Ramsgate, Isle of Thanet
We were back in the South of England last week, continuing our exploration of places we should know well by now, but want to get to know even better - before it's too late.
This is South Thanet, which may soon, depending on the outcome of the general election, be known as Farageland. The area includes a curve of coastline which begins at Cliftonville just south of the Turner Contemporary in Margate.
It then meanders through a series of amazing chalky bays.
Walpole Bay sea pool - a tidal swimming pool dating from 1900.
Offshore, the Thanet Windfarm is visible. It's the world's third largest - owned by Sweden's state electricity company. According to James Meek, writing in the London Review of Books, the "local" utility company, Southern Water, is owned by a consortium of Canadian pension funds and Hong Kong investment funds, advised by an American and a Swiss merchant bank. Is this remoteness the reason why these superb beaches are sometimes closed because of pollution?
Further down the coast, past Palm Bay and Botany Bay, lies Kingsgate Bay. Here a man patiently prised winkles from the rocks (pollution-free I hope). I wondered if this back-breaking work was worth the effort, but I now see online that I would have to pay £6.95 for 500 grams of pre-boiled winkles - still in their shells and pin not provided.
Kingsgate Bay is my favourite.
We are all photographers now!
At the opposite end of the bay to the chalk arch is Kingsgate Castle, built in 1760 by Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland. Originally it was part of a range of cliff-top follies, to be used for his amusement while he lived at nearby Holland House (the white mansion in one of the photos above.) Fox was considered by some to be the most corrupt politician of his day for he contrived to systematically milk the public purse of hundreds of thousands of pounds while holding the post of Paymaster General.
The cunning Fox.
Apart from Kingsgate Castle itself (enlarged in the 19th century, a hotel in the 20th century and now converted into expensive apartments) we found only one other folly from Fox's huge playground. I think it is the building with a tower in the foreground of this old print, minus the tower.
A few miles further down the coast we arrived at Broadstairs, recently the setting for a BBC documentary, "Meet The Ukippers", but we did not linger long. Not because we were avoiding the locals, of course.
Like Dickens, who spent every summer here between 1837 and 1859, we've had a lot of fun at Broadstairs, but next stop on this particular nostalgia-trip is...
Ramsgate, Cinque Port and great English seaside town of the 19th century!
The marina with Ramsgate Maritime Museum, circa 1817, in the distance.
"Ramsgate Sands" by William Powell Frith,
Ramsgate became a popular seaside resort for the gentry in the 1800s and Queen Victoria came often when she was a child, first visiting with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, in 1823 when she was 4. Can you see the obelisk in the photo and painting above? This was erected in 1822-23, around the time of Victoria's visit, and is dedicated to King George IV.
How we grovelled in those days!
The town's East Cliff is dotted with large Gothic hotels. The red brick buildings beyond are very grand coastguards' cottages. Name-dropping is easy - Wilkie Collins wrote The Woman in White on Nelson Crescent, Vincent Van Gogh taught art here briefly in the 1870s, Augustus Pugin built The Grange, his family home, here in the 1840s and his son Edward, also an architect, designed the Granville Hotel, seen here, behind his bust.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge stayed at various addresses on Wellington Crescent, above. But, look closely, there is a creeping air of desolation hovering around its Regency balconies.
To quote James Meek once more;
"In London there is more money than space; here it is the opposite."
Down on the seafront the Royal Victoria Pavilion, 1903, has been empty since 2008 and is crumbling, though there has been talk of it becoming Britain's biggest pub.
We thought these might be construction workers taking a break, but who knows? Many exciting and precious parts of our country like this corner of Kent, are falling apart for want of money. Can they be saved? Perhaps, as the civic activists of the Ramsgate Society wish, Mary Portas could lob a gentrification bomb down from Margate.