Margate History

Notes from a recent Margate misguided tour.

Jane Austen considered Ramsgate a place of disrepute  – Seaside resorts were considered by some to be ‘socially dangerous’ places.

Seaside resorts  would have been a gathering place for people with some wealth to visit, a place to see and be seen.

“Off the back of this you would have every type of character feeding from the effect of the wealthy in a more profligate manner, with so many opportunities for profiting from naive people,” she said.

“With this atmosphere there would come more freedom and bad behaviour – as seen in Pride and Prejudice.

“There was a growing belief that the seaside was good for health problems and the spas which had been so popular were on the wane.

Ramsgate as the object of her “disdain”, when it was” comparatively more respectable” than nearby Margate

2016 06 10 Margate Misguided tourSeaside

Dr Richard Russels (from Lewes) Fellow of the Royal Society and physician of St Thomas’s Hospital treatise on the health of seaside living.  A Devon doctor prescribed a pint of sea water every morning !

The rich had originally gone to the inland spa towns, principally Bath and Tonbridge Wells – to take the waters, when physician Sir John Floyer published his History of Cold Bathing advocating sea bathing as a cure for many diseases, some of the leisured classes started to go to the seaside.

Dr Richard Russel’s Dissertation on the use of sea water in the diseases of the glands 1750 – suggesting that health seekers should be dipped in sea as if it were a vast medicated bath, started the craze for sea bathing among the rich.  Sea bathing was not the pleasure we enjoy today this was more like an early form of chemotherapy – to be endured – many  regimes required bathing in the sea in moonlight, before or just after dawn and in the winter too!

The seaside was a place where the social conventions were relaxed and to a certain degree couldn’t be enforced as no one could be sure who you really were – people reinventing themselves – gold diggers, frauds and fakes latched on to the ailing rich at seaside resorts  – which gained a somewhat ‘racy’ reputation.  Margate would have been seen in much the same way as we regard Las Vegas with a ‘what happens in Margate stays in Margate’ attitude.

Sea bathing had been reported in Margate in the 1730s.  It was in the second half of the 18th century that a number of villages and towns on the English coast began to take on an important holiday function.  The Kent and Sussex coasts saw the principal concentration.

1753 perfected the new innovation of the bathing machine The Margate design of bathing machine, invented by Quaker Benjamin Beale, had a hood which came down to shelter the bather’s modesty, and perhaps divert some of the force of the waves

One aspect of the English seaside resort development which is often overlooked is the affect of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars from 1789 – 1815 the continent was closed to all travelers and so the rich and leisured had to stay in England – these were the only people who could go on any form of holiday – the poor of the Eastend  going to Kent to work picking hopps and apples was there holiday!  Margate and the English resorts would then attract the aristocracy making the seaside even more fashionable and encouraging the development of the new resorts – with large purpose built housing like the Paragon for the visitors.

The Harbour

Wealthy Lononers sailed down the Thames to Margate throughout the Georgian period from the 1730s onward – long before the Prince of Wales made Brighton fashionable.

Getting to Margate by steamer continued up to the 1960s – and this is what the harbour was for.  If you a town didn’t have a harbour – like Brighton, then you had to build a pier for the boats to moor up to and for the fashionable to disembark.  The walk along the peir to see who was arriving became in itself a fashionable pass-time.

Turner Contemporary

The landmark gallery is the largest exhibition space in the South East outside London. Designed by the multi award-winning David Chipperfield Architects, the gallery sits on Margate seafront, on the same site where J. M. W. Turner stayed when visiting the town in the 19th Century. From here, the building offers sensational views over the North Kent Coast, captures the dramatic light effects and gives visitors a unique opportunity to engage with and explore world-class art

A prestigious competition for the gallery design was originally won by architects Snøhetta + Spence but their proposal was abandoned in February 2006 due to technical problems and escalating costs David Chipperfield Archtiects in July 2006 to design the gallery

The gallery opened on 16 April 2011

To emphasise the changing and dramatic effect of light outside the building, a white opaque glass façade has been used. This will also resist storm and wind damage, humidity and saline intrusionSo far, Turner Contemporary has:

  • Welcomed over 1.8 million visits (4% had never been to a gallery before).
  • Contributed over £41 million into the local economy through tourism and inward investment.
  • Engaged over 100,000 people in learning projects and activities.
  • Created a deep-rooted sense of community in and around the gallery.
  • Inspired over 35 new businesses to open in Margate since the gallery opened in 2011

Turner Contemporary is a new gallery in Margate on the north coast of Kent. Its name was inspired by the town’s association with the English painter JMW Turner, who exclaimed, ‘… the skies over Thanet [the north-eastern tip of Kent] are the loveliest in all Europe’. The gallery is located on a prominent seafront, previously a car park, where a guesthouse frequented by Turner once stood.

The new two-storey building is designed to maximise both the dramatic setting between sea and land and the extraordinary light conditions unique to this area that inspired Turner well over a century ago. It is composed of six identical crystalline volumes with monopitched roofs providing north light to the gallery spaces and revealing daily and seasonal light changes. Turner Contemporary offers spectacular views to the sea, connecting visitors to the broader landscape whilst encouraging a sense of participation in the community. The gallery is visible from the railway station across the sandy beach and forms a focal point on the horizon. As the seafront is occasionally flooded, the building has been raised on a plinth and its immediate surroundings provided with a hard landscape.

The public gallery, which has no permanent collection, presents both historic and contemporary works as well as a programme of educational and cultural events with a broad community appeal. The ground-floor spaces include a reception area, a flexible event space and a cafeteria – all of which can operate independently from the climate-controlled exhibition spaces occupying the upper floor. Direct daylight enters the building from the clerestory windows on the north side and diffused sunlight from the skylights above each of the six volumes.

The building is constructed with a concrete frame and acid-etched glass skin. The envelope has to withstand the corrosive nature of the sea, high humidity levels, strong winds and the occasional wave overtopping the building. The façades are primarily of glass with reinforced windows. Internally, the material palette is reduced to hard-wearing screed floors and dry lining to facilitate the hanging of changing exhibitions


The Winter Gardens was opened on 3rd August, 1911 by the then Mayor of Margate, Alderman W. B. Reeve

Margate municipality built it to provide high class entertainment to visitors to the town.

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