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Thanet was an island when the romans invaded Britain. They built forts at Richborough and Reculver to guard each end of the Wansum Channel which separated Thanet from the rest of Kent. Towards the end of the Roman occupation the Vikings were regular raiders, in AD449 Hengist landed at Pegwell Bay taking posession of Thanet and the rest of Kent, the visitors stayed and made there homes. In AD597 Augustine landed much more peacefully and founded his monastery in Canterbury. The Monks spread their faith to Thanet, building the church at Minster. In time the fishing village of Bradstow (anglo-saxon meaning a broad place) grew to become Broadstairs,
In the 16 and 17 hundreds ship-building was the biggest industry in Broadstairs. In 1538 the first pier and the York gate were built in order to aid and protect the ship yard in Harbour Street. Built by George Culmer and originally called Flint Gate it was renamed after the Grand old Duke of York and extensively rebuild in 1795 by lord Henniker. The town's people helped provision the English fleet anchored off-shore in 1588 while they awaited the Spanish Armada. Later many large vessels were built for the Royal Navy and for merchant firms, until ship building ended in 1824.
In 1850 the town was presented with its first life boat the Mary White, a year later it was the first to carry out a rescue from the goodwin sands. A second boat the Culmer white was added soon after. Both boats were privately run until 1868 when the RNLI took command of them. The station finally closed in 1912 after 62 years of active service, 269 lives having been saved.
The Napoleonic wars and the danger of invasion brought the need for added security. St. Peter's church tower was equipped with a semaphore machine for signaling to the fleet and still claims the privilege of flying the white ensign. By this time Charles Dickens was a regular visitor and the town has many Dickensian connections. The arrival of the railways in 1863 brought more and more holiday-makers and the town grow quickly in the late part of the century. In response to this influx the Railway Hotel and the Railway Tavern were built in the late 1860s.
Some 350 or more years ago, the Wishing Well stood between two flint cottages, which together with those in Union Square made up the main dwellings of the small fishing hamlet of Bradstow. The inhabitants numbered less than 150, and were mainly employed in the Cod Fishing Industry with Iceland, a by-product of which was the making of Cod liver Oil. The Well served as a means of fresh water for half a century, until the two cottages were integrated into the present building. By the 1750s smuggling was a major industry. High import duties on tea, tobacco and spirits made it a profitable business. Caves and tunnels ran from the coast in land to sellers in the village.
The Well was used by smugglers to hide contraband. Smuggling had become so rife in this part of Kent. that the Prime Minister himself, William Pitt, took the drastic step of ordering the 13th Light Dragoons into Thanet to help the local Coastguards curb smuggling. in 1784 the dragoons were bileted at the Fig Tree Inn in Callis Court Road, and could often be seen mounted on horseback with drawn sabre. When the local smugglers saw them coming, they would place such smuggled goods as barrels of perfume, brandy and chests of tea (tea at this time was 16 shillings a pound, 8 shillings of which was tax) in water-tight stone jars and lower them into the Well, where contraband avoided detection on many occasions.
An extract from an article written in 1723 by Daniel Defoe gives an idea of the severity of the problem:-
"Bradstow is a small fishing hamlet of some 300 souls, of which 27 follow the occupation of fishing, the rest would seem to have no visible means of support!