Look at the houses behind the railings opposite Waterloo Road. They are known locally as ‘Dollar Row’, because they were built with the proceeds of a successful 1834 salvage operation by the Whitstable Divers of a slave ship that foundered near Copeland Island off the coast of Ireland in 1803.
In 1820 John Deane of Whitstable patented a brass helmet with an air supply for fire rescue which evolved into the deep sea diving helmet hose attached for air patented in 1829.
The invention was exploited locally and diving for salvage became a lucrative business for divers in Whitstable and provided employment for fishermen and dredgers in less busy periods.
Whitstable became a famous for a centre for divers – Whitstable divers explored the wreck of the Mary Rose between 1836 and 1840 taking off many objects after which the site was lost till modern times.
Looking at the building behind the railings you will notice that one is larger and has a head over the door. This was the King’s Head pub, which was the base for the divers as they planned their next trip. Charles Dickens visited them there once in 1860 and wrote an article about their exploits in his periodical, ‘All Year Round’.
There is a story that’s been passed down through the generations of a local who was walking along the beach at the rear of the pub and saw Dickens coming out of the outside toilet, pulling his breeches up. There’s no one who can say it didn’t happen! But did he originate the phrase ‘What the Dickens!?
Sea defences have been a preoccupation for Whitstable people from the middle ages till now. The photo of a flooded Island Wall in 1953 shows why!