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Protests in Kent: From Poll Tax to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link

All manner of causes and complaints have brought protesters onto the streets of Kent over the years.

People brandishing placards and banners, of varying quality, have made their feelings known on a number of issues, as the many pictures from our archive show.

Protests at Istead Rise on March 15, 1989.
Protests at Istead Rise on March 15, 1989.

Here, in the first of a two-part series, we look at some of the causes that led to angry scenes - or just mild disgruntlement - in the years from 1960 to 2000 (and slightly beyond).

Rubbish tip problems, 1960

Residents took to the streets of Canterbury, to protest about flies and smells from the city rubbish dump.

Their placards - including the eye-catching 'Dead dogs and cats are NOT household refuse' - were aimed at councillors making an official inspection of the tip in September 1960.

Banner-waving residents unhappy at the flies and smells from Canterbury's rubbish dump.
Banner-waving residents unhappy at the flies and smells from Canterbury's rubbish dump.

The protesters' formation, standing a few feet apart from each other in Tennyson Avenue, looks like an early form of social distancing, although the reason for this is not explained.

Bridge bypass, 1964

A coffin and a wrecked car were included in a protest procession through the streets of Bridge, near Canterbury, on Easter Sunday 1964, as part of residents' bypass campaign.

The protest through the streets of Bridge on Easter Sunday 1964.
The protest through the streets of Bridge on Easter Sunday 1964.

Eight people had died and 50 had been injured in the village in the previous five years.

The Bridge Bypass opened 12 years later in June 1976.

Vietnam War, 1960s-70s

American involvement in the Vietnam War, which lasted from 1964 to 1975, sparked huge and violent protests across the world.

The Moratorium March on Washington in 1969 is believed to have been the largest of many demonstrations, attended by an estimated half a million people.

A protest against the Vietnam War at the Broadway war memorial in Maidstone in 1968
A protest against the Vietnam War at the Broadway war memorial in Maidstone in 1968

Our archive reveals a lone picture of a protest in Kent, a year earlier. The gathering at the Broadway war memorial in Maidstone in 1968 looks comparatively low key.

Boughton bypass, 1969

In August 1969, Boughton villagers forced traffic on the A2 to make a 12-mile detour via the Thanet Way when they had a sit-down protest over road safety fears.

In August 1969, Boughton staged a sit-down protest in calls for a bypass.
In August 1969, Boughton staged a sit-down protest in calls for a bypass.

Residents called for a bypass for the village, which lay on the main route between London and Canterbury.

The A2 Boughton Bypass was opened in March 1976.

Ian Paisley in Canterbury, 1970

Protestant leader he visited Canterbury in July 1970 to take part in a demonstration.

A Roman Catholic mass was taking place in the Cathedral as part of an effort to foster good relations between Protestants and Catholics.

1970 July : The Rev Ian Paisley, Protestant Union MP for North Antrim, was in the city at the time of the Roman Catholicmass but staged his own peaceful demonstration outside the Precincts in the Buttermarket.
filepic used in "Images of Canterbury " book page 171
Negative Reference: 24113/30(39499685)
1970 July : The Rev Ian Paisley, Protestant Union MP for North Antrim, was in the city at the time of the Roman Catholicmass but staged his own peaceful demonstration outside the Precincts in the Buttermarket. filepic used in "Images of Canterbury " book page 171 Negative Reference: 24113/30(39499685)

Dr Paisley was among a group of Protestant demonstrators in the Buttermarket rallying against the mass.

Some carried placards that read 'Bible truth or Roman error – Britain must choose' and two protesters stormed the mass.

Police grapple with two militant Protestants who rushed the altar during a Roman Catholic mass at Canterbury Cathedral
Police grapple with two militant Protestants who rushed the altar during a Roman Catholic mass at Canterbury Cathedral

In the late 1990s, Dr Paisley - who served as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party from 1971 until 2008 and First Minister of Northern Ireland from 2007 to 2008 - opposed the Good Friday Agreement, which was instrumental in the Northern Ireland peace process.

But in 2007 he set up a power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland with the Republican party Sinn Fein.

Dr Paisley died in September 2014 at the age of 88, with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby among those paying tribute.

Chatham Dockyard closure, 1981 to 1984

Conservative Defence Minister John Nott, part of Margaret Thatcher's government, announced the closure of the dockyard in 1981, sparking a string of protests by residents and workers.

When the decision was announced, Gillingham MP Sir Freddy Burden said it was: “The most distressing day I have spent in Parliament during a career as an MP of more than 30 years.”

Dockyard workers took their protests to the TUC conference in 1981.
Dockyard workers took their protests to the TUC conference in 1981.

Gillingham Council leader Michael Lewis described it as a disaster of monumental proportions.

Dockyard employees did not take the decision lying down.

Hugh Rose of the Whitley Committee, which negotiated on pay for many dockyard workers, said:

“We intend to fight for Chatham. The fight for our jobs is above politics.”

