The present town was founded in the early nineteen hundreds by London speculators who noting the unspoilt charm of the Bay planned a new resort to be named St Augustine’s.
However, the name did not catch on and it continued to be known as Herne Bay after the nearby village. It was during this period that a wealthy London lady gave the town its distinctive 80ft Clock Tower. The first pier was erected in 1832 and by 1834 steamboats were using it to land over 40,000 visitors each year to the resort. What had once been the haunt of smugglers, had grown into a fashionable Victorian resort with all the attendant features of bathing machines and assembly rooms.
From the Bay one can see, to the east, the twin towers of St Mary’s Church at Reculver, which mark the location of Reculver Country Park. In World War II the bouncing bomb, invented by Barnes Wallis for the Dambusters, was tested off the shore near here. One of the prototype bombs, recently recovered from the beach at Reculver, may be seen in the Herne Bay Museum. For centuries the towers have been an invaluable navigational aid, and when the rest of 12th century church was demolished the demand for the towers to remain was so great that they were preserved.
The towers, the foundations of the earlier Saxon church mentioned in the Domesday book and the Roman fort of Reculver (Regulbium), are all situated in Reculver Country Park. The park is a renowned spot for watching migrating birds and has an information centre telling the story of the geology, history and wildlife of this stretch of coastline.
Interesting coastal walks, along the Wantsum Channel are signed from here. Inland is the nearby Saxon village of Herne, which is home to a traditional Kentish smock windmill built in the late 18th century. The village is associated with smuggling and the 14th century church of St Martin’s is the final resting place of Midshipman Snow, killed by a gang of smugglers in the bay. St Martin’s Church is also where the Te Deum was first sung in English.