Cockling in Whitstable in the mid-twentieth century

The Cockling Trip - 1939

The following photo shows Hugh Singer, my Dad (Tom Harman) and me. It was taken by Hugh's Dad back in 1939.

Photo: HIgh Singer, John Harman and Tom Harman cockling in 1939

Above: Cockling trip in 1939 with Hugh Singer, John Harman & Tom Harman
Photo by Mr Singer

It was taken by Hugh's Dad back in 1939. We were heading over to Shellness (Sheppey) where we would anchor on the cockle banks, eat our sandwich and wait for the tide to go out. In those days, there would also be many boats from the Essex side!

Dad's boat 'The Welcome Messenger, F60' was an original Sheringham Crabber brought to Whitstable by the Cox family when the whelkers migrated from East Anglia. Like many of those boats, it had been updated with a 'petrol/paraffin' Kelvin engine.

In the picture, we are holding the tools of the trade - a short-handled rake and a net scoop. Cockling was a tough business.... with long days during which it was necessary to.....

Getting afloat and off the mud banks with a loaded boat could be treacherous if the wind was up with the returning tide. Once back in the harbour, the bagged cockles had to be unloaded and pushed on a cart to the store.


Photo: Washing Cockles in the 1940s

Above: Washing Cockles. Long Beach and its beach huts lie beyond that fence

Washing The Cockles

The picture right is self explanatory. The date is the 'mid forties'. The location and background are of interest.

The photo (right) was taken at the front of Dad's store. (That's what he called it.... not a shed!). It was at the end of a long row of 'Whelkers'... but only his had a mountain of cockle shells outside!

The stores were located at the back of the harbour's East Quay. In the background, railway boundary railings separate Long Beach from the harbour property. The railings themselves are interesting. There is nothing like using materials at hand. The posts are forged out of railway lines!

There was no water at hand for the fishermen. It had to be carried by a yoke and buckets.... from way over near the Winding Shed.

Cooking Cockles

Photo: Cooking cockles at Tom Harman's store in the 1940s

Above: Cooking cockles at Tom Harman's store


At the store, coppers would be filled and fires lit. The picture (left) shows Dad and Jers Gambrill cooking with two coppers.

The cockles were placed in the copper in a wire basket until "done". From there, they were tipped into a sieve that hung from the ceiling and shaken. The cooked cockles fell out of their shells and through the sieve..... leaving the shells to be thrown out through the open window.

Once cooked, the catch had to be salted..... and bagged up if it was to be transported to London by train.

John Harman


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