Explosion at Dungeness

A Note from the Editor

I have been editing this magazine since 1965 and during that time have come across many exciting, interesting and talented people. The work of Albert Stribbling, an amazing man from Ashford, has never been published, I cannot think why. The following is a section from his unfinished book, these are all the words he has sent us and they are all included here for you to enjoy as I did.

Albert is racing to complete his book, we shall print anything from it he cares to send us, when you read the following chapters you will understand why I can say that without seeing them.

He is a descriptive writer who records modern social history and events with his pen. It is a fitting story to include in this very special issue of “Cinque Ports”


By Albert Stribbling

February 1986

“Here Albert, listen to this?” Pat said, she was looking at properties for sale in the local paper. “Fisherman’s cottage on the beach, seven thousand nine hundred and ninety nine pounds.”

“What, where?”


“Blimey, if we get what we want for this place, we could buy that outright and pay all our debts up”

“Shall I phone the estate agent to see if you can view it?”

Putting the phone down after talking to an estate agent, Pat told me,

“You can pick the keys up from the office at two o’clock this afternoon and go and look at it.

”Did they tell you where it is?”

“He said it was down by the old light house, there’s a track that goes to the Coast Guard Tower near the sea and the carriages that are for sale are near the track.”

“Okay, I’ll find it.”

Leaving my car at the top of the track and with the wind blowing against me and howling loudly, I walked across the shingle towards the carriages. Unlocking the door of the back carriage which was an old wooden goods wagon, I stepped inside and pulled the door shut. I was amazed, it was so quiet, I couldn’t hear the wind at all. On the opposite side there was a door that led into a small area that consisted of a kitchen sink with just a cold water tap and opposite that there was a door that led into a loo.

The second carriage ran parallel with the goods carriage with the addition in between. Opening the door and stepping into the old wooden passenger carriage, I immediately noticed the difference to the other one. It was in far better condition and divided into three rooms. The middle one was a sitting room, that had a LPG cooker and a small wood burning stove. The rooms at both ends were bedrooms and the front door led out onto a veranda which faced the sea. Looking around on the veranda I saw a name plate screwed to the carriage door. It read, “Westward Ho” there’s a place called Westward Ho in the West Country I thought to myself.

“Well,” Pat said as I came into the shop,

“What are they like?”

“Ummm, a bit different to what we’ve been used to but I suppose with a bit of money spent on them we could make them good enough to live in.”

I described to Pat what they were like and told her the name of them.

“I like that name, Pat said, “shall I phone the estate agent and tell them we want to buy Westward Ho?”

“I suppose we haven’t got a lot of choice, it’s either them, or rented accommodation. At least if we buy the carriages we will have somewhere to live and will be out of debt.”

175 Faversham Road, was on the market for two or three months before we got a serious buyer. After Mr.& Mrs. O’Dell had been to view the property a couple of times they put an offer in and after a bit of negotiating we agreed on a price. Reg and Iris were a nice couple, they had a nineteen year old son Dean, who was going to run the shop.

August 8th 1986 was the day we moved to Westward Ho, Dungeness. I’d bought a van off of Reg and my nephew Mark helped us to move, on the first trip he followed me down in his car and left it there. It took about four trips before we moved everything from the house to the carriages. Pat stayed at the house getting things ready for Mark and I to load up on our return.

Service Connections!

When Mark and I got back to load the last remaining bits and pieces, Pat said she’d received a phone call from a film company wanting to use Westward Ho, as a location for a film they were making. Apparently the location manager had been to Dungeness looking for a suitable location. and seen the estate agent’s sold board fixed to the side of the back carriage and taken their phone number.

When she phoned them they gave her our solicitors phone number, who gave her our phone number. “Because ‘Westward Ho’ isn’t connected to the phone yet,” Pat said, “I gave her your mum and dad’s phone number and their address. She wants to meet us there Sunday week, seven o’clock in the evening. If we agree to let them use our place for a film they’re making, they will pay us and I thought that could come in handy. What do you think?”

“Yeah, it could be interesting as well.”

