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Travel and tourist Information about the seaside town of Margate in Kent
There is no longer a pier in the traditional sense at Margate. The original one, known as the Margate jetty, was built by Eugenius Birch in 1855. Birch's engineering skills resulted in him building 14 seaside piers around the coasts of England and Wales. The Margate Pier stood there for over 120 years until it succumbed to a severe storm in 1978, leaving only the pier head jutting boldly out of the water for several hundred yards off shore with its simple stone lighthouse at the far end . To date, no one has been able to shift the remains of the Pier and the foundations have withstood weather and demolition experts. At the street end of what is left of the jetty stands a beautiful old building, Droit House, (the Margate Pier and Harbour Co.) dating from 1812. It is now the Turner and Contemporary Arts Gallery exhibiting artwork from international modern artists including local girl, Tracey Emin. The idea behind this gallery is to celebrate the links that Margate has with the British Impressionist artist, JMW Turner whose sketchbooks have innumerable images of Margate itself and who spent much of his life painting seascapes inspired by the coastal regions of East Kent.
The building of Margate Harbour itself was carried out in 1810 by John Rennie. Up until this time, the whole of the coastal area from Margate almost to Broadstairs, was a perfect haven for smugglers due to the numerous rocky bays that exist on the Thanet coast. Indeed, smuggling was a common way for local men to support themselves and their families. The building of the harbour enabled trade to expand using, instead of the traditional sailing hoys, the faster cutters and steamships. Coastguards were stationed along the coast and as a consequence marked the beginning of the end for the smuggling trade.
Although much of the seafront buildings are shabby and in need of renovation they still retain a certain charm. Along the Promenade at this end of the town there are still many enchanting, typical, Victorian seaside resort buildings to admire. Take note of the 34 streetlight columns along the seafront with their decoration, variously described as sturgeons or dolphins, at the base. From the harbour, across the road on The Parade, you can see Royal York Mansions. Dating from the late 19th century it is a purpose built mansion block of flats with splendid wrought iron balconies that look out over the harbour and the beach. On the side of this building is a blue plaque commemorating the fact that Prince Frederick, (of Grand Old Duke of York fame) had lived in a house on this spot in the 18th century.
Behind the Promenade you will find the Old Town of Margate, an enchanting area often completely unknown to the day-tripper. The old Market Place is at its heart with charming streets and lanes clustered around it. This area is the focus of the Townscape Heritage Initiative whose aim is to renovate and breathe life back into this delightful area. Many of the buildings here date from Georgian or Victorian times although there are also some that go back much further. In King Street, for example, there is a row of flint cottages with Flemish gables, a shop that is around 400 years old and, further up the road, a Tudor house which is thought to be one of oldest in Kent dating back to around 1525. It is thought that it probably belonged to a wealthy yeoman farmer and, when it was built, would have stood on the banks of a mere (or stream) from whence Meregate or Margate derived its name. This stream ran down into the sea where Margate harbour is now located.
The focal point of the Old Town is the Old Town Hall now the intriguing Margate Museum but formally, the police station (1858-1959, the municipal centre (1787-1970s) and the local courthouse (1869-1971). This museum is a little gem and, at only £1 entrance fee, definitely shouldn't be omitted from your day trip. It traces the history of Margate from its 18th century life as a small fishing village, to its evolution as one of the prime Victorian seaside resorts, and its culmination as a fast developing, modern seaside town. On entering the museum you are transported into the old Victorian police station with its tiny cells. It's hard not to let your mind drift into wondering how many people found themselves locked up here over the years and for what. There is also a fascinating display about the history of smuggling in Margate. It seems that the smugglers had great influence in the town and anyone involved in the trials of smugglers or traders in contraband experienced intense harassment. One example of this is the case of Margate solicitor, John Boys. The information tells us that 'he was the object of great hatred in the town'. He was attacked, his property destroyed and placards appeared informing everyone that he was 'an informer and a hunter after blood money'. On the top floor of the building is the old Magistrates Court Room complete with beautiful old carved oak benches. In this room is a fascinating display from the Royal Sea-bathing Hospital of Margate where TB patients were sent. It also has a fascinating collection of dolls which were made to illustrate the various methods of treatment of bone and joint TB. This infirmary was opened in 1796 and could accommodate up to 200 patients. In the mid-19th century it was common for the poor of London, living in various pauper institutions, to be sent here to recuperate (or otherwise) from this disease, rather than infect other inmates. Interestingly, the hospital was closed in 1995 and the listed building has been turned into luxury flats, in a development that has remained extremely sympathetic to the heritage of the building itself. As you come out of the museum look out for the blue plaque on the wall of The Bulls Head pub in Market Place. This plaque informs us that the comedian, Eric Morcambe held his wedding reception there.
If you continue walking up King Street you will eventually reach one of the other interesting sights of this town, the Shell Grotto. It is not known exactly how this grotto of tunnels and passages, that lead to a chamber covered with 2000 square feet of mosaic and 4.6 million shells, came about. Whether it is a quaint Victorian folly or something much older and pagan is a mystery. However, it is truly awe-inspiring and try to get time to see it. Close by to the grotto are the Margate Caves another delightful mystery. The caves are man-made but, by whom and when, no one seems to know. Some argue they are over 1000 years old others that they date from Georgian times and were built as some eccentric's folly. Margate Caves consists of a steep underground tunnel that leads to a circular chamber. Beyond this is another passage leading to a rectangular chamber. Some interesting cave paintings exist drawn from the time of their discovery in the 18th century. It is thought that the caves were an invaluable resource for the smugglers of Margate. Giving access, storage and a place to escape from the authorities. Unfortunately, the caves are currently closed due to subsidence but hopefully will reopen soon. Another or probably the greatest attraction of Margate use to be the "Dreamland". The Dreamland pleasure park attracted thousands of weekend visitors in Margate since its opening in 1920. In Dreamland was the oldest roller coaster of England. The "Jolly boys outing" episode of the popular TV series 'Only fools and Horses' was filmed here. The famous pleasure park has been closed since 2006.
A little further down Marine Drive you will see a cast iron sundeck which looks over the road and out to sea. Behind this deck is Albert Terrace which again has some charming Victorian residences on it. Just below is the delightful, chiming Victorian Clock Tower erected in 1890. On a sunny day, there is nothing better than to sit on the exterior deck of the Marine Sands Cafe enjoying a large plate of excellent fish and chips, with the warm sun beating down on you, the sound of gulls screeching overhead and the shabby gentility of Margate in front of you. The Marine Sands Cafe is almost opposite the Clock Tower and its deck overhangs Margate Main Sands. See more of Margate in our Margate Picture Gallery.
|2007 travel guides|