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Invicta locomotive engine returning to Whitstable

A key part of Kent's rail heritage is to return to Whitstable.

The Invicta locomotive engine first operated at the opening of the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway in 1830.

And the public are to get a big say on exactly where it eventually calls home.

The Invicta Engine is currently housed at the Canterbury Heritage Museum
The Invicta Engine is currently housed at the Canterbury Heritage Museum

It has been kept for several years at the Canterbury Heritage Museum, in Stour Street, which closed in 2017 to become a new drama facility for the Marlowe Theatre.

That sparked debate as to what should happen to the locomotive – built in 1829 by famous engineers George and Robert Stephenson and sister engine to their famous Rocket.

A shortlist was drawn up by city councillors which included its current home or being moved to the Beaney in Canterbury.

Other suggestions were for it to be moved to a new purpose-built facility at Whitstable harbour called The Shed, which would be placed behind a new sea wall.

But hot on its heels was Whitstable Museum and Gallery in Oxford Street which wants the engine as a catalyst for major expansion.

At a recent meeting councillors heard from both possible destinations.

Whitstable Harbour
Whitstable Harbour

Brian Hitcham, chairman of the Whitstable Museum and Gallery Trust, announced the museum has received Arts Council funding for the project, bringing their total budget to £100,000.

Earlier this month, museum officials expressed concerns that the Invicta could be at risk of weather damage if exhibited in the harbour.

“The Invicta is a treasured and nationally important artefact,” said Mr Hitcham.

“It shouldn’t be shut in a glass box as decor.

“It certainly shouldn’t be put at risk of flooding or salt damage.”

Meanwhile, others argued the engine would benefit from tourist footfall at Whitstable harbour.

Whitstable Museum is another possible choice
Whitstable Museum is another possible choice

Cllr Bernadette Fisher said: “I would love Invicta to be on the harbour and permanently visible; an industrial icon in an iconic place.”

However, she added, the community should remain united over the issue.

She explained: “It would be wrong if such a great homecoming was seen to divide the community between the two locations.

“It’s so important future generations fully embrace Invicta as part of their shared heritage, rather than as an object of community conflict.

“I fully support the idea of community consultation. It means the arguments both for the museum and for the harbour can be fully aired, and the community can feel part of the decision making.”

Jan Pahl, chair of the Canterbury Society said: “We regret it’s going to Whitstable, but if it’s going to be well displayed we will appreciate that.”

Details on the consultation will be announced soon.

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