HERNE Bay’s coastal location and proximity to Canterbury contributed to its development as a resort and town that was relatively recent compared with some of its neighbours. Charles Seymour writing in 1776 mentions sea-bathing at Herne Bay as well as the availability of accommodation for families. Regular visits of coastal trading vessels and colliers from Sunderland and Newcastle had long been established for offloading cargoes to Canterbury and other east Kent towns and villages. By 1792 bathing machines were being introduced on this part of the coast just east of The Ship, which must have increased the number of visitors coming for recreational reasons rather than just commercial and trading. A military encampment was established at the base of The Downs in 1799 as part of the coastal-defence precautions against the French, which in turn must have increased awareness of the availability of residential opportunities.
So it was that in the area of The Ship Inn houses started to be built about 1816. The main catalyst for this was the formation of the Turnpike Trust formed by Act of Parliament in 1814. The road from the shore to Canterbury was well established, but it was subject to heavy traffic and its maintenance and upkeep presented difficulties. Local landowner Sir Henry Oxenden, who owned much of the land west of The Ship, and others formed the trust as a means of raising revenue for the Improvement of the road. The turnpike had two bars: one at Sweechgate Broad Oak and one at the junction of Mickleburgh Hill and Canterbury Road at the Herne Bay end. It followed the line of the modern Canterbury Road before turning west along Mortimer Street heading down the hill to the shore next to The Ship, which was a convenient location close to the shore and a busy landing point for shipping. Several engravings of 1823 show the landing area on the beach and the early development of the town centred on The Ship. An early plan view of the proposed street layout for Herne Bay from Capper’s Guide book 1833 illustrates how the early settlement of houses was still grouped around The Ship and the extent of ‘The Old Town’.
• Contributed by Margaret Burns Herne Bay Historical Records Society. Compiled from information and illustrations taken from Victorian Herne Bay, by Mike Bundock, published by Herne Bay Records Society 2011 in its Herne Bay Past Series No 6.
Herne Bay Times, February 4th 2015