Whitstable History: the Post Office inside St Peter’s Church, Sydenham Street, Whitstable

A fond farewell as post office saga goes full circle

As one Facebook post put it: it’s the end of an era.

This was under a picture of a queue lined up outside the post office modules in St Peter’s Church, Sydenham Street.

Well it wasn’t really an “era” as such, since it only lasted fourteen months, but it was a memorable period for all that.

I mean: how many post offices do you know on the inside of old Victorian brick-built churches such as this? I imagine there can’t be that many.

I will miss it. It became an integral part of my life for a while, not least because I was the postman there. Still am, but I won’t be delivering Local Collect and Special Delivery packages to the church any more.

Nor will I be issuing a hearty good morning to the staff while jumping the queue and going straight to the counter: my privilege as the designated postal worker.

It was quite bizarre in there. I’ve never been a fan of Christian iconography, particularly of the grim 19th century variety, so it was always a relief to get to the counter to see the image of Ganesha, the colourful Hindu elephant-headed god, in the post office: obviously the proprietor’s personal deity.

But the church was warm and dry compared to the Portacabin in Gladstone Road it replaced, so I guess we shouldn’t moan.

According to Wikipedia, Ganesha is the patron of letters and learning and the remover of obstacles, so a particularly apt figure to oversee to proceedings at a post office, albeit a temporary one.

One thing it made clear was how under used some of these old church buildings are. Good on Simon Tillotson for making it available as a home for the post office, but it makes you wonder what other community needs the building might serve in future.

The new post office inside the Co-op on Cromwell Road is now open, two counters to serve the whole of Whitstable, on the site of the old Royal Mail delivery office.

Things have come full circle. People will be popping in to collect their packages again, as they did for many years, on almost exactly the same spot.

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From The Whitstable Gazette 22/02/18

The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject, but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number.

Send letters to: The Editor, Room B119 Canterbury College, New Dover Road, Canterbury CT1 3AJ

fax: 01227 762415

email: kentishgazette@thekmgroup.co.uk

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Whitstable Heritage: the Invicta Engine

Invicta would be wasted, and in danger, at harbour

I’ve just read the Whitstable Area Member Panel (WAMP) report on the relocation of the Invicta Engine, in which they recommend that it be moved to the proposed new development on the South Quay.

The report actually identifies four possible locations, two in Canterbury, and two in Whitstable, but then proceeds to dismiss all but the last: wrongly in my opinion.

First things first: it is obvious that it should be in Whitstable.

You don’t often associate our quaint little town with the epic landscape of Britain’s industrial past do you? And yet here it is: a steam engine, built by Robert Stephenson & Co, who also built the Rocket, pulling the world’s first scheduled passenger train along the Crab and Winkle line, from Canterbury to Whitstable.

In fact it only worked the Whitstable end of the line, from South Street to Bogshole, being far too puny to make the Church Street gradient. The rest of the way was served by static engines hauling the carriages by cable. Nevertheless, it is a significant artefact from Britain’s industrial heritage, and intimately connected with the history of our town.

The first problem with the WAMP report is that it simply wrong on the facts.

It dates the engine from 1825, when it was actually made in 1829, and then says that it was delivered to Whitstable Harbour in 1832, when it had already been working for two years by that time, long before the Harbour was even built.

This doesn’t bode well for the report’s conclusions, does it?

It also fails to take into consideration the fact that the Harbour location is actually five feet below the sea defence wall. If – God forbid! – there was ever a major flood, then this priceless object could be significantly damaged. Or even worse. The South Quay was last flooded in 2013.

Meanwhile we already have a museum in the town, with room to house the engine immediately, and enough space outside to build a custom made home for it in the future.

What would its purpose be in the harbour? It would sit in a glass box and serve as a backdrop to people’s shopping and dining experience.

In the museum it could be so much more.

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From The Whitstable Gazette 25/01/18

The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject, but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number.

Send letters to: The Editor, Room B119 Canterbury College, New Dover Road, Canterbury CT1 3AJ

fax: 01227 762415

email: kentishgazette@thekmgroup.co.uk

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Whitstable & Canterbury history: Watling Street by John Higgs

Age old question still relevant

Watling Street is a new book by John Higgs.

