Posted by: madkentdragon | April 2, 2011

A Minster, a Longboat and Planes. Quirky Kent 6

OK, let’s head up the A299 and cross the Wantsum River; first thing you’ll see is Manston Airport, this used to be an RAF airfield, in fact it was first used in 1915 after the war-planes, which originally landed on the cliffs at Westgate often failed to stop and tumbled over the cliffs, ending
several pilots lives. In desperation, the pilots started to land on some flat farmland at Manston, which developed into an Admiralty Aerodrome and by 1916 a training school was set up. In 1917 the Royal Flying Corps was established and flew many a sortie from here.

The RAF continued to use the airfield and was heavily bombed during the Battle of Britain and many buildings were destroyed and WAAF ended up being billeted in a nunnery! The first ever jet squadron was based here and it was one of the places that a fog dispersal system was used. The airfield was also used as an emergency landing field for bomber crews and these accumulated here ending as up as a spare parts yard for repairs.

The USAF used Manston during the cold war during the 1950s and left in 1960 when it became a joint civilian and RAF airport, again used by
the RAF for emergency landings. It is now Kent International Airport, mainly used for cargo and a few passenger flights. There is an RAF museum and also a Spitfire Museum at the airport. The Jolly Farmer pub was said to have a ceiling covered in the pilots signatures but as it has been painted over several times, it cannot be proved, however it was the airfield’s “regular”.

The village of Manston is often overlooked, but it dates from before the Romans and an Anglo-Saxon sword has been found in the village and in 1381 the Peasants Revolt reached here and the house of William de Medmenham was burnt with all his books. Manston Court was the seat of the Manston family in the time of King John and a later member of the family William was Sheriff of Kent in 1436.

We’ll ignore the coast for now and head to a new phenomenon on the Island, Thanet Earth which is acres and acres of enormous green houses
growing salad vegetables hydroponically. There are three at the moment and the largest is as big if not bigger than nine football fields! There is planning permission for another four and it is estimated the original three already produce 15% of all tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers used in the UK.

Now to Minster, one of the oldest villages on Thanet, the legend states that the land to build the Minster was paid as blood money from
Egbert in 670 after he had murdered his two nephews and their Mother or Sister which ever tale you follow stated that she would take no more land than her white hind would run round and that described the perimeter of the Minster and gave the Village its coat of arms of a white hind.

Now on to Pegwell Bay, believed to have been one of the landing sites for those dreaded Vikings or even Hengist and Horsa in 449 AD! To
commemorate the 1500th anniversary, a full sized Viking Long Boat was rowed from Denmark to Pegwell Bay, the boat complete with shields and all the trappings of an original long boat had 53 crewmen, mainly volunteers with only a sextant to guide them arrived safely to much publicity and loud cheers and was greeted by the local dignitaries. The “Hugin” now stands on a low cliff overlooking the bay and has recently received a new coat of paint. Looking at the photos of the day, it seemed to have attracted a rather large crowd but now how many people stop to look at it?

The area was a quiet fishing village during the coming years but there are two tunnels built into the cliffs, one is called the seaweed tunnel and was used by villages collecting seaweed to sell, the tunnel avoided the dangerous climb down the cliff. No-one really knows what the other tunnel was used for but it is thought that it was probably a smugglers tunnel. Both tunnels have been excavated and when built were lined with bricks to stop the chalk from crashing down on those using it!

There was an earthquake and Tsunami here in 1858, although not as big as the ones seen recently, there had been a thunderstorm in the
morning and the sea retreated about 200 yards and then rushed in again, followed by “Earthquake” waves! A similar experience was noted in Penzance.

The area became quite popular as a resort in Victorian and Edwardian times and a pier was built in 1874 but was the shortest lived pier
ever known as by 1884 it had been demolished by a barge, but during this time it was one of the places to see and be seen at regattas or to use the bathing facilities and tea rooms. A large hotel was built, but slowly the area lost its popularity and it resulted in a slightly shabby and neglected feel to the place and some of the ruined jetties and parts of the pier can still be seen at low tide.

In 1966 a hover-port was opened at the Bay and for the next few years, this exciting new way to travel attracted passengers and spectators back to the area but this closed and moved to Dover in the early 1980s and all that is left are some weed strewn concrete landing pads. The area is now part of the wildlife park and nature reserve.

Thanet Earth

Next time we’ll try to visit the rest of the “Planet Thanet”


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