Route 4: The Turnpike Road
We have seen that, in 1735, Parliament passed:
"An Act for repairing and widening the Road leading from Saint Dunstan's Cross, near the City of Canterbury, to the Water-side at Whitstable....."
That Act of Parliament would see the generally accepted John Roper's 'horse way for fisshe wyves' change forever. In 1736, that horseway would become one of the new Turnpike roads of Britain, the second in Kent. A Turnpike which, within a century, it is recorded, would see annually 20,000 tons of goods and 4000 people traverse the route from Whitstable to Canterbury. This at a time when the Whitstable population was less than 2000. The Turnpike road had a profound effect on Whitstable and saw our earlier 'Highway's stagnate to country lane status or in part disappear.
Before we get too excited about this fabulous new Turnpike road, we can ask "When and where did this route start?"
We know that our 'fisshe wyves' followed some route to the fish market at Canterbury in 1320, early in the 14th century. We do not really know precisely what route they followed. As we saw in Route 3: Seasalter to Canterbury, there is some discrepancy between Parliament's understanding of the route and the common perception that it has always followed the Whitstable - Canterbury road as we know it today.
Possibly the dramatic changing of the shoreline in the 1099 to 1287 period provided a more convenient, perhaps more protected landing place than previously existed. The Street as we know it today does provide some measure of protection which was not there before 1287. The appearance of the Street alone would have caused a drift of fishing and commercial craft from Seasalter towards landing their loads in these slightly more protected and deeper waters.
The 1340 and 1532 built sea wall along the line of today's Middle Wall and Westcliffe gave a measure of protection eventually allowing early dwellings, thence a crude roadway to develop along the narrow spit eventually occupied by today's High and Oxford Streets. More importantly to our tale, in the 14th to 15th centuries that early track would have been as a finger post pointing from the shore to Canterbury for our 'fisshe wyves' to pioneer a new route.
Historic evidence tells us the new route grew along the line of today's Canterbury Road to Joy Lane, to the 'Tollgate' of today. But there is little information recorded of the route from that point and the period following the 14th century until that Act of Parliament.
Initially perhaps our 'fisshe wyves' turned off along the eventually named Main Road (now Joy Lane) to join the old Seasalter to Canterbury 'Highway'. But, where did they join it? Perhaps there was a different route. If we project the line of Canterbury Road from about today's St James Street through the Tollgate area we would see it meets with our earlier Seasalter to Canterbury Highway at about the present intersection of Church Lane and the old Thanet Way (Refer to Green line Map 14). We can see the green line, our projected line, generally coincides with the continuation of Church Lane now known as Pilgrims Lane, through the Wraik Hill area.
There is literary evidence of an old pathway or track along our projected line uphill from the Tollgate area junction towards the Church Lane -Thanet Way intersection of today. That would have presented a less daunting, less demanding climb uphill than that of the Borstal Hill of the 18th & 19th centuries.
Seasalter Parish records show that in the late 1600s there was a bridge at 'the bottom of Borstall'. Although that has been accepted as meaning 'the bottom of Borstal Hill' as we know it today one wonders about that as there does not appear to be any mention of such a bridge in any reference to the Turnpike Road.
There was a watercourse running down the east side of the road we now know as Canterbury Road. The watercourse continued on alongside Oxford and High Streets before discharging into Whitstable Bay about the Harbour site and later perhaps into the Harbour once built. (sometimes mistaken for the Gorrell Stream discharging into the Harbour?) The lay of the land also suits a watercourse flowing from the hill behind Borstal Hill Farm, on the west side of today's Borstal Hill (road,) to either cross the site of that road before flowing down the east side or, to flow across the path of Main Road (Joy Lane) hence the need for a bridge. The lay of the land also supports westerly drainage flowing from the east side, opposite Borstal Hill Farm and below the windmill into the first mentioned, eastern, watercourse.
The bridge, maintained by the Parish of Seasalter, would then be servicing a path or track up Bostall hill. Logically one would think the track angling uphill towards Church/Pilgrims Lane would branch off the track up Bostall hill on the high side of any water course.
Perhaps the bridge was built specifically to service that shorter link with the old Seasalter to Canterbury 'Highway' angling uphill to Church Road instead of traversing Main Road (Joy Lane) to Church Lane.
