Category Archives: Medway, Swale and the Kent coast

Medway, Swale and the Kent coast

In a shady spot in Kent, ancient sea creatures lurk

In the village of Staplehurst close to Maidstone on the Medway, and only 13.5 miles from the old and long silted-up South Coast port of Smallhythe, you can find these 12th century wrought iron representations of sea creatures on the village church’s south door – some a bit more fantastical than others.

I think I can see octopuses or squid, snakes, conger, a sea bird, a ray, a lobster and a flying fish. So the inhabitants of a remote village in Kent nearly a thousand years ago had heard stories of flying fish… Can anyone add creatures I haven’t noticed?

Pilot Cutters and the Victory: books from Seaforth Publishing

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I must read this book by seasoned sailor and writer Tom Cunliffe some time. Here’s what the Seaforth Publishing’s blurb says…

‘The pilot cutters that operated around the coasts of northern Europe until the First World War were among the most seaworthy and beautiful craft of their size ever built, while the small number that have survived have inspired yacht designers, sailors and traditional craft enthusiasts over the last hundred years.

‘They possessed a charisma unlike any other working craft; their speed and close-windedness, their strength and seaworthiness, fused together into a hull and rig of particular elegance, all to guide the mariner through the rough and tortuous waters of the European seaboard, bought them an enviable reputation.

‘This new book is both a tribute to and a minutely researched history of these remarkable vessels. The author, perhaps the most experienced sailor of the type, describes the ships themselves, their masters and crews,and the skills they needed for the competitive and dangerous work of pilotage. He explains the differences between the craft of disparate coasts – of the Scilly Islesand the Bristol Channel, of northern France, and the wild coastline of Norway – and weaves into the history of their development the stories of the men who sailed them.’

I notice that whoever wrote it has managed to capture the characteristic Cunliffe persuasive and salty style.

PS – A more recent release from Seaforth is Brian Lavery’s book Nelson’s Victory: 250 Years of War and Peace, which is published this month to coincide with the 250th anniversary of her launch.

Brian is also guest curator of an exhibition at the Chatham Historic Dockyard, if you have time to get over there.

The publisher’s notes promise the book is the most comprehensive book yet published on the topic and includes new and surprising revelations, including that:

  • she was almost wrecked on her launch
  • diplomacy conducted onboard her played a crucial role in provoking Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1912
  • 1914 Kaiser Wilhelm set the First World War in motion sitting at a desk made from her timbers

The book also tells the story of Horatio Nelson, who was born a few weeks before his most famous ship was ordered.

The story of Hampton on Sea, Kent’s lost village

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Hampton on Sea pier. From the Wikipedia, photo by Linda Spashett

The North Kent coast has its own lost-in-the-sea village, I learned some days ago.

Hampton-on-Sea is Kent’s equivalent of Suffolk’s Dunwich and I guess South Devon’s astonishing Hallsands – and it’s story is quite surprising.

It began as part of what is now known as the Hampton area of Herne Bay, and grew from a tiny fishing hamlet in 1864, expanded through the oyster trade and was developed as a resort from 1879.

It was then abandoned as a result of coastal erosion and flooding problems (there are powerful tidal currents in the area) in 1916, and the land on which the settlement stood was largely lost by 1921 – what now remains is the stub of the original pier, a pub, the Hampton Inn, and Hampton-on-Sea’s ruined coastal defences, which are visible at low tide.

And then the story becomes a little unusual. For its case was taken up by eccentric resident Edmund Reid, who had previously been the Metropolitan Police head of CID who handled the Jack the Ripper case.

Reid lived at number 4, Eddington Gardens, and named it Reid’s Ranch, and painted castellations and cannon on its side. Inside the house were a parrot and many photographs of his London cases, while in his garden he set up a wooden kiosk that he named the Hampton-on-Sea Hotel, where he sold soft drinks and postcards featuring himself and the disappearing sights Hampton-on-Sea.

By 1915 he was the last remaining resident, and finally abandoned his house in 1916, moved to Herne Bay, married in 1917 and died aged 71 later the same year.