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.



From The Whitstable Gazette 25/01/18

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Whitstable People: Julian Spurrier

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

Ripple by The Grateful Dead

Something tragic always happens at Christmas. This year it was the death of my dear friend Julian Spurrier, who passed away on the morning of December 31st 2017.

Typical Julian, courteous to the last. He wanted to get the grim stuff out of the way in time for the New Year celebrations.

His illness was sudden and catastrophic. Barely a month ago he was still out walking his dog, or going to the Labour Club, having a few drinks and catching up with the gossip, as was his wont.

Then one day he was overwhelmed with tiredness while out on a walk. He had to lie down on the footpath in the woods to recover.

He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. A few days before Christmas there was still talk of treatment, but the cancer had spread throughout his body by then and it was already too late. He went into a hospice, and within a week he was dead.

He died without pain. A friend, who went to see him, told me his eyes were soft, at peace.

What can you say about Julian? He was extraordinary: possibly the most kind, the most welcoming, the most generous person I ever knew. He was funny, irreverent, anarchic, mischievous and an old fashioned gentleman, all at the same time.

He liked nothing better than being the host at an impromptu party. My most abiding memory is of him preparing wine glasses in the kitchen. He had a whole ritual around this: pouring hot water into the glass, then polishing it till it shone; after which he would emerge, tea towel draped over his shoulder, a tray full of glasses, sparkling and filled to the brim, to serve to his guests.

I knew him for 40 years or more. I shared a house with him. He taught me to drive, and helped to bring up my son.

The last time I saw him was was on Thursday the 19th October 2017. I know this because my brother was over from America. We went out for a drink and ended up at the Labour Club.

Julian was at the bar before I even had chance to order. That was one of his tricks. He always had to make sure he got the drinks in first.

He said to my brother: “Thank you for bringing Chris out. I don’t see enough of my old friend.”

Those were almost the last words I heard him speak.

The night before he died I couldn’t sleep. My heart was pounding in my chest. I was restless and itchy and my brain wouldn’t stop churning, I didn’t know why. I had to get up. I went and sat in front of my computer.

There are two songs I associate with Julian. One is Ripple, by the Grateful Dead. I’d been singing it that morning in Tesco, no doubt to the annoyance of everyone at the delicatessen counter.

The other is I’ll Fly Away by the Kossoy Sisters, from O Brother, Where Art Thou, the Coen Brothers movie. It was Julian’s favourite film.

I’d sent a friend a link to it earlier in the evening. So I dug out the email and clicked on the link to listen to the song.

The words are very precise and very apt.

Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away, fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away, fly away

I’ll fly away, fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away, fly away, in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away, fly away

I wasn’t thinking of this in a religious way. I don’t know if there’s a God or not. I don’t know what lies after death. But I wanted Julian’s passing to be swift, for him not to have to suffer, and the idea of him flying away into the clear blue sky, like a bird, seemed the perfect image of what I wished for him.

When the shadows of this life have gone
I’ll fly away, fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly
I’ll fly away, fly away

I was thinking of my Mum’s passing. Her last few months were spent bed bound in hospital, her body a twisted, useless wreck. It was like her spirit was shackled to a corpse. She could do nothing for herself. She was utterly dependent. She was, indeed, in prison. When she died, it was as if she had broken free.

So I was wishing this for my friend. May he break out of the prison of his bound and broken body. May he be free to journey to the next realm, wherever, whatever, however that may be.

After a while I went back to my bed and tried to sleep. I was not very successful. My heart kept thumping in my chest and I dozed fitfully for the rest of the night, the words of the song echoing in my head.

I’ll fly away, fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away, fly away, in the morning
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away, fly away,
In the morning…

It was when I got up in the morning that I heard that he was gone.

So now it’s goodbye Julian, my old friend. I saw you drunk a hundred times, but I never saw you angry or aggressive. I never saw you violent. I saw you make any number of mistakes, but I never saw you lay the blame on anyone else for your own shortcomings. I saw that you lived your life according to a routine at times, but you never lost the light of possibility from your eyes, and you never gave in to hatred or scorn.

I only lived around the corner from you, no more than five minutes walk, but I never came to visit. That’s because I always knew you were there, and I could visit any time.

How wrong I was. I won’t make that mistake again. I will cherish my friends from now on.

Every minute of every day, every heartache, every pain; every smile, every laugh, every moment of joy; every weary step along the way, by the same old roads through the endless changing days: it is all so precious, it is all so alive. Let me know the value of everything that touches on my life, and let me never forget.

You, my friend. Let me never forget you.

