Last Thursday (19th July), the tranquility of the Kent seaside town of Whitstable was, if not shattered, then at the very least slightly rippled. For Millman Street Community Centre members embarked on another day out in the town, following a similar sojourn in 2015.
This time, however, the weather was glorious: sunshine, cool breezes (remember those?) and plenty of ‘fresh air’ (Note: a type of easier-to-breathe oxygen without nearly as much pollution as London’s atmosphere).
Whitstable was home to the late, great actor Peter Cushing, and Whistable FC are the current holders of the Kent Senior Cup, having defeated local rivals Sheppey United in last April’s final. The town also a great deal of other history, which, if properly researched, might have made for an interesting and informative article.
However, this reporter couldn’t be bothered with said research, and thus thought he’d, erm, speculate on the coastal town’s origins and history…
Whitstable: A Brief (and accuracy-impaired) History
In Ye Olden Days (i.e: pre-1960), the town was established by knights. Or maybe Romans. Or vikings? Erm, lost Scotsmen? Druids? Wandering strudel salesmen who took a wrong turn en route from the Swiss Alps to what is now Luxembourg? Possibly…
Ahem. An-y-way, it possibly got its name from a local lad, name of Whit, who, it seems, was the proud owner of a table. And not just any old table, oh no. A table so splendiferous that people would come from miles around (kilometres were, at the time, merely a measurement enthusiast’s dream) to gaze upon its magnificent table, erm, ness.
And so the whole area – which, at the time, comprised of a few dozen huts made of oyster shells, seaweed and driftwood – became known as the place where the awe-inspiring table could, perhaps, be glanced. Thus: Whit’s Table, which, over time, became contracted to the modern pronunciation ‘Whitstable.’ Local legend also has it that Whit was so houseproud of his table that he wouldn’t allow visitors to put their elbows on it, lest their grubby, bony arm-patellas damaged its lustrously varnished surface. This, scholars ponder, may be the origin of the etiquette rule about not putting one’s elbows on the table…
A-hmm. Local (and indeed international) historians may dispute these origin stories, but then they seem to have little better to do than look into things in a proper, methodical manner to establish the truth of things.
And if the aforesaid statements seem so outlandish, one could do worse than recall that there are other places in Kent after which now-commonplace things are named: Sandwich, Thong and Borstal are good examples (the village supposedly called Industrial Estate in medieval times is, in contrast, a bad example).
Ahem. Anyhoo, so much for Whitstable’s history. Few of HCA’s members were dwelling on that as the coach pulled into town. Our members – peckish and parched from the journey – breathed in the breathable air on their way to a fish and chip shop for tea, cold drinks, erm, fish and (can you guess?) chips.
Alas, tragedy struck when Steve crushed your HCA hack’s reading glasses case. In the ensuing tussle, Steve denied responsibility, saying it was “an accident”, then landed a couple of well-deserved back-handers on the blubbing word-mangler, and threatened to not let him return to London on the coach until he promised not to sue (“lawyers” and extravagant “settlement” sums had been bandied about by the hot-headed hack).
Anyway. Once food and drinks had been imbibed, our refreshed members, with the help of volunteers and staff, then had a butcher’s in local shops, making various purchases. This reporter was especially intrigued with a tea towel bought by one member, which featured a giant squid – And you thought his account of the town’s history was cobblers: even he never thought to invent mahoosive encephalopods in an area totally devoid of them.
After perusing the charity shops and high street, our members and staff made their way to the seafront, passing Cushing’s View (named for the actor-resident of course) and basked in the sunshine. Those with the stomach for it looked out across the Swale to the Isle of Sheppey, or to the old sea forts in the, erm, sea.
Then it was time to rest, to stop off for drinks and ice creams before heading back into town for a brief snifter in a local pub.
No, there were no drunken arguments or Quadrophenia-style pitched battles between our mob and other tourist groups; the constabulary were not summoned and everyone chilled out.
Before they knew it, the members’ day had flown by and everyone headed back to the coach with their souvenirs, cream-crackered but content. No one had a bad word to say about the day out, all having enjoyed themselves. Still, they weren’t to know that this reporter took the snaps in his own, erm, inimitable style:
Finally, it was back to The Smoke – the polluted, unfresh air and urban decay of London. To Holborn, HCA and home…It’s funny how much you miss it for the few hours spent away from it…
Holborn Community Association would like to thank all staff and volunteers who helped out with our members during the Whitstable jaunt.
With apologies to the good people of Whitstable. And its real history.
Fumbled photos and rambling report: Notes Smudger