The Ramsgate Society’s 2010 Town Image award was presented to the Custom House in Harbour Parade, now an accessible home to Ramsgate Town Council, much-used café cum restaurant, central visitor information centre, Royal National Lifeboat Institute shop and quality craft shop. In short: A Success.
Jack Baker who developed the Custom House had been a successful developer in London’s Docklands until the 2008 collapse led backers to foreclose on an almost completed project. Long before coming to Ramsgate he knew that success is never certain and good intentions rarely recognised.
Mr Baker’s planning application for the Custom House expressed the aim of restoring the historic profile of the Georgian Harbour, from Obelisk to Lighthouse. What seemed an almost impossible concept in 2010 is coming close to fruition. His latest development will echo the 19th century waterfront and preserve all four historic slipways with the oldest, largest and most used continuing to service a wide range of boats: commercial, fishing, and leisure. The tiny Georgian watch house, exposed winding gear and slipways will all be restored. A working, centuries old facility, unmatched from Portsmouth to Lowestoft is hauling its way into the twenty-first century.
The Harbour itself was over half a century in construction: assembly rooms and harbour offices were moved or demolished while other buildings came and went. Regency structures with magnificent arched access were often destroyed or adapted, and not recorded, as demand changed. This project sets out to restore something of an elegance that was never fully realised.
A modern building, reminiscent of the late Georgian buildings that used to occupy the Harbour, will float above the central slipway giving the illusion of an elegant new quay. Ramsgate-born architects Pier Luigi and Ivan, del Renzio and del Renzio, are sons of artist Toni del Renzio who died in 2007. Their names are a reflection of their father’s Russian-Italian origins and it was he who fostered their interest in architecture. As well as the drawings, which they and their client have made exclusively available here, you can see more of their work in the restoration of the building that stands to the right of the Royal Temple Yacht Club, on the site once occupied by the home of Sir William Curtis who entertained George IV there, just before the King conferred Royal status on Ramsgate’s Harbour.
The new building, designed to balance Wyatt’s historic Clock House, will house Hornby, Airfix, Corgi and Scaletrix models currently on display at Hornby’s former factory site in Margate. At 9,000 square feet and costing £1.6 million the new visitor centre is expected to attract tens of thousands of new visitors.
Early Concept Elevation: South West (Maritime Museum shown for reference)
Projects proliferate all around the Harbour: new businesses have opened in refurbished arches, newly completed berths are occupied in the marina, JD Wetherspoon is set to restore the Pavilion, and work is underway to consolidate the East Cliffs so that construction on the Pleasurama site may begin after years of doubt and delay. A few hundred feet away, the Ramsgate Tunnels have just celebrated a successful first year and while cavernous HMS Fervent remains sealed for the time being, it too is a huge part of Ramsgate’s hidden history and a record of the role Ramsgate played in the story of the nation.