Walk 75: Herne Bay Town Walk: Bouncing Bombs & Records

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: Probably about 2 miles (3.22km)

Time to walk: With stops to look at various shops etc, roughly 1 hour, although there’s excellent fish & chips & cups of tea etc etc etc…

Difficulty: All on hard town paths (unless you fancy a paddle of course!)

Parking: Free in the backstreets away from the seafront

Public toilets: Cafes, bars etc

Map of the route: @ Herne Bay Cultural Trail

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We were staying down in Kent & visited Herne Bay, not immediately knowing about its connections with the Dambusters. In November 2007 the town won a Lottery Grant through the ITV / People’s Millions to create the Herne Bay Cultural Trail, so we thought we’d have a look on a gloriously warm autumn afternoon

So what can we tell you about Herne Bay?

Herne Bay lies about 7 miles north of Canterbury & 5 miles east of Whitstable & began as a small shipping community, receiving goods & passengers from London en route to Canterbury & Dover. The town rose to prominence as a seaside resort during the early 19th century after the building of a pleasure pier & promenade by a group of London investors, & reached its heyday in the late Victorian era. Its popularity as a holiday destination has declined over the past decades, due to the increase in foreign travel &, to a lesser degree, exposure to flooding that has prevented the town’s redevelopment

The town took its name from the neighbouring village of Herne, just over a mile inland. The word herne evolved from the Old English hyrne, meaning corner. The village was first recorded in around 1100 as Hyrnan. The corner may relate to the sharp turn in the minor Roman road between Canterbury & Reculver at Herne

There’s lot’s of history here & various events that have happened which we’ll have a look at as we go, so…

Let’s Walk!

1. Our stroll round the town begins near the tourist information office next to the council buildings in the William Street carpark – well that’s pretty specific! Slightly less specific is trying to find the town’s historical mural. Just follow the walls round & you’ll eventually get there & it’s well worth it. Penny Bearman a professional mural artist was commissioned to produce the mural

It depicts the history of Herne Bay showing (i) how the Bronze-age site at Long Rock, Hampton may have looked…

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(ii) a traditional Victorian seaside scene…

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…& (iii) the bouncing bomb trials held by Barnes Wallis & Guy Gibson

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2. Walk up to William Street itself & turn left towards the sea…

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There’s some quirky shops along here, rather than the usual seaside ‘tat shops’ so it’s well worth a browse. This one tickled our fancies…

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Also on the left’s the colourful Seaside Museum. Take a trip back to the heyday of the English seaside, when thousands came to enjoy Herne Bay’s pier, promenade & grand Clocktower – the first of its kind in the world. Rekindle memories of the traditional seaside holiday with Punch & Judy, & other memorabilia

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The museum also focuses on the ever changing coastline & treasures from the Saxons & Romans. Probably the best exhibit’s one of the prototype ‘bouncing bombs’ as it was here, in World War 2, that inventor Barnes Wallace tested the ‘Dambusters’ bouncing bomb

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Unfortunately, when we were there, it was closed

3. Turn right along the seafront & walk along until arriving at the Ship Inn, which was being done up. The Ship Inn, stands where wagons loaded with farm produce went down to the beach at low tide & their produce was loaded onto “Hoys”, a type of barge, for transport to the Medway towns & London. These boats would then return with cinders & other waste such as small pieces of coal, cinders & ash, left from the production of bricks, as well as the dung from the thousands of London stables for fertilizing the surrounding farms

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The Ship was an essential watering place for the men employed in the trade because water was generally unsafe to drink

4. Turn up the street at the side of the ship & then first left along Charles Street. Ahead you can see the statue of Barnes Wallis…

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It was along here that the famous ‘bouncing bomb’ invented by Barnes Wallis was tested. Sir Barnes Neville Wallis CBE FRS RDI FRAeS was an English scientist, engineer & inventor. He’s best known for inventing the bouncing bomb used by the Royal Air Force in Operation Chastise (the “Dambusters” raid) to attack the dams of the Ruhr Valley during World War II

The raid was the subject of the 1955 film The Dam Busters. Among his other inventions were the geodetic airframe & the earthquake bomb

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It really is a fabulously positioned statue & you can see the intensity in his gaze to see if it worked correctly. Click on this link to see the archive footage

5. Across the ‘Down’ from the statue’s the Edwardian building known as the Kings Hall. The King’s Hall is a theatre, concert hall & dance hall & was built as The Pavilion in 1903. It was developed as the King Edward VII Memorial Hall in 1913 in memory of the late King

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6. Retrace your steps & then turn left & right into the shopping thoroughfare that’s Mortimer Street

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If you get lost you can always ask a couple of likely characters

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About halfway down on the left turn round & look up at the “Postcard from Herne Bay” Mural. The mural shows the style in which postcards & British Rail posters were designed to promote Herne Bay in the 1950’s. Examples of these can be found in the Herne Bay Museum

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7. Turn right again along William Street to the esplanade again, this time turning left at the end. Ahead’s one of the town’s most famous sights, the Clocktower..