A small settlement known as Bostall Green is known to have existed about the eventual Tollgate area. There appears to be little to show us when even a simple horse or cartway was first made over the Borstall Hill route we know today. However Bostal was earlier known as Borgsteall a name derived from Old English - a track or path winding uphill thus supporting a less direct route than that of today.
There appears to be little if any evidence to tell us when the 'fisshe wyves' took the more direct route over 'Bostall' and Clapham hills to met the Seasalter Canterbury Highway. Do we have any evidence telling us? Was there any other use to bring about development of that section? Was the landing of goods becoming more focused on one specific part of the coast sufficient to help develop one singular route to Canterbury?
The Salt Way had probably fallen into complete disuse long before Daniel Defoe noted in his 1712 'Tour' that 'Whitstable' shore was becoming the main landing point for Canterbury merchandise. We know that was most likely because the River Stour was no longer open close to Canterbury. It wasn't until about 1730 that the settlement developing along the lower High/Harbour Streets area was named and recognised as 'Witstapel Street' with Church Street at that time noted as 'Witstapel', later Whitstable. Therefore we cannot be sure if Daniel Defoe was referring to 'Witstapel Street' as the landing place or generally along the foreshore from Seasalter to Swalecliffe. (If any reader has easy access to Defoe's 'Tour' it would be nice to read the actual passage to verify detail, especially his spelling of Whitstable.)
Logically Defoe's 'development of trade' probably did focus attention on John Roper's horseway necessitating some attention to it over the years to improve it for wheeled carts. We know from the above Act of Parliament that the road was in use by 'carriages' in 1735 but, which road?
We saw how the Act of Parliament added some confusion about the route the Turnpike road would follow and in some minds over where the Turnpike terminated. We have said that logically Turnpike roads existed between tollgates otherwise they would not have been Turnpike roads. Therefore the thought expressed by some that our Turnpike Road ran from Canterbury's Westgate Towers to Tankerton Tower (Whitstable Castle) would be incorrect. However the main street, including Oxford and High streets, were at least colloquially referred to by some locals as 'the turnpike road'.
Parliament's reference to 'the waterside at Whitstable' adds further confusion as the original Whitstable Tollgate, was far from the waterside as we know it today. (Map15A below.) But, what of the location in 1735? The waterside was actually about the Oxford Street/Nelson Road intersection, a mere 250 yards (200metres) from the Tollgate, so perhaps we will allow Parliament that one. We must be conscious too that it was impractical for Parliament to readily visit the sites their Acts refer to. Parliament must rely upon information presented to it by those proposing or requesting an Act. Information presented according to the understanding of the locale etc by the proposer.
Regardless of all that it is well established that the eventual route of
the Turnpike Road is that of today's Whitstable/Canterbury road, the A290.
No matter where it started, ran or finished we will see that within its length the Turnpike saw enough interesting activity to mark its presence.
South Along the Turnpike Road
We start our journey along The Turnpike Road from the Whitstable Tollgate, the original Tollgate that is. The Whitstable Tollgate was built well over 120 years before the bridge for the North Kent railway was erected across Oxford Street/Canterbury Road. The Tollgate was built on the Canterbury side of the then Mill Road now Belmont Road intersection. That intersection was then quite different to that known in living memory.
Map15 A, B & C shows three development stages of that intersection. The maps have been developed using contemporary maps as a guide to present a reasonable idea of how things were.
Map15A shows the general area before the Turnpike was promoted. The Gorrell Delta was still low lying sometimes swampy land restricting development along the east side of a developing roadway - High & Oxford Streets of today. Mill Road can be seen to loop around 'Swan Field' a swampy leftover from the drying Gorrell Delta. The proximity of the seashore, ie the edge of the salt pans, to the intersection and thus the Parliamentary statement "....to the Waterside at Whitstable." is evident. Several modern road/street names are used to orientate the reader.
Map15B shows the intersection as it apparently was shortly before reconstruction of the intersection to accommodate the railway, railway bridge and station. The railway necessitated a considerable embankment be built to pass over the roadway, in some ways considerable foresight for the pre-automobile period of the mid 1800s.
