We are off to Kent today and the Victorian seaside resort of Margate. We are meeting up with Tigger’s nephew and his partner. It is again a grey day, very humid, and with a threat of rain, not seaside weather at all.
Margate Station, exterior
Edwin Maxwell Fry’s Modernist station, built 1926
We caught a 214 bus around 8 am. Because of building works, this bus currently drops us off in York Way (on the opposite side of King’s Cross station) instead of conveniently in front of St Pancras station which is its normal route. We walked through King’s Cross station where major works are also in progress. At the moment, the whole of London resembles one big building site and we are impatient for the work to end so we can get our city back. As usual I went to the Camden Food Co to buy breakfast while Tigger joined the queue for train tickets. We then boarded the HS1 which swiftly carried us the Margate.
Margate Station, interior
The spacious entrance and ticket hall
Travelling frequently to Margate as we do, it would be easy to overlook its railway station but this is a Grade II listed building with a place in Britain’s architectural history. It’s also quite a nice little station. By the way, if you think the man at bottom right has painted his face blue, you are right. There was a festival going on in Broadstairs and several people arrived in costume and with paint on their faces.
Margate Station clock
A rather nice clock (but not in ideal lighting conditions for the photo)
The station was built in 1926 by Edwin Maxwell Fry who also designed Kensal House in Ladbroke Grove, London, seen as the first building to make a confident statement of Modernism in British architecture. Fry also designed Ramsgate station, which we have also often used. Both have a comfortably spacious entrance hall, much nicer than the confined space in many of our more modern station buildings.
The Flag and Whistle
Another dead pub?
On a dull and damp day like today, Margate – and any other seaside town, come to that – is not seen at its best. The doleful atmosphere is not helped by boarded up buildings like this pub, a symptom of Margate’s rundown condition from which it is trying to revive itself.
No doubt once an elegant seafront terrace
This terrace of houses with the somewhat exotic name of “Buenos Ayres” (sic) was probably once a row of elegant and desirable residences overlooking the sea and the beach. Today, the houses are mostly small hotels or divided into flats and looking a little ragged.
Another face of Margate
is represented by blocks like this one, Arlington House, belonging to Thanet Council
Margate can seem rather windswept on a day like this and the seafront is particularly exposed for obvious reasons.
Humans had abandoned the beach, leaving the gulls in sole possession
The broad sandy beach is a place of warmth and entertainment on a sunny day but when the weather is dull, the gulls find themselves in sole possession of it. Shops and cafes along the seafront either had their doors closed against the weather or had closed altogether.
The amusement arcade
Does it ever close?
The amusement arcade was open, however, despite being only thinly attended by customers but, then again, I don’t think I have any seen it closed!
We met George…
who graciously accepted food
In front of the shops, we encountered a gull who was quite shamelessly begging for food. You are not supposed to feed gulls because they can become aggressive as a result but, well, George had such winning ways…
The shopkeeper and George are old friends
While we were doing this, the shopkeeper came out and showed us that George would take food from his hand. Apparently, George has a mate and some young in a nest on top of the shop. Why “George”? “Well, because,” explained the shopkeeper, “we call him George Seagull!” (Got it yet?)
The Mechanical Elephant
A name with a fascinating history behind it
We all met in the Wetherspoon’s pub on the seafront called The Mechanical Elephant. We had lunch, chatted and caught up with one another and then went our separate ways. The above photo was taken after lunch and you can see the remarkable transformation in the weather: it was now sunny and almost uncomfortably warm!
At this point you may be wondering how the pub came by such an unusual name. It is in fact named after an actual mechanical elephant that in the 1950s used to take people for rides up and down the seafront. A mechanical elephant? Are you kidding? No, assuredly not: Jumbo – or Nellie, as he or she was also known – did exist and strutted his or her stuff in several locations in Britain, Australia and Sweden. I rather regret that Jumbo is no longer working the promenade in Margate, as I would have liked to see him in action. If you want to learn more about this fabulous beast, you can consult, among others, the Cybernetic Zoo, which will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about mechanical elephants.
More people on the beach
The sun was tempting more people onto the beach but the gulls were still managing to share it
The sunlight was bringing more people out of doors and the seafront was becoming busier. For a while, at least, people and gulls managed to share the beach amicably between them.
A couple of parties were preparing to sail their yachts out into the bay. We were rather taken by a young gull having a drink.
He discovered rain water on the railings
Though they are seabirds, gulls of course drink freshwater and this is not always easy to find on the sea shore. This juvenile gull had discovered little puddles of rainwater on the flat-topped railings and turned his head sideways to drink from them, a rather endearing sight.
Borrowing and Multiplying the Landscape
By Daniel Buren
We walked as far as the Turner Contemporary Gallery and by then were so hot that we went inside to rest and cool down. In modern art galleries you have to keep your wits about you as it’s not always clear what is a work of art and what isn’t. A partially masked window and two massive mirrors in parallel constitute Daniel Buren’s “Borrowing and Multiplying the Landscape”.
