Chapter 3:  Historic Routes - Seasalter to Canterbury

Route 3: Seasalter to Canterbury

More has been written about this old 'Highway' than either of the other two we have examined. Studying what has been written plus available maps it is easy for one to accept that our Seasalter to Canterbury 'Highway' ran by a devious route from Blue Anchor Corner to join today's Canterbury Road at Pean Hill and from there to Canterbury. This popular concept of the route as far as Pean Hill is shown in red on Map 9 below.

Map 9: Popular view of the route from Blue Anchor Corner to Pean Hill
A Conundrum

Looking at the map our first query would be 'Why the devious section to Foxes Cross?" Why not a straight run to the shore as shown by a light green line on the map?

The Seasalter dykes shown did not exist until 14th century sea wall and eventual drainage schemes were implemented so they would not have caused any ancient deviation. We can see on Map 4 a hard ridge joining the shore to The Pollard which was known to have been a landing place for goods so why not a straight run to or from there? Interestingly maps around 1800 show what appears to be the outline of a roadway along that ridge.

Historians have pointed out that, given the Roman reputation for building straight roads, the line of the well known Watling Street from Dover through Canterbury, could continue on from St Dunstans in Canterbury along the general line of Whitstable/Canterbury Road to join our green line at Pean Hill.

So, why does the seaward section of the highway now meander between Foxes Cross and the shore?

First, we should look back to the inundation by the sea which destroyed the original Seasalter Church in 1099. The above Map 9 shows the approximate long lost site of the Church of St. Peter. We do not know where the new 1099 shoreline was established. It may have been somewhat transient but we do know the remains of the old church were lost to the sea until a brief exposure of what were believed to be the Church and cemetery remains during storms in 1779.

The important point is that a new church re-dedicated to St Elpheis (Alphege) was established inland on safer higher ground, the active remains, the chapel we know of today off Church Lane. Quite naturally regular routes passed by established churches so it is easy to accept that in the very religious ages about the 12th century our highway may have been diverted to do just that.

But was it? History tells us that from 1287 the land bounded by Faversham Road inland from Blue Anchor Corner to Seasalter Cross then westwards from there by Seasalter Lane was open to the sea until a sea wall closed the area off in the 14th century. Even when closed off the land we know as Seasalter Levels or Marshes remained low lying and subject to flooding. (Seasalter Cross is some 6 feet or more below mean high tide sea level.)

From 1287 a straight section of 'highway' from wherever the shore was to Seasalter Lane would have become impractical. But as the sea so easily claimed that area in 1287 one can see the area was most likely unsuitable for a roadway at any time. Even a 'modern' railway embankment succumbed to the flooding in 1953.

Another Conundrum

We have read that historians considered the Seasalter to Canterbury route a natural 'straight line' extension of the Roman built Watling Street from Dover to Canterbury. It is recorded that the Romans transported salt and goods from Seasalter to Canterbury but, is it correct to assume that our 'red line highway' actually continued from Pean Hill into Canterbury?

Did not John Roper of Canterbury in 1523 bequest monies for the 'making of an horse way for the fisshe wyves ....' between the shoreside settlement becoming known as 'Whystapel Street' and Canterbury? The route generally perceived to be today's Canterbury to Whitstable road perhaps trod by the said fishwives since the Canterbury fish market was established in 1312. That action infers that at best the route was a pedestrian pathway, perhaps used by pack horses (and eventually ox carts) little more than perhaps a well trod track to be properly upgraded to a horseway by John Roper's bequest. A track hardly representative of Roman roads!

But wait! Have not Historians accepted that it is the route of 'today's Canterbury-Whitstable road' (A290) which Whitstable 'fisshe wyves' trod "since the Canterbury fish market was established in 1312"? Let us question that acceptance.


Let us examine the name used as the locale from which those fisshe wyves trod - 'Whitstable' in its various forms. The shoreline known to those fisshe wyves had been established barely 25 years before 1312 as explained in ‘The History of Whitstable’s Shoreline from 1287’ There is no evidence that a settlement, known as Whitstable, in its various spellings, existed along the 1287 established foreshore in 1312. Could it be that early recordists were in fact referring to the general shoreline of Witenstaple Hundred not a specific location such as a residential settlement?

Quite logically fisherfolk, displaced by the 1287 inundation would have settled wherever it was most convenient along the foreshore. One would expect, as humans have done before, they would do their best to maintain their living until their situation became settled. Eventually as communication routes to Canterbury re-established to carry their goods they would congregate into an embryo settlement convenient to that route.


Let us now look at later evidence, the 18th century Turnpike, to hopefully solve our conundrum although we discuss the Turnpike Road in our final chapter.

We know via an Act of Parliament (approving the Turnpike road) that John Roper's road was in use by carriages in 1735 and we know from that it led from Saint Dunstan's Cross near the City of Canterbury leading through the Parishes of Saint Dunstan's, Harbledown, Blean, Hearn-hill, Sea Salter, and 'Whitstable'.