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Firstly though walk through the Neptune carpark & look down to the sands

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The development of Herne Bay as a town didn’t start until 1814, but coastal trade in the form of barge traffic & fishing flourished long before. This was thanks to the ease in which heavy goods could be transferred from horse-drawn vehicles to sailing craft on the flat sands at low tide. Moreover, owing to the lack of habitation, smuggling, proved to be an even better business

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Because of the embargo on the export of the finest wool in the world for the duration of the wars with France, & the increasing taxation of spirits, lace, tobacco & tea, it became a lucrative pastime to bypass the revenue men. There was, of course, a two-way trade in the business; wool was one, & a strange export…escaped French prisoners of war. It was recorded that the same Frenchmen passed through the area no less than three times

8. Let’s now have a closer look at the Clocktower….

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Herne Bay’s Clock tower is probably the most striking piece of architecture in the town. It was the gift of a widow & great benefactor to the town, Mrs Ann Thwaytes. She had first suggested a Grecian Temple structure with a clock at its apex & an architect, Mr E J Dangerfield, was asked to submit a plan

The foundation stone was laid on the 3rd October 1836, & the tower, with a brick interior & Portland stone cladding was completed by October 5th 1837. It stands some 82 feet high to the weather vane & cost some £4000

On its northern face a memorial plaque has been placed to commemorate the men of Herne Bay who volunteered for the Boar war. Each side of the plaque on the walkway are two cannons on wooden trucks which were dredged from the sea bed when the town’s third pier was being constructed & they are thought to be Dutch in origin. They were used for firing blank shot as a fog warning on the pier

9. Continue along the promenade towards the rather elaborate Bandstand…

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Now, it was a nice warm day & well past lunchtime, there was a bench & over the road a choice of tempting fish & chip shops. We chose Dean’s Plaice & ordered a freshly cooked haddock (with skin on) & plaice. Both were excellent – nothing like fish & chips sat on the seafront!

10. A cup of tea was now in order & the cafe in the Bandstand area does the job well. The Bandstand was built in 1924 & is still used for entertainment today

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It’s owned by the Makaris family who seem to have various outlets, including ice cream parlours & fish & chip shops all over the town. Again though, we can recommend it – nice comfy sofas

11. Fed & watered, continue along the promenade towards the pier…

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…but before we reach it, sunk down on the left’s Waltrop Gardens, a quaisi Victorian sunken garden, erected to celebrate the twinning of Waltrop & Herne Bay

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The sundial was a gift from Waltrop & in the centre of the garden’s a Portland stone fountain given to the town in 1888 by London Alderman Col. Horatio Davies, who became Lord Mayor of London. It was originally located near the clock tower

12. Nearer the pier, it can now be seen that there’s a considerable gap between the bit near the shore & the very end – we’ll see why when we reach the pier itself…

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Before we get there though is a plaque celebrating a major achievement…

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On 7 November 1945 Group Captain H.J Wilson set a world air speed record of 606.25 miles per hour in a Gloster Meteor F4. The record was completed between East Cliffs & Reculver Towers. Hugh Joseph Wilson CBE AFC known as “Willie”, was a senior Royal Air Force officer. He served as the RAF’s main chief test pilot for captured enemy aircraft in World War II

Click on the film below to watch the achievement. Note also that the pier appears to be intact at this time

13. Keep going along the prom &, near the entrance to the pier, you’ll come across a fabulous bench designed like an aircraft

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This bench commemorates Amy Johnson who was a pioneering English aviator & the first female pilot to fly alone from Britain to Australia. Flying solo or with her husband, Jim Mollison, she set numerous long-distance records during the 1930s

She died serving her country off the shore of Herne Bay in 1941 aged 37 – her body & the wreckage of the plane were never found which has led to many conspiracy theories

14. So let’s have a promenade down the pier…

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We loved this pier, especially the decorated & cheeky huts on the right side

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This was the third pier to be built at Herne Bay, Kent for passenger steamers & was notable for its length of 3,787 feet & for appearing in the opening sequence of Ken Russell‘s first feature film French Dressing. It was destroyed in a storm in 1978 & dismantled in 1980, leaving a short spur at the land end & part of the landing stage isolated at sea. It was preceded by two piers, a wooden deep sea pier designed by Thomas Rhodes, assistant of Thomas Telford, & a second shorter iron version by Wilkinson & Smith

This is what we want!

This is what we want!

The view towards Whitstable

The view towards Whitstable

This is a real, traditional pier & even has a funfair roundabout at the end!

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At one stage the pier had a railway along it. During World War II, it was encased in barbed wire & the army took it over, camouflage netting was manufactured in the pavilion by local women & the tram was last used in June 1939 to carry army stores

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In June 1940 the army blew up two sections of the pier between the pavilion & pier head to prevent enemy landing, then crossed the gaps with Bailey bridges in the 1940s

15. We came up the left side of the pier so let’s go back down the other where there’s some enticing seafood stalls. The view back in the evening light towards Herne is fab

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Walk past the huts again & we bet they’ll make you smile…

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So that’s our short stroll around a lovely Kent traditional seaside town on what was a beautiful sunny autumn day

Lots of history, cups of tea & excellent fish & chips thrown in too! What more do you want?

Go Walk!