Friday, 26 February 2016


For a change I will digress back to the beginnings of history. Thanet was once an island and was cut off from the mainland even as far back as the 1500's there was a channel separating Thanet from Canterbury and was a main shipping channel.

In Roman times they built 2 forts at either end one at Reculver and the more intact one at Richborough.
From BBC history
"When the English Channel was formed by the sea breaking through, an island of chalk was left on the east side of the county. It was separated from the rest of Kent by the Wantsum Channel.
The Wantsum Channel was originally up to two miles wide, and as you drive towards the peninsular you can see where it once was. The Channel was protected by Richborough Castle at the western end (built by the Romans) and Reculver Fort guarded the other. The first bridge across to the island was built in 1485 and even as late as the mid 1700's there was a ferry from Sandwich.
Historic map of ThanetThanet as it was when the Romans were in Kent.
Over the course of the last millennium, the channel became silted up with silt from the River Stour and the shingle which was building up along the coast helped join Thanet to the rest of Kent.
The land, where the Wantsum Channel once was, is still only a few feet above sea level, and in 1953 the island was cut off once more. The sea defences have since been strengthened since, but if you walk along the sea walls from Reculver you will see just how low the land lies.
Even today there are remains of the small harbours and quays in the villages that bordered Wantsum Channel."
Ramsgate was once a small fishing hamlet attached as a "Ville" to St. Laurence Parish prior to 1700 however after the Romans left about 400AD it was 1st settled by the Vikings Hengist & Horsa in 449AD, the population was always relatively small with the main industry farming and fishing until the decision to build a harbour in 1749 to service the burgeoning trade with Russia. Remember Dover and Folkestone's harbours came later.
Above is an early engraving of the harbour dated 1795

The Ramsgate Society states "The towns earliest reference is as Hraefn's ate, meaning cliff gap, It later came to be known as Remmesgate, or sometimes as Ramisgate around the beginning of the 13th Century (1200 to 1230). Some 120 years later, perhaps 1360 or so, the area became known as Ramesgate. At this time this small area was little more than a fishing hamlet with some farms scattered about it as a part of one or more of the local 'Manors'. Then in 1483 Ramsgate was adopted as a limb of Sandwich and thus a part of the Cinque Ports confederation." further "Elegant Georgian houses with their beautifully proportioned sash windows were built throughout the 18th century, later evolving into the bow window fronted houses of the Regency Period, 1812 - 1820. 

Ramsgate also benefitted from the building of Nelson Crescent and Wellington Crescent with their fine Chinese Pagoda-style canopied balconies and 'delicate as gossamer' ironwork railings and supports, that further embellished these wonderful Regency properties throughout the period up to the Victorian era. The young Princess Victoria visited the town as a child in the 1830s." and "Around the turn of the century - and particularly 1792 to 1815, the Napoleonic War years - Ramsgate became a busy garrison town, with tens of thousands of troops embarking and disembarking through the harbour to take part in the many battles. This necessitated the town becoming fortified,though little trace remains today, with rifle shooting on the sands and Drill Parades in Spencer Square. Ramsgate Harbour was the only harbour available for such traffic as Dover and Folkestone harbours were not to be built until many years later.
The town continued to grow during the Victorian period, and Ramsgate is particularly well endowed with some fine buildings from this time"
In September 1821 that George IV departed from the harbour for Hanover. On his safe return to Ramsgate, he was pleased to bestow the title 'Royal' upon the harbour, the only one in the country to be so honoured. An obelisk in Pier Yard erected out of granite commemorates this event.

