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Whelkman of Whitstable still going strong at the age of 90

By Gerry Warren

At an age when many people are heading for a retirement home, Derrick West celebrated his 90th birthday at work.

Because the 'Whelkman of Whitstable' was busy doing what he has done at the harbour for more than 70 years.

Believed to be Britain's oldest fisherman, Derrick says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Derrick and Jean West with some of their whelks
Derrick and Jean West with some of their whelks

“I just can’t be doing with sitting around indoors getting bored,” said the sprightly grandad, whose own grandfather first started whelking in the 1800s.

And the same goes for his wife Jean, who has worked alongside her husband at West Whelks at the Fisherman’s Stores on the West Quay since 1963.

It is a double celebration for the couple this week because Thursday wa also their 66th wedding anniversary.

Derrick was just 14 when he first started working at the harbour, initially as a trainee boat builder in the then-shipyard.

After a period of national service, he returned to Whitstable to work in the family shellfish industry, which became his life.

And there isn’t much he doesn’t know about what lurks in the local waters.

"I just can't be doing with sitting around indoors getting bored" - Derrick West

He has also witnessed huge changes in the harbour since the days as a boy when he watched shire horses hauling wagons of coal and corn along the quay.

“Sadly, the boats have become too big to get into dock now, but I’m glad it’s still a working harbour,” he said.

Derrick, who lives just a stone’s throw from the West Quay in Victoria Road, says he plans to continue working as long as he can.

“I reckon the outdoor life and sea air has kept me pretty fit - mind you, it can be pretty bitter down here in the winter,” he said.

These days, his son Graham runs the family shellfish business, but the couple are always there to help when there’s a haul to process.

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