Catriona Blaker spoke on Augustus Pugin in the Harbour Church for the Festival, not as the Architect of Westminster and The Grange,but as a passionate sailor and user of the harbour that is remarkably little changed in the 170 years since he sailed here.
For over two thousand years Ramsgate has regularly reconstructed itself after set-back or disaster. It enjoys
one of the country’s richest environments, a warm micro-climate, agriculture, natural history, coastline and
maritime tradition, architecture and a huge history springing from being the first gateway to Britain.
Arrivals here include Romans, St Augustine, Saxons, Jutes, Vikings and Normans. The Romans turned the river that made Thanet an island into a mile wide sea-lane, a highway to Rome that survived almost a thousand years
and can still be followed, if not celebrated. Oysters from here fed Roman Emperors. Decorated books were
requested from here by St Boniface in Germany. That great Roman port on the river mouth became a secret
harbour for Europe in two World Wars.
Ramsgate possesses the only Royal Harbour in existence. Broad approaches, built to allow regiments to
embark more rapidly to fight Napoleon now form a grand corniche. The double harbour was built with an
early diving bell, designed, tested and worked by its architect.
No other beach can match the image of Frith’s ‘Ramsgate Sands’. It is as recognisable today as when Queen Victoria bought it and would be as familiar to Karl Marx, Dickens, Van Gogh and possibly Jane Austen as to millions of us. The pictured house where the Queen stayed, above the beach, has now become a hotel with a view that Turner knew.
Ramsgate adapts to find solutions in surprising ways. The world’s first Hoverport closed, but the site is now
a splendid nature reserve. Seals bask watching human wind surfers bouncing above them alongside gulls.
Concerns in Pharmacy, Mining, Electricals, Brewing, Milling, Shipping, Airports, Fishing or Ferries have grown to
fade but then be superseded. Surprisingly until the Second World War, the town was basically the same as it
had been two centuries before, with Victorian and railway expansion north of East Cliff.
New housing has kept the names of former mansions and manors. They are still surrounded by fields just as Julius Caesar described 2000 years ago. Newington might have become part of a much larger mining community if 50 mines, planned for an East Kent Coal Field had materialised. Here houses have wrap-round features, derived from art deco in concrete and known as English Hollywood. Close by on Pyson’s Road, in a twentieth century industrial estate stands on one of Ramsgate’s three municipal aerodromes.
Another little recognised characteristic of Ramsgate is that it possesses a Regency style all its own. The
Crescents on East and West Cliff, The Lawns, Squares and Terraces with minute basements and decoration
may be reminiscent of the palatial terraces of Brighton, Bath, Regent’s Park and Cheltenham but they are
more approachable, humane in scale and balance, vernacular, friendly and appreciable.
Ramsgate may be approached through its architecture, coastal paths, cycle routes, skateboarding, swimming, yoga, surfing, music or any of many arts. People from all round the world enjoy living in and working from Ramsgate.
Language students from all over the globe study here. The town has confronted deprivation or disaster
amazingly. In World War II the population could shelter in chalk tunnels that are now being reopened.
Challenges are met in a more resilient, flexible and remarkable way than many will admit. In fact, everyone
The experts on neighbourhood, the natural and the built environment, culture, sport, business,
the economy and structure of Ramsgate, are its own residents. They are best placed to know how their lives,
neighbourhoods and Ramsgate itself can be changed for the better.
(First drafted for the Ramsgate Neighbourhood Plan, edited for the Town Magazine, and posted on Facebook.)
Written by Terry Prue
The Ramsgate Festival at the end of August will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, and it is instructive to consider how Ramsgate changed before and after this great event. Consider the pre-Napoleonic Wars map below and you will see that our town is predominantly ‘internal’ with very little development laterally along the cliffs. It is similar to most towns and villages at this time in which the existence of a population where many risked their lives working on the sea meant that they did not want also to have houses that looked over it!
Written by Terry Prue
I was 13 in 1959 when Freddy Hargraves retired from Ramsgate’s post-War entertainment. My interest in his style of dance band music was then waning as a new generation; Elvis, Cliff, Buddy and Adam, rose with TV coverage of pop on Juke Box Jury. Yet I remember him with affection, perhaps because I had seen his show at the West Cliff Bandstand every year of my life up until then. Both his limp and his talent show interlude, with a ‘magic’ whistling kettle as first prize are, for me, unforgettable.
My quest for biographical information started with this flyer: