History

Oyster Smack Moored

Whitstable is a town rooted in its maritime history – a heritage of fishing, sea trade, shipbuilding, tourism, sailing and swimming. Unrestricted access to its waters has been enjoyed for centuries. 

Whitstable’s beach did not exist in the form we know it today until the town’s sea defences were updated in the late 1980s. The sea defence works created the current wide beach, accessible at all states of the tide. The wide flat area (berm) at the top of the beach above the Mean High Water Mark is man-made and specifically designed to dissipate the energy of breaking waves.  The sea defence works were publicly funded costing the taxpayer millions of pounds. 

Whitstable is known for its native oysters dredged from the oyster beds far out to sea.  An ancient charter was originally created to protect a co-operative of oyster-fishing families. In 1793 the oyster company was formed by an Act of Parliament as ‘The Free Fishers and Dredgers of Whitstable’ and has owned the freehold of the beach and foreshore since.  Oyster fishing ceased in the early part of 1900s due to both overfishing and lack of demand. A majority of the shares were purchased by one company in late 1980s. With this came ownership of the foreshore, previous oyster buildings and land that the current owners have turned into bars and restaurants.

Whitstable developed as a popular seaside destination for visitors from the 18th Century with sea bathing, fashionable for the privileged, recorded here in 1768 and bathing machines introduced to the beach in 1783. In 1830 the first passenger railway linked Canterbury to Whitstable and visitors would enjoy boat trips around the bay. Similarly, recreational sailing became increasingly popular throughout the 19th and 20th centuries with Whitstable Yacht Club established in 1904 and continuing to this day as one of the oldest and largest sailing clubs in the country. These sailing and recreational activities are now under significant threat from the new oyster trestle development.