The far-right National Front still seized the opportunity to hold a protest rally and march through Medway in August that year.

Dockyard employees marched on the Conservative Party conference that year.

Regular services at the Royal Dockyard Church came to an end that Christmas and dockyard general manager Alan Kettle admitted that he didn’t believe there was any chance of a reprieve.

Determined not to give up, members of the Dockyard Defence Committee planned a direct appeal for a change of heart to Mrs Thatcher, who made Medway a Regional Development Zone.

When the Falklands War broke out in 1982, many thought it would mean the saving of Chatham Dockyard, as men worked extra shifts to bring mothballed ships back into service.

Protesters against the closure of Chatham Dockyard get their message across outside the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool in October 1981.
Protesters against the closure of Chatham Dockyard get their message across outside the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool in October 1981.

The frigate HMS Falmouth was made ready for sea in just a month and the Tribal Class frigate HMS Zulu was given a refit.

But things began to wind down, as the ice patrol vessel Endurance, which had played a

vital role in the Falklands War, left Chatham for the last time in January 1983. It had been her

base for eight years.

In October, 1983, the trumpet call Sunset echoed across the parade ground as a young sailor hauled down the ensign for the last time, watched by a crowd of 4,000.

More than 500 years of Royal Navy presence in Medway finally ended when the dockyard shut on March 31, 1984.

Part of the site was transformed into a visitor attraction, the Historic Dockyard, while development began to create what would become Chatham Maritime.

Channel Tunnel Rail Link, late 1980s to early 90s

Plans for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link - now known as HS1 used by Kent's international and high speed trains - sparked huge controversy when they were announced.

The Channel Tunnel Act, passed in 1987, authorised the construction of a railway tunnel between the UK and France and the rail link was to be a high-speed line linking the tunnel at Folkestone with the new-look international station at St Pancras in London.

MP Ann Widdecombe with rail link protesters in the High Street at Headcorn on February 3, 1989.
MP Ann Widdecombe with rail link protesters in the High Street at Headcorn on February 3, 1989.

Many living in the county feared they would be blighted by noise from the train, disruption during the construction and damage to the landscape of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Protest groups were formed in towns and villages long the proposed route and many protest marches held across the county, reaching a peak around 1989.

The final route was agreed in 1993 under John Major's government, with the line travelling from the tunnel terminal to Ashford, alongside the M20, crossing the Medway and reaching a new station south of the Thames (now called Ebbsfleet). It would then go under the river and towards east London, entering tunnels to take trains to St Pancras via Stratford.

The first part of the line was completed in 2003 with the second stage finished in 2007. On November 14 that year, the Queen declared HS1 open. The high speed train service run by Southeastern between Kent and London launched two years later.

Poll Tax, 1990

The introduction of the Community Charge - better known as the Poll Tax - sparked riots and unrest across the country.

Introduced by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government to replace the old 'rates', the poll tax meant every adult paid the same amount set by their local authority. It was widely denounced as unfair, as rich and poor were said to pay the same.

A march against the Poll Tax on the streets of Gravesend in 1990.
A march against the Poll Tax on the streets of Gravesend in 1990.

In 1990, just before the tax was due to come into force in England and Wales, a huge protest took place in central London on March 31.

The day descended into violence, with hundreds of arrests and a number of police officers and members of the public injured.

There were no such riots in Kent, although a few marches were organised.

CJ Stone, a columnist with our sister paper the Kentish Gazette, wrote of on the 30th anniversary of the unrest earlier this year: "We had our own little anti-tax group here in Whitstable. It was called Whitstable Against the Tax, which afforded the wonderful acronym WAT, a reference to Wat Tyler who had led the Peasants’ Revolt against the original poll tax in 1381.

"We organised a march from Canterbury to London, following in the footsteps of Wat Tyler.

"This led to a little straggling band of punks, hippies, socialists and assorted ne’er-do-wells, traipsing through the Kent countryside for several days shouting pointless slogans to a string of sleepy villages. What none of us had realised at the time was that, actually, most of Kent serves as a dormitory for London, and that large parts of the county are empty in the day time."

John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher at the end of 1990 announced in his first parliamentary speech as Prime Minister that the Community Charge would be to be replaced by Council Tax which we know and love today. This came into effect in 1992.

Criminal Justice Bill, 1993

The bill was drawn up to clamp down on the growing number of illegal raves and outdoor music events taking place across the country, including Kent, in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Sparked by the so-called 'Second Summer of Love' in 1989, the covertly-organised gatherings were attended by thousands but less popular with those living nearby.

The Criminal Justice Bill proposed a series of new measures to give police more powers to shut down such gatherings and was introduced by the Kent MP Michael Howard, Home Secretary in John Major's government.

Former Home Secretary and Folkestone and Hythe MP Michael Howard
Former Home Secretary and Folkestone and Hythe MP Michael Howard

While opposition mainly focussed on a series of protests in central London, there was also dissent closer to home, with smaller crowds gathering outside the former Folkestone and Hythe MP's constituency home.

