This article appeared in the Winter 1978 (Issue #54) edition of the Kent Archaeological Review.
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The Mystery of the Pudding Pans.
Most industries have their by-products, and oyster dredging is no exception. Many strange and wonderful things are brought up by the oyster dredge, but the red earthenware dishes known locally as 'pudding pans' and to archaeologists as samian ware are the most intriguing of them all.
Three or four miles north of Herne Bay there is a patch of cement boulders known as the Pudding Pan Rock and a little farther out is the Pan Sand marked by the Pan Sand buoy. It is around this location that the coveted pudding pans are found and have been for hundreds of years.
Hasted the historian mentions them late in the 18th century and Mord ens map of Kent dated 1695 also shows the Pan Sand. The question is, where did they come from and how did they get there? The general assumption is by ship wreck. By the potters' marks it is known that they were made in Gaul, France and one or more shiploads seem never to have reached their destination, but finished up on the Kentish Flats among the oysters, to the delight and financial benefit of the flatsmen.
Much of the credit for the conservation of these finds must be given to the late Mr William Holden, a Whitstable jeweller who made it his hobby to purchase all he could acquire. The usual price Mr Holden paid for a pudding pan was one guinea (£1.05p) according to its condition. He also purchased prehistoric flint implements for which he paid 2/6d (12½p). At that time the one guinea was equal to the earnings of a week's work on the flats and not to be sneezed at. In all, Mr Holden's collection amounted to not less than 130 pudding pans and several hundred implements.
Mr Holden's shop in the high street of Whitstable had a wonderful selection of samian ware and shaped flints on view; some of the pudding pans had oyster shells attached. After the death of Mr Holden the British Museum purchased half his collection of pudding pans, the rest were purchased by the Whitstable Historical Society and the flint implements were a free gift to the Society from his family.
This unique collection is now one of the most cherished possessions of the Whitstable Historical Society. Several sub-aqua clubs have sent teams to explore the sea bed in the vicinity of the pudding pan finds, but without success as the water is seldom clear enough for observation. The best hope still remains the oyster dredge. No doubt the ground has been worked over many times, but as the bottom is continually changing, the pudding pans would at times be silted over perhaps for long periods and then come to the surface to be caught in the oyster dredges.
ED: We understand from the National Maritime Museum that Mr Porter is very knowledgeable about the Seasalter district and has reported any interesting finds made by him in the past to the Museum. We congratulate Mr Porter on his responsible attitude.