Chapter 1:  Historic Routes - The Salt Way

Route 1: The Salt Way

The Coastal Fringe

First, we discuss The Salt Way which is generally considered the most ancient route from this part of the coast to Canterbury. As with so many features of this area, written references to the route, or even part of the route, The Salt Way takes differ so we follow the more historically recorded path. We ignore the isolated examples which tend to refer to The Salt Way as part of their particular feature.

Long ago, I found one reference to the Canterbury & Whitstable Railway following the Salt Way which had trains running alongside Blean Church, surely rather disastrous to Sunday services!

Another modern publication shows the route coincides with that part of the Seasalter Parish boundary starting about the Horsebridge along today's Oxford and High Streets. Those features were established centuries after the present shoreline was established, a shoreline established over a millennium after early descriptions of the Salt Way's existence. While such references, often from local lore, may frustrate seekers of the genuine, they do add some sense of mystery to our history and may well excite an interest and research which eventually uncovers more interesting historical fact.

As the North Kent coastline receded, many features changed, settlements and landing sites relocating with the changing shoreline. With one to two miles in depth of coastal fringe lost to the sea, we are denied any easily identifiable evidence of the actual route of The Salt Way seaward from today's shores. The earliest evidence as to where the Salt Way terminated is in references to a location named Herewic where salt was collected. Herewic, is said to be Saxon but translates in Old Danish to an army encampment or outpost. Herewic devolves through Harewick to the modern name Harwich.

For quite some time, the Danes occupied the Isle of Sheppey. Neighbouring Faversham was the principal Thames port from mid Roman times until surpassed by London around 1600AD. We must remember vessels of the day were small and of shallow draft - well able to cope with navigating the sheltered Swale River and approaches to Faversham. The Swale estuary and river would have been relatively busy with traffic to and from continental Europe.

With the Danes occupying Sheppey, the presence of a military camp or outpost on the opposite shore of the Swale is quite understandable. One would expect such a post to be about the closest point to Sheppey with a corresponding post there, both being conveniently placed to oversee entrance to the River Swale. A map covering the North Kent coast and Sheppey will show The Spit to be the closest of our offshore clusters, the closest potential hard ground to Sheppey in the days of Roman and Danish occupation. Shell Ness on the island of Sheppey and The Spit on the opposite shore provide two ideal sites for military posts across the entrance to the River Swale. Map 3 below illustrates those features. At the bottom right hand corner, we can see the black line representing our extension of the Salt Way from 'Whitstable'. The green line represents the long established but more modern boundary of the combined parishes of 'Whitstable' as it extends along The Swale.

Map 3: The Spit and old shoreline bordering The Swale

The Danish occupation of Sheppey, the translation of Herewic as a Danish post known to have been on the 'opposite shore', the convenient location of that being The Spit, known to have once been the shoreline and the coincidence of our extension of The Salt Way to The Spit all add up to that feature being an early location of Herewic. We should not overlook that there must have been reason for that early parish boundary encompassing The Spit. Deduction yes, but with no viable alternative yet having the same support.

Human habitation requires a supply of fresh water. Just off scene to the West, or left, of Shell Ness, there is a brook or stream to supply that area. Because the opposite shoreline has receded so far, without appropriate archaeological survey we cannot determine with certainty that fresh water was available to The Spit. However there are several streams draining the higher land behind the Seasalter foreshore. At least one of those would surely have existed to possibly service that Danish outpost wherever it was on the former shore. In fact, one stream now outpouring to the West of the Pollard appears to head towards The Spit area (see earlier Map 2).

Records of Herewic over the centuries have associated it with salt harvesting. Therefore, as the shoreline receded, Herewic must have followed to the general area where we know it was with some certainty. That area is the well known areas of Lower Island and The Salts - the latter occupied today mainly by Seasalter Golf Course and Cornwallis Circle. (Note: The Salts was and is in the Parish of Seasalter. Early references to salt harvesting 'at Seasalter' could refer to the shore off the eventual Salts area, The Salts itself, further west in Seasalter or all of them including eastwards to the Harbour area perhaps including the now lost Gorrell Delta).
Apart from the general move of the shoreline to the South, we must look further to see if the topography or any change to it can indicate how Herewic could have arrived in the area of The Salts from a supposed location about The Spit. Considering that development of sea defences from the early 14th century has provided an unnatural shoreline, we must first look to where the 1287 inundation established a new shore.

Map 4: The shoreline in Roman Times

On Map 4, the deep water mark, the shoreline of Roman times, is highlighted by the green line passing through points A1, B1 and around the Spit. Superimposing that line over the 'new' 1287 shoreline we can see the new shoreline is not greatly dissimilar to the old A1-B1-The Spit contour.

In Roman and Danish times, it seems likely that there was a slight ridge of higher ground, perhaps over a ridge of hard London clay like The Street, from points A1 to A2 & B1 to Blue Anchor corner. Those ridges would have left a shallow basin between them lending itself to salt harvesting. A shallow basin which, no doubt with the aid of man's coastal defences, would naturally become the tidal flats known today.