A real page-turner
Turning Pages by Michael Craig Martin
Or a book limned in neon lights that gives the impression of turning pages. (Quite hard to photograph convincingly!).
The Crampton Tower
A water tower built in 1859
One way to keep relatively cool and still get about is to take a bus ride. We caught a bus and went to Broadstairs. Here I saw this tower for the first time. You might imagine it is a restored part of a castle but it is in fact a water tower, built in 1859 by Thomas Russell Crampton who had formed the Broadstairs Water Company. Today it is a museum covering more subjects than just water as you can see here.
So named advisedly
Nearby is this lane or footpath which is accessed from the street by a staircase. It runs between a row of houses and the railway line. That gives the clue as to why it bears such a fanciful name. In the days of steam trains, the path was no doubt littered with cinders from the locomotives.
The side of Ramsgate the we visit less often
Again we took the bus and continued on to Ramsgate. We stopped this time at East Cliff whereas we usually arrive from the other end. Here, Ramsgate offers a sandy beach and a cliff-top walk but the vertical height separating them is somewhat severe.
East Cliff Lift
Just over a hundred years old
So severe, in fact, that a cliff lift was built in 1910 so that people could more easily commute between the two levels. There is a matching lift on the West Cliff.
The bottom end
The building now includes a cafe
We could have taken the lift, whose bottom end is shown above, but we preferred to take a different route.
Better going down than up
We went down by this stepped street called Kent Steps. It is picturesque but I would rather go down than up!
The Old Custom House
Council offices, tourist information and… a cafe!
By the time we reached the seafront near the harbour, we felt it was time for refreshments. In this area, you are spoilt for choice but we decided to try the old Custom House. Built in 1893, it is a handsome building of red brick with terra cotta columns. Today, it accommodates Council offices on the upper floor and on the ground floor, tourist information and a cafe, where we had coffee and cake.
Home of the Maritime Museum whose future is in doubt
The whole area around the harbour is full of interest and contains vestiges of history from many periods. Clock House was built in 1817 by Benjamen Wyatt and George Louch and was later altered by John Rennie. Unsurprisingly, it is a Grade II listed building. The gold writing informs us that “Ramsgate Mean Time is 5mins 41secs faster than this Clock”. It also tells us that the building accommodates the Maritime Museum, but that is currently closed and, sadly, there are doubts about its future.
The Royal Harbour
Designated Royal by George IV in 1821
The focus of the old part of town lies here, in the harbour. Ramsgate proudly boasts a Royal Harbour, the only one in Great Britain, the honour having been conferred by George IV in 1821.
One of the Dunkirk “Little Ships”
Not that the title caused the town or the harbour to rest on their laurels. Ramsgate’s maritime history needs a book, not a blog post, to recount adequately. As just one example, some of the valiant “Little Ships” sailed from here on their dangerous mission to rescue allied forces from the Dunkirk landing. Some of those vessels are moored here today.
Margate’s tribute to Queen Victoria in 1887
For us, though, it was time to take the bus, for the last time this trip, and return to Margate to take our train back to London.
The ancient Kingdom of Kent has had a long and complex history and is full of interest still today. Though this corner of it is familiar to us, we are content to visit it from time and enjoy the endless fascination of these coastal towns.
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How interesting that the gulls have pink feet. They are handsome birds when they are not being pests. The Margate station clock is very nice. A bit big for the mantel, though. I like that the British use the word “partner”. It encompasses a plethora of domestic arrangements both casual and formal, and it is gender neutral. I would like to see the usage cross the “pond” and be taken up here.
The gulls with pink feet are herring gulls. They are quite large, having a wingspan of nearly 5 feet when fully grown. Though they are sea birds, they are also opportunists and inhabit many environments, including cities. Many city gulls have never been near the sea. They are also found in the countryside or rummaging around in garbage dumps. Increasingly, public rubbish bins (trash cans) are being designed to prevent access to their contents by gulls.
Being opportunists (like human beings) they are very intelligent, daring and totally amoral. They can be aggressive, hence the ban on feeding them in many places.
They can be found walking about confidently among people and traffic in the streets, bouncing on the waves on rivers and the sea or riding the updraughts along the cliffs. They are superb flyers.
I am very fond of them as you can tell!
The word “partner” in the sense of “permanent sexual partner” is of fairly recent origin – the later quarter of the 20th century, I think. It is useful because, as you say, it can refer to both male and female and to same-sex or other-sex partners.
There is occasionally some ambiguity as when a man introduces another person as his “partner” and then explains that the latter is a business partner, for example.
Thanks for a well balanced and truthful description of my home town [Margate] and our neighbours at Ramsgate and Broadstairs!
And thanks for the appreciative comment. It’s all too easy for outsiders to come in and make snap judgements, so if I have got it about right, I am glad.