Town Chronology

Herne Bay’s coastal location and proximity to the conurbation of Canterbury contributed to its development as a resort and town which was relatively recent compared with some of its other East Kent neighbours. Charles Seymour writing in 1776 mentions sea bathing at Herne Bay as well as the availability of accommodation for families and regular visits of coastal trading vessels and colliers from Sunderland and Newcastle had long been established for offloading cargoes to Canterbury and other East Kent towns and villages. By 1792 bathing machines were being introduced on this part of the coast just east of The Ship which must have started to increase the number of visitors who were coming for recreational reasons rather than just commercial and trading. A military encampment was established at the base of The Downs in 1799 as part of the coastal defence precautions against the French which in turn must have increased awareness of the availability of pleasant residential opportunities So it was that in the area of The Ship Inn houses started to be constructed about 1816. The main catalyst for this was the formation of the Turnpike Trust formed by Act of Parliament in 1814. The road from the shore to Canterbury was well established but it was subject to a considerable amount of traffic and its maintenance and up keep presented difficulties. Local land owner Sir Henry Oxenden who owned much of the land west of The Ship along with others formed the Trust as a means of raising revenue for the improvement of the road. The turnpike had two bars: one at Sweechgate Broad Oak and one at the junction of Mickleburgh Hill and Canterbury Road at the Herne Bay end. It followed the line of the modern Canterbury Road before turning west along Mortimer Street heading down the hill to the shore adjacent to The Ship which was a convenient location close to the shore and the busy landing point for shipping. Several engravings of 1823 show the landing area on the beach and the early development of the town centred on The Ship.

An early plan view of the proposed street layout for Herne Bay from Capper’s Guide book 1833 illustrates how the early settlement of houses were still cantered around the Ship and the extent of “The Old Town” This part of Herne Bay developed steadily and a measure of its success can be gauged from the fact that the number or residents and visitors were such that they were able to support shops, a flour mill, a post office and a bakery. People's spiritual needs were also accommodated when Joseph Hanson, a Londoner, established a chapel in the area for nonconformists. Herne Bay continues to be mentioned,usually in favourable terms, in the travel guides of the day and a typical example is provided by Frances Coghlan writing in 1834. He states that “Herne Bay has for many years been a select retreat for sea bathing; the line of the shore possessing peculiar advantages as a watering place standing on an easy elevation,commanding a most delightful view of the ocean, without any accumulation of mud from the flow of the tide”.

Positive feelings towards the potential for Herne Bay are evidenced by the fact that a group of speculators led by George Burge of Tulse Hill, became in effect the founders of the new town. Samuel Hacker of Canterbury laid out a plan for the roads of the “new“ town adjoining with the the now established “old” town with a grid layout based on three squares,the basis of which is still in evidence today. Hacker's plan suggests that there had been an idea that the town would be named as St. Augustine's but this must have been dropped and Herne Bay prevailed. Burge saw the potential to construct a pier and set up a consortium to promote the idea After appropriate advertising and much hard work the bill for the pier received royal assent in 1831. Some £50,000 of share capital was raised and this enabled the pier to be designed and built ready to be opened to the public on 4th June 1832 the anniversary of the birthday of George III. Due to the shallow waters off Herne Bay the pier stretched off into the horizon for some 3,633 feet, a length necessary to provide the draught of water required by the passenger steamers to call at low tide. Built with timber piles,the pier was designed by Thomas Rhodes working in the offices of Thomas Telford, the famous civil engineer. At the pier entrance reused stone balustrades from the old London Bridge were used to create an attractive welcome for visitors. Once complete the new pier gave rise to a sudden influx of visitors to the town.

A guide book “The Fashionable Guide and Directory to the public places of resort” published in 1841, states that some 300 houses were built in the town in the years following the construction of the pier. Additionally, during this period, a number of sizeable hotels were developed to cater for the needs of visitors and both The Dolphin and The Royal Pier Hotel, advertised extensive facilities,dining rooms and stabling for 30 or more horses. One of the most iconic buildings in Herne Bay and its best known landmark, the Clock Tower, had its foundation stone laid on 3rd October 1836 with its opening ceremony just twelve months later on 2nd October 1837. It was a gift to the town by Mrs Ann Thwaytes wealthy widow of a London grocer who was one of the early visitors and benefactors of the newly emerging town. It was designed by architect Edwin Dangerfield and it is thought that his design was based upon the old London Royal Exchange building. Extensive research indicates that it could well be the earliest free- standing clock tower in existence Now the town had started to grow it was thought necessary to put in place some formal arrangements. With this in mind a parliamentary act was passed in 1833 under the delightful title of “An Act for paving, cleansing, lighting, watching, repairing, and improving a certain portion of the Parish of Herne Bay in the County of Kent”. Basically this Act set out the basis for the management and governance of the town and created posts for twenty four Commissioners charged with the responsibility.

After the initial excitement following the impetus provided by the pier and the new development the town setted down to a less frenzied period of growth. The timber pier gradually fell into disrepair suffering from the effects of marine woodworm culminating in its closure at the end of the 1862 season. Although the pier was doomed the town was not however cut off from London as the railway had reached Herne Bay in July 1861. However, judging by comments in an 1869 guidebook “All about Margate and Herne Bay” this was not providing the desired number of visitors. The section on Herne Bay opens with the following statement “ A sort of frailty seems to hang over Herne Bay, a spot which possesses, one would think, natural attractions of its own, sufficient to have insured for it a career of uninterrupted prosperity” The chapter goes onto conclude that the town was missing its pier. Local opinion must have concurred as on 31st August 1873 the second pier was opened on the site of the dismantled first pier. This time iron was chosen as the construction material but resources only permitted a short pier of 320 feet. Although the town was back on the map the lack of a deep water facility hampered the desire to attract the steamers once more. During the period that followed the construction of the second pier, Herne Bay once more started to grow but probably only at a similar pace to other comparable towns. Development had always been focused along the seafront and the area immediately beyond tended to be constrained by the ideas expressed in the original plan. An increasing population led to many of the free spaces in the central part of the town being filled in as well as a number of houses being built outside of the central area. The town, in desperate need of a boost had to wait until 1899 for the decision to be taken to lengthen the pier to 3,787 feet. Armed with a new pier, a combination of changing fashions and a renewed enthusiasm for sea bathing Herne Bay was once more well placed to face the 20th century and continue to develop into a popular seaside resort.

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