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Whitstable Lighthouse.


Whitstable is on the north coast of Kent facing the Thames estuary and was once famous for its oyster hatcheries but is still an important harbour and fishing port as well as being a seaside resort with rows of quaint weather boarded cottages attracting the holidaymakers.

A light was mounted on the chimney of the engine house which had housed the old winding engine on East Quay for the Canterbury and Whitstable 'Crab and Winkle' railway. The railway was opened on 3rd May 1830 and when Whitstable harbour was completed on 19th March 1832 it then terminated on the East Quay. From 1846 the engine was used for pumping water for the coke ovens although the harbour railway station was closed in 1931 and the line finally closed 1st December 1952.

Coming towards Whitstable by sea from the Girdler Lightship the collier skippers bringing coke for the ovens would look out for the Street Buoy, then the leading lights of the harbour entrance. The light was notoriously difficult to spot and it was remembered by the rhyme:-

"Whitstable light,

Stands high and bright,

Once bright, twice dim,

Very rarely ever seen".

Technically the lighthouse was one of a pair of leading lights and when it shared the chimney used for the coke ovens the light was fixed to the external edge of the chimney at the top. Once the chimney was made redundant after the 1939 to 1945 War the light was placed on top of the smokeless stack.

The stack was a white painted brick square chimney 50 feet high with a wide base that gradually narrowed towards the neck. At a height of 40 feet a small iron balcony was attached to the chimney on which was placed a polished copper lantern that showed a fixed red light visible for 5 miles indicating when the entrance to the harbour was prohibited. A fixed white light was shown from a polished copper lantern which was placed on metal legs at an additional 5 feet above the top of the chimney, making a total height of 55 feet.

The fixed white light was visible for 9 miles and in order to service it an iron gallery was built around the neck of the stack. Before the lights were converted to electricity they were powered by oil lamps and each light had its own chimney and air vent. An iron steeplejack ladder was bolted externally to the stack for the local lamp man to climb daily in order for the oil lamps to be refilled and lit.

East Quay was redeveloped in the 1960s and reopened in 1965 by which time the old chimney had been demolished and the lights saved and placed in the local museum. By the time that they had been converted to electricity the polished copper had been covered with black paint.

Today an uninteresting polycarbonate navigational light on the end of a long metal pole fulfils the purpose of this once unusual and unconventional lighthouse remembered only in old postcards.