Chapter 2: History of the Whitstable Sea Walls and their impact on urban development

13th Century: Aftermath of 1287

In 1290, just three years after the 1287 tidal surge, a sea wall, built from about the Horsebridge location eastwards along Reeves Beach to the coastline of today‘s Beach Walk/Tankerton cliffs area, closed off the swampy bay. See the ‘yellow line’ on Map 7 below. That shows us the tidal surge had established a shoreline inland of the line of that wall as indicated by the red line. Compare that old shoreline with the various streets and roads of modern Whitstable Town.

Map 7: Comparing Whitstable's Gorrell delta of the past with the urban development nof today

The map on the left shows the rough shoreline of  1287 (red) and the swampy Gorrel flood plain below it. The yellow line shows how the 1290 sea wall sealed off the area from the sea and, along with subsequent wall construction, allowed the urban development that we are all familiar with today.

The swamp most likely varied with seasonal changes from complete water coverage to swampy land.

14th Century: A Secure Shoreline

With the addition in 1325 of a sea wall built along the Seasalter shoreline and subsequent rebuild in 1340, a reasonably secure shoreline was established along Seasalter shore, eastwards along the then natural shoreline south of The Salts (Cornwallis Circle, Golf course and Westcliff) including the line of today’s Oxford and High Streets to the Horsebridge, continuing eastwards along the sea wall to the high ground of Tankerton. This is marked by the yellow line on Map 8 below.

Map 8: Whitstable's 'secure' shoreline of AD 1340 and the two islands of Island Wall

Whitstable's "reasonably secure' shoreline of 1340 (yellow line). Notice the two islands ('upper' island and 'lower' island) that would eventually form the Island Wall area of today

Elements of this old shoreline can still be seen today. Five modern photographs below show some elements of the old shoreline from Nelson Road westwards to ‘The Sportsman Corner’ at Seasalter.

Photo of West Cliff (Whitstable) showing the line of the 1287 shoreline

Left: The 1287 shoreline at West Cliff - skirting the old salt pans that now comprise Seasalter Golf Course

The shoreline near Preston Parade Whitstable

Right: The shoreline near Preston Parade

Whitstable shoreline at Seasalter Beach

Left: The shoreline and sea wall at Seasalter Beach

The sea wall at the Sportsman Seasalter

Right: The sea wall near the Sportsman public house, Seasalter

Left: The old 'Salts' now occupied by Seasalter Golf Course. The old shoreline is labelled below the bank of West Cliff

A 15th Century Proposal

In 1494 there was a recommendation that a proper sea wall and sluice be built. (for £100!) What was meant by ‘proper’ and where it was to be built does not appear to have been recorded if indeed actually defined.

16th Century: The Arrival of Valley Wall (Middle Wall)

In 1583, the western end of the Beach Walk to the Horsebridge sea wall was rebuilt and extended due to increased vulnerability of the settlement developing along what became lower High Street and Harbour Street. The extension, once known as Valley Wall, survives as Middle Wall and included Sea Wall to today’s Reeves Beach. It is shown by the light blue line on Map 9 below. The accompanying photo shows Middle Wall in modern times - on the raised remnants of the old sea wall. The bank is still visible leading down to the old Salt Pans (now Cornwallis Circle).

Map 9: Valley Wall Whitstable and photo of the scene today

This map shows the line of Valley Wall (blue) circa 1583.  It eventually gave rise to the slighyl raised eastern bank of modern day MIddle wall. The bank slopes down to the old salt pans that now comprise Cornwallis Circle

A secondary purpose of Middle Wall was to allow yet more land to be drained on the eastern side of Oxford and High Streets.

During the 16th century, further draining of the Seasalter salt marshes was carried out.

18th Century: Damage, Rebuilds and the Arrival of Jurdan's Wall

Map 10: Section of Whitstable sea defences breached by the storm of 1703

The map shows an area of sea wall breached by a storm in1703

In November 1703, a great storm washed away the eastern end of the original 1290 sea wall from the area of Reeves Beach to Tankerton (See Map 10 left). To give some idea of the extent of the storm, 400 windmills were destroyed across England.