While there may have been a Danish army post on the point of The Spit, it is more likely the base for salt harvesting was somewhere about point B1 but still considered as Herewic. As the land sank, and the comparative sea level rose, Herewic would have naturally retreated along the line of the existing 'road', The Salt Way, to position B2 on or about Lower Island. Position B2 marks the last known point where an actively used Salt Way is perceived to have met the shoreline.

Herewic has been described as an Administrative Borough and also as a Manor with a number of salt pans. However there does not appear to be any building remains to mark its presence in the popular concept of a Manor. Generally, it would appear from old small scale maps that Lower Island was eventually home to this salt harvesting base, the sole preserve of The Salts in this immediate area, outlined in purple on our map. As embryo Whitstable developed, Herewic gradually declined into obscurity.

(Note: There is historical reference to 'Harewick having a church' and 'must therefore be Church Street hamlet'. Church Street was in the Manor of Northwood, earlier known as Nortone. Harewick has been described also as a Manor as well as an administrative Borough. Church Street is inland on high ground and therefore the much written of salt production of Herewic/Harewick would not have occurred there).

Administrative Boroughs extended across manorial territory so it is possible that, at some time, Herewic/Harewick encompassed Northwood Manor and therefore Church Street. Some Manors also had detached areas within another territory and, so, it is possible that reference to 'Harewick' having a church came from that location being within the Manor of Northwood at some stage. Of course none of that directly reflects upon the route of The Salt Way.

The Salt Way Heads Inland

We now follow the Salt Way inland from where early maps etc show the route crosses The Salts to where it meets the Sarre-Penne Brook at today's Blean Bottom. The route continues on to meet the River Stour to the east of Canterbury but our interest is more in the Whitstable related 'half'. The following two part Map 5 shows the Salt Way in red and, to orientate readers, features recognisable today in black text with roads or lanes in grey and 'modern' Canterbury road in purple.

Map 5: The Salt Way from The Salts to Blean
Our Journey Begins

Sadly, there doesn't appear to be any tangible present day evidence of the Salt Way about the shoreline or on Lower Island. The 'Salts' area would have been low lying for centuries and no doubt required a well established 'roadway' to cross it from Herewic's earlier presence closer to Sheppey. Following the inundation of 1287, the 'Salts' area became flooded and tidal cutting off The Salt Way. Herewic and its salt production would have had to re establish along the new shoreline.

The redevelopment of salt production in the area we know as 'The Salts' would necessitate many changes. Old maps tell us that salt harvesting and storage focused on Lower Island and so a new 'roadway' to the now 'mainland' became a necessity. Until Upper and Lower Islands were joined, banking separating the salt pans would have provided a convenient causeway to join Lower Island. The alignment of the Salt Way shows this would most likely have been the middle 'separator' although a substantial causeway, which remains today, developed further west. Map 6 below.

Map 6: The path of the Salt Way across The Salts

 

Thus, we have no permanent reminder of that early 'highway' which joined 14th century sea wall defences, the yellow line, along Westcliff at a point to become known as 'The Cross'. The name 'The Cross' appears to have fallen into disuse as the salt industry declined and is largely unknown today. Perhaps the better known 'The Cross' at the junction of High and Harbour Streets has with the nearby landing place 'The Horsebridge' misled some to accept that as 'The Cross' associated with The Salt Way and thus misplaced that early highway.

'The Cross' of The Salt Way is broadly marked today by 'Portway' from where our 'highway' travels inland over a present day pathway to pass alongside the site of an ancient church and 'The Two Brewers' pub emerging to cross Canterbury Road into Saddleton Road.

Later, several manors would be built within reasonably close proximity to that first part of The Salt Way. Our earlier Map 5 shows three of those manors. The site of one, close to the eventual railway line is simply known as The Manor. Mystery, myth and confusion surrounds the true location of almost all of Whitstable's old manors. The second manor, along Joy Lane, is considered by some to have been the Manor of Borgsteall (Bostall then Borstal). However, that honour is also assigned to the third manor in the north east corner of Canterbury Road and Gordon Road close by The Salt Way when built. Further confusion is added by both sometimes being identified as Grymgill Manor or even Cundieshall (later Condies Hall) which probably has the widest range of perceived locations in the area.

Nevertheless, there is more certainty that The Salt Way continued along the route of Saddleton Road to a site below Donkin Down, the present Duncan Down. This is perceived as the site of Grymgill Manor (Grymgill aka Greenshields, Crymgil, Grimbarrow and Grimshill). Placed somewhere near the junction of Grimshill Road, one would think the Manor House would perhaps have been a little further on to take advantage of the fresh water from the Gorrell Stream. Nevertheless, it is known that Grymgill Manor fell into decay and, like The Salt Way, disuse, becoming a poorhouse by 1800AD. As such, one would think a record of its precise location would exist. Perhaps it does as an Ordnance Survey map of 1872 shows Grimgill Farm at or about the perceived site of the Manor. There are some historical references to the Manor house or Poorhouse 'becoming a farm'.

