Hampton - Herne Bay's very own Atlantis

The present day visitor to Hampton to the Western end of the Coastal Park would be forgiven for thinking there's not a lot to see but Hampton as it is now belies the once industrious little fishing port it once was!

There is evidence of both prehistoric and Roman occupation on the sea bed just off-shore of Hampton and there is evidence of dwellings dating back to the 15th century. But it was not until the late 17th century when Hampton (which means 'home farm') became more established.  Back then it was really just a shanty-town with higgledy-piggledy huts growing up around the main farmhouse, some huts were just upturned boats draped with reeds and old fishing nets to keep out the weather. This small community made a scant living from fishing and selling fossils but the settlement had a reputation for a wild life, and Hill Farmhouse was said to have cellars or caves underneath for smuggling.

The farmhouse was a popular meeting place for smugglers, who bought jugs of rum for one shilling. In the nineteenth century it was owned by Mr and Mrs Pettman, who would often make food to give to local children. But legend has it that if the youngsters were not impressed with the offerings, they would throw them back through the window!

In 1864, the Herne Bay, Hampton and Reculver Oyster Fishery Company was set up to farm and fish oysters. The industry was already flourishing in Whitstable - and still is - and the owners hoped to tap into Herne Bay's potential.

Freshwater ponds for breeding oysters were set up at Hampton, with the water coming from nearby West Brook, and a 300 metre pier was built near the mouth of the brook. The company employed between 30 and 100 men and built a tramway from the pier to meet the railway line so the oysters could be transported.

But Hampton oysters never quite reached the popularity of neighbouring Whitstable's and the capital costs stretched the company's finances. In the 1870s, amid fears of oyster scarcity and oyster fishing, the Government launched an inquiry which led to more restrictions being introduced. Three harsh winters killed many of the oysters and the business went into liquidation and was closed down. The tramway was also removed and the route it took is now Hampton Pier Avenue.

A businessman called Thomas Kyffin Freeman bought up much of the company's land and set up the Hampton-on-Sea Estate Association Ltd with the aim of creating a seaside residential estate.

To make the planned houses more attractive, he added grass tennis courts, a miniature golf course, a bandstand and foundaions for reading rooms. But before he started building, he suffered a stroke and died. The Land Company, based in London, bought the estate and laid out a grid of roads, with plans for a church, shops, tavern and hotel. Plots were sold by auction in the late 1880s and early 1890s and marketed to Londoners, with claims of huge rents being obtainable, thanks to the nearby beach and pier.

Most of the plots were sold, for between £8 and £54, but few were developed - perhaps for the best, considering the fate that would soon befall them.

The houses that were built were battered by storms and frequently hit by flooding. The pier was partly removed and new sea defences were added but the water kept coming.

Hernecliff Gardens before demolition in 1910
Hernecliff Gardens before demolition in 1910

By 1901, none of 1-6 Hernecliff Gardens were inhabited, although 7-12 were, according to the census of that year. Two houses in Eddington Gardens were abandoed, but two still had people living there. The population was recorded as 41, with some familiar Herne Bay names listed including Willett and Mount. By 1905 Hampton Grand Parade and half of Marine Drive had been eroded away and more land was lost when the sea broke through the defences during a storm. Five years later the two houses nearest the sea had been demolished and just a year later all 12 houses in Herncliff Gardens were gone.Eddington Gardens was abandoned in 1916, after a well-publicised campaign to save it by Edmund Reid, a former actor and singer who was head of CID of the Whitechapel division of the Metropolitan Police and led the investigations into the Jack the Ripper murders.

Edmund Reid and a neighbour inspecting a house in Hernecliff Gardens as it falls into the sea
Edmund Reid and a neighbour inspecting a house in Hernecliff Gardens as it falls into the sea

Mr Reid sold lemonade and postcards illustrating the disappearance of Hampton from his garden shed, and frequently appeared in the local press complaining about the council and the state of the West Brook. But he had to admit defeat and moved out in 1916. The last properties in Eddington Gardens were demolished in 1921 and the old farmhouse in 1934, signalling the end of Hampton-on-Sea.

Where Hernecliff Gardens stood, pictured in 1911
Hernecliff Gardens after demolition in 1911