Note: The intersection at this time is a pronounced inverted 'T' shape. The embankment would have a profound effect on the intersection, Mill Road and neighbouring premises. Not shown are the toll gates and a gate across the end of Mill Road. One of the first gas lamps to be installed in Whitstable was on this corner of Mill Road.
The blue lines in Map15C illustrate the scene about the intersection after completion of the railway with several neighbouring roads included. The 'T' intersection has gone. In its place Oxford Street curves to blend with Canterbury Road and Mill Road has been reconfigured to better serve a flow of traffic into Oxford Street. The latter an indication of the growing business district of High Street. The Tollgate has been removed from the site.
Map15B includes the 1848 built Hertsfield Terrace on the North side of the intersection and extending towards Cromwell Road. Map15C shows the railway as though passing through Hertsfield Terrace. Three houses of the Terrace were pulled down to make way for the railway, bridge and station. A building along the southern side of Canterbury Road would be enlarged towards the railway and become The Railway Inn.
The Tollgate was relocated to the site we are familiar with today, the triangular island at the junction of Borstal Hill, Joy Lane and Gordon Road.
We continue our journey from the original Tollgate southwards 300 yards (100metres) or so along the Turnpike route to what was once open space called Grince Green. Here on the Day of the Patron Saint of Oystermen, St.James, August 4th the annual Dredgerman's Fair was held. Reports indicate a fair was still being held there mid 19th century with other events taking place into late that same century. No doubt the advent of the motor vehicle along what had been the Turnpike Road ruined some local fun.
The question has often been raised - 'Why is the annual Dredgerman's Fair
held so far from the shore, so far from the base of their daily toil.'
As we saw earlier the route of the ancient Salt Way ran alongside the eventual site of The Two Brewers inn to continue along the route of modern Saddleton Road (so thus ran across Grince Green.) The Inn was established sometime after mention of a cottage on that site in 1692 and its known existence by 1723 - before the Turnpike road was built. A roadway of some form existed along this part of the eventual Turnpike route linking Seasalter and the Church Street area with nearby settlements. The Grince Green site was reasonably central to most of the local settlement. In addition, we should not forget that the old shoreline of Westcliffe was barely 200 yards distant.
We should be aware that nearby, along the Salt Way and behind the present site of 'The Two Brewers' P.H. stood a church. Could this church have been dedicated to the Patron Saint of Oystermen ie St James thus lending further reason for the Fair being located here?
Most likely the Dredgerman's Fair developed when the Lower Island and The Salts were the focus of the oyster industry. Not only that but considering the narrow spit like land formation upon which 'Wytstapel Street' eventually developed along there was no more convenient suitable open space near the shore and what was developing as the main thoroughfare.
An amusing side issue relative to the cottage which is considered to have became 'The Two Brewers' highlights terminology of the 17th century against today's usage. In 1692 an almost appropriately named Thomas Pott bequeathed his 'House, Backside and Barn'.
Do I need to translate 'Backside' as referring to the property not the person?
That particular 'Backside' evidently contained more than one would suspect. As we saw above behind The Two Brewers site stood a now long forgotten church. There was also a cemetery. Reputedly the corpses of three French Prisoners of War lie in the Two Brewers garden, ghostly shapes reportedly being seen there some nights. How the corpses got there, if indeed true, is unknown. Nevertheless despite 'backsides' and corpses this was an important location, the pub fronting on to what was to become the backbone or main artery of Whitstable.
Above we saw that Saint James was the Patron Saint of Oystermen. Grince Green was close by the church behind the Two Brewers pub. If that were the Church of St.James then in conjunction with the adjacent Salt Way we can see how Grince Green became the location for an annual oystermen or dredgermens Fair.
In Chapter 1 The Salt Way we read of that route crossing the old sea wall along Westcliff at a location known as 'Portway'. Why is Portway so named? Where does that name come from? There are vague references to marine craft and early oyster dredgers being moored inside Lower Island that is over 'The Salts' or as we know the area today the Seasalter Golf Course. Was Portway so named because that well established section of the Salt Way was the route or 'way' from the port to the main thoroughfare. Being so close to the Two Brewers site and the church, Portway would add to making Grince Green an appropriate location for the Annual Fair.
