Herne Bay

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The town of Herne Bay took its name from the neighbouring village of Herne, two kilometres inland from the bay. The word herne, meaning a place on a corner of land, evolved from the Old English hyrne, meaning corner. The village was first recorded in around 1100 as Hyrnan. The corner may relate to the sharp turn in the minor Roman road between Canterbury and Reculver at Herne.

One of the oldest buildings in Herne Bay is the late 18th-century inn The Ship, which served as the focal point for the small shipping and farming community that first inhabited the town. During this time, passenger and cargo boats regularly ran between Herne Bay and London and boats carrying coal ran from Newcastle. From Herne, there was easy access by road to the city of Canterbury and to Dover, where further passage by boat could then be obtained across the English Channel to France.

The 1801 census recorded Herne Bay, including Herne, as having a population of 1,232. During the early 19th century, a smugglers’ gang operated from the town. The gang were regularly involved in a series of fights with the preventive services until finally being overpowered in the 1820s. In the 1830s, a group of London investors, who recognised Herne Bay’s potential as a seaside resort, built a wooden pier and a promenade on the town’s seafront. This and the subsequent building of a railway station led to the rapid expansion of the town; between 1831 and 1841 the town’s population grew from 1,876 to 3,041. The London businessmen intended to rename the town St Augustine’s, but the name was unpopular with residents and the name “Herne Bay” remained. In 1833, an Act of Parliament established Herne Bay and Herne as separate towns. Local landowner Sir Henry Oxenden donated a piece of ground for the site of the town’s first church, Christ Church, which was opened in 1834. In 1837, Mrs Ann Thwaytes, a wealthy lady from London, donated around £4,000 to build a 75 feet (23 m) clock tower on the town’s seafront. It is believed to be the first freestanding, purpose-built clock tower in the world.

During the 1840s, steamboats began running between Herne Bay and London. There was a type of beach boat unique to Herne Bay and nearby Thanet, known as the Thanet wherry, a narrow pulling boat about 18 feet (5 m) long. These boats were mainly used for fishing; however, with the advent of tourism and the decline of fishing, they became mainly used for pleasure trips. A document dated 1840 records the town as having the following schools, all of which are now defunct: Haddington boarding school, Oxenden House, The British School, Prospect Place and Herne Street School. The village of Herne was often called Herne Street around this time. The same document also mentions the still-existing Rodney Head, The Ship and Upper Red Lion inns.

In 1912, the first “Brides in the Bath” murder by George Joseph Smith was committed in Herne Bay. BBC scriptwriter Anthony Coburn, who lived in the resort, was one of the people who conceived the idea of a police box as a time machine for Doctor Who. During World War II, a sea-fort was built off the coast of Herne Bay and Whitstable, which is still in existence. The coastal village of Reculver, to the east of Herne Bay, was the site of the testing of the bouncing bomb used by the “Dam Busters” during the war.

The original wooden pier had to be dismantled in 1871 after its owners went into liquidation and sea worms had damaged the wood. A shorter 100 metres (328 ft)-long iron pier with a theatre and shops at the entrance was built in 1873. However, it was too short for steamboats to berth at. The pier proved to be unprofitable and in 1896 construction began on a replacement iron pier which would be longer and feature an electric tram. At 3,600 feet (1,097 m), this pier was the second longest in the country, behind only the pier at Southend-on-Sea.

The town’s heyday as a seaside resort was during the late Victorian era; the population nearly doubled from 4,410 to 8,442 between 1881 and 1901. Much of the resulting late Victorian seafront architecture is still in existence today. In 1910, a pavilion was added to the landward end of the pier. By 1931, the town’s population had grown to 14,533. At the beginning of World War II, the army cut two gaps between the landward end of the pier and the seaward terminal as a counter-invasion measure. The pier’s two gaps were bridged for pedestrians after the war.

1963 marked the end of steamboat services from the pier. In 1970, a fire destroyed the pier’s pavilion and plans were made to replace it with a sports centre, which was opened in 1976 by former Prime Minister Edward Heath. The centre section of the pier was torn down by a storm in 1978, leaving the end of the pier isolated in the sea. It has not been rebuilt due to the cost; however, residents and businesses in the town have campaigned for its restoration. The sports centre was demolished in 2012, leaving a bare platform.

Herne Bay is in northeast Kent, on the coast of the Thames Estuary. The town is 4.5 miles (7.2 km) east of the town of Whitstable and 6.6 miles (10.6 km) north by east of the city of Canterbury. The village of Herne is about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to the south, and the village of Reculver is about 3 miles (4.8 km) to the east. The town’s suburbs are Hampton, Greenhill and Studd Hill in the west, Eddington and Broomfield in the south, and Beltinge and Hillborough in the east. The drowned settlement of Hampton-on-Sea once existed beside what is now Hampton.

The landscape of the town has been largely influenced by the Plenty Brook, which flows northward through the centre of the town and into the sea. It is thought to have been a much larger stream in ancient times. The coastline has two distinct bays, separated by a jut of land created by silt from the outflow of the brook into the sea. The first buildings in the town were built along the east bay, a short distance from the brook outflow, where the road from Canterbury met the sea. The town has since spread across both bays, across the Plenty Brook valley and onto the relatively high land flanking both sides of the valley. The land to the east of the valley reaches a height of 25 metres (82 ft) above sea level and to the west reaches 10 metres (33 ft). Cliffs are formed where this high land meets the sea.