Considering the path the present main route to Canterbury takes, readers may wonder at the direction The Salt Way is heading. In the days of slow pedestrian traffic with man or beast carrying some burden, the easiest route with access to fresh water would be taken, not necessarily the shortest. The Salt Way avoids climbing the steep hills at the beginning of the journey to Canterbury when travelers would have been heavily burdened with goods, quite different perhaps to their return journey. The Salt Way enjoys the relatively level plateau through Clowes Wood and Blean. Fresh water was available from the Gorwell River, in Bogshole and several locations through Clowes and Blean Woods to the Sarre-Penne Brook.

Map 7: Path of the Salt Way from Saddleton Rd to Bogshole

From Saddleton Road, The Salt Way curves around the north eastern base of Duncan Down. About this point, some old maps show a substantial unidentified building on the south or opposite side of our route to where Grimshill manor is most commonly thought to be. Perhaps that is the old manor house. Crossing the Gorrel Stream, where there was once a bridge, our route today takes us around the most north easterly point of Benacre Wood to turn south alongside the Wood for a short distance. Benacre Wood has changed very little in the past 180 years but was a little bigger 200 years ago when our route would have taken us through the northern tip of the wood and through part of the eastern side as our Map 7 shows.

Today Benacre Wood barely extends across the old Thanet Way (A2990) but, two centuries ago, the Wood covered a more extensive area down to and slightly over the Bogshole Brook and eastwards almost across to Golden Hill. Being part of the ancient North Woods, Benacre would have had even greater coverage in the early days of The Salt Way but the precise origins of its name and how far it really extended under that name have been lost in the mists of time.

Some maps around 1700 to 1800 show The Salt Way crosses a track or roadway shortly after first exiting the Wood. A track which extends from the top of Millstrood Hill along a ridge into the Wood itself is shown on Map. 7.

On one old map, there appears to be an unidentified building, perhaps farmhouse in the partially cleared wood. No textual reference has been found describing that apparent building nor can I recall any evidence being there during my youthful wanderings. Maps of the late 1800s show a smaller Benacre Wood with the track from Millstrood Hill diverging southwest to join The Salt Way route.

The Salt Way was then marked by stiles (as for a 'Bridle Path') at each fence in the area covered by those maps but I cannot imagine the new A299 with that facility! Some stiles still exist, some have been replaced by a wider modern steel 'farm gate'.

From our map, the Salt Way passes by ancient Seeshill and Burgess farms to enter Clowes Wood near Clowes Farm. A short distance to the east is the site of one of the first steam winding engines of the now defunct Canterbury & Whitstable Railway used to haul trains up from Bogshole valley.

To this stage we have not traveled along any hard evidence of the Salt Way such as presently paved, signed or used trackway since leaving Saddleton Road. From here on the rest of our route to the Sarre-Penne stream is along local lanes or signed pathway.

Both Clowes Farm and the next farm The Salt Way passes close by, Amery Court, are very ancient. Both of those farms were established prior to 1400AD; established during the times when the Salt Way was the main route from the coast to Canterbury.

The present timber framed building of Clowes or 'Cluse' Farm replaced the original pre 1400s 'The Hall in The Blean'. The name Amery Court derives via various corruptions from The Almonary Court, the farm having once been given to St Sepulchre's Nunnery, Canterbury, no doubt as a source of income. Situated on the ancient Salt Way, both Clowes Farm and Amery Court would have been very prominent houses and reputedly hosted mediaeval Kings and their hunting parties although local woods are not considered to have been 'Royal' woods.

The Salt Way passes close alongside Blean Church, the ancient 6th century church of St. Cosmus & St. Damian in the Blean. The Church is said to have been built partly on the site of a Roman villa or fortified settlement conveniently alongside The Salt Way.

In the later years of The Salt Way's regular use, Blean village centered about the Church which today stands in isolation. In this 21st Century, The Salt Way is evidenced alongside the Church by a pathway and is commemorated by a memorial seat nearby.

Blean Church is the final edifice of note before we leave the Salt Way as it crosses the Sarre-Penne stream well before entering the environs of Canterbury.
(One would think The Salt Way to be about the only maritime connection inland Blean Church has. However a plaque inside the church commemorates the lost souls aboard HMS Blean, a Hunt Class Destroyer sunk in the western Mediterranean 60 miles west of Oran, Algeria on 11th December 1942 less than 5 months after commissioning.)

The Salt Way is generally accepted as continuing on from the Sarre-Penne Brook to meet the River Stour to the east of Canterbury about Sturry the location of the ancient port linking Canterbury with the Continent.

From the River Stour The Salt Way is perceived by some to have continued further to the one time Roman port of Durovernum (Dover). As the northern end or beginning of The Salt Way is generally accepted to pre date the Roman occupation of Britain, it is likely they extended and modified the route to suit their own preferences for shipping the highly valued salt to Rome.


Chapter 1