Beneath the murky waters of Hampton Pier, just off the Kent coast, lies an incredible and tragic story – Kent’s own sunken hamlet of Hampton-on-Sea.
Its origins date back to the middle of the 19th century – 1864 to be exact – after it began to develop from a small fishing hamlet in the hands of an oyster fishing company.
Only visible at low tide, it’s hard to believe anything unusual ever happened here, or that it was ever anything more than a simple rock/sea combination.
The history of this Kentish hamlet is actually intertwined with the story of the eccentric Edmund Reid, reports Kent Live.
He was known to previously be the Metropolitan Police Chief of the CID who handled the Jack the Ripper case.
It was then that the first sign of significant activity could be found here as, as the Herne Bay, Hampton and Reculver Oyster Fishery Company, the land around it soon began to be used in the framework of operations.
Subsequently, a 300 meter long pier was built to moor the company’s boats while staff accommodation was provided by the construction of 12 terraced houses.
Although stressed by underfunding and the cost of the pier, the venture was initially successful.
So that the cargo could begin its journey to Kent and London on a horse-drawn tram, a tram was built due south from the pier to the railway which had been built in 1861.
This track, which would later become Hampton Pier Avenue, was removed in the 1880s and for much of the 20th century it was possible to see where the streetcar met the tracks.
The scale of their operations has proven to be vast and its many remnants have in fact survived by far from their original base, with inland oyster ponds in the vicinity remaining until the 1990s when they were drained. to become Hampton’s playground.
This is despite the fact that the oyster company failed to take off further, unhelped by the decline in the oyster trade, and ceased operations in 1884, leaving the land empty and in need of use.
The Hampton-on-Sea story didn’t end there, it was just the beginning of life on this particular land.
The site’s next use came as an ambitious new seaside residential estate.
Thomas Kyffin Freeman, local entrepreneur and owner of local newspaper The Herne Bay Argus, was the man responsible for this new venture.
He sensed an opportunity to make money and so went ahead with his big vision.
Freeman bought £60,000 worth of shares in the land and had big plans to turn the area into a thriving seaside resort.
A bandstand was erected while the foundations for tennis courts, reading rooms and a miniature golf course were laid.
To motivate visitors, he also organized a big sports day, organized rides and offered free teas to those who came.
That was until there was too much and he ran out of tea.
Together with builder Thomas Richard Geelong Hoe he planned a housing estate and a Hampton-on-Sea name sign was put up at Herne Bay station pending this.
Sadly, Freeman died of a stroke soon after in 1880 and his dream never came true.
Instead, Frederick Francis Ramuz, the mayor of Southend and land agent, bought the property cheaply and offered a fine complex with large brick bungalows and villas, a temperance hotel plus a church, shops and a tavern.
The Hampton Pier Inn (now the Hampton Inn) became the Land Company’s base for its administration.
Planned street names which no longer exist included Swalecliffe Gardens, Hampton Grand Parade, Marine Drive, Canterbury Gardens, Hampton Gardens, Eddington Gardens next to Hampton Farmhouse, and Herncliffe Gardens incorporating the Hampton Terrace of the Oyster Fishery.
Additionally, Freeman’s idea of a recreation ground was also revived.
He divided the “Grand Parade Estate at Hampton-on-Sea” into 124 development plots for the first auction on September 17, 1888 “to suit all classes” and set up an auction marquee on site.
Other plots were also auctioned and these were advertised vigorously; the empty and rural character of this place translates into promises of botanization, hunting, swimming, sailing and angling.
The second of these auctions saw plots sold for between £8 and £32, which brought the Land Company £1,370.
After the four auctions and three years of publicity, very few plots were developed and the temperance hall, church, shops and tavern were never built.
Ramuz’s success was limited, and the sea was rapidly approaching.
By the 1890s, the small settlement of Hampton-On-Sea was under threat.
The North Kent coastline is prone to coastal erosion due to its geological composition of soft, permeable clay.
This is naturally worn down by the hydraulic action of the sea.
The Great Pier at Hampton-On-Sea would prove to be its downfall as it served as a buffer for cobbles moving west.
Without the restorative effect of the pebbles, Hampton’s shoreline was left unprotected and inevitably began to erode rapidly.
The last remnants of the Herne Bay, Hampton and Reculver Oyster Fishery Company were the terraced houses that ran along the strip of land adjacent to the pier.
Known as Hernecliffe Gardens and Eddington Gardens, they represented the apex of Hampton-On-Sea’s once-nascent promise.
The people of the village were aware of the dangers of living so close to this precarious coast, they knew they were living on the brink as the sea got closer every day.
Some weather-related events are believed to have led to extreme events, including “The Great Storm of 1897” when massive waves damaged properties in Hernecliffe Gardens and brought the sea temptingly close.
Damage limitation mode was in action before the turn of the century; the pier, which had been damaged by the storm, was partially removed in 1898 and a wall was erected the following year – this had little effect, as nothing could be done to halt the advance of the sea.
In 1903 Reid moved into the property overlooking the land at the end of Eddington Gardens.
He named his home “Reid’s Ranch” and set about tending to the plight of the people of Hampton-on-Sea, becoming their unofficial champion.
He became infamous for shedding light on the situation the colony found itself in; he set up his own hotel, in a shed outside his house, where he sold lemonade and postcards, many depicting the settlement slowly sinking into the surf.
The 1901 census put the population of Hampton-On Sea at 42, a number that would slowly decline over the coming years.
It became clear to everyone involved that the battle was lost.
The Hernecliffe Gardens disappeared between 1909 and 1911 while the council took the decision to demolish the buildings as their foundations became untenable.
Eddington Gardens, which was farther from the sea, lasted a bit longer until it too was demolished, leaving behind only the end of the original pier, the Hampton Inn, and the arch rock of the crumbling coastal defense of Hampton-on-Sea. .
In total, the shoreline at this site receded 175 meters in the years between the completion of Hampton Pier in 1865 and the start of construction of modern coastal defenses in 1958.
With thanks to Martin Easdown, author of Adventures in Oysterville.
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