Friends pay tribute to local Labour stalwart Julian Spurrier:



Whitstable Shops: where a postman buys his socks

I’m a part-time postman. I walk, on average, between ten and twelve miles a day, three days a week, throughout the year. That’s about 1,500 miles a year: a lot of walking. I go through about two pairs of shoes a year. And yet I’ve been wearing the same three pairs of socks for the last three years.

How could this be?

They are mighty good socks.

Not only that, but I can wear them for a week, or even more, and they never smell. They are soft on the feet and very comfortable. They are made of bamboo fibre, and are, quite simply, the best socks I’ve ever bought.

I wear them in conjunction with merino wool socks made by Bridgedale, which I bought in 2008 and have been wearing ever since. I have two pairs of these. The combination of the warmth and comfort of the merino wool on the outside, and the softness and hard-wearingness of the bamboo fibre next to my skin, is perfect for the kind of gruelling regime I put my feet through on a daily basis.

The bamboo socks are made by a company called Bam, who make bamboo clothing of all sorts. I’m sure you can get them on the internet, but I, personally, buy mine at Herbaceous in Oxford Street, Whitstable.

They cost £4.50 a pair, which is quite a lot for a pair of socks, but, when you consider how long mine have lasted, that is actually a great investment.

Seriously: every time I’m forced to put on a different pair of socks, I regret it. They load up with bacteria and smell like ripe Camembert within a day. The bamboo socks never do. They are still fresh and clean-smelling even after several days of heavy use.

I love them so much they’ve become the standard Christmas present for all of my male relatives. How could that be wrong? Everybody needs socks, and who wouldn’t be pleased with the most comfortable, soft, long-lasting and sweet smelling socks in existence?

The reason I go to Herbaceous to buy them is that the owner, Belinda Murray, is an independent trader, of the sort who should be encouraged in our town.

She not only sells socks, but also wholefood, herbs and spices, eco-friendly washing products, ethnic goods, scented candles, jewellery, incense, and a large selection of gifts, like statues of the Buddha, sandalwood soap dishes and sun-catchers.

Belinda works very hard, and for not much of a return. It’s difficult being an independent trader in Whitstable these days, what with all the big supermarkets circling the town like vultures, but, actually Herbaceous remains very competitive.

Why not pop is and take a look some time? There are some great gifts on sale and you might be pleasantly surprised at the prices.

Plus you can buy a few pairs of bamboo socks while you’re at it.

Herbaceous website: http://www.herbsandremedies.com/

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Herbaceous-182513695129169/


East Kent Health: new “super hospital” for Canterbury

Peculiar link between health and a developer’s profits

Mark Quinn, managing director of Quinn Estates, has offered to build a “super-hospital” in Canterbury, in exchange for permission to build 2,000 new houses.

Will the nurses and ancillary staff working at the hospital be able to afford these properties, I wonder?

How many of them will be social houses at affordable rents?

I think we already know the answers to both of those questions.

Don’t you think there’s something peculiar about a system that links the health needs of a whole region to the profit requirements of a property developer?

Mark Quinn is a businessman, not a charity, and one thing is certain: he expects to make money on the deal, or he wouldn’t be offering it.

Meanwhile we learned this week that Virgin Care, part of Richard Branson’s business empire, appears to have been paid a settlement by the NHS after it failed to win a bid to provide children’s services in Surrey.

The company immediately started legal proceedings. According to the Daily Telegraph, board papers for one of the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) involved in the case state that its “liability” amounted to £328,000.

Just let that sink in for a moment.

That’s £328,000 of public money reportedly paid out by the NHS to a private company, whose multi-billionaire boss resides on a Caribbean Island for tax purposes.

East Kent CCGs have also given contracts to corporations and are equally open to being sued.

Of course, if the new hospital is built in Canterbury, that would mean a downgrading of services in Margate and Ashford, something I’m certain that the people of those two towns will resist.

The idea that we have to go begging to property developers, or that the choices on offer force one region to compete with another in a bidding process, is surely a measure of just how degraded the service has become.

In 2005 Jeremy Hunt co-authored a book which called for the replacement of the NHS with an insurance market system on the American model.

That process is already well underway. Let’s hope we can stop it before it’s too late.


From The Whitstable Gazette 07/12/17

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

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Whitstable News: Closure of the Whitstable Times

Loss of rival newspaper is cause for real regret

The last edition of the Whitstable Times came out last week, leaving the town with only one newspaper.

It’s a sad day. The Times has been reporting from this town since 1864.

I wrote for the paper from 1999 to 2008. There were two columnists at the time, myself and Steve Regan. We were a bit like a double act, always winding each other up: Steve from a right-wing perspective, and myself from the left. John Nurden was the editor.

Steve and I stopped writing for the paper after the financial crash of 2008, when the owners decided they could no longer afford to pay the columnists. I got a job with the Gazette and have been writing here ever since.