The three of us got in the van, plus the two dogs, and I drove to our new home at Dungeness, picking up a LPG gas bottle from a garage on our way. We also picked up fish and chips from a fish bar in New Romney. While we were eating our fish and chips and drinking mugs of coffee that Pat made from boiling a saucepan of water on the gas stove, I said to her, “Well, what do you think of our new home?”

“My dream has come true, when I was ten years old my uncle Dick brought me down to Dungeness, and when I saw all the old railway carriages on the beach, I said to him, I’m going to live in one of those carriages one day!”

The Railway Carrages at Dungeness
The Railway Carrages at Dungeness

We unloaded the stuff from the van into the back carriage, where most of the other stuff was put. We thanked Mark for helping us to move and paid him some money. We said our good-byes and he drove off in his car.

It was quite late in the evening now, but not quite dark. “I’ll just take Sammy and Josie for a walk.” I said

“All right, I’ll have their food ready for them when you get back.”

While the dogs were eating their food Pat made a coffee for both of us and after drinking it we both went to bed absolutely shattered.

“Isn’t it a nice feeling,” I said as I cuddled up to her, “We don’t have to get up early in the morning, we can lay in as long as we like.

Well, blow me, it was about ten o’clock in the morning, we were still in bed and there was a knock on the front door, the dogs started barking.

Pat got up, she put her dressing gown on and opened the front door to see who it was. Standing on the step of the veranda, was a dear old lady whom we’d made friends with while we were at the shop. She came down just to see how we were.

In the early afternoon, we had two more visitors. Don and Audrey, they had a property, second one down from us. They introduced themselves and told us they lived in Ashford, and they only came down weekends in the summer. They also said if there was anything they could do for us, just to let them know.

First thing Monday morning, Pat and I drove into Ashford town centre and after parking up, we went into the SeeBoard (South Eastern Electricity Board) (No longer there) showrooms. After queuing up for a while we were seen by a lady and when we told her we’d just bought a place at Dungeness, and we wanted to have electricity laid on, she asked us where it was and when we told her she said her and her husband owned the place at the far end of the row of properties where we lived and theirs were also two railway carriages.

We had a man from SeeBoard come to see us and it was suggested that if we could get the other residents to agree to have electric connected to their properties it would work out cheaper for all concerned. Out of the five properties in our row shared the cost of having electricity connected. (Unfortunately, we weren’t able to locate anyone who owned the property next to us which was just a single carriage. Apparently, it had been standing empty for years.) The other three property owners all agreed to have electricity connected to their places.

The next thing we did was to contact Telecom to have the phone connected, which was a big job because they had to put another telephone pole up in between the nearest telecom pole and our place.

I took Josie and Sammy for long walks every day, mostly over to the two lakes, about a mile away. I would throw sticks and branches as far as I could into whatever lake we’d gone to and Sammy would run into the water and swim out to the stick or branch and bring it back to me. He would drop it at my feet and keep barking at me until I threw it out into the water again and he would do the same thing over and over again, he loved the water. Josie wasn’t so keen on the water, she would just paddle with the water just above her knees. One day I went a bit further, I took the dogs along the beach in front of the power station, right to the end and round to the rear but well away and across the nature reserve, (which I didn’t know at the time) where there were more lakes, (disused gravel pits). We eventually came to a wire security fence, which, luckily had a gate in it. It led out onto the power station entry and exit road.

Before going through the gate, I put Sammy and Josie on their leads. We crossed the road and went through another gate opposite, which brought us out not far from the other two lakes that I normally take the dogs to. Pat wasn’t very pleased when we got home. “Where have you been?” She asked “I’ve been worried about you. You’ve been away over three and a half hours.” I apologized and told her where we’d been.

The Film Company!

The following Sunday Pat and I went over to mum and dad’s place to wait for the people from the film company to come and talk to us about using our place at Dungeness as a location for a film they were making. They arrived early evening, a woman, who was the location manager and a man. They told us they would need our carriages for three weeks and for that they would pay us one thousand pounds. They said they would put us up in a hotel for the three weeks they were using ouplace. We told them we had two dogs and a cat and they said the film company would pay for them to be put in kennels and a cattery. Pat and I looked at each other and I said, “Our two dogs and cat are part of our family so we really wouldn’t want to have them boarded out.”

