The early maps of central Whitstable show only one road, the whole area being denoted as Whitstable Street. This road, now the High Street, ended at the Horsebridge and the sea.
The name ‘Horsebridge’ comes from the crossing of Sea Wall and a drainage ditch by horses and carts. This was the early Port of Whitstable.
The surface of the foreshore was hard enough for flat bottomed ships to moor and for the horse-drawn carts to traverse in order to load or unload cargo.
Some of these boats were the flat bottomed Thames (sprit sail) Barges – able to rest on the bottom when the tide receded – taking the daily requirement of oysters and fish to Billingsgate Market in London.
Even after Whitstable Harbour was built in 1832 these coasters used the Horsebridge slipway to transfer their goods, because they didn’t need a deep water harbour and the landing charges were cheaper.
If you look at the building opposite the Horsebridge Centre you will see a sign for The Whitstable Oyster Company. This was an early co-operative, originally known as The Company of Free Fishers and Dredgers of Whitstable. The Company was formally established at such by an act of Parliament in 1793. It was owned by its members – the oyster fishermen, or dredgers (pronounced ‘Drudgers in the local dialect). It is one of the earliest forms of ‘limited companies’
The building you see today is their second, the first being where the Horsebridge Arts and Community Centre is now. The sign on the side of their current building now has the lower part missing which read, “By Appointment to H.M. the Late King George V. Also to H.M. The Late Queen Victoria.”