Events of 1953 - Article by Phil Page

Introduction

In the early hours of Sunday morning February 1st 1953, 2000 people were made temporarily homeless as the night tide overran the sea defences. The damage caused was estimated in the hundreds and thousands of pounds and was the greatest disaster in the Town - eclipsing the great flood of the 1890s.

Sequence of Events

Seawater poured through and breached the partly completed new sea wall into the low lying parts of Whitstable. The water swirled into the Town over defence works at the Horsebridge, Harbour and Beach Walk areas.

At the time, police were patrolling the sea wall and noticed the tide getting high in the Harbour at approximately 10.45pm and, with high tide over two hours away at 1.07am, warned householders in the danger areas of West Beach, Island Wall and Wave Crest. In one house at Island Wall, the water rose to 6 ft in the basement.

At the Horsebridge, scores of oyster barrels were swept away and were found floating outside St. Alphege and Congregational Churches in the High Street. At this time, water also swept into Cromwell Road and Bexley Street.

The old reservoir, now the Gorrell Tank car park, overflowed above the height of the railings and water surged into Station and Reservoir Roads. Telephones were out of action.

In the Nelson Road area, water rushed between the tennis courts and into Island Wall.

Cars parked in the Golf Club were swallowed up and water reached the roof of the clubhouse. There was great concern for residents of Collingwood Road which bordered the Golf Course.

Seasalter Golf Club in 2004 - Fifty years on

Seasalter Golf Club House in 2004 - Half a century later

Water was forced through the draining system and areas not reached by the sea were also affected - particularly Cromwell and Belmont Roads as the Gorrell Stream was in full flood.

Belmont Road in the Flood of 1953

Belmont Road in the Flood of 1953

Photo by Derek Fallon - reproduced with kind permission of his daughter, Barbara Wardle. © Barbara Wardle 

Beach huts on Long Beach were cast over the sea wall into the harbour car park. The Neptune Pub, which had recently been rebuilt after earlier damage, suffered badly when the waves tore away the back wall of the Pub and water rushed through the bar.

At West Beach, only the Red Spider Cafe stood with the walls barely holding together and the inside full of stone and shingle.

The Red Spider in Later Years - 1966

The Red Spider in Later Years

The Red Spider survived the flood at West Beach as this picture shows. The photo was kindly passed to us by Tim Holman and shows Tim in front of the building in 1966. Ironically, the Spider was knocked down some years later... in order to build new sea defences.

To assist the plight of local residents, the TA was mobilised with extra police from Canterbury and Medway assisting. The American Air Force based at Manston offered a great deal of help and a centre for the homeless was set up in All Saints Hall along with a reception and rest area at the Oxford Street Boys School.

In their memoires, my mother-in-law, Beatrice Warrington-Black and brother-in-law Bill say that it was three weeks before they could return to their house in Nelson Road which was eventually dried out with the assistance of the emergency services and the RAF and their engine warming machines.

On the Monday following the flood, many local shops in the High Street opened for business as usual albeit limited and sometimes from an upstairs room whilst the ground floor was being drained and repaired.

Whitstable High Street on 1st February 1953

Above Left: HIgh Street on 1st February 1953.

This shows the town centre between the junction with GladstoneRoad and St Alphege Church looking North. A policeman or, possibly, fireman controls traffic from the centre of the road while hardy shoppers and sightseers look on. With flood commencing on a Sunday night and most families lacking a fridge and car, supplies were needed!!

Above Right: The scene a few yards closer to the Gladstone Road turning

A Bartlett & Bisson Dairy lorry gives a pedestrian a lift through the water on its 'running board'. Meanwhile, a Royal Mail van is backed up against the front door of Whitstabe's General Post Office.

Photos by Derek Fallon - reproduced with kind permission of his daughter, Barbara Wardle. © Barbara Wardle

This was a slow process as the water was penned in by the sea wall which had to be breached for some of the water to be returned to the sea.

The Oxford and Regal Cinemas were partly flooded but soon returned to performances as usual but using balcony seats only.

A great number of local volunteers worked tirelessly to assist those made homeless and it wasn't until the following Tuesday when 60 fireman and pumps from East Sussex working continuously day and night to help the residents to return to some kind of normality.

Sources and Thanks

I was able to glean information from a variety of sources for this article - firstly from the memories from my Mother in Law. She was a remarkable woman who had a remarkable life in Whitstable and India. She kept copious notes in her diaries and memoirs. I was also able to rely on memories from my brother-in-law, Bill Black, who lived through the floods in Nelson Road.

Other knowledge came from personal experiences. Living at the High Street end of Argyle Road, I was able to observe a lot of the activity.

I was also able to access a copy of the Whitstable Times dated Sat. Feb 7, 1953 (cost 3 old pence) and a copy of the Daily Mail (3 and half pence) dated Mon 2 February. These papers are precious to my wife and family as they form part of the family history."

Phil Page

Note: Simply Whitstable and its readers would like to thank Phil, Fiona and the Page family for taking so much trouble to piece together a fascinating account of those dark days of '53 and sharing those memories with us.

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