People will remember the Times’ office in Cromwell Road. It was opposite the old Royal Mail delivery office, so I could finish work in the one and step over the road to the other in less than a minute.

What the loss of the Times highlights is two fundamental things. Firstly it shows the failure of the capitalist system to defend people and their jobs.

Money was sucked from the real economy in order to shore up the banks. Many businesses went under and the austerity narrative began to drive the political agenda. The paper was forced to sell off its assets, becoming ever more distant from the town.

The offices moved to Canterbury first, and then to Margate, during which time it was also downgraded to a free paper.

The second thing it shows is the impact of the internet on people’s reading habits. Many people simply do not read newspapers any more, preferring to get their news from social networking platforms like Facebook or Twitter.

But these sites do not generate their own content: they are dependent on news gathered from other sites, and on their users to share it around.

It’s important that Whitstable still has a proper newspaper like the Gazette to represent it, but I can’t help thinking that the news landscape has become a little more one-dimensional with the loss of its historic rival.


From The Whitstable Gazette 05/10/17

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, 5-8 Boorman Way, Estuary View Business Park, Whitstable, Kent CT5 3SE

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Some CJ Stone stories from the Whitstable Times

Whitstable Housing: Neighbours

neighboursBad neighbours make situation impossible

A friend of mine has been having trouble with his neighbours. They moved in about two years ago. First of all they were just annoying. There were so many of them, parents and grandparents and a multitude of siblings and their spouses, plus children. A real extended family.

They were always coming in and out, shouting and banging doors. They did everything at full volume, using the foulest of language.

Later they became more aggressive. They began threatening him. They smashed his front window and wedged something against his back door so that he couldn’t get out. They nailed his back gate shut and threw a bucket of rotten eggs over him.

Well these were assaults, weren’t they? My friend became frightened and phoned the police.

It took over two and a half hours for the police to arrive. When they eventually did get there they said there was nothing they could do.

My friend has felt trapped ever since. He is a disabled person. He has epilepsy and is on medication. Stress and anxiety tend to bring on his fits. He daren’t go out in case he meets them and they start the abuse again.

He feels like a prisoner in his own home, always having to check before he can step out of his front door. He has been forced to get a CCTV system, which has put him into debt.

He has lived here for 21 years and never had trouble with his neighbours before. Now here’s the thing: he lives on one of the council estates. He’s complained to the council and asked to be moved, but there is no available housing.

He’s tried getting a house swap, but no one has shown any interest. What this brings to light is the state of council housing in the UK today. Only the very vulnerable, and the most anti-social, are being housed: hence the impossible situation my friend finds himself in, as an epileptic, prone to anxiety, living next door to violent bullies.

Whatever happened to the “homes fits for heroes” of the post-war period, that’s what I’d like to know? We sold them off for a mess of pottage.


From The Whitstable Gazette 21/09/17

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Send letters to: The Editor, 5-8 Boorman Way, Estuary View Business Park, Whitstable, Kent CT5 3SE

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Whitstable Weddings: Rob and Tara Jeffery of Gillingham

So first of all a happy anniversary to Rob and Tara Jeffery of Gillingham, Kent, who were married this time last year.

The reason I know this is that I accidentally walked in on their wedding. They were holding their reception at Beacon House on the beach, which happens to be on my round.

I dropped the letters off and came out of the gate onto the path. There was a large crowd in all their finery, taking wedding photos. A sudden cheer rose up.

That stopped me in my tracks. What was going on here? I looked around to to find out what it was they were cheering and it appeared that it was me. That must be the first time ever, in the whole 500 year history of the postal industry, that a postal worker got cheered for delivering letters.

It turned out that Rob and Tara are postal workers too, along with a large percentage of their guests. They wanted a photo with me.

I was reluctant at first, being a bit shy, but they managed to persuade me. So there I was, a red-faced postie in his hi-viz waistcoat, flanked by the bride and groom, posing for a wedding photo on Whitstable beach.

They liked the photo so much it now hangs on their living room wall they told me. This was last week, when I bumped into them again on the anniversary of their wedding. They were sitting on the bench at the Hotel Continental end, contemplating the view, when I drove by.

They waved, but I didn’t recognise them. Who were they waving at? Not at me, surely? Who waves at postal workers going about their daily business?

But, once again, it did turn out to be me. They came down to Beacon House, and greeted me at the gate.

“I bet you think we’re mad don’t you? Only you were at our wedding last year. We took a photo, do you remember?”

How could I forget? And we had another photo on the beach outside Beacon House to commemorate this occasion too, and the two of them gave me a huge hug.

Hugs for postal workers now. Sometimes life is so gloriously unpredictable.


