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Memorials of the Goodwin Sands 1890           

Memorials of the Goodwin Sands
George Byng Gattie
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Sample Pages


This book is a truly remarkable account of the Goodwin Sands; Mr Byng Gattie brings to life our history and tradition of, smuggling, foying, hovelling, sea rescue and the amazing attempts to build on this vast unstable sandbank. Every so often during my work producing affordable editions of books about this area, one comes along that is so readable and interesting that I put aside the novel I am reading to be drawn into our past. It is I think surprising that while many of the other books about the Goodwins have been reprinted over the years this one, which is undoubtedly one of the best, has been out of print for about 100 years.

Last Thursday, my day off, I found myself in Albion secondhand bookshop in Broadstairs, an investigation of the locked glass fronted bookcase, that holds the more expensive tomes lead to my discovery of Mr. Byng Gattie's book. It really is the most enthralling read and I am glad to be able to share it with you all.  

In the mythology of this area the Goodwins were formed by The County of Kent's equivalent of Atlantis. They were probably the remains of what the Roman writers called “Infera Insula” (Low Island), a victim of rising sea levels. What was left was a massive treacherous shifting sandbank in one of the world's busiest seaways.

For those of us in the seafaring towns on the southeast coast of England they have done much to form the history of our people. Having one of the world's greatest shipping hazards lying just off our coast has lead to a history of brave rescues many accounts of which can be found in this book. Local seamen with an exact understanding of the position of the sands and the depth of water over various parts of them were found difficult to follow by interested members of His or Her majesties customs. I was interested to find that Mr Byng Gattie's sympathies were with the smuggler, I suspect he enjoyed the odd little luxury devoid of duty.    

In the courage endowed with the ignorance of youth I have myself had the odd scrape involving the sands and various ancient vessels. Fortunately though nothing serious enough to involve the rescue services, more by luck than judgement though I admit.

Here in Ramsgate, there has at various times, been speculation that the Goodwins may shift our way, leaving the town several miles inland. Historically two previous port towns in this area (The Port of Sandwich and “Portus Rutupinus” the chief port of Roman Britain) have been stranded inland, so it may not be such an unlikely conjecture, as it first seems.

The front cover picture shows the Ramsgate lifeboat being towed out of the harbour by the steam tug “Aid” at about the time this book was first published. This was the second (the only one with two funnels) of the three tugs named Aid that served Ramsgate harbour, the first from 1855 to 1889, the second from 1890 to 1914, and the third from 1914 to 1938. By 1938 Ramsgate lifeboat had its own engine and so didn't need towing. The lifeboat in the picture (probably “The Bradford”) is of the self-righting type, the raised parts at each end being the buoyancy boxes filled with cork. A combination of these boxes and a weighted iron keel underneath meant that when the boat was turned upside down, by huge waves it rolled back the right way up. For a time my brother owned one of this type of lifeboat that had had an engine fitted and converted into a “pleasure” craft. Although it was evidently a very seaworthy vessel it was incredibly boisterous in any sort of a sea. Definitely built for seafarers with stomachs of heroes. As it surged up and down the waves like a roller coaster car one was only too aware that the stern buoyancy box had been emptied of its cork to enable the engine to be installed. The Bradford was propelled by 12 oars, with I think 2 men to an oar, I can testify that a similar vessel with a forty horsepower engine is an unwieldy craft that feels under powered when one tries to manoeuvre it. From about 1845 Ramsgate had a steam tug and from about 1858 two steam tugs the other being the Vulcan. The combination of the tug and lifeboat proved to be the most effective method of sea rescue before lifeboats were powered by their own engines. One of the Ramsgate tugs was kept with her boiler alight and ready for action 24 hours a day. In Ramsgate today (after a gap of about a year when they were stopped for health and safety reasons) we hear the maroons fired when the lifeboat is called out; often to rescue people who have underestimated the hazard of the Goodwins.

The back cover picture shows the top of Bush's second lighthouse, the only structure built on the Goodwins that anyone managed to live in. That Victorian engineers should have succeeded in building any structure on the sands is something I find quite extraordinary. This book describes how the various structures were built and their fates in considerable detail.

The original book has just over 300 pages, by reducing the width if a column of text by ¼ of an inch, I have been able to put four pages of the original onto one of this reprint. The pictures I have enlarged to fit the A4 pages of this reprint, I have done my best to enhance them, without losing their period charm, the originals are sketchy and a little indistinct in places.  

I have, so far been unable to find anything out about George Byng Gattie, apart from his first name from the British Library Catalogue. Any biographical information would be useful so I can include it in later printings.