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Kent Traditional Boat Association

Home Introduction Kentish Boats Activities Way Forward Contact Us


Kent has a long and varied coastline.  It has the chalk cliffs of Dover and Folkestone.  It has the shelving shingle beaches of Romney Marsh and Deal.  Along the Thames estuary the shores are generally muddy with flat former marshland behind.  Gravesend is the first point along the Thames where there are hills and thus was developed fairly early.  Further up-river the shore is again muddy with settlements at various places.  Woolwich,, Greenwich and  Deptford are now part of the greater London conurbation as is Erith.  The Medway Estuary is a magical place with low-lying mud-banks and small islands and creeks which dry out at low water.  

There are several rivers in Kent.  The largest of these is of course the Thames.  However the Medway is also fairly large and runs right the way across the County.  The River Darent is navigable up to Dartford and some people think that in the Middle Ages it was navigable as far up-river as Riverhead near Sevenoaks although there it is now only a small stream.  The River Stour is navigable as far as Fordwich but may once have been navigable up to Canterbury.  The ancient town of Sandwich lies on the river closer to the sea.

Once Kent had four Naval Dockyards - Deptford, Woolwich, Sheerness and Chatham but now there are none.  Kent played a major role in the Port of London.  Gravesend is the Gateway to the Port and was and still is the base for the pilots and customs.  Pilots on ships coming up the Channel into the Thames would take on pilots off Deal and Gravesend boatmen would sail round there but pilots were also taken out by the Deal boatmen.  A lesser known facility in respect of the Port of London is the lazaretto where incoming ships from the Levant would be quarantined aboard hulks.  At the beginning of the nineteenth century the government spent a huge amount of money trying to develop an on-shore facility to replace the hulks including the formation of a new island in Stangate Creek off the Medway.

The most important port in Kent is of course Dover, once the principal cinque port.  It is now the busiest ferry port in the country .  Folkestone was also once an important ferry port but has now declined.  Many of the past ports have declined, some to the state that they no longer exist.  Sandwich is no longer a port.  Whitstable is only a shadow of its former self.  The former cinque port of New Romeny is cut off from the sea.  The Medieval cinque port of Denge has ceased to exist.  During the Great War, a major new port was established at Richborough to help ferry the huge amounts of men and munitions to France.  Sheerness Docks, using the site of the former naval dockyard is now a commercial part.  There are also more limited port facilities at Chatham Docks.  However, these latter two are relatively recent developments and have occurred since the demise of what one would call traditional boats.

There was of course a flourishing fishing industry in Kent.  Much fisihng was carried out off the open beaches such as at Deal and on the east side of Romney marsh.   Fishing boats were also based in the rivers and ports.  Some fishing was carried out in the tidal parts of the rivers.  Not only was fishing carried out off the Kent coast but also some fishing boats working from Kent fished further afield.  

With this diverse coastline, rivers and varied maritime operations a large number of different traditional boat types were developed around the coast and in the rivers to serve these specialist requirements.  The aim of the Kent Traditional Boat Association is to gain as full an understanding of these various craft as possible, encourage the preservation of those historic boats that remain and build replicas of former craft especially where there are no surviving examples.  

Being close to London, meant that Kent was  also a location for  leisure boating with yachting, sailing and rowing being popular especially in the Medway and the Thames estuary.  This led to some traditional leisure craft. being built in the County.  Whitstable in particular became a centre for this business.