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Whitstable's Old Boating Lake

Now just a special West Beach Memory


Introduction
  

Few amenities have captured the imagination of local residents quite like the old boating lake at West Beach. Despite the passing of three decades since its closure, we still receive more references to the lake than any other memory of bygone days.

With the help of our friends from around the world, we can now bring you photographs of the lake in its heyday and quotes that demonstrate what it meant to generations of Whitstable children.


Photo 1: West Beach Boating Lake (circa 1959)
Our thanks to Barbara Wardle for the photo. Barbara Wardle

 

Along the way, we would like to thank Barbara Wardle (Greenford, Middlesex), Derek Whorlow (Kings Langley, New South Wales), Chris Vernon-Jarvis (Whistler, British Columbia), Colin Cadle (Dartmouth, Devon), Tim Holman, John Harman (Sidney, British Columbia) and Jackie Evans (Digswell, Herts) without whom this article would not have been possible. 

The photo above is a gem as it shows the two islands (on either side of the picture) and the private house wedged between the lake and the unmade West Beach roadway. Out of necessity, that property had a long narrow garden that grew grass, flowers and "No Landing" signs.

Location and Layout 
However, let's start at the beginning and take an aerial view of the lake as it was back in those "Buddy Holly" days of 1959.....

     

As you can see the the lake was located at the western end of Island Wall where it was wedged between the raised path that crosses Seasalter Golf Course and the West Beach roadway. In those days, that roadway was an unmade track. It's all very different now, of course, the road is now concrete and the boating lake has been redeveloped as a housing complex.

On the left edge of our map, there was (and still is) a caravan park. To the north, an open area of rough ground bordered the West Beach promenade, huts and beach. 

The yellow arrows show the location and angle of the old photographs featured in this article. The red arrows show the site of two "current day" snaps. 

   


Photo 2: Photo supplied by Tim Holman Tim Holman

The lake comprised two circular basins joined by a relatively straight stretch of water. The Eastern "circle" was partially filled by two islands. Located at the centre of the complex were the putting green and tea garden.

Three buildings were arranged in a row along the West Beach roadway. To the left was a workshop.... in the centre, a combined arcade, shop and cafe... to the right, a Bingo hall. The latter was added during the late 1950s. 

Some of these features can be spotted in the photo kindly supplied by Tim Holman (see left). This was taken from the main London-Thanet railway line circa 1971.

 

The best views of the lake could be gained from the raised path to the south. The bank supporting the path actually formed a "second line" sea defence - protecting the heart of Whitstable. As such, it has survived to this day. 

Lake Features

Now let's really dabble in nostalgia by examining some of the key features in more detail.....    

 

The Boats..

There was quite a variety. For offspring of the rich, the lake provided a few "Yugo style" motorboats. They were expensive and could only be hired in multiples of 10 minutes. The poor were allowed to row for twenty.  The lower numbered boats (1-8) were "single occupant" and had fixed oars. It was amongst that particular flotilla that my cherished "number 6" was elevated to he illustrious role of flagship. Another ideal boat was number 4... as used here by Barbara Wardle.....

  


Photo 3: Barbara Wardlet at the Boating Lake (circa 1959)
Barbara Wardle

  

It appears to have been a sistership of No 6... but subordinate!  

The bigger boats had higher numbers... ranging into the 20s. They also had proper rowlocks... at least, I think that's what they called them when the oars slipped out and the occupant disappeared into the bows. 

The lake provided an opportunity for youngsters to cut their nautical teeth on the art of sailing. Take a look at this much older photo emailed from Australia by Derek Whorlow....

 


Photo 4: With thanks to Derek Whorlow

 

The shot reminds me of a message we received from Chris Vernon-Jarvis of Whistler, British Columbia back in the year 2002. Writing to me about my special relationship with boat No. 6, he said...... 
 

"No 6, Eh? If David Nurse did not hold the boat for you, it was probably me. 

Personally, I liked No 23 - a sailboat rumoured to have been built by Mr Scammel himself and once sailed to Sheppey and back. I learnt to sail in No 23 and have been a life long sailor." 

- Chris Vernon-Jarvis

  
By the late 1950s, many of those original sailboats had disappeared but a couple remained.... presumably, including number 23. 

