Legend Of The Origin Of Whitstable
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
While strolling on the Kentish coast last summer I halted at a roadside inn, in what I found was styled "West end of Herne."
I inquired, among other matters, the distance to Whitstable, and received the desired information from the portly, goodnaturedlooking mistress, with the addition, " Ah, sir, that's a queer place ; you'll see all the houses stuck up and down the hill, just as the devil dropped 'em, as folk say here !" I naturally asked the particulars of this diabolical feat, and in answer was favoured with the following tale, which I do not give in the good lady's own words, lest I should wound the amour propre of the respected citizens of Durovernum, for, according to her, " it was all along of the wickedness of the Canterbury people," of which some instances were supplied.
Canterbury, as all the world of Kent knows, is " no mean city" now; but six centuries ago, when it was the resort of thousands of pilgrims, it was so glorious that it excited the wrath of the foul fiend, and its inhabitants being as bad as Jerome describes the people of Jerusalem to have been when that city too was famous for pilgrimages, he sought and obtained permission to cast it into the sea, if the service of prayer and praise usually performed by night and by day at the tomb of St. Thomas the Martyr should be once suspended. Long and eagerly did Satan watch ; but though the people grew worse and worse daily, the religious were faithful to their duties, and he almost gave up the hope of submerging the proud city. At length, however, his. time came. A great festival had been held, at which the chaplains at the saint's tomb had of course borne a prominent part, and when night came, utterly exhausted, they slept—all, and every one.
The glory of Canterbury was now gone for ever. Down pounced the fiend, and endeavoured to grasp the city in his arms; but though provided with claws proverbially long, he was unable to embrace one half, so vast was its size. A portion, however, he seized, and having with a few strokes of his wings reached the open sea, he cast in his evil burden. Thrice he repeated his journey, portion after portion was sunk, and the city was all but annihilated, when the prayers of the neglected St. Thomas prevailed, and an angelic vision was sent to Brother Hubert, the Sacristan, which roused and directed him what to do. He rushed into the church, and seizing the bell-rope, he pulled vigorously. The great bell Harry, which gives its name to the centre tower of the minster, ordinarily required the exertions of ten men to set it in motion, but it now yielded to the touch of one, and a loud boom from its consecrated metal scared the fiend just as he reached the verge of the sea ; in despair he dropped his prey and fled, and Canterbury has never since excited his envy by its splendour.
There was a remarkable difference in the fate of the different parts of Satan's last armful, from which a great moral lesson was justly drawn by my informant. Those very few houses, in which more good than bad were found, were preserved from destruction by falling on the hill-side, and they thus gave rise to the thriving port of Whitstable ; while the majority, where the proportions were reversed, dropped into the sea a mile off, and there their remains are still to be seen; but antiquaries, if ignorant of the facts of the case, have mistaken them for the ruins of Roman edifices submerged by the encroaching ocean. It is to be hoped that they will suffer the invaluable guide, local tradition, to set them right.