Written by Benedict Kelly

The 1925 sales map of Ramsgate's West Cliff shows the recently planned St Lawrence West Cliffs Estate. When the main house was built in 1795, Joseph Ruse had named it "Belmont." The 4th Earl of Darnley bought it in 1804 and renamed it "West Cliff House". The Times of October 2nd 1830 described "Lawn and pleasure gardens sloping towards the sea. It contains 10 principle bed chambers, servant's ditto, water closet s, dining and drawing rooms of large dimensions, ladies boudoir, library etc. 3 coach-houses, stabling for 8 horses, together with about 9 acres of rich meadow land. More land may be had if required'.

 

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.

In 1921, Caroline sold the estate to The Ramsgate Corporation. House and grounds, fields from Grange Road to West Cliff Terrace, and beside Pegwell Road, in all 58 acres, with another 28 acres north of Pegwell Road, cost £50,000. The same year West Cliff House became St Winifred’s Girls School and remained so until World War Two. Land on Downs Road and portions of Norman Road that was not bought by the Corporation, was later offered for sale from 3 pounds 10 shillings per foot of road frontage.

Also In 1921 the Corporation bought West Cliff Terrace Mansions for just over £11,500 and was offered land to make an eighty-foot road, London Road, to the north of Norman Road at £600 an acre. A cottage at the corner of Chilton Lane and Canterbury Road cost £1,000. Borough Engineer, Mr TG Taylor, planned it and the Mayor opened London Road on 8th February 1923. The Government met half the cost. An open competition to plan the estate offered prizes from £100 to £500. Architects Franklin and Deacon of Luton only came third, but as the Corporation felt their scheme to be the most practical and economical, they were chosen. On 14th February 1924, plots were marketed by St Lawrence Estates Limited of Cavendish Street, Ramsgate with the land being sold free from tithes and land taxes.

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.

During the Second World War, West Cliff House was taken over by the army. On 14th June 1946, St Lawrence Estates sold house and gardens to become St Lawrence Cliffs Hotel. In 1949, the hotel became the Bon Secours Nursing Home. Rockhurst Investments Limited purchased the building on 29 March 2001 for £750,000 and the former holiday home of Queen Victoria was refurbished, reroofed and became a private estate of apartments and individual homes. The original kitchen garden has now been transformed architecturally and is a model of futuristic living for the 21st century, based on principles of balance and self-sufficiency.

West Cliff House, 1806

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