he bright blue and white building with its distinctive lettering drawing your attention to Foresters’ Hall ( a Friendly Society established in 1834 for financial products before the widespread use of banks and introduction of the welfare state) is one of Whitstable’s gems. We speak to David Roberts, one of the museum’s Trustees, just as the 2020 lockdown begins to ease and as the 35-year-old established museum begins to welcome visitors far and wide to gaze at the Invicta engine.
“ Invicta, of course, is the motto of Kent (meaning unconquered) and was also the name given to the locomotive which ploughed part of the Canterbury and Whitstable line. . .]
or Crab and Winkle line as it was known. This railway line, opened in 1830 took Whitstable’s bountiful produce including oysters and whelks as well as coal and passengers from Whitstable Harbour to Canterbury.
A home for the Invicta
‘We put in a bid for the engine when its previous home at Canterbury Heritage museum came to an end when that museum closed,’ says Roberts.
Whitstable museum were fortunate because there was a counter bid to site the locomotive at Whitstable Harbour as part of a proposed new development. But Roberts notes that because museum and its dedicated volunteers had the skills and necessary expertise to care for the locomotive, when the proposed siting was put out for consultation, they received overwhelming support from the local community. Furthermore, this benefit was also recognized by the owners of the Transport Museum in York who own the locomotive.
‘A professional survey is being undertaken of the Invicta,’ says Roberts and although about 60 per cent is thought to be original, other elements were added early in its development to improve efficiency.’
‘The line on which the Invicta ran was the first steam powered passenger railway in the world,’ adds Roberts and the railway’s former bridge and tunnel were also pioneering elements of the history of the railway. However, much of these landmarks have now been lost, blocked off or are on private land, though Roberts adds you can view the part of the original embankment and a brick bridge from the cycle path at South Street and the crossing gates are still visible at Whitstable Harbour.
As for the key Canterbury stop for the Crab and Winkle line, that is where Canterbury West station now stands and is marked by little more than an information board. Yet it is worth noting that it is possible to travel part of the route of the original rails on the Crab and Winkle line via an organized cycle route with seven miles of the stretch largely traffic free.
However, viewing an actual existing element of the train is something of a coup for the museum who are justifiably proud of their unique exhibit. It joins some other noted exhibits such as the story of the invention by Whitstable’s famous diver John Deane of the diving suit and helmet with displays of early diving equipment including helmets, suit and pump.
Unconquered is Kent’s motto
Whitstable has also distinguished itself as key to defence strategy via its waters and there are several photographs of the World War 2 forts that are visible on a cloudless day. Less well known are the mentions of William Joyce, aka Lord Haw Haw (the British Nazi sympathizer who broadcasted pro-Hitler propaganda messages during that very war) who Roberts says,
‘Worked in the town for a few months and made speeches from Foresters’ Hall but notes;
“ He was given short shrift by the locals and chased out of town. . .]
There’d be no time for such a man at all now too in friendly, inclusive Whitstable and certainly not in the museum who have been welcoming responsible visitors since the lockdown has eased. Roberts adds of the museum whose low height and tucked-away presence means it can be easily missed by the casual passer-by. But Roberts is onto it. The former cabinet maker is so enthusiastic about encouraging visitors that he says;
‘I am working on a wooden model of a diver to stand outside the museum so that visitors can see what we have to offer,’ and what they do have on offer is certainly not to be missed.