The 10 best things about growing up in 80s Canterbury

Canterbury city centre at the start of the 1980s before the High Street was pedestrianised

The 1980s was “the decade which made us”, according to the subtitle of a recent documentary about an era which started with the US boycott of the Moscow Olympics and ended with the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Closer to home, it truly was the decade which made me and my friends of similar age. I turned six in 1980 and was almost 16 when the decade finished.

It was also the happiest time. Here are 10 reasons I loved growing up in Canterbury in the 1980s.

1: The toy shops

Any trip from our home in Beverly Road in the St Stephen’s area to town necessitated a visit to a toy shop. Even if my mum or dad weren’t buying me anything, it was still joy just to look at the toys.

A view of Riceman’s across the bus station

And we kids were spoiled for choice. There was Hill’s by the Clocktower, John for Toys and Nason’s. But Riceman’s was the real Mecca, the gigantic toy department arrived at by taking the lift up.

Lego, Matchbox cars and Star Wars figures were my early obsessions. Then it was He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Transformers.

2: Football stickers

When I wasn’t in the toy shops, I was in the newsagent’s such as Forbouys in St Dunstan’s Street buying sweets and stickers.

I must have completed four or five albums by taking my stickers to school and swapping them with classmates. “Got, got, got, need, need, completed, got…”

3: The ’82 and ’86 FIFA World Cups

Needless to say, I also had the albums for these two tournaments, which were both magical times. Two or three matches a day in the early stages meant we were glued to our tvs watching something other than cartoons.

The 82 World Cup was also a way for us eight-year-olds to learn about the world. Suddenly I was aware of places called Peru, Kuwait, New Zealand and Cameroon.

Paul Whittaker, Rob Tilbury and Richard Pettman of Canterbury Crusaders

4: Canterbury Crusaders speedway

At some point in the 1980s, I became aware of an extraordinary noise on summer nights in the city.

It was the sound of the Canterbury Crusaders speedway team roaring around the gravel track at the Kingsmead Stadium, now Kingsbrook Park.

My friend Ben and I started going to the races some time in the mid-80s. As kids we were utterly mesmerised by the noise and the sound of speedway.

One odd thing I recall is a kid about my age rubbing gravel into his hair on one night at the stadium, also home then to Canterbury City FC.

5: The latest state-of-the-art technology

I’m talking about Sony Walkmans, Commodore, Spectrum, BBC and Amstrad home computers and watches with calculators.

Yessiree, we actually thought this stuff was cutting edge. I had a Spectrum 48 on which I used to play games like Manic Miner, Jet Set Willy and Horace Goes Skiing.

6: Videobug in Oaten Hill

Before the arrival of Blockbuster video at the foot of New Dover Road, Videobug was the place to rent videos – both VHS and Betamax.

And it was a golden age of film for us youngsters with things like the original Star Wars trilogy, Ghostbusters, Splash, The Goonies, Beverly Hill Cop and Back to the Future.

The old coalyard was a hang-out for us

7: The old coalyard

Today, this area has been redeveloped into the housing developments called Orient Place and The Spires.

Back in the 8os the coalyard consisted of some railway sidings and a few rusting old freight wagons.

Our routine consisted of buying soda and sweets in St Dunstan’s and then hanging around at the old coalyard, scavenging around looking for any interesting bits and bobs.

8: Lost restaurants of the 80s

Anyone who has been in Canterbury for any length of time will know that our restaurants – perhaps with the exception of the Kashmir, Cafe des Amis and Cafe de China – come and go.

Those businesses which looked like rock solid fixtures of the city’s urban landscape just slipped away.

Gravel Walk in the 1980s

We used to have loads of decent restaurants. There was the Momtaz and the Curry Garden in St Dunstan’s Street.

Berni Inn was in Burgate, the Wimpy was in the High Street and St Peter’s Street had the famous Caesar’s Restaurant and a Starburger.

In Butchery Lane, pizza lovers could pop into Sweeney Todd’s for a bite. It was popular with students.

And outside of the city there were a Little Chef to the north and a Happy Eater to the south on the A2.

9: The opening of McDonald’s in St George’s Street

The first Canterbury McDonald’s opened in 1982, if my memory serves me right.

It sat in the rounded building long since been replaced by the Carluccio’s restaurant which also provides an entrance to the Fenwick department store that stands where Riceman’s did.

McDonald’s items in the 80s

It was an instant success. My mum and I went on the first day it opened, a Saturday, and sat on the model train on the first floor.

Back then the restaurant chain used a family of characters to market itself.

These included Ronald McDonald himself, the purple anthropomorphic being Grimace and the Hamburglar, who apparently promoted the message that you could acquire fast food through larceny.

10: Behaving appallingly as a teenager

I went to St Stephen’s Primary School and then on to the Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys.

It was a scary place when I started there in 1986. Older boys used to roll first years down the bank by the playground, most of the teachers were frightening men who had been working since the 50s and some nasty kid was going around the school extorting money from other pupils.

But by the time my friends and I had become third years, the story changed: we were now the naughty ones.

Col Haddon’s maths class at the Langton, 1989

Two of us started bookmaking business. We bought the Sporting Life in the morning and took bets on races that day and paying winners the next.

Another kid opened his own tuck shop out of a locker in the science room corridor. He sold stuff from his dad’s shop unavailable in the school canteen.

When the choir held its practices in the music room on Friday lunchtimes, we used an abandoned telegraph pole to batter the back wall of it to cause as much annoyance as possible.

The 80s ended with us sitting our GCSE exams, which had recently replaced O-levels.

It marked the end of the carefree days as teachers and parents nagged us about working hard and being responsible.

All the things you did now like doing well in exams mattered, we were told. You wouldn’t succeed in life and you wouldn’t get into university or a decent job if you didn’t.

Where the 80s were joyful and carefree, the 90s were troubled and uncertain. That’s why I’m so nostalgic for my days of growing up in Canterbury…


  1. Got to love LT Col Hadden. I’m not sure why so many of you in that picture don’t have your top button done up though? If I may, the best thing about growing up in Canterbury in the 80s, was the end of term foam fights. Joy.

  2. For something a little more sophisticated, what about The Beehive restaurant behind the Odeon? Sadly, the cinema now is a shadow of its 80s self … And what about the six former pub crawls? I still love the city but there just seemed to be much more of it in the 80s, sadly so much has been sold off since then. And, of course, the cathedral was free!

  3. I used to live and work in Canterbury in the 80s and I have been trying to find the Westgate Café on Station road East which was next to a pub but I have had no luck. I assume this is now the Westgate Inn. Could anyone tell me if this is correct and when the change happened. Many thanks.

    • Don’t ever remember a cafe on station road East which was Wincheap end but pub on corner was the Roundhouse
      Think there was a cafe by The Railway pub on station road West which was up At Dunstan’s area

  4. I love this article. I didn’t make it to Canterbury until 1988 but these pictures blow my mind. Surely a book on Canterbury in the ’80s is imminent?!

  5. Anyone remember the name of the independent clothes shop just over the bridge at the bottom of the high street? Really annoying me as I can’t remember it .


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