As the name suggests, it involves a journey along the old Roman road that stretched between Canterbury and Wroxeter, and which was itself laid over a prehistoric trackway which may have gone all the way from Dover to Angelsea.

That, at least, is the journey that our author takes.

Written in the same year as the Brexit referendum, John uses the symbol of the road as a way of examining the conflicts of identity that lie at the heart of the British psyche.

Who are we, exactly?

Picts, Celts, Romans, Saxons and Normans, Cavaliers and Roundheads, all fought for control of this road. More recently we’ve seen our country divided along ideological grounds, between Leavers and Remainers, between traditionalists and innovators, between those who “want our country back” and those who seek to give our land a new mythic identity.

The question is: what is the nature of the country we want back? And whose country is it anyway, given that most of it is privately owned and off-limits to the majority?

On the Canterbury leg of his journey John is accompanied by a certain well-known writer and postal worker of your acquaintance; which is how I managed to get a copy of the book before its publishing date.

Of course the most famous story about Canterbury is the one telling of the rivalry between Archbishop Thomas Becket and his former friend and mentor Henry II, which, as we all know, ended in bloodshed.

John and I use this story to illustrate the perennial conflict between politics and spirituality; between the ruthless politician willing to kill for his ambitions, and the spiritually engaged person willing to die.

In the process we draw parallels with a more recent conflict: that between Tony Blair, the politician responsible for the violence in Iraq, and Brian Haw, his most prominent critic.

Tony Blair, of course, is internationally renowned, while Brian Haw is in danger of being forgotten. It is this injustice that we seek to redress.

If you’d like to find our more about Watling Street, John Higgs will be appearing at Waterstones in Canterbury on Wednesday the 19th July at 6.30pm.

You may well spot a certain well-known postal worker in the audience.

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Links:

Podcast featuring John Higgs and CJ Stone talking about Brian Haw (plus oodles of other interesting stuff): https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/watling-street/id1257578517?mt=2

John Higgs writing about Watling Street for the BBC: http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20170710-the-road-that-led-to-1000-stories

John Higgs’ blog: http://jmrhiggs.blogspot.co.uk/

Oddfellow’s Casino – The Ghosts of Watling St (Official Video): song based upon Watling Street by John Higgs:

John will be appearing at Waterstone’s Rose Lane branch on Wednesday 19th July at 18.30. Details here: https://www.waterstones.com/events/watling-street-john-higgs/canterbury-rose-lane

Further appearances:

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Negative Ions

An old story from The Big Issue January 9th 1995, set in Whitstable

Defending Diversity

The Government is acting like Britain is a culture under siege, clamping down on anything vaguely eccentric or alternative. CJ Stone looks at how protecting the myth of old England with its middle class values is likely to breed a country at war with itself.

If the town is like a mind, and the roads are like the to-ing and fro-ing of everyday consciousness, then the back-alleys must be the unconscious. Our town has a rich and varied unconscious life in that case. It is riddled with back alleys. It’s here that the teenagers go to snog, out of sight of their parents. It’s here that cats prowl and foxes lurk in the dead of night. Where the rotting detritus of the everyday world is scattered in little piles. Where thieves wander to eye up the properties that back onto them. So familiar are we with the byways of the unconscious in this town that we even give them names. Squeeze Gut Alley, and Beach Alley. And Stream Walk, the Grand-Mother of them all, almost a thoroughfare.

Joseph and I are walking down there one day, on the way to the Station. He’s 14 years old. My son. The beauty of wandering around the town with a 14 year old is that he knows all the footpaths, all the out-of-the way places, and the quickest and most interesting route from here to there in every case.

Stream Walk meanders down from the top of the town to the sea front. In some places, naturally enough, it follows the line of a little stream, now coursing through a concrete gutter and covered with a filthy green scum floating with bottles and cans and discarded copies of Hello! Magazine. Perhaps it is symbolic of the state of consciousness in our time. Or perhaps I’m just a pretentious old git.

“Why is lightning zigzagged?,” Joe asks.

“I don’t know,” I reply; probably a little peevishly as it’s yet another question I don’t know the answer to.

“It’s negative ions in the air,” he says.

I don’t even know what negative ions are, let alone why they cause lightning to zigzag. “If you knew, why did you ask me?” I say.

“I just wanted to see if you knew or not.”