Progress of the growing Town saw Grince Green disappear under buildings and eventually tarmac. An old forge, across the road from The Two Brewers, may have been there on the edge of Grince Green long before the pub. In the 1920s, long after turnpikes were abolished, the forge would be the scene of a murder suicide adding yet another event to contrast with the happier events of Grince Green fairs.
Stepping out of The Two Brewers and turning right along the Turnpike across the line of the old Salt Way we pass Saddleton Road built along part of the route of the Salt Way. The Turnpike would still be existant to see the large vicarage on the southern corner of Saddleton Road become home to the Rev. Somerset Maugham whose orphaned nephew came to live with him in 1884 as a 10 year old lad born and brought up in France. That nephew would become the well known and much celebrated novelist William Somerset Maugham.
A hundred yards or so further south we come to the area discussed earlier once known as Borgsteall thence Bostall Green. Here we find the junction of Main Road mentioned earlier and in 1860 in the middle of the junction, the newly built Tollgate displaced from the earlier Mill Road junction site. Facing along Main Road, later known as Joy Lane, well down the road on the right we would see an old Mansion house, like most of Whitstable's mansions, of confused origin. Behind us yet another old mansion. Both have been identified, among other titles, as Bostall Manor. However it is more likely that belongs to the second mentioned of those two Manors the one near the north east corner of Gordon Road.
Still facing along Main Road/Joy Lane, the Turnpike Road continues to our left across Bostall Green towards Bostall hill (Borstal Hill.) The line of the road down from the Hill actually passed behind the eventual Tollgate in the form of a narrow lane into Main Road/Joy Lane. On the left in 1830 the 'line' entered the lane past 'Waypost House' one of the earliest 'postal depots' established around 1830 in the early days of the present National postal system. Rather uniquely a small red letter box stood (perhaps still does?) within the southern wall and near the roadway corner of the house.
As the Turnpike climbed the easy lower reaches of Bostall hill to turn slightly right up the main part it passed an early post windmill off to the left. This was the forerunner of the large smock mill further uphill which became such a local landmark from the year it was built, 1792, until the present day. In the days of the Turnpike Road this was a white windmill but in the latter part of the 19th century it was painted black becoming known as the 'Black Mill'.
After The Two Brewers, Turnpike travelers heading towards Canterbury up the once notoriously steep Bostall hill had to wait until 1823 for The Horse Shoes public house for relief from their arduous climb. Situated adjacent to an old forge about half way up the hill, The Horse Shoes later became The Four Horse Shoes popular with early 20th century cyclists. (The hill gradually became less arduous following removal of some of the crown and flattening the hump part way up several times over the years from the late 19th and 20th centuries.) Further uphill from the Four Horse Shoes and still on the western side we would find the Gaol House, long a private residence. Little is known of this building except that there was a gibbet in an adjacent field reputedly used for its grisly purpose.
In 1858 Stephan Saddleton closed his forge on the western side of the Turnpike just past the crown of Bostall hill to take over the forge opposite The Two Brewers Inn. His house alongside his old forge became a beerhouse named The Long Reach. The Turnpike, as named, would just miss the inquest on the imposter Fanny Wood held in The Long Reach in 1884. Fanny Wood, illegitimate daughter reputedly of a Mr Jordan, fooled the local benefactors for many years by faking great illness and reaping the benefits of their generosity.
By the late 19th century The Long Reach had built a reputation as dirty and patronised by the roughest class of local people. Apart from poachers being mentioned, how would such an establishment, well out of town gain such a reputation? Waterside beerhouses often had a reputation for being the rough haunts of smugglers but did they patronise The Long Reach in the late 1800s?
By the 1850s there would have been little if any smuggling, certainly none on the grand scale of the previous century. In 1935, The Long Reach name was transferred to new 'roadhouse' premises on the 'new' Thanet Way (now the A2990), the old premises becoming a grocery store for about 30 years.
Further south the Turnpike breasts Clapham Hill, site of natural spring waters. The Turnpike Road, itself a forewarning of modern times, saw in June 1793 Whitstable's first 'modern' reticulated fresh water supply. Established with water piped from 'Spring Farm' (now Springfield) on Clapham Hill, the wooden pipes taking water alongside the former Turnpike to a dipping well in Oxford Street is hardly in keeping with modern practice.
