South Wales, slag from Scunthorpe and Teesport, whinstone from Berwick, and sea-dredged aggregates.
Most of the materials were used by the `tarmac' plant or sold in bulk to roadbuilders, although some of the sea-dredged aggregates were sold to Bretts' sand and gravel customers. Obtaining planning permission to develop gravel pits in the Kent countryside was by now becoming more and more difficult, and Whitstable Harbour was one of the first ports in the county to receive dredged gravel, which today is an increasingly important building material.
A record for `tarmac' production was set in 1973, when 600 tons were made in one day - a record that has since been broken again and again.
Shipments out of East Quay also increased, with more than 500 tons of Durite Canterbury Spar being despatched to Leith, Scotland, every month.
By the mid-1970s Kent Tarmacadam was the only privately-owned business of its kind in the whole of Britain - all the others were part of national, public companies. But the name `Kent Tarmacadam' was by now old-fashioned. `Tarmac' producers could no longer obtain coal tar in the required quantities, town gas having been superseded by `natural' and North Sea gas. `Blacktop' producers converted their processes to use bitumen instead of coal tar, and now made asphalt instead of `tarmac.' Foreseeing this change, Kent Tarmacadam designed its new plant to use either tar or bitumen and in 1975, when nearly all the plant's output was asphalt, the business changed its name to Brett Asphalt Ltd.
Trade expanded and progressed so rapidly in the 1970s that within 15 years the `1968' plant would be obsolescent and Brett Asphalt would start making plans to replace it.
. Into the Eighties
THE THIRD `blacktop' plant to be built at Whitstable Harbour was opened in 1985. It embodies the latest environmental safeguards and energy-saving features and, being 25 metres high, is Whitstable's tallest building and a familiar landmark on the north Kent coast.
Coasters delivering cargoes of roadstone berth at East Quay and occasionally at South Quay, where they are unloaded by grab cranes. Materials for the asphalt plant are discharged on to stockpiles along the wharfs, and then carried by a loading shovel to the plant's feed hoppers.
At the plant, conveyors transfer the roadstone from the hoppers to a dryer, from where it is carried up an elevator to the grading, mixing and coating processes.
Various systems are built into the dryer to save energy, reduce waste and safeguard the local environment. Soundproofing reduces its noise level; coarse waste particles are recovered form the exhaust and re-used; and dust is extracted by a `bag filter.' The filter is one of three devices which ensure that the emission of particles from the exhaust is well within legal limits.
After travelling up the elevator the roadstone is graded into six hot stone bins. These empty via pneumaticallycontrolled doors into a weighing hopper, and from there into a paddle mixer where they are blended with fillers and bitumen.
The entire production operation is controlled by a computer on which, simply by keying-in an appropriate number, any one of more than one hundred `blacktop' recipe can be selected and manufactured.
Finished batches of `blacktop' are discharged from the mixer into a waiting insulates lorry, or carried by a travelling skip to one of five storage bins below the mixer.
These bins are heated, to keep the `blacktop' in good condition while stored and to allow production to continue non-stop despite fluctuations in demand or interruptions to delivery schedules.
Since the 1953 flood, Whitstable has faced the threat of a similar emergency on several occasions and all property owners along the seafront keep a wary eye on the sea wall when high tides coincide with severe storms. The 'blacktop' plant stands on the seaward side of the sea wall, and therefore all its controls and main equipment are at least one metre above the level that any exceptional tides are likely to reach during the next 100 years.
When the plant was built, the only site available for its 45,000 litre bitumen storage tanks and 45,000 litre fuel and waste oil tanks was adjacent to the beach. To prevent any possibility of pollution in the unlikely event of a spillage the tanks are placed within a `bund' -waterproof retaining walls, two metres high.
With its computerised controls, pollution prevention systems and flood precautions, the contrast between the ` 1985 plant' and its predecessors could not be greater.
Whitstable's new ships
THE NEW 'blacktop' plant consumed more roadstone than its predecessor, opening when new types of ships were comin_q into service to deliver granite and limestone to small harbours such as Whitstable.
Although only 247 vessels arrived at Bretts' wharfs in 1986, compared with 340 in 1985, the tonnage delivered increased by eight per cent. This was due to the introduction of bigger, shallow-draught ships with larger, obstructionfree holds.
For many years Crescent Shipping had acted as Bretts' shipping agent. When Crescent Shipping closed its Whitstable office in 1986 its work was taken over by Brett Shipping Services. Kevin West, who had worked for Crescent Shipping for nearly ten years, and Dawn Thompson, another ex-Crescent employee, transferred to Bretts to staff the new department.
By now granite was coming in from Arklow and Wicklow in Ireland and from Penlee and Dean quarries in Cornwall; limestone from Plymouth; and various materials for building road sub-bases from North Wales.
Kevin's job, then as now, was to ensure that ships arrived on time, discharged efficiently, and sailed on their return voyages as quickly as possible. Interviewed soon after he joined Bretts, Kevin said: "Setting up Brett Shipping Services was the best thing the firm could have done. It gives us full control over everything from the four working berths and two lay-by berths on the east and south quays, through to providing our own `trimmers' - the men who go down into the ships' holds to clear out what is left of a bulk cargo when the grab cranes have taken as much as they can.