Harbledown? Hearn Hill? Sea Salter ? A Canterbury to Whitstable road passing through those Parishes? One with a basic knowledge of the location of those Parishes may ask 'Since when?'.

We could accept that the reference to 'Sea Salter' Parish referred to that part of the parish the boundary of which we know today tracks along Whitstable's High Street and around the St. Alphege Church - War Memorial sites. Therefore a Turnpike " the Water-side at Whitstable....." as we will later see the Act proclaimed, would seemingly pass through Seasalter Parish.

However the Turnpike would, by definition, naturally terminate at a tollgate. One at St. Dunstans Cross in Canterbury and one in Whitstable which we know was on the southern side of and close by the eventual site of the North Kent railway bridge over Oxford Street, outside Seasalter Parish! We needs look elsewhere for the Turnpike to pass through Sea Salter Parish. Perhaps we may find an answer if we explore this roadway from the other end.

Maybe St.Dunstan's Cross or the early part of the road to St. Thomas' Hill was in the Parish of Harbledown? But Hearn Hill? Surely that would be a route into Seasalter not " the Water-side at Whitstable....."

The Parish of Hearn Hill (today's Herne Hill), skirted the southern boundary of the Seasalter Levels, its boundary crossing southwards over Seasalter Lane to encompass today's Yorkletts Farm. The boundary extended close to Foxes Cross and Ellenden Farm almost to our 'red line' Highway, but not to the perceived route of John Roper's road!

It is difficult to believe that an Act of Parliament would be in error but it certainly looks as though there was some confusion between John Roper's earlier developing route and that of our old Seasalter to Canterbury 'highway'. Unless we put aside our knowledge of the roads as they are today and look deeper for a solution.
Most of the written history of the area has been recorded since that Act of Parliament. Have historians merely assumed John Roper's request referred to the complete route from Canterbury into Whitstable? Was there a plan of the route in 1523? Without one, have historians applied John Roper's 'road' as meaning the complete route as known since the Turnpike was formed over 200 years later?

Did we not read above that 'historians considered the Seasalter to Canterbury route a natural extension of the line of Roman built Watling Street from Canterbury'? Does that not align with the Act referring to the roadway passing 'through the Parishes of Saint Dunstan's, Harbledown, Blean, Hearn-Hill, Sea Salter'?

Map 10: Parish Boundaries in Foxes Cross area

We read above that the Parish of Hearn Hill 'extends close to Foxes Cross and Ellenden Farm'. Map 10  shows us the Parish boundaries relevant to that area. Suitable available data for Map 10 unfortunately dates from about 100 years after the Act of Parliament.

Map 10 shows a 'red line' as part of our Seasalter to Canterbury highway, the line of the Turnpike in purple, the modern Whitstable boundary in bright green. The black dotted lines indicate parish boundaries.

We can see that we have the boundaries of four parishes in the Foxes Cross - Pean Hill area ie: Hearn Hill, Seasalter, Whitstable and another not yet mentioned, Dunkirk. Perhaps, at the time of the Act Dunkirk was part of Hearn Hill Parish. As we can see the purple line of the modern Whitstable - Canterbury Road, the accepted route of the eventual Turnpike Road, does not pass through the parishes of Hearn Hill and Seasalter (or Dunkirk) according to those early 1800s boundaries.

Map 11: Blean and Dunkirk Parish Boundaries at the Sarre-Penn

Although closer our Red Line Highway does not pass through the parishes of Hearn Hill/Dunkirk either!

We must however remember the whole route that Act of Parliament covered. Although the Act did not mention the Parish of Dunkirk, if we follow the Parish boundary along the eastern side where it first shares with Whitstable Parish then Blean Parish, we will see that it does extend to the Turnpike Road shown on Map 11 by the purple line.

As noted above perhaps, at the time of the Act, Dunkirk was part of Hearn Hill Parish. Was it?

So, the Question Remains..........

An Alternative Route

To look further into that likely 18th century confusion we should question why Seasalter Church was built exactly where it remains instead of on what appears to be the older more direct route to Canterbury via Pean Hill.

There is another possible route which could answer that but I stress this is my own hypothesis not promoted by any historian to my knowledge although Flavia Taylor in 'The North Woods' does align The Salt Way with it to some degree.

We have read that The Salt Way passed close by Seeshill Farm in Bogshole Valley. Seeshill Farm fronts on to Seeshill Road which ran uphill from there to pass nearby Benacre Wood. From the north side of the farm the road was, until the new A299 and slip road obliterated it, marked solely by a single fence until when nearby Benacre Wood the road was marked both sides by fencing in front of the only other dwelling on Seeshill Road (coincidentally briefly my home and parents' poultry farm.)

From there, the road was unfenced but actually formed and continued westwards for 100 or 200 yards but any further vestige of Seeshill Road was lost under Thanet Way (A2990), the old 1930s built former A299. The line of Seeshill Road here projected generally towards Seasalter Church.

Perhaps there was a time when Church Lane, our 'Highway', passed the Church to continue on more or less directly to join the well established Salt Way near Seeshill Farm. That would have been an easier route for those early pedestrian travelers. Conversely, a route that may have existed before the Church was built on its present site!