The Oxford Street dipping well supplied Whitstable for some years until bores were sunk within the Town area in the 1800s.
On the crest of Clapham Hill to the left is Clapham Hill Farm formerly Balles Hall. Could this have been the origin of the nearby name Bogshole, thought to have derived from an ancient manor named Boshall?
Part way down Clapham Hill is the now twice rebuilt Glen Cottage once the home of the infamous Fanny Wood and her mother.
At the foot of Clapham Hill stands Pye Alley Farm its history inevitably
entwined with that of the local smuggling fraternity. A little after the
middle of the 20th century the farm would host an avant garde energy
creating process which would have stood tall in this energy conservation and
greenhouse gas conscious 21st century.
The Turnpike continued from the farm across the junction of Pye Alley Lane with the Bogshole Brook running alongside. We cross the Brook with no obvious sign of a traditional bridge yet less than 100 yards along the Turnpike road maps show 'Shepherds Bridge' in the field to the left just off the road. A bridge? But, there is no bridge! Did the road once run there and across a bridge? But there is no watercourse!
Shepherds Bridge marks the site of an old weir. Even that may surprise visitors to the area. The western end of the Bogshole valley on through Ellenden to the west was once home to a number of water meadows. Once timber had been cleared for agriculture or grassland pasture, suitable fields would be developed as water meadows. Winter rainwater would be stored by dams or weirs for release over the meadows during the drier months.
From here on we continue our journey along the Turnpike once again in the territory of its most infamous activity.
Smuggling and The Turnpike Road.
The Whitstable area, especially the town itself, has long been well known for its number of Public Houses. Mention of 18th century Whitstable pubs usually opens the subject of smuggling as several 'Locals' have been associated with smugglers in their early years.
Some of the pubs in the countryside along the Turnpike may well have been frequented by smugglers. It would be nice to think they added a little excitement, even a touch of notoriety to enhance the history of the Turnpike road. Some of those hostelries were in known smuggling territory but unlike some of their town counterparts we have no evidence that smugglers even patronised them to quench their thirst.
Little of any notoriety has been recorded about the three remaining hostelries along the Turnpike before we reach the Sarre-Penne brook. 'The Red Lion' just over the Whitstable/Blean Parish border appears to have born a cloak of respectability. Perhaps its location at the bottom of Honey Hill rendered it as unattractive to the smugglers for their signaling system. Likewise little if any record of notoriety has been recorded about Blean's Royal Oak at the top of Honey Hill or the Hare and Hounds just before the Sarre-Penne Brook.
Smuggling being an illicit activity reliant upon secrecy and stealth, dark nights, and the smugglers reputedly favouring dark country lanes we do not know with any certainty that the smugglers of contraband actually carted their illicit cargo along the Turnpike to any extent. We do know the smugglers had an advanced signaling system in operation along its length from the Westgate of Canterbury into Whitstable town to warn when the Preventative Officers or Dragoons left the comforts of their Canterbury base. Therefore it is reasonable to accept that the better surface of the Turnpike did at times find favour over the tortuous cart tracks of the more remote lanes when considered safe to do so.
Prominent members of one smuggling company built several houses along the Turnpike, some of them occupied by company 'managers'. Interestingly those houses, most of which still exist, are strategically spaced along the road and typically on the prominence of a bend. Ideal for a clear view down the road or for signaling purposes. It appears that almost every house or farm on the prominence of a bend ('pointy side' if you like) played some part in housing the smugglers' instruments of the signaling system.
We left the Turnpike Road's notorious Bostall hill without mention of either the Martindown windmill or Farm. Both were situated on the west or opposite side of the Turnpike to the previous 'white' windmill almost on the crest of the escarpment. We saved mention of them until now as both have been reported as playing a role in the smugglers' signaling system.
We won't get too involved in detailing that system but it serves our purpose to look at the location of those houses and farms which played a part in it. They literally plot our course towards the end of our exploration of the Turnpike Road. The following Map 16a takes us from the Tollgate at the bottom of Bostall hill along the Turnpike, the purple line, to Map 16b where the line continues to the end of our journey at the Sarre-Penne Brook.
