Long synonymous with fishing and, of course, oysters, Whitstable enjoys a flurry of celebration and pomp during its summer festival, which is held from 21 – 31 July this year.
With the celebrations just around the corner, we’ve put together some fun facts about the festival and Whitstable itself. How many did you know?
You’d be forgiven for thinking that, due to the timing of the festival, summer is the peak time for the local flat oysters which made the town famous. However, it is in fact celebrated out of season so as not to let the hangovers impact harvesting them, which is more sensible! Instead, rock oysters (which are available year round) will be the ones feasted on during the celebrations.
Here are some quirky little facts you may not know about Whitstable…
1 – The oldest railway bridge in the world was in Old Bridge Road in Whitstable.
2 – Hard Hat Diving – whereby divers wore bulbous helmets – was developed in Whitstable.
3 – The Whitstable Diving Company was the first one in the world, and many of the first divers lived in “Dollar Row” and they were named for the money they earned.
4 – Whitstable Sea Cadets was the first Sea Cadet unit in the world. It was formed 1854.
5 – The Seasalter and Ham Oyster Fishery of Whitstable is the oldest registered trading company, which was registered in 845.
6 – The first steam car in Whitstable was a Whites Steam Car, which was built around 1902. The registration number was A 709 and the car was owned by Wallace Rigden (also known as Dubby).
7 – The town was first named as Witenestaple, which means “meeting place of white post”, that refers to a local landmark.
8 – Whitstable is most famous for its Oysters but recent years has seen its contemporary arts scene and restaurants/pubs gather just as much attention
10 – The town is a popular destination for watersport enthusiasts. The Whitstable Yacht Club, Established in 1904, is one of the oldest yacht clubs in England and takes part in local and national competitions throughout the year.
For those looking to experience the Whitstable Oyster Festival for the first time this year and may be unaware of its history, it is a modern take on the celebration of a holy festival, dating back to the Normans, which was intended to give thanks for a successful harvest and the survival of the fishermen at sea.
After recreating the ‘Landing of the Oysters’, which involves the oysters being blessed and then presented to the Lord Mayor, they are then shared through the town’s restaurants and bars in a fantastic parade that journeys right through Whitstable. The Blessing of the Waters service is still held at Reeves Beach and this year, it will be held during the festival.
The enduring popularity of the event means a fantastic 10 day flurry of activity in the town with oyster eating contests, comedy, music, family activities and much more besides, including the incredible spectacle of the Grotters, which are mounds built up from shucked shells and lit up at night on the beach; a great day out and a fantastic sight not to be missed!