 A more in depth history of the harbour will be done later.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Westcliff and artificial beach

The history of the Westcliff has been extensively researched on the Ramsgate Society web page click here to view. Here are a few extracts.
"Thomas Warre (1752-1824) had purchased West Cliff in 1817. His family came from Somerset and were notable in the port wine trade; their company still is today. Besides Ramsgate, Thomas had one house in Stratford Place off Oxford Street and another in St Petersburg Russia. On his death in 1824, he left £60,000 in cash to relatives and West Cliff was inherited by his nephew John Ashley Warre (1787-1860).
John A Warre appeared in Ramsgate's poll book of 1832. His eminence was confirmed when on 1st October 1836, Princess Victoria and her mother arrived to stay for two months. Variously MP for Hastings, Lostwithiel. Taunton and Ripon, Warre was also Magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant for Kent, President of the Ramsgate Seaman's Infirmary where he laid the foundation stone on 17th August 1849. His son John Henry Ware (1825-1894) inherited in 1860 and he too became a Magistrate in Ramsgate and life Governor at the Seamen's Infirmary. When he died In 1894 he was buried in St Lawrence Churchyard. His brother Arthur Braithwaite Warre, is probably best remembered for donating 7 acres of land to Ramsgate in March 1897: the Warre Recreation Ground. His heir and eldest daughter, Caroline Ashley Warre married Charles Murray Smith on 8th June 1904 and West Cliff became the Murray-Smith Estate."

"The West Cliff Lift was built in 1929 by W W Martin for £3,328. On Friday 6th June 1930, Ramsgate Mayor JSG Langley opened the bowling green. Messrs Sharman Ltd built small shelters and tennis pavilions. It was a major scheme and costs were considerable: private roads, £26,616; Royal-Esplanade, £19,082; under cliff drive and wall, £47,637; upper promenade; £9,655; work prior to cliff top levelling, £32,688; shelters, putting greens, hard tennis courts, bowling greens, £11,104; rockwork chine and planting, £4,506, Bandstand and shelters estimated at £9,225. The eventual pleasure gardens’ bandstand and pavilion by architect Basil C Deacon FRIBA. now the boating pool and café, cost £18,526. W W Martin built terraces with seating for 2,000. The bandstand in reinforced concrete proved very challenging when demolished in February 1961, but in 1929 columns, walls and terraces were finished in artificial stone of the Italian Renaissance style and the tea pavilion was furnished with Lloyd Loom chairs supplied by R G Dunn & Sons Ltd of Queen St, Ramsgate. The Mayor of Ramsgate, Alderman T H Prestedge opened the estate on Friday 2nd August."

In 1938 the authorities at Ramsgate decided to improve the narrow beach on the western (southern) edge of the town by transporting 14,000 tons of sand from the wide eastern beach at a cost of £7000. The experiment was a success and the West Beach (or Artificial Beach, as it was known to locals) was very popular with holidaymakers both before and after the war. 
At the bottom of the Westcliff lift were several chalets however after the Sally Ferry came to the port and Military Road was extended these were demolished and a new block of chalets were built. With the rundown of the area these were also demolished.

At the Western edge of the Westcliff is the original car access to the artificial beach which started life as Courtstairs Chine (Westcliff Chine) a single track road originally a Victorian promenade route to the beach.

In the background is Westcliff Terrace now private residences
The boating pool has seen many reincarnations but was originally a bandstand

 Walking along the promenade above the beach Eastwards we have the lookout cafe and screaming alley, so called because a horse and cart went over the cliff at this point (allegedly)

Right next to Screaming alley where the toilets are today was this building
Continuing the walk your have Pugin's house and St Augustines Catholic church
Another missing tourist venue was "Castlewode" the model village that was a feature for 50 years that closed in 2003. Here is a link to its closure
Here is a video of the attraction video
Near to the end of the prom just before the Westcliff Hall is the former Regency hotel now all private residences.

To the East of the Westcliff is the Westcliff Hall dug out of the chalk and opened in 1914 prior to this it was a bandstand opposite to the Paragon and the Churchill Tavern. History of the site and what might be the next stage in its future can be found here (link to Project Motorhouse)

 Health n Safety rules :)

The hall today looking rather sorry for itself

One other little known building with remains was the Paragon Baths built right next to the cliff face after the original baths were removed when the Churchill Tavern was built in 1860. The old entrance to the Victorian toilets is still visible even if the toilets are buried under the tarmac.

