Canterbury and Whitstable

Canterbury and Whitstable

In 1822 William James began to make plans for a railway between Canterbury and Whitstable. However, James went bankrupt in 1824 and it was not until 1830 that the line opened. Most of the six miles were laid out as cable-operated inclined planes. Robert Stephenson supplied the locomotive, Invicta, to operate over the one and a quarter miles of level track at Whitstable. When it was opened on 3rd May, 1830, the Invicta became the first steam locomotive in the world to haul regular passenger trains.


The Invicta steam locomotive was built by George and Robert Stephenson for the World’s first steam locomotive passenger railway. The line ran from Whitstable to Canterbury and opened on the 3 rd May 1830, four months before the Liverpool to Manchester line.

You will also see one of the stationary Winding Engines used pull the wagons up the steep inclines, which has recently been rescued. Why should Whitstable be the location for such an early railway?

Newcomen (1712) and Watt (1770) developed stationary beam engines for pumping water from mines using the remarkable power of steam. Trevithick (1802) used ‘high-pressure’ steam to improve engine efficiency and even built a very early locomotive. Whitstable Museum has just rescued a stationary beam engine made by Robert Stephenson & Co, which is being restored.

When the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway was first proposed in 1824, the directors had a choice only between horses and stationary winding engines. Locomotives did exist, but were slow and so heavy that they frequently broke the early cast iron rails. Two locomotives on the Stockton to Darlington railway exploded, which was not ideal for passenger safety.

In 1830 the Canterbury & Whitstable Railway opened, the world’s first to use a locomotive to pull a regular passenger service. The locomotive INVICTA was part of Stephenson’s brilliant new design breakthrough with relatively light, high speed engines. People could now travel faster by train than on horseback for the first time in history! Engineering innovations included wrought iron rails, a fire-tube boiler and the steam dome. The industrial revolution had arrived in Kent!


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Welcome to the website of the Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society (CHAS).

If you are interested in Canterbury, its history, archaeology and buildings, then our organisation may be for you. Even though social distancing measures are in place you may visit over 500 web pages to see stunning architecture, interesting history and find out about colourful characters who left their mark on Canterbury.

We hope you may will join us at one of our lectures or one of our excursions to local places of historical interest. Our lecture programme resumes on October 13th 2021 but details of previous lectures and other activities, together with contact details, are available via the pages shown above.

If you'd like to know more, our Membership Secretary Sylvia McNally would be pleased to hear from you please get in touch using the form on the Membership page. We look forward to seeing you - you're certain to receive a warm welcome.

Whitstable & Canterbury history: Watling Street by John Higgs

As the name suggests, it involves a journey along the old Roman road that stretched between Canterbury and Wroxeter, and which was itself laid over a prehistoric trackway which may have gone all the way from Dover to Angelsea.

That, at least, is the journey that our author takes.

Written in the same year as the Brexit referendum, John uses the symbol of the road as a way of examining the conflicts of identity that lie at the heart of the British psyche.

Picts, Celts, Romans, Saxons and Normans, Cavaliers and Roundheads, all fought for control of this road. More recently we’ve seen our country divided along ideological grounds, between Leavers and Remainers, between traditionalists and innovators, between those who “want our country back” and those who seek to give our land a new mythic identity.

The question is: what is the nature of the country we want back? And whose country is it anyway, given that most of it is privately owned and off-limits to the majority?

On the Canterbury leg of his journey John is accompanied by a certain well-known writer and postal worker of your acquaintance which is how I managed to get a copy of the book before its publishing date.

Of course the most famous story about Canterbury is the one telling of the rivalry between Archbishop Thomas Becket and his former friend and mentor Henry II, which, as we all know, ended in bloodshed.

John and I use this story to illustrate the perennial conflict between politics and spirituality between the ruthless politician willing to kill for his ambitions, and the spiritually engaged person willing to die.