The two film people looked at each other and then the woman said, “If we got permission to have a caravan put nearby for the period we’re filming would you both be willing to live in that with your pets?” We both said that would be fine, that way we would be able to watch what was going on. It was the beginning of October 1986 when the caravan arrived. It was an ex holiday caravan. Mike, the man that delivered it on a long trailer towed by a four wheel drive truck, sited it at the rear of the carriages, but away to the right, well clear. He connected a water supply to the caravan so that we had running water. For lighting, cooking and heating we had bottled Calorgas. By the second week in October, most of the film crew were down and preparing everything for filming. Alison, the location manager came to see Pat and I practically every day to make sure we were okay. Towards the end of the third week they’d built a replica carriage parallel with and about three foot away from our rear carriage. We were told that part of the plot in the film, was for one of the baddies to blow the rear carriage up. So that they didn’t have to use a lot of explosives, it was constructed of bolser wood, so that when the explosion happened it would just fall to pieces. Um, um!

The Explosion
The Explosion that Wrecked the Carriages

The Explosion!

A few days before the explosion was due, I saw Alison with a pile of envelopes in her hands. I’d just come back walking the dogs and she was walking to the top of the track. We stopped to talk and she said she was just going to deliver a letter to each property on the estate. I asked her what it was about? She told me it was to let everyone know there was going to be a small controlled explosion on the Friday of that week. I offered to deliver the letters for her and she was very grateful.

The BBC Blow Up our Home
The Explosion

We invited some of our friends down to see the explosion. Joy brought mum and dad, and Sheila and Charlie down and we were all standing at the top of the track where we were told to. A fire engine, (Health and safety regulations) was parked half way between the top of the track and our carriages. Everyone was waiting with anticipation including Chris Shore, an amateur photographer, who lived nearby. A lot of the people waiting were stamping their feet and blowing into their cupped hands to try to keep warm, because it was quite cold and the time of the explosion was over half an hour late. We then saw a man jump out of an open window in the replica carriage, he hardly hit the ground when there was almighty BANG, a massive explosion erupted, flames and black smoke shot up into the air, small pieces of wood was blown all over the place, even up to where we were standing. The firemen rushed over with their hoses and doused the flames.

Firemen Douse the Flames
Firemen Douse the Flames

When the smoke had cleared we could see that the side of our rear carriage was on fire, the firemen quickly turned their attention to that and soon had the flames distinguished. Pat was standing next to me and I looked at her, she was saying: “My poor carriage, my poor carriage what have they done to it?” Alison came up and looking quite shocked and angry, she said to Pat and I,

“I’m terribly sorry about your carriage, but don’t worry we’re insured for a million pounds. If your carriage can’t be repaired you’re have a new place.”

“But, I want my railway carriage.”

TOO Muck Expolive Caused Great Damage
The End Result

Family and friends were invited back to the caravan, where Pat had home-made vegetable soup simmering in a large pot. After we’d all eaten a bowl of soup and bread and butter, we all felt a lot warmer. After everyone had gone home, Pat and I were sitting talking when there was a knock on the door, I got up and opened it. Alison Burnet was standing there.

“Oh, hello Alison, come in,”

She told us that she’d been in touch with a loss adjuster and he would be down the next day to look at our two carriages, and he would give us an assessment on the damage.

Beyond repair!

It was about eleven o’clock the next morning when there was a knock on the door, Pat opened it and Alison was there with a man dressed in a suit. She asked if we would like to go to the carriages, with the loss adjuster while he assess the damage? Pat and I walked the short distance and watched him inspecting the damaged carriages. Afterwards, he told us to get three independent builders to give separate quotes on repairing the damage.

Back in the caravan, Pat and I scanned through the telephone directory looking for local builders. We chose two in Hythe, and one in Rye. After getting in touch with them, appointments were made for them to come at separate times to give their quotes. They came, they studied the damage and all three of them said practically the same thing, both carriages had been damaged beyond repair. Because they were old wooden carriages all the joints had sprung, which affectively made them un repairable. On being told this for the third time, Pat wasn’t very happy at all. Her dream of living in railway carriages, had been shattered.