 Isabella baths demolished 1860's

remains of the Paragon baths allegedly under the promenade by the Westcliffe Hall.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Pegwell Bay

Pegwell Village to the West of Ramsgate has been much changed over the years.
What you see today isn't how it was originally seen.

The bottom picture (from the Pegwell regatta) shows a large bay where today much of it has been reclaimed. This article from the National Piers Society shows the why.
"Britain’s shortest-lived pleasure pier at just five years was conceived as part of the Ravenscliff Gardens development by the Pegwell Bay Aquarium and Hotel Company. The Company was formed by James Tatnell, who owned the Clifton Hotel in the village, in 1872 to reclaim six acres of foreshore for the gardens. The aquarium part of the scheme was later dropped, but the Clifton Hotel was enlarged, and in addition to the pier, the gardens were also to house a swimming pool, restaurant, skating rink and photographic studio.
An application was forwarded to the Board of Trade in June 1874 and work began on reclaiming the cove the following year. On 16th September 1879 the Ravenscliff Gardens and Pier were formally opened and a basic entrance fee of 2d was charged to use the gardens and pier, although this was increased to up to 6d for special occasions such as regattas. The pier was a rather fragile structure, 300ft in length, constructed of wood with slender iron supporting columns. A kiosk was placed on the pier head, which also had two small landing stages. However, no evidence has come to light that any vessels ever called there and the gardens and pier were a colossal failure; leading to the failure of the Pegwell Bay Aquarium and Hotel Company within a year of opening.
The Clifton Hotel and Ravenscliff Gardens and Pier passed to the mortgage company (the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Building Society) who leased them in 1880 to John Garratt Elliott, who, as a member of the London Swimming Club, was principally interested in the swimming pool. However he departed in the following year and the mortgage company tried unsuccessfully to sell the development. It appears that in 1883-4 the gardens and pier were leased to Jane Carter at the Belle Vue Tavern (famous for its shrimp paste), but the short and rather sad life of the little pier came to an end on 4th December 1884 when the hull of the wrecked barge Usko drove through the shore end of the structure during a gale. In January and February 1885 the surviving portion of the pier was sold off upon the cliff top.
The gardens eventually came into the hands of the Working Men’s Club & Institute Union, which had utilised the former Clifton Hotel since August 1894. A corner was also used by the Conyngham Café for various entertainments between the years 1894-1908. The swimming pool was filled in in1895 and the gardens steadily over the years became unkempt. They were abandoned by the convalescent home in the late 1960s and are now very overgrown. However, at low tide, the piles of the head of the long-lost pier may still be seen.
A booklet by Martin Easdown about this Kentish resort and its failed attempts to become a watering place to rival neighbouring Ramsgate is available via the NPS Shop webpage. The booklet has a particular emphasis on the development and decline of the Ravenscliff Gardens and Pier during the period 1872 to 1908."

The land reclaimed is very clear on the picture above. With a large retaining wall it has survived many a storm unlike the cliff behind it see picture below.

 to this
"PEGWELL, a hamlet in St. Lawrence parish, Kent; on a bay of its own name, 1 mile W S W of Ramsgate. The bay extends from Ramsgate to the vicinity of Sandwich; penetrates 2 miles westward, to the mouth of the river Stour; presents a large expanse of sands at lowwater; is famous for shrimps and lobsters; and was, near its head, the traditional landing-place of Hengist and Horsa and of St. Augustine." In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales

 Painting by William Dyce
Pegwell Bay is also famous as the site of the disused Hoverport operating from 1969-1987. The land still bears much of the structure of the port including the apron. Some pictures during its operation and disuse.

 Pegwell has always attracted people and the Belle Vue has been serving teas for over 200 years.