The rising land beside the coast, between the valley and the eastern cliffs, is known as ‘The Downs’ (no relation to the North or South Downs). This area has been named a Site of Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area for Birds. The whole of the north east Kent coast has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The geology of the town consists mainly of London Clay, overlaid with brickearth in the west. The sand and clay of The Downs are subject to landslips.

The Plenty Brook now passes through the town’s drainage system, allowing buildings to be built over the top. The brook has been prone to flooding during heavy rain, especially in inland areas, which regularly causes problems for people living in the Eddington area in southern Herne Bay.

Stormy weather can cause the sea level by the coast to rise by up to two metres. In the past, this has caused disastrous flooding in the town, the worst in the town’s history being in 1953. Coastal defences were subsequently constructed including groynes, sea walls and shingle beach. In the 1990s, these defences were deemed to be inadequate and an offshore breakwater, now known as Neptune’s Arm, was built to protect the most vulnerable areas of the town.

The advent of overseas travel and changes to holiday trends eventually caused the town’s economy to decline after the 1960s; regular flooding of the Plenty Brook prevented redevelopment of the town centre. However, extensive seafront regeneration in the 1990s followed the creation of the Neptune’s Arm sea defence jetty. The jetty has created a small harbour used by leisure boats and from where tourists can take sailing yacht trips to a seal-watching site in the Thames estuary. The Victorian gardens on the seafront were then able to be fully restored. The Central Bandstand, built in 1924, was refurbished after years of disrepair and closure to the public. A swimming pool and cinema were added to the town centre in the early 1990s. In 2005, a wind-farm with thirty 2.75 MW wind turbines was built 5 miles (8 km) off the coast of Herne Bay and Whitstable, generating a total of 82.5 MW of electricity. The recent upgrades by the Council have helped improve the image of the town and raise its profile. It is hoped this will attract new investment in tourism and business by the private sector, and lead to the regeneration of the town’s economy.

In 2006, Canterbury City Council began a public consultation to discuss the regeneration. A concern raised by the council is that the shopping centre is incoherent and fails to attract the tourists that come for the seafront. Other issues raised are the lack of holiday accommodation, car parks and clear pedestrian routes between the three main attractions in the town: the seafront, Memorial park and shopping centre. The council is considering relocating the sports centre from the pier and replacing it with other tourist attractions.

The seafront has a 2 miles (3 km) shingle beach, which has been awarded a European Blue Flag and the yellow and blue Seaside Award for its safety and cleanliness. The seafront features a Victorian bandstand and gardens, amusement arcades, and children’s play areas. Landmarks by the seafront include the Clock Tower, the sea defence jetty, the off-shore World War II sea fort and the off-shore wind farm. There are seaside cafés, fresh seafood restaurants, guesthouses, beach huts and numerous water-sports facilities.

The Memorial Park, situated near the centre of the town, incorporates a children’s play area, a large shallow duck pond often used for remote control boats, basketball and tennis courts and a large expanse of grass for field games. The park has a monument and an ‘Avenue of Remembrance’ as memorials to the town’s residents killed during the two world wars.

Herne Mill, a late 18th-century Kentish smock mill overlooking the village of Herne from a hilltop, is usually open to visitors on Sunday afternoons between April and September. A concrete funnel-shaped water tower overlooks Herne Bay from the top of Mickleburgh Hill. This water tower is now used as a base for radio transmitters.


Herne Bay Festival happens every August with ten days of almost every event being free, including live music, performance, creative commissions, cultural treats, family fun, workshops, competitions, walks, talks, exhibitions and family entertainment.

The town is home to the Herne Bay Little Theatre, a playmakers drama society and member of the Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain who have a 72-seat theatre in Bullers Avenue. In 2007, the theatre won a large grant from the Big Lottery Fund to renovate and extend their building and provide improved disabled access. The theatre also has an active youth theatre and between them, they put on at least eight productions every year including a pantomime. Theatrecraft, a local theatre group, produce three shows a year including an annual pantomime at the King’s Hall theatre. Other groups and touring companies often put productions on at the open-air ‘Theatre in the Park’ on the grounds of Strode Park House in Herne.

The town’s only cinema, the Kavanagh, is part of a Greco-inspired building that incorporates the Heron’s swimming pool and the council offices. There are a number of drinking venues, especially in the town centre and on the seafront. There are nightclubs, social clubs and many pubs, including one in the recently renovated seafront bandstand. As of January 2013 the Bandstand is an Indian restaurant.

Due to the town’s traditional seaside appearance, it has often been used as a setting for television programmes and films. The seafront has been featured in programmes such as the ITV period drama Upstairs, Downstairs, the 1984 BBC seaside comedy Cockles, CBBC’s The Tweenies and the BBC comedy Little Britain. The town’s railway station was seen in an episode of the 1970s comedy Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. The town has featured in movies such as Ken Russell’s French Dressing, and The Medusa Touch, starring Richard Burton. In fiction, Jeeves from the stories by P. G. Wodehouse regularly holidays at the town, spending much of his time there fishing. Herne Bay was the hometown of the three main characters in the 1990s BBC sitcom, Game On. To celebrate Anthony Coburn’s contribution to the Doctor Who series, BBC South East Today is celebrating 50 years of Doctor Who by screening the first ever episode An Unearthly Child, at the Kings Hall theatre on 22 November 2013.

Herne Bay is twinned with the towns of:

  • Wimereux in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France;
  • Waltrop, Germany.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and streetplan visuals are courtesy of Google.

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