Cushing's Lost Garden
Over the decades and even centuries, Whitstable
has been home to a number of famous people but I doubt that any
earned the affection of local people quite as much as actor Peter
Cushing. After visiting the town in the early 1950s, Peter and his
wife, actress Helen Beck, became local residents when they
purchased a seafront house in Wave Crest during 1959.
News swept the town and it wasn't long before we
could all identify the attractive but perhaps unremarkable
property that edged the West Beach shingle and backed on to the
Lower Island Wall roadway at the rear. Within a few years, the
Island Wall aspect had changed quite dramatically as Peter
expanded the rear garden and surrounded it with a high
"stone" wall. Behind the privacy of that wall, he
created a small oasis - one that we kids could only wonder about.
After Peter's death in 1994, the garden
disappeared under infill development and so "we kids"
became "we middle agers" and progressed to "we
pensioners" in a continuing state of wonder..... until
now. Writing from Canada, John Harman tells us a little of the
history of the garden and gives us some brief glimpses of what it
Garden of Tranquillity
from an Allotment
All through the
'30s, my Dad had a large allotment garden down the
Lower Island (Island Wall). This was located between
Island Wall and the back of the cottages at the far end of
Wave Crest. He had a tool shed on it and various
things to scare the birds.... but they did more to frighten
me as I was young in the late '30s. My brothers
George and Ray, who are quite a bit older than me, well remember playing on the mountains of
sawdust at the adjacent yard of the Whitstable Shipping
In 1963, when I took my wife, Anne, home to
Whitstable to meet my family, we stayed with mom and dad. Dad
told me that a film star, Peter Cushing, now lived at the
Lower Island and had acquired the allotment. By now, Peter and
dad had become quite
and dad suggested that I should
take Anne to see what his allotment had become. I understand
that Helen Cushing was ailing at that time and the actor had
arranged for the land to be turned into a beautiful 'walled garden' for
and other local seniors to share!
This garden of tranquility was
enclosed by a lovely masonry wall. On
seeing it, it was truly beautiful and we took a couple of
photographs. Within the wall were grass
lawns, rosebeds and what really caught my eye was a
Picture A: A view
looking South East from the house with Anne Harman
featured on the left
Combined into the corner of the garden
was a thatched roofed garage that blended in beautifully.
Picture B: A view
looking South West from the house with the thatched garage
close to the curved wall
From the outside on Island Wall, the masonry work was very
tastefully done, with the wall rounded into the entrance to
The plan below shows how the garden
was extended over the allotment. It also shows the angle
of the two photos above....
When I made a further visit to
Whitstable in the '70s, I took a walk past the garden with my
brother Ray and his son, Geoff. The photo below shows them outside the
wall and the 'dovecote' can be clearly seen above the
Ray & Geoff Harman
alongside the Dovecote
When last home in
2005, I was so sad to see that the garden no
longer existed and that it had been replaced by infill - with a house in its place. What a shame that
this tranquil garden that he created could not have been
preserved in his honour for all to enjoy.
I must admit that I share John's view about the
loss of the garden. Fortunately, not everything disappeared. In
furnishing the garden, Peter commissioned a garden seat that
reflected both his romantic nature and deep love for wife Helen.
The seat was designed to accommodate two people and
the carved "back" represented the entwined arms of two
lovers. This complemented the dovecote which also provided a symbol of love and peace.
Sadly, Helen died in 1971. In 1990, Peter donated
the seat to the people of Whitstable when the town opened a new
viewing platform overlooking the sea at Keams Yard (Horsebridge). The platform
(or, perhaps more accurately, the scene that it afforded users) was
named "Cushing's View" in his honour and the seat has
occupied pride of place on the structure ever since.
The message on the plaque is simple and poignant.....
Peter died just four years later
and, for his funeral, the town centre came to halt in
tribute. Peter and Helen's "View", of course,
A Legacy to Live
On... In Canada?
Peter and Helen's dovecote became something of a
Whitstable landmark and it left quite an impression on John. As a
result there may, in the future, be a piece of Canada that is
forever Whitstable.... as John explains....
memory of that 'dovecote' has stayed with me.... along
fancy to make one like it some day. Well, after
retirement and coming out West to Vancouver Island, we do
have a large enough garden and the space for one.
The dream has not yet been fulfilled but, some time back, I did make a design model
out of cardboard. This was to be sure that the size
would be right, to see how it would look when outside and
to choose the right location.
Above: John with
Below: Trialling the model in John's garden in British
Well that is as far as it has gotten and
the dream is still a dream for the moment.
I hope the dream comes true, John.... and
that we can produce a follow up article with the dovecote in
place. I think Peter and Helen would be pleased.... and I am sure
that they would fall in love with your own "garden of
tranquillity" in British Columbia.
I would like to include a permanent feature
article on Peter and Helen Cushing. However, I want it to be very
different from the many biographical and tribute articles
available worldwide.... by focusing it almost entirely on the very
special and possibly unique relationship that they had with
Whitstable and its people.
In addition to John Harman's material above, I
have collected other snippets.... but can our readers add to it.
Basically, we want your personal memories of the Cushings. If you
have something, please contact us via the comment sheet below.
Memories of the Cushings
Messages received in response to the above
articles are given below....
Cushing's House & Garden
I was foreman for B.R.Rigden & Son (Whitstable
Builders) who refurbished his house - 3 Seway Cottages. We
also built his garage and constructed the garden.
The walls were built of Kent Rag Stone and
Mounts of Herne Bay did most of the landscaping. When it
came to the thatching of the garage roof, I had to find a
local thatcher - not an easy task these days. The only
available one lived at Broad Oak but was without any
transport so I had to fetch him every day. Peter Cushing
required the very best thatch and we had to send to
Norfolk for the materials.
We also refurbished his house in Notting
Hill London. Four of us (2 carpenters & 2 painters)
moved in for several weeks living up in the roof. Before
we had finished Peter & Helen moved in. So, I can say
I lived with the Cushings in London. He was at the time
filming the Hounds of the Baskervilles and
also appearing in The Sound of Murder in the
West End which I was invited to attend.
Peter & Helen were the most charming
couple you could meet.
|Our Reply: Many
thanks, Derek. You've got us off to a great start
with our appeal for local anecdotes on the Cushings. I am
sure John Harman will be fascinated to know the details of
the construction of the garden and buildings after all
I wonder if Mounts built the dovecote or whether it
was commisioned from another local source.
I have replicated your message in the Visitors Book
as it is likely to generate some discussion and,
hopefully, jog some more memories.
If anyone can tell me whether it is still
possible to get the Helen Cushing Rose (do you remember
Peter went on Jim'll Fix it in 1986 to get a rose named
after her). I would be really grateful.
Thank you :)
6 August 2009
|Our Reply: Thank
you, Bess. I well remember the program. It was a very
touching piece of TV - particularly for Whitstable people
who knew just how much love Peter and Helen shared.
I am not sure how "rose
naming" works. It could be that the rose is available
to all. On the other hand, I wonder if it becomes a
"one off" private specimen. Perhaps one of our
readers can help.
I have often
wondered about local tributes to Peter. Apart from naming
a sea view after him, there was a move to commission a
bust that could be placed on the seafront. Fortunately,
the bust idea never materialised. I suspect Peter would
have hated it! However, I did wonder if the town might
have named a rose after Peter and planted it in a suitable
garden along with the Helen Cushing rose.
As our garden article was published some time ago, I have
also placed your message in the Visitors Book to ensure
that it gets a wide audience.
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