Whitstable is a town in Kent, with a population of 30,000. It is a seaside resort, situated on the North Sea coast, facing Essex across the Thames Estuary and the Isle of Sheppey across The Swale. It is technically within the city limits of Canterbury six miles inland.
The town was recorded in the Doomsday Book (1086) as ‘Witenestaple’ and held three manors. The one at Seasalter included eight fisheries, Northwood supplied seven saltworks, and at Swalecliffe pigs were kept using pannage. The ancient town continues to support an agricultural and fishing community.
The town is best known for its oysters, formerly harvested offshore and still served in restaurants in the town. The Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company is one of Europe’s oldest commercial ventures, and its oysters were exported across the Roman Empire during the Roman occupation of Britain. In 1480 Whitstable acquired a fish market in St Margaret’s Street, a tradition that lasted until the mid-19th century. The town’s connection with the sea extends to water sports, and the annual waterskiing championships take place during the summer.
Whitstable is also famous in terms of transport. On 3 May 1830 The Canterbury and Whitstable Railway, locally known as the Crab and Winkle Line (after the initial letters of the Railway), was opened, linking Whitstable with the cathedral city of Canterbury. It was the world’s first steam-hauled passenger railway.
At first, trains were operated by stationary winding engines up the inclined planes and by a locomotive for the rest of the journey. The locomotive used was the Invicta, an 0-4-0 inclined cylinder tender locomotive built by Robert Stephenson of Newcastle for £635, which pulled three carriages. After 10 years, Invicta was retired and survived as scrap until restoration began in 1898 and continued intermittently until 1977.
Whitstable was also once home to the world’s oldest railway bridge, but this was demolished in 1970. Whitstable Harbour was built in 1832. An extension of the railway service ran to it until 1953, connecting it to Canterbury and London. There were also small sailing boat (“hoy”) and steam ship services from the harbour direct to London for many years into the 20th century. It is still in use today.