The sea wall was most likely repaired because, despite another great storm on 8th Jan 1735 and very strong gales with a great Spring tide and strong NNW gales on 6th February, no breaching or flooding appears to have been recorded.

During 1779, it is recorded that the 1290 sea wall, and about 20 acres of land, were abandoned to the sea when Jurdan’s inset sea wall was built further inland. This was built from the base of Tankerton Hill along what became Harbour Road westwards to the later Harbour site. Just whereabouts on the harbour site is not stated but it was most likely along what would become the southern boundary of the harbour site, as shown by the bright green line in Map 11 below.

Map 11: Jurdan's sea wall following the line of modern day Harbour Str and Tower Pde

Right: Map of the Jurdan's Sea Wall that followed the line of current day Harbour Street and Tower Parade

Middle Wall was also rebuilt in 1779 after a serious breach by the sea.

The modern photo below shows the approximate line of Jurdan's wall - along the raised section of Harbour Street......

Left: Tower Parade and Harbour Street today

18th Century: Commissioners Wall

Map 12: Commissioners sea wall of Whitstable in 1780

Jurdan's sea wall of 1780 - following the approx line of Harbour Street and Tower Parade

‘The Commissioners sea wall’ is recorded, in the same text, as being built in the following year, 1780, from the west side of Reeves Beach to the base of Tankerton Hill. This may have been a replacement for the sea wall washed away in 1703 (See Map 10) or an extension of Jurdans inset sea wall to the western end of Reeves Beach. Ref. Map12.

Local historian the late Wallace Harvey wrote of ‘The Commissioners Inset sea wall’ and noted that, standing at the end of Reeves Beach, the line of the wall ran straight to the foot of Tankerton Hill. That more likely coincides with Jurdans sea wall of the previous year. Perhaps they were the same sea wall but how then was the land, ‘abandoned to the sea’ in 1779, reclaimed if the old 1290 sea wall was not reinstated? There is also evidence that removing shingle from the beach in this area was prohibited in the 1700/1800s as it exposed the old sea wall to erosion from the sea.

18th Century: Establishing Seasalter Levels

In the eighteenth century, further work on draining Seasalter salt marshes established what then became known as the ‘Seasalter Levels’. (See Map 13 below).

Map 13: The draining of Seasalter Levels in the 18th century

Map 13: Sea defences facilitated the draining of Seasalter Levels in the 18th century

18th/19th Century: Construction of Island Wall

The building of Island Wall commenced in 1792 to enclose the ‘Salts' on the western side of the Whitstable Street settlement, extending in a south westerly direction from the Horsebridge along the shoreline to enclose Upper Island and Lower Island. Work apparently continued until 1806 as there are conflicting reports of Island Wall ‘being built’ in 1792, 1793-1806 and in 1794. The path of this wall is shown by a purple line on Map 14 below. The ‘enclosed’ salt pans remained floodable until salt production ceased in 1830.

Maps 14: Showing the contruction of Island Wall and comparing it to modern day

The construction of Island Wall (purple) enclosed 'upper' and 'lower' islands and, eventually gave rise to the residential Island Wall district that we know today. The area between Island Wall remained open to the sea and floodable while salt production continued but it is now fully sealed and occupied by Seasalter Golf Course

Below, an early photograph along Nelson Road looking towards Marine Terrace along Island Wall. Marine Gap, considered to have once separated Upper and Lower Islands, is out of sight to the right of Marine Terrace.

Old photo of Nelson Road - built on the former low lying salt pans

Early photo of Nelson Road - a low lying thoroughfare built across the former Salt Pans. It was  heavily flooded in the storm surge of 1953 when the  sea breached the sea defnces of Island Wall and briefly re-established the old shoreline of 1287

This old photograph graphically illustrates the low level of Nelson Road compared to Island Wall. The white line indicates the level floods have reached which would be the approximate old peak high tide level over ‘The Salts’ before the area was reclaimed. The 1287 shoreline along the line of Oxford Street would have been behind the photographer.

Although now disguised by a modern roadway and concrete, the raised ground of the Island Wall sea defence is still evident in the modern day photos below...

Island Wall Today

Island Wall sea defence at Lower Island
Island Wall sea defence near junction with Nelson Road Island Wall sea defence at Upper Island


Chapter 2 of 3