The blue line on Map 12 shows this possible route, the red line our Seasalter to Canterbury Highway, the purple line the route of the Turnpike road and the yellow line representing The Salt Way.

Map 12: A possible route of the Seasalter-Canterbury Highway

A bright green line, partly over the blue line, shows that part of the Seasalter to Salt Way link covered by the old Thanet Way. Benacre Wood is shown in darker green how it would have been about the time of the Act of Parliament, the light green section as the Wood is today.

Note: some maps, including modern street atlas' erroneously show South View Road (sometimes called Sea View) as continuing across Thanet Way to pass alongside Benacre Wood as though it is Seeshill Road.

Smuggling and Our Red Line Highway.

We return to our 'red line' highway to continue our journey along narrow Church Lane on towards Canterbury. Today, after crossing the old Thanet Way, Church Lane becomes Pilgrims Lane to Foxes Cross then Foxes Cross Road as they are known today then on to today's Canterbury Road at Pean Hill.

We may wonder at that seemingly circuitous route. We should be aware the road passes close by Ellenden Farm, a Manor in post Norman times which may have attracted the road in that direction. In those days the name was Elyndenne owned by a family of that name until given to the abbot and convent of Faversham. Henry VIII returned the manor to private hands, several Knights holding title until it was sold in 1791. Elyndenne, adjacent to Whitstable Parish boundary, had the distinction of standing across the boundary of both Seasalter and Dunkirk parishes as shown in Map 10 but by title was recorded as being in Whitstable Parish!

Arriving at Pean Hill we have traversed a well known route for 18th & 19th century smugglers!

In the 18th century illicit goods landed along the lonely reaches of Seasalter shore were smuggled along our 'highway' to be hidden in the woods and 'residences' around the area marked by Ellenden Farm, Pean Farm and Court Lees across the road from Pean Farm on the foregoing Map 10 and Map 13 below. Smuggled goods were transported to Canterbury or locations west towards and including London. The smuggling gangs developed into a substantial fraternity becoming highly organised in the form of companies with directors and managers. Managers and other members of the smugglers hierarchy were housed in a number of dwellings along the routes contraband was transported. Parsonage Farm in Seasalter was one of the best known local 'Manager's' residences. Of course little was really recorded in any formal manner about their activities which is quite understandable but frustrating for us today.

Smuggling of illicit goods had died off considerably by the mid 19th century as excise laws changed but we have seen how a new form of smuggling had given local smugglers a diversion for the years of the Napoleonic Wars 1793-1814. We know that many of those prisoners of war were smuggled via the inland countryside of Seasalter. Our 'Red Line Highway' or parts of it and some accompanying farms played a major part in that illicit activity.

In both forms of smuggling the 'contraband' made its way by devious minor routes to our 'Red Line Highway' in the higher rougher ground of Church and Cut Throat Lanes (now Pilgrims Lane) and Foxes Cross Road. Illicit goods were either diverted westwards or continued a little further on to be temporarily hidden in the Ellenden - Tong Wood - Pean Hill area. The French P.O.Ws typically turned east through the Bogshole Valley.

Map 13: The highways in the Pean Hill area

We will look a little closer at a few minor parts of the smuggling story when we address our final highway The Turnpike Road. We will not delve too far into the smuggling activity as that is a complete story outside the scope of this article.

We temporarily left our 'Red Line Highway' where it met the route of today's Canterbury Road at Pean Hill. The name Pean Hill can be a little confusing as it does in fact cover about two hills over almost a mile of roadway shown on Map 13. Stretching from about the Court Lees manor house to The Brook, the Whitstable/Blean Parish border, the general Pean Hill area seemingly saw the greater part of local contraband temporary storage and distribution.

From that part of Pean Hill where the Seasalter to Canterbury 'highway' joins the line of the later Turnpike road and thus the present Whitstable to Canterbury Road (A290), the route of these old roads into Canterbury appears to coincide.

The Question Remains

We have followed our ancient Seasalter to Canterbury Highway along two possible routes. One well written of but, the route taken is in some doubt thanks to John Roper, an Act of Parliament and the effects of the 1287 inundation seemingly being overlooked. The other route, at this time hypothetical, completed its journey towards Canterbury over the long established Salt Way from the Bogshole Valley.

There are many references throughout history to salt being carried from Seasalter to Canterbury, of salt being transported along The Salt Way, of salt being carried 'from Seasalter' along The Salt Way. In the centuries before 'Whitstable' developed as the named settlement Witstapel Street, the majority of the salt producing area from the western extremities of Seasalter to today's Whitstable foreshore came under Seasalter Parish or Seasalter Borough (modern names/spelling used.) Could it be that references 'from Seasalter' and 'along The Salt Way' referred to either the accepted Salt Way or combined with the hypothetical route joining it from the location we identify as Seasalter today?

References to the route those ancient 'fisshe wyves' took to Canterbury market leave the actual route taken open to conjecture and invite further investigation.

So the Question Remains..........

Chapter 3