In the process we draw parallels with a more recent conflict: that between Tony Blair, the politician responsible for the violence in Iraq, and Brian Haw, his most prominent critic.

Tony Blair, of course, is internationally renowned, while Brian Haw is in danger of being forgotten. It is this injustice that we seek to redress.

If you’d like to find our more about Watling Street, John Higgs will be appearing at Waterstones in Canterbury on Wednesday the 19th July at 6.30pm.

You may well spot a certain well-known postal worker in the audience.

Like what you read? Please donate as little as £1 to help to keep this site – and independent journalism – alive.


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Welcome to the CHAS guide to Canterbury buildings, their styles and features.

The CHAS website was launched in 2009, covering just the Society, its meetings and its excursions. Major extensions since then have been the Notebook (history) pages in 2011 the Cathedral pages in 2012 the launch of Canterbury Times articles in early 2013, and the first 'Research' pages later that year.

Following three years of design, investigation and photography, we are launching a new section on Canterbury's architecture. The site as a whole now includes 660 pages and over 2,500 photographic images. For IT geeks, it holds 200 MB of information.

The Architectural pages represent the work of David Lewis (of Canterbury) and Jeremy Dunhill, with important contributions from Alan Thistleton, David Lewis (of Whitstable) and Joyce Ainslie. Sue Chambers and others have helped with the field work. The main printed works consulted are listed in the Bibliography - see button on the right.

The new Architectural pages have two main sections: Styles and Features:

Click the Styles tab above to discover the various building styles adopted in the city over the past 1000 years or so. For each, we provide a brief outline of the style, its historical perspective, and its main features, all backed up with local examples.

Or click the Features tab for a selection of building features that can be found across the city, with location details to help you find them in our streets.

If you think you've found more or better examples, then let us know using the Get in Touch button above.

HMP Canterbury: Kent’s forgotten prison and its terrifying former inmates

As you drive into Canterbury along the Littlebourne Road an imposing building will loom up on your right.

Its high brick walls and stern demeanour sit in stark contrast with the happy go lucky students that now occupy it.

Its unusual appearance subtly warns of a very different purpose the building once served for more than 200 years.

For although it is now owned by Canterbury Christ Church University, HMP Canterbury was until 2013 a working prison.

This is the story of that prison and of the famous inmates that used to live there.

There had been a prison on HMP Canterbury’s site from 1808 when it had served as a modest county jail.

As the 19th century progressed in to the 20th, Canterbury Prison grew to the site we know it as today and began to hold more and more inmates.

It was briefly used as a Naval Detention Centre during the Second World War but reopened shortly after the conflict.

The prison attracted controversy in 2003 when the Prison Reform Trust announced it was overpopulated by a staggering 57 per cent.

Shortly afterwards, in 2006, the prison became a foreign nationals prison which it remained as until it closed in 2013.

However in the two centuries it operated, a litany of notorious criminals stayed there.

Michael Stone

Double murderer Michael Stone was sentenced to three life sentences with a minimum tariff of 25 years for the brutal murders of Lin and Megan Russell in 1996.

Stone, who was born in Tunbridge Wells, committed the egregious act on a country road when he was 37.

He tied up Lin, 45 and her two daughters Megan, 6 and Josie, 9 before beating them with a hammer.

Only Josie survived the horrific assault.

To this day Stone claims he is innocent of the murder.

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Ronnie and Reggie Kray

The infamous Kray twins both had short stretches in HMP Canterbury.

The gangsters ran an organised crime ring out of the east end of London during the 1950s and 60s.

Both were eventually sent to prison for life, ostensibly for the murders of George Cornell and Jack ‘The Hat’ McVittie, but in reality for the litany of crimes Scotland Yard knew they were guilty off.

Ronnie passed away in 1995 at the age of 61 following a heart attack.

Reggie died in 2000 from bladder cancer after being released from Wayland prison on compassionate grounds.

