For a modest town,Whitstable boasts many innovations. The first scheduled
Passenger railway ran between Whitstable and Canterbury. The first steam-ship to sail between Britain and Australia left from Whitstable in 1837.


The diving helmet was invented here. The first sea cadet unit was formed here. And the country's first council houses were constructed here.


The oysters have been around for much longer than man of course, and it's known that the Romans, probably even
Caesar himself, enjoyed them. They have been cultivated since medieval times and the "Whitstable Native" has long been the favourite of gourmets.

In Victorian times the industry supported 100 sailing smacks which dredged 60 million molluscs in one year. The remains of one of these sturdy craft, "The Favourite", can still be seen in a garden along the shore. Wheelers oyster-bar is a survivor of those days.


When the Romans left Britain, others moved in most notably the Saxons. They gave the town the name of
Witanstaple, which means "an assembly of wise men in the market". Over the years this became Whitstable.


I
n Norman times the tower of All Saints Church was built, an important navigational aid for medieval sailors.
Ownership of the Whitstable Manor during the 1300s was a kiss of death.
John de Stragboli was executed for murder. Bartholomew de Badlesmere was hanged at nearby Blean for rebellion against Edward II. Robert deVere was also convicted of treason. During these times the town was hit by the black death and a major earthquake.


Sir John Gates, who was given the manor by HenryVlll,fared nobetter. He was executed by "bloody"Mary for supporting Lady Jane Grey's claim to the throne.

Whitstable has a curious industrial history.

Fishing was carried out 700 years ago by immersingV shaped wooded structures, called weirs or kedles,in the sea bed off Seasalter.
As the tide went out, fish became trapped. Later, more conventional methods took over, and fish were taken to markets at Canterbury and Billingsgate
.


From Roman times, salt was reclaimed from the sea by evaporation in vast shallow pans, a process which gave Seasalter its name. The industry continued until 1830
Iron pyrites deposits in the Whitstable area gave rise to the manufacture of copperas. These green crystals were used for fixing dyes, making ink, tanning and early medicines.


Naturally Whitstable has supported a boat building and repairing industry from its earliest days. In 1850 there were 18 slipways. Ship repair work was undertaken during the First World War, and ships' lifeboats and other small vessels were built during the second. Nowadays the industry is concentrated on leisure craft.


The harbour was the first in Britain to have a railway link. Coal and timber were unloaded here from the 1830s until early this century. Timber is imported, from the Baltic States. Stone is imported from around the UK and northern France.


T
here were also unofficial trades, most notably that of smuggling which was carried out on a large scale in the 1700s. It led to many battles with revenue officers. In 1780 there was a pitched battle on Borstal hill between smugglers and a troop of Dragoons who had seized a consignment of gin. Two soldiers were killed, and controversy still surrounds the execution of a young man, executed and later hung in chains for their murder.


An interesting twist to the smuggling trade came at the time of the Napoleonic War. French
prisoners of war, kept in appalling conditions in hulks offshore, were helped to escape and found passages back to France. So knowledgeable were the Whitstable sailors of the French shoreline, that they were consulted by Nelson, in the planningof his campaigns.