The Depot Club: Whitstable's 'Below the Radar' Club for Teenagers of the 1950s/1960s

Introduction

You won't find The Depot Club in any Whitstable history book or old tourist brochure... and you certainly won't find it in a Good Pub Guide. However, in some ways, it is more interesting than the swish establishments of the town's past because it was a monument to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the youth of the late 1950s and early 1960s. For the full story..... read on!!!

The Depot Club

The Depot Club started life during the winter of 1959/60 and lasted a couple of years. It was the brainchild of a handful of local youngsters - including Ivan Knowles, John Fryer, Ray Leeden, Robin Tubb (sadly no longer with us), Mick Croft and Alan Biggs. There wasn't a lot of cash around in the pockets of youngsters in those days..... but there was a lot of enterprise and invention. They hired an upstairs lockup room at the yard of local builders Stanley Reeves of Warwick Road... and called it The Depot. The rent was "30 bob" per week (£1-10s in old money or £1.50 in the decimal coinage of today).

The Warwick Road location of The Depot Club in modern times

Pictured in modern times: The Warwick Road location of The Depot Club

Pictured in modern times - The Upper Foor used as The Depot Club

Pictured in modern times - The upper floor home of the Depot Club

The Depot Interior & Contents

It was dark and there was no heating... but they made it homely using old carpets and  furniture that had been discarded by their parents. In a message to the Simply Whitstable Visitors Book in 2005, Sue Pidford described it all as follows....

I remember the Depot as being in the loft of a builders yard - accessed by wooden steps. The interior was dark and strewn with cushions. An old piano served as a bar.

Sue Pidford - 21/10/05

With these home comforts, The Depot private members club was fully furnished, alive and kicking. It all sounds very easy.... until Ivan explains it in a bit more detail. The building didn't have the modern staircase shown in the modern photo above. In fact, the room was only accessible via a ladder and a doorway that was just 4 ft high!!! The biggest problem was installing the bar - the upright piano mentioned by Sue Pidford. The "innards" had been extracted in order to make way for ale... but it was still heavy and awkward to move.

Mick Croft under the low roof od the Depot Club with the piano bar in the background

Mick Croft under that low roof with the infamous " piano bar" in the background

Beer supplies came from the nearby Sovereign pub in Victoria Street. The photo below shows members of the Depot at the doors of the pub.....

Depot members at the door of The Sovereign Pub in Victoria Street Whitstable

Right: Members of The Depot Club at the door of The Sovereign Pub in Victoria Street, Whitstable

Of course, The Sovereign closed some years ago but, for one Depot member, it hasn't totally disappeared.... because he has the pub's original beer pumps in his home in West Vancouver. That of course is another fascinating story.... and one that you might like to read in our "Pieces of Old Whitstable" section.

A Place to Hangout

Despite its humble circumstances, "The Depot" became a place to "hangout" and kept the youngsters off the streets during that austere time between WWII  and the impending affluence of the Swinging Sixties. Depot members made the most of it with their own brand of entertainment as in the shot below....

Teddy and Sue Backhouse at The Depot Club of the 1950s

Above: Teddy Backhouse and sister Sue performing one of their classic mimes.

Before we move on, I need to explain the decor in the picture above. The wallpaper was carefully chosen from three different rolls and the window drapes added for a touch of sophistication.  Power was fed from the ceiling light socket to drive the record player in the background. In the 1950s, T-fittings could be obtained to achieve this and many people installed them in homes throughout the UK. Fortunately, such things have long since fallen out of favour and, hopefully, they are no longer available!!! If you still have one, get rid of it and call a qualified electrician to fit a proper wall socket!!

Relocation

Eventually, the Depot was relocated to the Warwick Road end of the building where there was a safer and more sensible entrance. Things were done "proper" - including documentation. Evidence of this remains to this day as Ivan explained in a Simply Whitstable visitors book entry back in October 2005....

My cousin Annette Brightman (nee Stringer) still carries her membership card!!!

Ivan Knowles 

The Depot's Demise

When I said that the youngsters "did things proper", I meant "some things"... because they weren't so knowledgeable in legal matters. As a result, not all things were done "proper" with regard to 1950s alcohol laws... which prompted Ray Leeden to describe the club as "under the radar" in a message in the Simply Whitstable Visitors Book! 

The absence of a "drinks" license attracted the interest of the local constabulary... and the organisers were summoned to the Bexley Street police station for an informal lecture by Sergeant Sandford. Thus, the Depot's short life came to an end.... BUT the memories live on around the globe as you will see below

Membership

Over the years, it is thought that Depot membership included.... Ivan Knowles John Fryer, Ray Leeden, Mick Croft, Robin Tubb, Alan Biggs, Sarah Carlton, Roger Payton, the Backhouse family (Ted and his sister Susan), Hazel Mew, David Lomax, Philip Rapley, Terry Richards, Gordon Bartlett, Anne Boothman, Derek Comfort, Dave Jones, Mick Roberts, Dennis Sexton and Roy Kendal.

The Depot Reunion

Despite its "short life below the radar", the club is fondly remembered by members around the world and, on 10 September 2011, Ivan Knowles and his co-conspiritors arranged a reunion that brought many members back together again after half a century. This time there was no intervention by the local constabulary because it involved "above the radar" alcohol at the Marine Hotel in Tankerton. Sadly, drinks were served from a bar rather than a piano!!!

Final Words

The Depot Club has an interesting place in Whitstable history.... wedged between the freedom and affluence of the 1960s and the austerity and authoritarianism of the 1930s/1940s. It was the start of young people using their initiative and invention to entertain themselves rather than becoming clones of their parents. In many ways, it was their early efforts, creativity and demands for independence that cleared the way for The Sixties to become truly "Swinging". For that, every youngster of today owes them a debt!!!

And talking of debts, Ivan tells me that ten shillings is still owed to Stanley Reeves Builders for unpaid rent!!!! But don't worry... we'll keep that one "below the radar" too... unless someone has a "ten shilling" note in their sideboard!!!!

 


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