From The Whitstable Gazette 07/09/17

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, 5-8 Boorman Way, Estuary View Business Park, Whitstable, Kent CT5 3SE

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Whitstable: my kind of town

Mentioned in the New York Times, Whitstable is a unique Kent coastal town just over an hour by train from central London. CJ Stone liked it so much he decided to move there.

The sea wall where I ate my lunch in 1981
The sea wall where I ate my lunch in 1981

There’s something about Whitstable. It’s not only its physical appearance – those white-painted, weather-boarded fisherman’s cottages in their homely terraces, or the Victorian Christmas card shop-fronts up and down Harbour Street, or even the network of back alleys that embroider the town in a criss-cross pattern of secret destinations (some well-established enough to have acquired names) – but there’s something else too, something less substantial, but no less real. It’s an atmosphere, perhaps; a mood, a feeling. A sense of history, not as some dry academic thing, confined to the library and a dusty book shelf, but alive, in the very streets, in the lay-out of the town and in the people who choose to live here.

People’s first sight of the town is usually coming down the hill from the A299, London to Margate road. You see the town below you, strung out along the North Kent shore at the confluence of the Medway and the Thames, with the Isle of Sheppey dividing them. On a clear day you can see the far-off hotels and tower-blocks of Southend glinting on the Essex coast. But whatever the light, the view is dominated by the estuary, the colours always shifting, from iron-grey, to green, to brown or blue.

I first came here in 1981 or 1982. I was visiting a friend in Canterbury. We caught a bus to Herne Bay, about six miles further along the coast, and then walked to Whitstable along the sea front. It was early Summer. We had cherries and soft cheese with us for lunch. And, when we arrived in the town, we sat down on the sea wall in a place backed by off-balance wooden sail lofts, looking out across the ruffled estuary, and ate our lunch. I knew then that I would like to live here.

Most people fall in love with Whitstable at first sight. I’ve been living here since 1984.

Continue reading…

Whitstable holidays: American Sea Scouts visit Kent

My brother came over from America earlier in the year. He had a bunch of sea scouts with him. They were from the Sea Scout Ship 876 from the Syracuse region of central New York State.

When they arrived at the scout camp near Maidstone, the manager gave them an American flag which he had in his collection. It was very old, having only 49 stars on it.

They ran it up the flagpole and stood to attention doing the sea scout salute, which is the same as a normal salute, only using three fingers instead of four. Whenever the leader wanted their attention she would hold up three fingers and everyone would go quiet.

There were sixteen of them including the adults. I know this because they had a routine: whenever they had gathered together they would each call out their number with varying degrees of energy and enthusiasm. I quickly became number seventeen.

I had booked a holiday from work, and tried to spend as much time as possible with them. My nephew, Isaac, was there. They called my brother “Mr Stone”, and me “Uncle Mr Stone”.

On the Monday they were supposed to have gone out on the Greta, a working Thames barge moored in Whitstable. Unfortunately the manager forgot to put it in the book and the Greta was in dry dock at the time.

Instead they spent the day in Whitstable with the local sea scouts. My niece, Beatrix, who lives in the town, joined them after school. They went out paddle boarding and also took turns on the back of a jet ski. The driver was showing off, skidding across the water and doing somersaults over the waves.

Afterwards Beatrix decided she wanted to join the sea scouts too. She was breathless with excitement. I could see why. It looked like a lot of fun to me.

Other trips included a visit to Chatham dockyards, home of the British Navy, as well as to Dover Castle and to Greenwich Observatory. Being sea scouts it was Naval history they were most interested in.

The highlight for me was a day out in Canterbury. We went on a punt along the River Stour, which was a revelation. It was the first time I had seen the city from this unusual angle, ducking under the low bridges and seeing the backs of all the old buildings. The talk was entertaining too.

I think the women were far too distracted by the sleek, tanned, muscled legs of the young men doing the talking and the punting, however, to notice the backs of any old buildings.

We also visited the Cathedral and, despite the fact there were works going on, and the nave was shrouded in scaffolding, they were still hugely impressed. Most of them had never seen anything so old before.

They drank in the story of Saint Thomas Becket and the murder in the Cathedral with a kind of hushed awe. It reminded me how deep and compelling our history can be.

Afterwards I took a party of them round the cloisters, where there was a rehearsal going on. A choir were singing to the accompaniment of tuned glasses full of water, which made an eerie, ethereal sound. It was really moving, and a privilege to have witnessed it in the historic atmosphere behind Canterbury Cathedral.

I asked one of the lads what he thought. “Cool,” he said.

You can’t get a higher accolade from a teenage boy.


From The Whitstable Gazette 24/08/17

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, 5-8 Boorman Way, Estuary View Business Park, Whitstable, Kent CT5 3SE

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