Like so much of the smuggling activity, precisely where the smuggler's signals originated is obscured among a cloud of conjecture and myth. Preventative Officers and Dragoons were generally based in Canterbury as well as various Revenue 'officials' being based along the coast. When they set out from Canterbury to do their duty the smugglers' signaling system came into play.
Hidden by the conjecture and myth we can only say the signals originated from a suitable point of observation overlooking the exit point from Canterbury - the Westgate Towers. As most of the smuggling activity took place under the cover of darkness signals were by lantern. Daytime signaling devices did exist. The best known a broom protruding from a chimney, or at closer quarters within the Town a pre-arranged gesture, were typical of those used.
Suffice to say when the Preventative Officers or Dragoons exited the Westgate Towers in Canterbury signals were sent to the top of St.Thomas' Hill the Turnpike's Canterbury equivalent to Bostall hill. We can only say the signals were received via unknown means at Moat Farm beyond the crest of St.Thomas Hill. Then passed across the route of the Turnpike to the original Hothe Court Farm on to Frogs Hall Farm well off scene to the right of the new Hothe Court Farm shown in Map 16b. Note: The new Hothe Court Farm is a mile or so distant, North across the Sarre-Penne Brook from the original farm. The original Hothe Court Farm is considered to be part of the once larger Blean Manor House.
Frogs Hall signals could reputedly be seen by Glovers Cottages or Honey Hill Farm. More likely the signals were normally passed on to Amery Court Farm from Frogs Hall then via Glovers Cottages on to Honey Hill Farm.
Glovers Cottages was built by a smuggler, Mr Glover being one of their leading lights. William Baldock another leader in the smuggling fraternity built two other cottages, used by smugglers along the Turnpike which can be seen near the top of Map 16b. Signals from Baldock's were reputedly either received at low lying Pye Alley Farm then passed on to high set Clapham Hill Farm or directly to Clapham Hill Farm. Either Martindown Farm or Windmill received the signals and passed them on into Whitstable town to eventual smuggler owned Oxford House situated beyond the first Tollgate very conveniently across the road from the once closest part of the waterside which we saw in Map 15B where Oxford St. joined Westcliffe.
We saw in Chapter 3 Seasalter to Canterbury how that old 'highway' played a part in local smuggling history. We have now seen where that old highway and the Turnpike Road became one - about the northern end of Pean Hill. That area held some significance to the smugglers most commonly known to have used that route. From Foxes Cross to Pean Hill the road crossed the more open space of the Bogshole valley passing by Ellenden Farm.
The nearby woods: Ellenden, Tong and Clowes Wood all provided good cover to hide contraband. Carts and horses could be housed at nearby 'friendly' farms and houses. It was also a convenient area from which to disperse contraband to the various destinations - on to Canterbury, to Ashford or Maidstone and more importantly to London.
We have seen how 'convenient' houses were established along the Turnpike for some of the smuggling Company's hierarchy. One 'house' not yet mentioned is the so called Manor House shown on Map 16a as Court Lees.
Set some 100 or more yards back from the Turnpike on the railway side, the Manor House is conveniently opposite a once unnamed lane, now Pean Court Road, which led through to Foxes Cross Lane - a well known smugglers' 'thoroughfare'.
In 1795 a William Hyder purchased the Court Leese property now known as Court Lees. He built the surviving house around the original ancient Courts Leete manor house. William Hyder was a member and later controller of the smuggling gang known as the Seasalter Company as well as being a Churchwarden at Seasalter Church.
Typically no evidence directly connects Court Leese with smuggling activities apart from William although he had included a vast cellar extending under the whole mansion. The cellar at Court Leese was suspected of being a conveniently placed 'warehouse' for goods transported via Church Lane, Cut Throat Lane (now Pilgrims) and Foxes Cross Lane from the Seasalter coast.
The smuggling activity certainly added some romance and interest along the old Turnpike. Of course we have really only seen a little of the activities of but one group of smugglers, just one Company who frequented the area where two of our 'Highways' met.