The existing fleet was supplemented in the mid-fifties by fibre-glass canoes. These came in two types... long ones that stayed upright and short ones that didn't. The latter were later modified by the addition of stabilisers at the rear. 

Until those modifications took place, it was not unknown for upturned Marie Celestes to appear..... accompanied later by tears, tantrums and sodden  Ladybird T-Shirts. Remember, those horizontally striped Ladybirds? Just like Channel 5..... but decades earlier!

At the bottom of the range, metal "paddle boats" catered for the extremely young. You can just catch sight of one in the foreground of photo no. 4 above. These generated a lot of foam..... but little thrust. Were they forerunners of the Hotpoint Twin Tub or Fiat Uno?

  

Regattas

By the time I used the lake in the 1950s, activities were totally informal but, in earlier years, there were times when formality reigned as John Harman points out....

   

"Each summer before the war, the Boating Lake held a regatta. This  was commercially photographed - probably by Douglas West as there are a number of post cards by him". 

- John Harman

 

The Islands

These tested the nautical skills of young and old alike. Anyone remember the havoc when, on a sunny afternoon in mid-summer, half a dozen boats converged on those narrow waterways from different directions? ("Is this my oar or yours?").

 

Photo 5: The Eastern extremity of the lake circa 1964 - with the seafront houses of West Beach in the background. The raised Island Wall roadway is out of shot to the right... along with the lake's mysterious "Dead Man's Corner". 

The unmade West Beach road hides behind the fence and the lake's easterly island is featured on the left. The narrow channels around the islands became traffic jams for boats on sunny Sunday afternoons and collisions were common.  

Picture with thanks to Tim Holman. Tim Holman

  

It was also fun to encourage passengers to alight onto those desert islands.... and then row away leaving him/her to face the wrath of "the man"!

Of course, the lake was not a wholly natural phenomenon as John Harman points out from his home in Sidney, British Columbia.....

 

"My Dad was an oyster dredger and cockler. When quite young, I can recall going to The Boating Lake to see my Dad, who when not at sea, worked for Mr. Scammel. 

With his thigh boots, Dad was wading in the middle of the lake, digging mud, loading it into a large boxlike raft, and then pushing it along to the far end to build the islands.

- John Harman

    

Dead Man's Corner 

Lurking in the far reaches of the lake was the mysterious "Dead Man's Corner". A place where debris, fibre-glass Marie Celestes and metal Paddle Boats collected in a nautical graveyard. Rumour had it that unsuspecting boats could  be sucked into the vortex and never emerge. At least, that's what my older brothers told me.

 

The Lost Oar

Oh yes! We all suffered this..... the moment when an oar broke loose and floated off under its own steam.... and the boat went around in circles like a demented carousel.    

 

Submariners

When Barbara Wardle emailed her wonderful shots of the lake, she raised something that I had never noticed back in the 1950s. Here is an extract from her message... 
  

"Did you realise that there were many eels in that Boating Lake?  I used to try to scoop them out with the oar - a very difficult task indeed for an 8 year old!!"

 
Having watched Jordan trying to remove eels from a tank in that TV programme, "I'm a celebrity... get me out of here", I know exactly what you mean, Barbara.

    

The Boat Workshop

Unremarkable? Well not totally... because it had something that really sticks in the memory. Anyone remember that chalk board.... with a clock set into a hole in the middle? Boat numbers were chalked up against the time that they were due to be "called in". Removing the numbers meant an uninterrupted day on the lake!

 

The Tea Garden

This was unique in that it had an arc of wind shelters - comprising old boats standing on their sterns with bows pointing skyward.

  


Photo 6: The Upturned Boat Shelters
Our thanks to Colin Cadle for use of the photo Colin Cadle

  

The Aussies later pinched the idea for Sydney Opera House. Not a lotta people know that.

It was a place for the family to be reunited and refreshed after the kids had returned from the uncharted waters of those islands....

 

Photo 7: Tim Holman captured his mum, dad and brothers in this shot... back in 1968. His sister is also there but not yet delivered! With Thanks to Tim Holman Tim Holman

 

It was the tea garden that introduced me to some "modern" confectionary. First and foremost was the Mivvy lolly... ice cream coated in strawberry ice and marketed by Lyons Maid. Walls offered a similar product called a  Split... but, for me, it was never as good.