Despite this, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act passed into law in 1994.

Construction of New Thanet Way, 1995

Not a placard in sight here but plenty of people up trees (and the opposite of 'glamping').

Road protests were common across the country in the early and mid 1990s, often involving campaigners obstructing construction work by putting themselves in harm's way.

Protesters obstructed the construction of the New Thanet Way in 1995
Protesters obstructed the construction of the New Thanet Way in 1995

There was even a 'celebrity' campaigner called Swampy, who made a name for himself in 1996 - even appearing on TV show Have I Got News For You - by digging tunnels in the path of the A30 extension in Devon and refusing to budge until he was evicted several days later.

A camp used by the protesters
A camp used by the protesters

There were also high-profile campaigns against the Newbury Bypass in Berkshire and a section of the M3 at Twyford Down in Hampshire.

But in 1995, a full year before Swampy hit the headlines, there were similar attempts to stop upgrading work along the A299 New Thanet Way, as protesters climbed trees and camped out along the route of the busy road.

Protesters in trees during construction of the New Thanet Way, in 1995
Protesters in trees during construction of the New Thanet Way, in 1995

The work was completed in 1997.

Fox hunting/ The Countryside Alliance

Countless protests against fox hunting with hounds have taken place in Kent over past decades, even continuing after the practice was banned in the early part of this century.

Since the introduction of The Hunting Act in 2004, hunts in the county and the rest of the UK hold ‘drag’ hunts, where an artificial scent is laid for hounds to follow.

Protests as the East Kent Hunt gathers for traditional Boxing Day hunt at Elham square in 2001.
Protests as the East Kent Hunt gathers for traditional Boxing Day hunt at Elham square in 2001.

Hunt saboteurs regularly meet to monitor such hunts, with regular claims of aggression and law-breaking from both sides.

Chris Luffingham, director of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports said last year: “Despite hunting being banned in 2004, hunts are still sickeningly chasing and killing wildlife in Kent.

Angry protesters confront members of the Elham Valley Hunt in 2002.
Angry protesters confront members of the Elham Valley Hunt in 2002.

“These figures are sadly just the tip of the iceberg but they show that the hunts are breaking the law and killing foxes, hares and deer for their so called ‘sport’.

“The good news is that the new technology being adopted by the people monitoring hunts means it is becoming far more difficult for the hunts to get away with their illegal activity.”

Anti-hunt protesters face the hounds in Elham.
Anti-hunt protesters face the hounds in Elham.

In response to the threat to hunting and - it claimed - other country sports such as fishing and shooting, The Countryside Alliance was formed in 1997 to provide a voice for rural Britain and its way of life.

The group organised a series of Liberty and Livelihood marches in London and across the UK in the early 2000s, with many taking place in Kent.

Demonstrators show their support for hunting at the Countryside Alliance's rally in Maidstone in 2002.
Demonstrators show their support for hunting at the Countryside Alliance's rally in Maidstone in 2002.

Richard Middleton, Kent Countryside Alliance chairman said during a march in Maidstone in 2002: "We had a mixed reaction from people.

"There were an awful lot of people who thought the gun dogs were smashing and there were a number of people who called us scumbags and murderers.

Richard Middleton of the Countryside Alliance with other campaigners.
Richard Middleton of the Countryside Alliance with other campaigners.

"It is a topic that winds people up. Everyone is passionate about it. It does get difficult sometimes and quite often demonstrations like these end in violence. Fortunately most people were prepared to listen."

Detling crossing, 2000-2002

A determined campaign for a safe crossing over the busy A249 at Detling began after eight-year-old Jade Hobbs and her grandmother, Margaret Kuwertz, 79, were killed crossing the busy dual carriageway in December 2000.

After the double tragedy, Jade's parents, Paul and Caroline Hobbs mounted a campaign to raise money to provide a crossing at the accident blackspot near to their home in Pilgrims Way. Demonstrations included a blockade of the road by protesters.

A sit-down blockade on the A249 by campaigners calling for a safe crossing on the road at Detling.
A sit-down blockade on the A249 by campaigners calling for a safe crossing on the road at Detling.

The Jade Crossing Appeal, a charity set up in Jade's memory, gave £75,000 towards building the crossing, Maidstone Borough Council contributed £25,000 and Kent County Council agreed to fund the rest of the bridge's £1.18m price tag.

The footbridge at Detling, with a figure to represent Jade's love of dancing.
The footbridge at Detling, with a figure to represent Jade's love of dancing.
Shaun Williamson, left, the charity's patron, at the opening ceremony in 2002.
Shaun Williamson, left, the charity's patron, at the opening ceremony in 2002.

The bridge was opened by Jade's mother on August 31, 2002. Among those attending the ceremony for the 48-metre steel structure was EastEnders star Shaun Williamson, the charity's patron.

Look out the second part of our history of Kent protests, coming soon and covering the Iraq War, Brexit and everything in between.

For more great pictures from our archives and in-depth features on Kent, past and present, click here

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