But, what do we do? Alison informed the Dungeness Trust and the local authority about our carriages being so badly damaged and they couldn’t be repaired and could we carry on living in the caravan until a replacement dwelling could be erected. It was arranged by Alison, that after the film company had vacated the site, the caravan would be moved and placed just alongside our carriage. From the carriages we had electricity laid on in the caravan and also the phone. The council insisted we had to replace what we had. That proved to be easier said than done. I drove to the steam railway company in Tenterden, to ask if they had any old wooden railway carriages? No! Was the answer, if they were lucky enough to locate any, they would keep it for themselves.

We were told about a local man who was a coach builder. I went to see him and told him what had happened and what the council insisted on. I asked him if he could build two replica carriages? I gave him the measurements. By this time, we had put the affair in the hands of our solicitor, Charlie MacDonald, but he handed us over to Mr Mortimer, who specialised in litigation. The price of the building two replica carriages arrived by post. A shock, a big shock, £50,000 for one carriage. We guessed the insurance company wouldn’t pay out one hundred thousand pounds for two carriages. And they wouldn’t.

The Hurricane! 1987

I was awakened by the rocking of the caravan, and getting out of bed and looking out of the window which faced the power station, I couldn’t believe what I saw, or rather what I didn’t see, lights! At night, the power station is always ablaze with lights, but, this particular night it was in total darkness. Pat was already up, I went out into the living area and there she was standing by the sink pouring water she had just boiled on the calor gas stove into a mug that she had put in the sink. She asked me if I wanted a coffee and explained the reason she was making the mugs of coffee in the sink was because the rocking of the caravan was making the coffee spill from the mugs. “It must be bad out there,” I said,

“the power station is in darkness. I’m going to phone Radio Kent to tell them that the Dungeness Power Station has got a power cut.” I reached up to a shelf and got a telephone directory and with the light of a torch I sat on the seat at the rear of the caravan skimming through the pages looking for Radio Kent’s phone number. Then, all of a sudden there was an almighty crash, the side window to my left blew in, there was glass everywhere, Sammy, who was lying on the floor jumped up and Josie, who had been curled up next to me fast asleep jumped onto the floor. Almost at the same time the caravan door, which was almost opposite the window blew open and immediately that created a sort of wind tunnel. Clothes, which were hanging on hangers, and papers, which were on shelves and the table, all blew out of the door an away. “Quick!” I called out to Pat, “get in the car.”

As we made our way over to the car, the wind was nearly blowing us over. I opened the back door of the car and both dogs eagerly jumped up onto the back seat. Pat got into the car and I switched the interior light on and we both leaned over to check whether the dogs had any cuts on them from the glass from the caravan window that blew in. Josie, who was trembling had a few cuts on her back and one side of her body. Sammy had some cuts as well but not as many as Josie. We both sat back in our seats and I got hold of Pat’s hand and said: “Don’t worry love, we’ll be alright, their cuts aren’t too bad, we’ll get them to the vet tomorrow.” “Victoria Sponge!” Pat suddenly blurted out. “Where’s Victoria Sponge? We’ve got to find her.” “Okay,” I said, “I’ll go and look for her.” As I opened my door, struggling to hold onto it because of the wind Pat opened her door and got out. “What you doing?” I said, “stay in the car, I’ll look for Victoria Sponge.” “No!” She said, “I’ll go with you.” “Okay, stay there, let me come round to hold you.” Pat and I held on to each other as we battled against the fierce howling wind towards the old railway carriages. “I’ll go and have a look on the veranda,” Pat said. “Okay, I’ll go and look round the back.” I left Pat going onto the veranda and made my way around to the back of the carriages.