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Salman Butt

Pakistan&aposs International Cricket captain Salmun Butt was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment in Canterbury in 2011 for spot fixing a match.

The News of The World had uncovered a scandal orchestrated by Butt in that Pakistan players would accept bribes in return for information on when no-balls would be bowled.

Butt and team mate Mohammad Asif were both jailed in Canterbury for the crime.

Mapping landscapes from Charles Dickens to Hilary Mantel

I thought I would just begin by mentioning that Dr Diane Heath is intending to submit her HLF ‘Medieval Animals’ project application in the next week or so, which is excellent news! Also good news is that several of the taught MEMS MA students are going to be working on Canterbury research projects this term: Amber’s project is linked to the Roman Museum, Ed will work on Canterbury Castle, Beth will be looking at the history of St Mildred’s church and its patron saint, keeping with Kentish saints Steph will be exploring material for the ‘Kentish Saints and Martyrs’ exhibition to be held at Eastbridge, while Alisha and Lizzie will be working with Professor Louise Wilkinson in conjunction with people from the Medieval Pageant organising committee.

There has always been a strong link between the clergy and railways, either as photographers and writers, or as the sires of an astonishing number of Premium Apprentices and Pupils trained in our great locomotive works, before going on to senior engineering and motive power appointments at home and abroad.

The Rev. Reginald Bruce Fellows (1871-1948) being a Roman Catholic priest did not qualify in the latter category, so far as is known, but he was an active writer on railway subjects in the 1930s and 1940s, in magazines and newspapers. He wrote at least two other books
London to Cambridge by train, 1845-1938 and A railway library: a list of railway books which was a very early Oakwood Press publication (1935) He was a member of the Railway Club.

The Canterbury and Whitstable Railway, the first passenger railway in Southern England, was a contemporary of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway which opened the same year but the Canterbury line’s technology involving rope, horse and locomotive haulage was more akin to that of the 1825 Stockton & Darlington Railway. The sole C&W locomotive at opening was the Invicta, name derived from the heraldic motto of the County of Kent. Invicta passed through the Newcastle Forth Banks works of Robert Stephenson and Co. at much the same time as Rocket was being prepared for the Rainhill Trials but was a much inferior machine. As Hamilton Ellis wrote “It was the hills that were “Invicta” not the locomotive!”

A young man from Stephenson ’s Work s travelled south with the locomotive, saw to its commissioning and drove it on the opening day. His name was Edward Fletcher, and he would eventually become Locomotive Supertintendent of the North Eastern Railway.

After years of neglect displayed in the open air in some gardens, and then on a traffic island Invicta is now in Canterbury museum.

Local History

The Canterbury & Whitstable Railway may have been the first passenger railway in the world. The last passanger train ran on the line in January 1931, over a century after the first journeys were made.

Construction of the 6 mile line took several years of arduous digging and preparation. Work excavating the 828 yard Tyler Hill Tunnel proved difficult and lengthy.

By the autumn of 1826, after 15 months, only 400 yards had been completed. Work was delayed by a fall of earth but at last in May 1827 contact between the north and south ends was effected. Bearing in mind that almost 2,500 feet of track was involved, amazingly the final calculation was correct to within an inch.

The tunnel aroused much comment and criticism. Many suggested it had been built because it had been proclaimed that 'every good railway must have a tunnel'. The tunnel in fact made its presence felt as recently as 1974 when a subsidence damaged some of the college buildings.

Sections of the line were so steeply graded so that stationery engines were required to haul trains by cable up the steep ascents. From Canterbury the first was at Tyler's Hill with a further stationery engine at Clowes Wood to deal with trains between Tyler's Hill and Bogshole Brook. The expected speed up a gradient was estimated at 9 mph. For the last two miles to Whitstable the locomotive Invicta was at first used.

There were great celebrations for the opening on 3rd May 1830. In Canterbury, the cathedral bells were rung and guns were fired in salute. There were two trains, consisting altogether of twenty carriages and twelve wagons. The whole length was bedecked with flags and leading carriages carried the directors, aldermen and other members of the Corporation.