"Time" spent in the harbour is a critical factor. Materials like granite and rimesten are not popular cargoes among ship owners, and Whitstable is fortunate in being virtua en route for the richer pickings around the Continental ports of Rotterdam and Antwer Taking too long to unload can incur demurrage - the penalty a charterer pays to th owner of his ship if he fails to load or unload within the time allowed.
"We have bought two new cranes to speed up the process. Last year we cot unload a maximum of 1,000 tonnes a day. Now we can discharge about 1,600 1,700 tonnes a day with one crane and we hope to make that up to 2,000 tonn before long. We can work both cranes on one ship and unload a 1,700 tonner in fi or six hours.
"When I first started with Crescent Shipping, unloading a 500 tonner was me than a whole day's work. The ships were more difficult to handle and cranes were r so efficient. Now there are a lot of new ships being built - virtually a new breed - with shallow draught and high tonnage. Many of them were built to travel up the Rhin They have one hatch and one hold with smooth sides. Our Bobcat, the machine whi we lower into the hold to clear out the final part of the cargo, can drive from one e to the other. "This new breed of ships has opened-up the harbour; without them, we could have kept going."
Regular callers at Whitstable in the late 1980s and early 1990s included ships w `Hoo'-prefixed names operated by R. Lapthorn and Company - 1,300-tonners Ii Hoo Marlin, Hoo Dolphin, Hoo Swan and the 1,100-tonne Hoo Venture. How oft they and their successors call at the port depends on supply and demand, the compl network of owners and agents, and the messages which Kevin issues detailing availal cargoes and dates.
Brett Shipping Services charters vessels and places shipping contracts for Br Asphalt; arranges for vessels to deliver stone; represents them while they are in 1 harbour; and obtains any supplies or services they need.
Most of the problems that masters and crews encounter while visiting the harbor are of a minor nature, but Kevin West has had a few experiences which raise a few v smiles.
"I've had to take people to hospital, some unable to speak English but suffering from complaints which are international. Crewmen sometimes have a little too much to drink - one man fell overboard and landed in the rather unsavoury mud. His shipmates wouldn't let him back on board until he had been hosed down."
Russian ships were occasionally chartered - their masters were very security conscious - while crews from Polish and East German ships would disappear into Whitstable and return with rolls of wallpaper and lino, unobtainable in their home ports.
Commander John Bloom, Whitstable's Harbour Master when Brett Shipping Services was set up, said at the time: "The harbour would not be commercially viable without an organisation like Bretts. The future is looking good at the moment and if Bretts' throughput continues we can all be extremely optimistic."
December 1986 saw the expansion of Brett Asphalt's office space. Having made do for many years with two cramped rooms on the first floor of the harbour office, the company took over the whole of the ground floor which had previously been occupied by Crescent Shipping. The move was carried out over the Christmas recess. Staff were soon enjoying their newly-acquired elbow room, even though the heavy snowfalls of January 1987 delayed delivery of their new furniture.
Work and play on the quays
VISITORS to Whitstable Harbour in 1997 and 1998 will find East Quay and South Quay busier than ever. About half a million tonnes of granite and large quantities of gritstone will be shipped in from the Isle of Grain, Calais and Normandy for `blacktop' and roadstone contracts all over east Kent, notably the final phase of the Thanet Way improvement scheme between Whitstable and Herne Bay.
The `blacktop' business is now a mainstay of Whitstable's economy. Brett Asphalt has 26 full-time employees, most of whom work at the harbour. Up to five people from other Brett departments work there for at least part of every day; and at any one time up to 20 lorry drivers from various haulage contractors are engaged full-time in collecting materials from the plant.
All these people help sustain trade and jobs in local shops and businesses, and at least five small firms in Whitstable rely on orders and contracts from Bretts for a substantial part of their turnover.
The rent that Brett Asphalt pays to Canterbury City Council for leasing East Quay and part of South Quay, and the company's shipping dues, account for about 60 per cent of the harbour's income.
Happily there is more to life at Whitstable Harbour than work. Social events and celebrations occasionally enliven the daily routine; the Oyster and Fishery Exhibition and the Oyster Indoor Bowling Club thrive in the shadow of the `blacktop' plant; and the Whitstable Harbour Association's Harbour Day brings seafarers and landlubbers together every two years for an action-packed programme.
In 1963 the Royal National Lifeboat Institution asked Barry Hardy, Whitstable's Harbour Master and Town Engineer at that time, to form a lifeboat crew recruited from local fishermen, dockers and other harbour users. Equipped with an inflatable D-Class boat, and stationed at East Quay, the crew became operational on March 26, 1963. Initially the Station was intended for local services to inshore craft and swimmers, and offered a restricted service in winter and at night, but it soon became very busy, responding to calls over an extended area all the year round, often at night. In 1974 the RNLI replaced the D-Class boat with a much larger and better equipped lifeboat, an Atlantic 21, operating from the present Station near the harbour's West Gate. The Station is actively supported by members of the Whitstable branch of the RNLI, formed a few years after the opening of the Station by a group of crew members' wives. Like the Station, the branch has flourished and has organised many essential fund-raising activities. In 1989 the souvenir shop and galley were opened and they now make a very valuable contribution to fundraising. The Station continues to be one of the busiest in England. On average, the lifeboat is launched twice a week. The crew has been involved in a number of notable rescues and members have received many awards for their actions. The Station is a popular attraction among local people and visitors alike, and its contribution to lifesaving cannot be understated.