There was no sign of the cat around the back so I made my way back to where I’d left Pat, and as I got nearer I could hear her talking. “There now my poor baby, don’t be frightened I’ve got you, we’ll take you to the car where Sammy and Josie are.” Together with the cat in Pat’s arms, we struggled back to the car. When daylight came we could see the caravan more clearly, it’s side was buckling out, the door blowing backwards and forward. “We won’t be staying in there anymore,” I said. “No!” Pat said, “we’d better go and see Mike, and tell him what’s happened to his caravan and get him to bring a replacement one over.” “Yes, we’d better do that first, then we’ll take the dogs to the vet, but before we go we’d better let Sammy and Josie out to do their jobs and also the cat.” I got out of the car and opened the back door and both dogs hopped out and at the same time Pat opened her door to let Victoria Sponge out. Although it was still windy, it was nowhere near as bad as it had been a few hours previously. We let the dogs run about for about twenty minutes, then I called them and they jumped back into the car. Victoria Sponge was nowhere to be seen and Pat said she should be fine now, it’s daylight and the wind has dropped.

As I drove out of the Dungeness estate and onto the coast road, we both got a big shock. The road was littered with roof tiles, telephone and electricity cables, tree branches and other debris. It was like that all the way to Littlestone and up the Avenue to New Romney and through the lanes to St. Mary’s in the Marsh, a small village where Mike Wild had a caravan business. He delivered and collected caravans, he stored caravans and he hired them out, like he hired our one to the film company. It took us a long time to get there, driving over and around obstacles in the road. I drove through the open gates and into the yard and both Pat and I were confronted with a sight neither of us had ever seen before. Where the yard normally had rows of caravans, all neatly parked, now, every caravan was either blown onto its side, or blown onto the side of an upturned caravan. Windows were smashed, doors were banging open and shut and walls were buckled out.

Switching the ignition off, I got out of the car and walked over to a secluded area on the far side where Mike and his partner Gwen lived in a luxury caravan. It was abandoned, the caravan was leaning on its side against a wall, many of

its windows smashed. There was no sign of Mike or Gwen, I called out but the place was deserted. “Well, there’s no sign of them,” I said as I got back into the car, “their caravan is damaged pretty badly, tilting against a wall, windows smashed.” “They must have gone to stay with friends or relatives,” Pat said.“Yes, I expect so, but I don’t know what we’re going to do.” “Let’s go back home,” Pat said, “I’ve had a look at the cuts on the dogs and there not too bad.” “Okay, I doubt if we would get a vet anyway, they’ll all be busy with emergencies.”

By the time we got home we’d decided what we would do. Pat unlocked the door of the front carriage, which was the least damaged of the two. I connected a gas bottle to the cooker and lit a couple of rings to warm it up a bit. Pat returned from the storm wrecked caravan, she was loaded up with cooking utensils, she put them into a cupboard except a kettle. I took the kettle from her and went and filled it up with water and placed it on one of the lit gas rings. While the kettle was coming to the boil we made several trips to the caravan bringing clothes, food, bedding and other stuff until it was completely cleared out. We had breakfast, which we were both ready for, then after helping Pat to make our bed up I took the dogs for a walk along the top of the beach.

You could see how far the sea had come over the top during the night by the seaweed and bits of debris that had been washed over. I paced it out and it was approximately ninety feet. Later that day, Derek, a coast guard officer came down to the coastguard tower, and on his way back he popped in to see if we were okay, he’d seen the state of the caravan. He gave us some cheerful news, he said that we were lucky it was a low tide, if it had been a high tide Dungeness would have been seven foot under water. Because we hadn’t got much sleep the night before, Pat and I retired to bed early in the evening.

The next morning, Pat was in agony, she could hardly move, practically the whole of her body ached. I helped her the best I could to get up and dressed and after breakfast I helped her into the car and took her to the surgery, and we did manage to see a doctor. After examining her he said she had arthritis. We told him about the experience we had in the caravan on the night of the hurricane and he told Pat that she’d probably had arthritis for a long time, but it hadn’t effected her up until now, the shock of what happened has brought the arthritis out. Unfortunately , all he could do was to prescribe her with pain killers, which she was on for the next fifteen years. A few days later I was able to see Mike, and he delivered a replacement caravan about a fortnight later. So, we gradually moved back into the caravan, which was slightly better than the other one, it had a shower for one thing.

First Published in “Rye’s Own” November 2015

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