Secondly, there were Cadbury Lucky Number chocolates... sold loose in those lovely "quarter" things rather than EC inflicted grammes! As the name suggests, each sweet had its own number. My favourite? No 6.... of course!

Cafe and Amusment Arcade


Photo 8: With thanks to Tim Holman

Tim Holman

This was located on the north side of the tea garden. In the early 1950s, it comprised no more than a wooden hut with a counter, tables, chairs and slot machines.

Later in the decade, this was demolished and replaced by a smart, two-storey brick building accompanied by a single storey Bingo Hall.....

Tim Holman's photo (see right) was taken circa 1971 from the raised public footpath on the southern edge of the lake - looking North West. The "new" cafe appears in the centre with the white bingo hall peeping from the trees on the right. 

More trees surround the tea garden on the left. Meanwhile, the foreground features the more westerly of the two islands and the flat oval lawn occupied by the putting green.

 

There may have been several versions of that original wooden hut. The following are very old postcards taken looking east. They were kindly sent to us by Derek Whorlow in Australia.....

 

 Photo 9 (Above).... Photo 10 (below) 

  

It seems that the putting green and trees arrived later... as did the Bingo!

  

The Putting Green

Located in the centre of the complex adjacent to the tea garden, this was a more severe test of golf than Augusta as it was bounded on 3 sides by water. Just how many balls did they find in those murky waters when the lake finally closed its sluice gates? Whatever the total, they were put there by people of all ages - including youngsters...

  


Photo 11:  With Thanks to Tim Holman Tim Holman

Photo 11 shows the Putting Green looking North in 1968 - with the new cafe/ amusement arcade on the left. 

Photo 12 was taken some time earlier - in the 1950s when less development had taken place. It looks eastward with that very distinctive lakeside house in the background. 

 


Photo 12: With Thanks to Colin Cadle Colin Cadle
The Kiosk....

Between the tea garden and the lake, stood the kiosk. It was here that money changed hands, putters were stored and apologies were submitted for golf balls lost in the depths of the lake.

 


Photo 13: The Old Kiosk Colin Cadle

  

The kiosk boasted a price list and, as you can see from Colin Cadle's photo above, the lake survived beyond decimilisation in February 1971. That seat (on the right) faced west and overlooked the main (ie western) basin of the lake. ...

  

Photo 14 (Above): The main (western) basin as viewed from that seat ..... with thanks to Tim Holman Tim Holman
Photo 15 (Below): Barbara Wardle's mum (Mollie Fallon nee Miles)  and gran (Harriet Miles) enjoy the sunshine alongside  that kiosk in the late 1950s. Barbara Wardle 

  

.... before they disappeared eastward into the lost world of islands, pirates... and no landing signs. 

  

Indestructible...

As a kid, it never occurred to me that there would come a time when there was no boating lake. After all, it was indestructible - even recovering from that terrible flood of 1953...

  


Photo 16: The sea swamps the boating lake in 1953
Our thanks to Jackie Evans for the photo

This picture was taken on the raised path looking towards Island wall with the lake on the left. John Harman also recalls the ravages of World War II...

   

"A bomb fell in the Boating Lake during the war...... at the corner between the island and the road where the Golf Link footpath begins. Strangely, it did not make a crater but heaved the ground up and blocking the channel".

- John Harman

  

Until it died...

But, suddenly, its was a case of "Come in numbers 1-25 .... your times up". And, with those immortal words, the Lake disappeared into history.... to become a squash court and, more recently, a housing estate. 

Today's view might look a bit smarter.....
  

Photo 17: View from the raised path looking North West to the site of the old lake basin.
Photo 18:  View from Island Wall. The unmade road of the 1950s is now a narrow but concrete thoroughfare. A house occupies the site of the more easterly of the two islands. 

   

... but it just ain't the same down West Beach way anymore. 

However, let me leave you with the words of Chris Vernon-Jarvis in that message on the subject of boats No. 6 and No. 23....
  

"The Gods of our youth are now mere mortals but some live in our memory forever." 

   
Well said, Chris..... Well said.


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