Of course traditional smuggling was not all romance with the smugglers 'smiting the eye' of officialdom. The traumas of being caught did not all happen on the beaches or in the dark twisting country lanes. The Turnpike itself experienced The Battle of Bostall hill on 26th February 1780.
The Battle of Bostall hill has been described as a pitched battle between smugglers and a troop of Dragoons who had seized a consignment of gin. The smugglers attempted to repossess their gin. The battle resulted in two soldiers being killed.
On the 12th March a young man 18 year old John Knight, considered as a
scapegoat, was hanged for murder. One would have thought he would be
punished at Whitstable as a lesson to the smugglers there but he wasn't.
Instead he was tried at Maidstone and hung on Penenden Heath, his body then
being transported to Whitstable and hung in chains on Bostall hill -
reputedly from the gibbet in the field near the Gaol House. There is more to
this tale but it is not for this story.
Thomas Knight was not hung in the field known locally as The Hanging Field. That was further south. Little is known of this field perceived by some to have been on the eastern side of the Turnpike at Long Reach or possibly on the other side near or at Wraik Hill.
We can only wonder at what stories that field could tell us wherever it is. Still further along the Turnpike, a little east of Court Lees, there is Hanging Wood, the origin of the name seemingly long lost. The location is significantly close to the Court Lees, Ellenden and Tong woods area so one wonders if there was a connection to our Turnpike smugglers.
Still further along the Turnpike a later incident involving smugglers
almost gave us The Battle Of Honey Hill to complement the above Battle of
As we saw in the previous chapter smuggling of illicit goods died off considerably about the mid 19th century. We saw how the Napoleonic Wars of 1793-1814 presented a diversion to our smugglers, a new form of smuggling, that of human contraband.
Some of the many French P.O.Ws, imprisoned in old ship hulks on the Thames, Medway or in the Estuary, escaped to hopefully return to their homeland. Many of those escaping P.O.W.s found their way to our Whitstable smugglers to be transported at first along the same route as some of the regular contraband. From Foxes Cross the typical route was along Bye Alley Lane (later Pye Alley Lane.) across the Turnpike eventually to a rendezvous where our 'highway' in Chapter 2 started - the mouth of the Swalecliffe Brook.
The smugglers and the French P.O.Ws they were escorting may have merely crossed the Turnpike's path at Bye Alley or hurriedly tramped the length of Pean Hill to hide in Clowes Wood. Some would travel a little further south to about the area of the former Red Lion public house by The Brook, before turning east to use the cover of Clowes Wood on their way to the Swalecliffe shore. The Turnpike, wider and more open than the narrow lanes, would have presented significant danger to them as it gave relatively quick access to the militia of the day.
Now to our almost Battle Of Honey Hill. Smugglers guiding two escaping French P.O.Ws along the Turnpike were about The Brook, by the former Red Lion pub, where they typically turned off the road into Clowes Wood. They were nearly caught by a troop of Dragoons descending Honey Hill. We do not know if the Dragoons spotted the smuggling group and gave chase. Although we do not have The Battle Of Honey Hill for history to record, like that of Bostall hill, there were two resultant deaths. For fear of being held back and being caught or leaving two talkative Frenchman behind the smugglers murdered both P.O.Ws and made their escape.
What if that road, the Turnpike, had been a dead straight Roman road? Would it have worn the same romance of Smugglers and Preventative officers moving stealthily about on the darkest of nights, signal lanterns winking their warnings or posting an 'all clear' message?
Today there is little of note to indicate the history of this area. Evidence of the type of farming the Turnpike passed through is almost non existent. Shortly after passing the former mansion Court Lees we would see today a former oasthouse. Set back to our right well off the road it is a solitary reminder of the hopfields which once accompanied orchards throughout this area and along the road into Canterbury.
After climbing Honey Hill past the ancient Honey Hill farmhouse from here on the history of the Turnpike is somewhat bland. Traversing the flat plateau of Blean the Turnpike itself altered local history.
The village of Blean was clustered around the ancient Church of St. Cosmus & Saint Damian in the Blean for a thousand years or more. Then along came a turnpike road to popularise what was probably a developing route into Canterbury. Constructed half a mile to the west of the Church, the Turnpike Road slowly drew the village away from the Church to leave it in isolation.
