Starting in 1946, a columnist calling himself simply 'E.B.' wrote articles in the Whitstable Times. This person, male or female, (we've not yet been able to identify him/her), seemed to have an affinity with the history of the town and was able to talk with ease with many members of the old Whitstable families.
The legacy that E.B. has left us, which we have just re-discovered, is a fascinating insight into these people and their lives. Whilst most of the articles are based around known facts, many more personal memories are brought to life with local pride and a style that helps paint the picture of our ancestors and town, together with personal quotes from individuals that are a wonderful bonus for any family history researcher.
These pages are exact transcripts of the articles that relate to the town. Even if you do not find any connections within them, simply reading them will give you the experience and feeling of knowing these people and the lives they lived.
Think of Whitstable - think of oysters. It is the native oyster that has made the little town famous the world over ever since the days of the Roman occupation of this country. But oysters are not the only products for which Whitstable is renowned. Shipbuilding here has for centuries past been a staple industry. During that long stretch of time innumerable ships have been built and launched from local shipyards - not big ships perhaps, but sound, sturdy vessels which have seldom failed to stand the test of wind and tempest on the seven seas.
Let us go to one of these ship-building yards, the one on Island Wall belonging to the well-known firm of Anderson, Rigden and Perkins Ltd., and find out what sort of work is done there. It was known as Goldfinch's Yard until 1917. Then it was taken over and modernised by the firm whose head is Mr. Stanley Anderson. With him is his nephew, Mr. Robert King Anderson. Both Mr. Charles Thomas Rigden and Mr. Charles James Perkins, the other two partners who were actively concerned in the business, have been dead for some time.
The building of wooden sailing ships, boats, fishing vessels and barges has always been a speciality of this yard. In 1900, when the ship built of wood was in great demand, three hundred sailing ships went out of Whitstable. The last wooden barge built by the firm of Anderson and Co. - and the last built in England - was launched in 1924. She was the Northdown, a barge that many will remember, for she was the winner of several keenly contested races.
When the demand for wooden ships declined, work of another kind was undertaken by the firm. The construction of fast 18 ft. motor boats, the speediest boats on the water, was taken in hand. About twenty of them had been built when the war came to put an end to work of this nature.
From 1940 to the end of 1945, the ship-building yard on Island Wall was given over to the production of craft of all kinds for the Admiralty. During these war years close on a hundred vessels were built there for use in the long and bitter struggle with the enemy on the high seas. The record of enterprise and accomplishment is an impressive one that all those who contributed to it have a right to take lasting pride in. The men and woman workers showed a splendid spirit of loyalty and co-operation. When the German bombers came over work went on with never a break except perhaps for a few moments when some paused in their task to run out and watch the progress of a particularly exciting "dog fight" going on overhead. No bombs ever dropped on the yard. There was plenty of falling shrapnel, and stray machine gun bullets flying around, but that did not worry anyone.
The evacuation of Dunkirk brought to the yard a tremendous amount of repair work to war-damaged vesssels. In 1940 emergency repairs were carried out on four H.M. Drifters and one H.M.Y., the "Conidaw." These ships were all damaged in the course of the evacuations from Dunkirk and Calais. The "Conidaw" had a particularly narrow escape from destruction. The last vessel to leave Calais she would have been captured or blown up, as she was aground, but she was re-floated by a "near miss" when a bomb dropped and exploded close to where she was lying.
In the same year three more drifters underwent emergency repairs as did four drifters and two M.T.B.'s in 1941. One of the M.T.B's was subsequently sunk in action in the Channel, and for his bravery in the fight her commanding officer, Lt.-Commander Pomfrey, was awarded the D.S.O. Two M.G.B.'s and one gunboat were repaired in 1943.
New construction work for the Admiralty throughout the war was on a big scale. Six towing skids to combat the peril of the magnetic mine were built; sixteen 25 ft. fast type motor boats; twenty-two 25 ft. motor cutters; twelve 28 ft. harbour launches; twelve 61 ft. motor fishing vessels; fifteen 72 ft. motor launches, making a grand total of 83 craft. New construction carried out in the same period for the Ministry of War Transport, under the direction of the Admiralty, brought the total up to 91, the extra vessels being eight B.O.T. lifeboats
It was during the war that Mr. Charles Perkins died and his death was undoubtedly hastened by the the exposure to bitter weather that he subjected himself to when he worked for twelve hours in ice and snow on a repair job for a motor gunboat. He was close on 80 years of age at the time. After his death, Mr. H. Beale, who started work with the firm as a fourteen-years-old apprentice, became the yard foreman. Letters from skippers of vessels built at the yard and sent on voyages to the farthest parts of the world are often received by the firm. One and all pay testimony to the seaworthiness of the craft under their command.
Peace time work is going ahead once more at the Island Wall yard. Golden Spray ll, one of the finest 70 ft. passenger boats ever built was launched there on Thursday. She is going to Margate, the home of her owner, Mr. W. J. Pocock and she will be used for pleasure trips during the holiday season. Built to carry 150 passengers, fitted with a box and every other up-to-date convenience, she should be immensely popular with holiday makers who like to be out on the sea.
As one would expect them to be, Mr. Stanley Anderson and his Nephew, Mr. Robert King Anderson, are never happier than when they are able to take part in the Saturday afternoon sailing matches between members of the Whitstable Yacht Club. Mr. Stanley has been a yachtsman for 50 years and he is just as fond as ever he was of sailing ships and the sea. With a life-long experience of everything to do with the building of ships and boats, seldom a day passes without him being found at his office. He is content, however, to leave much of the business of the firm in the management and control of his nephew.
Speaking one day this week of matters connected with the business, the young Mr. Perkins referred to the Purchase Tax. "It's a funny thing," he said "that there should be 33 1/3 per cent Purchase Tax on all sailing and rowing boats but no such tax on a luxury motor cruiser which might cost you £30,000." A funny thing! So funny it might have come straight out of the Wonderland Alice was in.
Notes of the Week Index.