The third carried their ladies and the fourth, a band. A local newspaper described entering the tunnel as very impressive. It reported: 'The cheering of the whole party echoing through the vault combined to form a situation, certainly novel and striking'.

But not all the passengers enjoyed the experience. According to a letter in the local press, one traveller wrote: 'When we had proceeded halfway through, a feeling of suffocation became perceptible increasing so fearfully, that had the tunnel been twice the length, I feel confident I should have hardly have got through alive'. The writer walked back to Canterbury.

As the first train reached a summit, the cable that had hauled it up the incline was transferred to some loaded wagons which, by running down again, allowed the cable to be attached to the second train. When both sections of the train had reached the final summit, the locomotive Invicta - delivered by sea from Newcastle - took the train to Whitstable.

At Whitstable another grand ceremony followed when directors entered the harbour in a specially chartered steamer to military band accompaniment.

Some years after regular services had begun in 1830 the original owners, the Canterbury & Whitstable Railway Company, made numerous attempts to lease the line to another operator. It was not until September 1844 that the South Eastern Railway took on working the line eventually absorbing the CWR by an Act of August 1853.

During the life of the line, passenger services were infrequent and slow and the coaches were old and not at all comfortable. And because the tunnel had a limited bore coaches were limited by size. After the First World War, bus competition began to cause problems and the line to Whitstable finally closed to passengers on 1st January 1931. Goods traffic continued for a number of years but final closure came on 1st December 1952 after which time the track was removed.

When the last passenger train ran on 1st January 1931, it comprised locomotive No. 31010 hauling two brake vans to Whitstable with passengers, including press and radio representatives. Whitstable Harbour station had been decorated for the occasion and the train was met by a crowd of about 100 people.

On the return journey the train stopped at the Canterbury end of the Tyler Hill Tunnel where a wreath was presented. What a proud ending for a railway that had survived just over 100 years for passengers and had become known affectionately by some as the 'Crab and Winkle' line.

Whitstable, Kent

Whitstable, a small town and a parish in Kent. The town stands on the coast, with stations on the L.C. & D.R. and S.E.R., 59 miles from London, and 6 NNW of Canterbury. It has a post, money order, and telegraph office. Acreage, 3676 population of the civil parish, 4828 of the ecclesiastical, 4845. There is an urban district council of twelve members. The town is long and straggling, carries on a great oyster fishery and a considerable coal trade. The oyster fishery is under the control and management of the Incorporated Company of Dredgers, which numbers about 500 members who are admitted by right of inheritance. Tankerton Castle is a handsome structure of Kentish ragstone formerly standing in extensive grounds beautifully wooded, but which are now converted into a watering-place. The Whitstable Institute was established in 1864 for the promotion of literature, science, and art. There is a large coastguard station. Ancient remains are on a sea-bank in Tankerton Bay, and Roman pottery has been found in dredging for oysters. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Canterbury net value, £300 with residence. Patron, the Archbishop. The Church of All Saints is a building in the Decorated and Perpendicular styles, and has been thoroughly restored at considerable cost. A handsome memorial pulpit has been placed in the church. There are Baptist, Congregational, and Primitive Methodist chapels, and six almshouses.


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyKent
Ecclesiastical parishWhitstable All Saints
LatheSt. Augustine
Poor Law unionBlean

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Civil Registration

For general information about Civil Registration (births, marriages and deaths) see the Civil Registration page.

Directories & Gazetteers

    (Current Ordnance Survey maps). . . (Old maps) . (Old Ordnance Survey maps to buy). (Current Ordnance Survey maps). . (Old maps)

Newspapers and Periodicals

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitation of Kent, 1619 is available on the Heraldry page, as is also The Visitation of Kent, 1663-68.

Watch the video: Canterbury and Whitstable