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6 April 2009: Page 2

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Peter 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 contained 


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 Co.  

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 well acquainted 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 her 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 'dovecote'.  


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 garage.  

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 masonry. 


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.

John Harman
British Columbia


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, lives on.


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.... 


The memory of that 'dovecote' has stayed with me.... along with the 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 cardboard model
Below: Trialling the model in John's garden in British Columbia


Well that is as far as it has gotten and the dream is still a dream for the moment.


John Harman


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.


A Permanent Feature? 


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....


Peter 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.

HAPPY DAYS...........

Derek Gann.

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 these years. 

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.  


Helen Cushing Rose

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 :)

Bess Sayer
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. 

PS 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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