We had booked ourselves into a nice little B&B on the edge of the town, where we arrived about 6pm on the Saturday. That gave us an initial evening to explore and have dinner, followed by a good full day on Sunday to complete our Peter Cushing tour. Equipped with maps and a list of places to visit culled from the internet we took in the following locations:
Peter Cushing's house
Lots of houses in Whitstable face directly out to sea, of course. Peter Cushing (and, until her untimely death in 1971, his wife Helen), lived in this one:
As you can see, it is adorned by a blue plaque, and it is notably the only one in that row to have large bushes growing in its front garden. Presumably living in a famous actor's former house is a mixed blessing for its current occupants. Note also the studio windows in the pitched roof - Peter was a keen painter, as we will see more of later. Here is the view over the sea wall directly in front of the house:
The Cushing bench and view
Also facing out to sea, close to Whitstable harbour on the route that Peter would have walked along to reach it coming from his house, is this bench, looking out over this view:
The inscription on the bench records that it was dedicated in the name of Peter and his wife in 1990, while the view is helpfully labelled 'Cushing's View'. We both took turns sitting on the bench, although I don't have ms_siobhan's picture, because that was taken on her camera.
The Tudor Tea Rooms
While he was in town, Peter liked to go and have tea in the Tudor Tea Rooms every day:
I think it was the lady in our B&B who commented, when we said why we had come to Whitstable, that he rather enjoyed playing the role of the local celebrity, and being seen out and about around the town was all part of that. Anyway, in the Tudor Tea Rooms we could certainly see the legacy which that arrangement had left. Inside, they had a special display in his honour, as well as various other framed pictures, letters and other memorabilia on the walls all around the tea-room:
Those pictures are only a sample - they had at least ten poems, letters and notes which he had written to them, plus half a dozen photographs and other sundry pieces. And of course when they saw us inspecting these with great interest and taking photographs of them, the staff and other customers began sharing their memories of him with us as well. The lady who seemed to be the tea room's manager told ms_siobhan how he had come to her wedding, while another lady sitting at one of the tables told me how he had bought her sister an ice-cream once! Everyone was eager to tell us what a lovely gentleman he had been, and if you have seen any of his films or interviews this is extremely easy to imagine. Meanwhile, I can attest that the Tudor Tea Room's scones are excellent, and that we were tickled by their preference for gingham table-cloths - something which we long ago noted is a standard trope for the dressing of Hammer horror inn scenes.
The Peter Cushing pub
This is actually a former 1930s cinema, which was converted into a Wetherspoon's pub and named in Peter Cushing's honour in 2011. We went there for a drink on our first evening, and then again for lunch the next day:
The main bar area combines gloriously Art Deco design, reflecting the building's heyday, with pictures of the great man himself:
Meanwhile, the front lobby contains a display of cinema equipment recalling its original function, stills and posters from the films which were shown there - majoring in Cushing's features of course - and some original water-colours of Whitstable which he painted during his leisure hours, either on a portable easel on the sea-front or in the studio which I highlighted earlier:
ms_siobhan was particularly excited to see his paintings, and I can well understand why. They certainly demonstrate the same close powers of observation, patience and attention to detail which characterise his acting technique. Plus obviously there is something amazing about seeing a real physical object which you know someone you admire worked on for hours in the quest to express themselves. It makes them and their creativity real and human in a way that seeing a picture of the same object cannot match.
Cushing is lovingly remembered in the local museum, too, where they have two glass cabinets full of his personal artefacts and memorabilia, and several photographs and prints of him in his screen roles and about the place in Whitstable on the walls.
The sketches in the second picture there are by Peter too, of course, and represent customers in another local pub, the Duke of Cumberland. And once again, as in the Tea Rooms, our interest in these and obvious knowledge of Cushing led to a conversation with a man who seemed to be the museum's chief curator, and who told us that he and a voluntary group had taken charge of it just six weeks earlier. He was very interested to encounter some avowed Cushing tourists - apparently most of their visitors are more interested in the town's history of fishing, oyster-catching etc - and obviously did know a little bit about the great local hero himself. But something of a gulf between us became apparent when he started commenting about how he and his group were trying to find out more about the material held in the cases so that they could improve the labelling, and pointed at a black-and-white film still saying that it would be great if they could find out what film it was from, whereupon we were like, "Oh, it's Horror Express".
At this point he took out a note-book and began writing down everything we said about any of the items very seriously, which was nice, but strange too. Not because we so obviously knew much more about Peter Cushing than the man in charge of a museum holding a bunch of his memorabilia - most geekish types are used to that sort of situation. But because he had already recognised that the picture in question contained Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Telly Savalas, and yet it evidently hadn't occurred to him to type those three names into Google and look at the image results. In fact, I've just done that, and at the time of writing the first result is literally the exact still they had. So it was more of a generation-gulf thing really, reflecting two totally different models of expectation about access to information: waiting for access to 'experts' vs. I'll just stick that into Google.
Not directly Cushing-related Whitstable experiences
In between all of this, of course, we did also enjoy the ordinary delights of a sea-side town, including a spot of shopping, and scampi (ms_siobhan) or cod and chips (me) on the harbour front while the sun went down over the sea:
Oh, and because we are a pair of big old Goths, we also hung out in a graveyard, obviously:
Even if you're not that bothered about Peter Cushing, I can certainly recommend a visit to Whitstable. And if you are, I think you will definitely come away understanding him quite a lot better than you did before. It is well-to-do, full of charming and welcoming people, and replete with a spirit and character all of its own. But it has the feeling of hailing from another age at the same time, and I can't imagine it has changed very fundamentally since Peter first moved there in the 1950s. And I can see all of that really suiting him, both in the early years with Helen and in his later life. A quaint and quiet retreat from the bustle of London and the film-sets where he worked; a genteel and unchanging world where he could be acclaimed and valued without being mobbed. Yes, I can really see him loving that, and being loved for it by the locals in return. The fact that some of them wrote this song about how cool it was to have him living in their town now makes complete and utter sense:
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