Pegwell even has its own gun emplacement during the Second World War
Pegwell has been used for shrimping and smuggling and much of the chalk has been extensively tunneled to enable both products rapid access to the top of the cliffs. Seaweed has also been harvested to improve the fields above.
Here are some views of the village both present and past.

Here are two views of the Coastguard station (well what's left of it anyway)

And a view of Pegwell Lodge from 1920 which, I believe, is the Caravan Park today.
And a view of the Westcliff House from 1837 (no longer here)
Another group of buildings now long gone is Assumption Convent. all that is left in Downs Road is and entrance and a small cemetery in the grounds of the housing estate.
"The Convent of the Assumption, West cliff, erected in 1873, at a cost of about £16,000, was enlarged in 1890, and has been occupied since 1878 by 16 nuns, who conduct a school for Catholic children of the higher classes; a limited number of lady boarders are received."
 One of the most memorable buildings is the Pegwell Bay Hotel however that isn't how it started life in 1878. Built buy John Passmore Edwards as a Convalescent home.
A brief history. "As far back as 1878 the Council of the Union considered the possibility of establishing a Seaside Home for members, their wives, and families but an initial attempt foundered, "its principal achievement being to add another heavy financial burden up on the slender and embarrassed finances of the Union". At a meeting of the Council of the Union, held at the East St Pancras Reform Club on Saturday, 6 February 1892, the Council resolved to " take into consideration the advisability of a Convalescent Home, and that a committee be appointed for the purpose of drawing up a scheme".
The appointed committee, N W Oviatt, F Campbell, Ben Ellis, J W Dorman, J H Holmes, T J Mason, and Jessie Argyle, who had agreed to act as honorary secretary, met and produced a very modest scheme, estimating an annual expenditure of £600 per annum, and subscriptions from the clubs varying from one guinea to £4 4s per annum. The proposal was to lease a large house on the South East coast and adapt this for the residence of 15 "patients". Circulars were sent out to all of the clubs but response was insufficient for the project to proceed. The following year, June 1893, Hodgson Pratt reported to B T Hall, Secretary of the Union, that he had spoken to Passmore Edwards who would like to see a deputation on the matter. At the ensuing meeting Passmore Edwards sought assurances that that the Union would guarantee to keep a home going if he gave them one. After giving such an assurance the meeting ended with Passmore's response of "very well, go and find your site, and I will buy it, and build you a home on it".
The "bedroom block" extension at the Pegwell Bay Convalescent Home. However, the search for a suitable site proved as difficult a task as any and it was Passmore Edwards himself, who in May 1894 informed them that he had purchased a disused hotel and grounds at Pegwell Bay and that he thought that this would suit their purposes. An inspection by the Secretary followed and found that the builders and decorators were already in attendance, the conversion almost complete
 An urgent appeal for funds to furnish the Home raised £250 in two months and an order for the furniture made out. Clubs or individuals were asked for £5 and for which the name of the donor would be fixed over the door of a room within the Home.
The next task was to advertise for a superintendent and matron and out of 120 applicants Mr and Mrs Boyland were appointed " and no better selection was anywhere or ever made" The home was opened by Passmore Edwards in the presence of the Hodgson Pratt, the Mayor of Ramsgate, Alderman Blackburn.and 600 Club members who cheerily braved the stormy weather.
From the day of its opening, on August Bank Holiday of 1894, the Home was a success. As each resident came back to his club he spread the tale of its charms. Large excursions organised by the Home Committee took tens of thousands of London clubmen to Pegwell. Far and wide spread its fame. A picture fund realised £100 in a few months. The Home then accommodated 32 residents, but before the third year of its life had passed it was clear to the committee that extension would be required. The foundation stone was laid on 10 July 1897 by Mrs Passmore Edwards and just 12 months later, on 2 July 1898, the new wing was opened by Passmore Edwards, raising the accommodation to 62. The response of the clubs to the debt created from the building works was enormous and it was cleared by 1905 when the committee again met to consider further expansion."

You can read the complete history here

I hope you enjoy these blogs and would encourage comments as to what can improve them.