The northern Blean plateau terminates in the south above the valley of the Sarre-Penne Brook. The Turnpike road crests Blean Hill on the north face of the valley, dropping down into Blean Bottom to cross the Brook, sometimes known as The Fishbourne Stream. We leave the Turnpike here to continue its journey up Tile Kiln Hill, across another short plateau before it drops down St. Thomas' Hill to its southern terminus - a tollgate at St. Dunstans.
So, how long was the Turnpike?
As one old Whitstable resident said "Oh I'd say about from 'ere to a bit short of Canterbury." The 6 mile post sat in Canterbury Road about where the original Whitstable tollgate was. The St. Dunstans Tollgate was a good three quarter mile from Canterbury Post Office so there you are - "...a bit short of Canterbury."
Farewell the Turnpike Road
In 1871, tolls were abolished, the former Turnpike Road was now Whitstable's sole 'Highway to Canterbury'. No longer a Turnpike Road after 125 years it had seen the local population grow from less than 1000 to 6000. By this time a daily coach service to and from Canterbury had become well established.
1871 was probably the least momentous year for the former Turnpike Road. But the Turnpike's earlier arrival did have a profound effect on the local district. As it grew in popularity, as it became the preferred route to Canterbury the former Turnpike saw the decline of outlying areas. Just as it attracted a new population in towards the developing Whitstable town we know today, away from the outlying areas of Swalecliffe and Seasalter, so we have seen, it drew villagers away from Blean Church now left in isolation. Blean now presents not as a village but as three clusters of dwellings. The section towards Honey Hill some call Blean Common, Blean Bottom in the valley about the Sarre-Penne Brook and finally just Blean at the Canterbury end.
A profound effect indeed.
(Note: some maps show those three areas of Blean in the reverse order to that shown above but in reality none are officially designated as anything other than Blean.)
The Turnpike Road as such, would not see the advent of the motor vehicle. The Turnpike would not see the leisurely pedestrian and horse drawn vehicles of its day replaced by a myriad metal boxes dashing along its length like frenzied ants to the corpse of a bug or the leviathans carrying human and commercial freight struggling up Borstal or St.Thomas Hills. But, unlike its 3 forebears, it would not be allowed to rest in peace. It would become the now sole remaining Highway to Canterbury.
The tollgates, the symbol of a Turnpike Road would be removed although the Whitstable Tollgate Cottage would remain at the bottom of Borstal Hill as the last remnant, the last symbol, the sole 'Memorial Headstone' of the Turnpike's existence but without a single inscribed word to mark that fact.
Finally a Look Back
Let us now look back to the travels of those early 'fisshe wyves' to Canterbury. The wording of John Roper's bequest, coupled with more modern knowledge, infers that those fishwives were already traveling the route to Canterbury we know today as the main road between that city and Whitstable.
Were they? Or was John Roper offering an apparently shorter more direct route than the one they were traveling, perhaps The Salt Way? The direct and seemingly shorter Borstal/St.Thomas Hills route has been accepted and written of as the one referred to for so long that, superficially there does not appear to be any evidence to the contrary.
We have the question before us. There were two basic options:
- A route with the steepest climb at each end, and between those an undulating landscape with several steep hills for the pedestrian be they human or beast of burden.
- The established Salt Way with certainly an easier shore end climb than Borstal Hill and across the relatively flat plateau of Blean and relatively easy entrance into Canterbury. A route which passed a number of ancient establishments to qualify its accreditation.
Why would pedestrian traffic choose route 1 over route 2? Route 2 which looks longer but quite surprisingly on a map, by division, measures little different. Once again we should remind ourselves that pedestrian traffic typically carried some burden. Surely most people would seek the easiest less tiring route especially if the alternatives were of similar length?
We should not ignore either end of those two routes. Perhaps, where and how they entered or left the central business districts of either Whitstable or Canterbury had a more profound effect than our modern thinking allows for.
Looking back with the established Whitstable/Canterbury Road before us and at best a mental picture of the countryside traversed by the little known and barely marked 'Salt Way' it is difficult to even consider the question.
To answer it would probably result in, to borrow from 'Whitstable Name & Origins', just another of Napoleon's "Fable agreed upon......."