Anyway it was some such conversation. When he’s not talking about lightning or negative ions or asking questions of such equally momentous imponderability, he’s telling me the blow-by-blow plot of some movie – literally blow-by-blow – or rehearsing some advertising slogan which irritated me the first time I heard it, let alone the 200th. Actually we get on surprisingly well. He takes my general impatience as some kind of a joke and knows perfectly well how best to wind me up. The mere mention of “widget” is usually enough.

So we’re trundling down Stream Walk, happily immersed in our own little world, when we see somebody approaching from the other end. It’s a bloke, with slicked-back, greased hair and tinted spectacles. He’s wearing a black tee-shirt under a leather jacket, and black jeans held up by an alarmingly wide belt with a monstrous buckle. I wouldn’t have paid any attention to him if it wasn’t for the old lady watching him go by from the road. She has grey, permed hair and a smart coat, and we’re close enough to the two of them to see that she tuts as he passes, and rolls her eyes. The look on her face is the picture of disapproval. You can see it in the pursed lips, in the flared nostrils, in the way she follows him with her eyes: “I just can’t understand the younger generation,” she seems to be saying. “What does he think he looks like?”

The thing is, this bloke must be in his 40s at least.

Well the boy and I are still walking. I’m probably the same age as the bloke, but dressed as a crumpled Somerset Maugham in jacket, baggy trousers, collarless shirt. The whole style is my mad idea of the dignified older man. More deranged than dignified I expect. And my son is dressed casually but comfortably in a sweat shirt and light jeans. That’s the way he likes to dress. He’s also very fussy, unlike me, and can’t abide stains. It has something to do with his age I guess. Luckily he knows how to use the washing machine or his clothes would end up looking like mine.

We’d forgotten the old woman by now. Still engrossed in some complex manoeuvrings around subjects I don’t fully understand. Still chattering, gaily or peevishly depending upon our age. But she hasn’t moved. She’s standing there, primly starched, with her arms folded, watching us as we pass. I glance towards her and – you know what? – she tuts at us too, and rolls her eyes, and gazes at us as we walk by with that same, tight-lipped look of disapproval on her face. I laugh. At least it gets my mind off negative ions. I look towards Joe and he’s noticed it too. We laugh together.

The whole episode reminds me of the sense of disapproval I have lived with all my life. I’ve always had the feeling that people consider me somehow disreputable and dangerous. It bothered me. Until I realised that it’s probably because I am disreputable and dangerous.

But something else occurs to me about that old woman too, that she lives her whole life in a state of disapproval, with that “tut” in her head, unable to see beyond the particularities of style or appearance, unable to accept people for what they are. And I expect she disapproves of most things. The traffic. The way the old shops are closing down. The lack of facilities in the town for people of her generation. Dogs that foul the pavement. The breakdown in communication between the generations. The way the young people no longer seem to respect her. Hippies and Punks and people with dreadlocks, as well as ageing Teddy Boys and crumpled Somerset Maughams and – even – smart young lads in casual clothes. I don’t know. I get this feeling of a generalised disapproval, a state-of-mind rather than just a thought. But it’s not my fault the world is like it is. It’s not Joe’s, or the guy in tinted glasses. We’re another bunch or ne’er-do-wells on this confused planet, not the cause, the victims like her.

And it also occurs to me just how much the world has changed since her day. It’s not just the dress sense, it’s the attitude. Middle-aged Rockers are expressing something profound about their sense of identity. The Myth of Queen and Country isn’t half as potent as the myth of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Elvis is King after all. Their loyalties are split in other words. Later generations went further down this road. Younger rebels have no split loyalties at all. They simply don’t believe in the Establishment any longer. They are looking for something new. And the old lady is right in thinking that she doesn’t understand the younger generation. And neither, of course does Michael Howard.

And it is this exact attitude that lies behind the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) isn’t it? Disapproval. The CJA has nothing to do with protecting the community from crime. It has everything to do with attempting to hold onto a myth, the bourgeois dream of respectability and smartness and generalised home-ownership. It is a bulwark against the rising tide of change, against the future and it’s uncertainties. Disapproval as a mental state is merely endearing in the elderly. As legislation it is far more sinister.

What’s that about negative ions again? The beauty if lightning is that it clears the air.

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