Saturday, July 18th 2015
On a fine warm, sunny day, a pleasant place to go to is Broadstairs in Kent, a quiet but pretty seaside resort in the ancient kingdom of Kent.
We caught the HS1 at St Pancras and were transported comfortably and speedily to our destination.
From the station platform, one has a good view of the robust and, I think, handsome Crampton Tower. You might be forgiven for thinking at first sight that this was the restored tower of an ancient castle but the name plate undeceives you because it bears the date 1859. Now the home of Crampton Tower Museum, the structure was originally built as a water tower, part of the town’s water supply. Its historical and architectural interest has earned it a Grade II listing.
We left the station by a steep flight of steps – not good if you suffer from vertigo! (If you do, there are more comfortable routes to the exit.)
This stately mansion is today used by the town council but was once a private house. It was built in 1782 or 1785 and the young queen-to-be, Princess Victoria came here on holiday in 1826.
The gardens of the house, where the Princess perhaps strolled in privacy, is now open to the public and provides a cool and pleasant spot in which to linger on a hot day.
Near the seafront stands the large but fairly elegant Albion Hotel. It dates from the early 19th century and still pursues its trade as a hostelry. A plaque on the front states that ‘Dickens lived here’ but English Heritage in its listing (the hotel received a Grade II) offers a slightly more parsimonious story: ‘Charles Dickens stayed here in 1839, 1840, 1845, 1849 and 1859 and wrote part of Nicholas Nickleby here.’ I do not know whether the hotel had any Royal connections to merit the ‘Royal’ designation.
Broadstairs possesses a beautiful crescent-shaped sandy beach which is justly famous and popular. It was originally named Main Bay but was renamed as explained by the the official information panel:
In 449 AD Hengist landed in Thanet, and this early landing was commemorated in 1949 by a re-enactment in which Danes rowed a replica Viking Ship across the North Sea landing at Main Bay in Broadstairs [renamed Viking Bay from this date onwards].
Hengist and Horsa were Saxon mercenaries serving Vortigern, a leader of the Britons, but are credited with later spearheading the Saxon invasion of Britain.
The Promenade is a pleasant walk poised high above the beach. It was originally built to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. It provides a birds’ eye view of the beach and vistas of the sea, placid today under a warm sun.
Compared with Brighton or Southend, Broadstairs is quiet, even staid, but I think it is this atmosphere of an ‘old-fashioned’ seaside resort that so many people appreciate and enjoy. At the southern end of the beach you find some entertainments and rides for the children but they are of the gentler sort and neatly ranged in their own corner.
Looking at the sea, you may be startled to see, among the bathers and paddlers, people apparently walking on the water! The explanation for this seemingly miraculous behaviour is that there is a paddling pool on the beach built (1988) to retain water when the tide goes out. The water-walkers are promenading around its retaining walls. Later, when the sea level drops and reveals the pool, the mystery will vanish.
The up-draught from the beach to the promenade makes ideal conditions for the gulls to ‘surf’ the air currents. Here they engage in ‘social flying’ and swoop at speed along the promenade just to the seaward side of the hand rail. It is entertaining to watch these magnificent flyers and fun to try to photograph them. It’s not easy and the best photos are usually those you achieve by luck or accident! I do not make any apology for my interest in these fascinating birds.
These are herring gulls, with white, black, grey and light blue plumage. In many places, you also find lesser black-backed gulls, either mixed in with the herring gulls or in sole possession of the territory. Unusually, there seem to be no lesser black-backs here, only herring gulls.
This week, Broadstairs celebrates its annual Dickens Festival. The only evidence we saw of this was a gentleman in Victorian costume walking along the Promenade and a lady also in Victorian costume running the first aid tent at the summer fair. Here too we saw an exhibition of Classic Cars. Drawn up in two rows, they were attracting a lot of attention, making it hard to take clear photos. It goes without saying that all the vehicles were beautifully maintained and polished so that they sparkled in the sunlight.
I have to admit that my knowledge of cars could be written on a postage stamp and still leave room for a shopping list. Makes, models and specifications go right over my head but I do at least know what I like the look of. If I could have taken one of the cars home with me, I think it would have been this one. Sporty, yes, but elegant and comfortable as well. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
We turned back towards the town centre again and in Chandos Square photographed this Victorian pillar box. It is made to the hexagonal design of surveyor and architect John Wornham Penfold (1828 –1909). Boxes like this were made from 1866 to 1879 and would at first have been painted green. It was only in 1874, after complaints that posting boxes were hard to spot, that the now traditional red colour was tried and then adopted. Penfold boxes were so liked and admired (despite the fact that some models could trap the letter and prevent it falling into the collecting basket) that replicas were made and can still be found. However, I have no reason to suspect that this one is not an original.
Charles Dickens is one of those figures that enjoy such esteem in the popular mind (whether or not that popular mind has actually read any Dickens) that there must be few towns in Britain that do not claim some connection with the author of Great Expectations. Buildings in which Dickens is said to have lived and written, if only for five minutes, abound. Thus, seeing this pretty cottage, just a step or two from the Promenade, labelled Dickens House, you might conclude that it is yet another dwelling of the novelist. If so, you would be wrong. As far as is known, Dickens never actually lived here though he was certainly acquainted with the property and its inhabitant.
What is now the Dickens House Museum was in Dickens’s day the home of Miss Mary Pearson Strong. Dickens and his son Charley visited her on several occasions and were served tea and cakes. Dickens later used Miss Pearson Strong and her house as models for Betsy Trotwood and her cottage in David Copperfield, though he changes their location to Dover. The connection with Dickens was known quite early as it seems that the house had already been named Dickens House before the and of the 19th century (Dickens lived from 1812 to 1870).
We followed Harbour Street which slopes steeply down to the beach. This may give a clue to the name of the town. It is known that this was originally called Bradstowe, from an Anglo-Saxon name meaning ‘broad place’. In the town was the Chapel of St Mary from which a set of steps led down to the beach. It is thought that the name of the town together with the steps gave rise to the present name of Broadstairs.
In the picture you see that charming little flint-faced building that is known as the Palace Cinema (currently offering Marvel’s Ant-Man). Built in 1911, it started as a museum of armour under the name of the York Gate Hall after the nearby defensive arch of that name (see Margate for art and Broadstairs for ice cream). It became a puppet theatre for some years (details uncertain) and in 1965 was converted into the Windsor Cinema. It is a Grade II listed building.
This delightfully ramshackle-looking building positioned beside the sea is the old lifeboat station. The lifeboat operated from here between 1868 and 1912 when it was discontinued and Broadstairs’s needs were then supplied by the Ramsgate lifeboat. I don’t know when the station was built or what modifications may have been practised on it in its life time but it seems ancient enough to date from the mid-19th century and has been kept in good repair. There is still an RNLI shop inside.
This is one of the two figureheads that decorate the building. The inscription tells us that ‘The Scotsman was recovered from the 854 ton barge “Highland Chief” lost off the Goodwin Sands in February 1869’. He is a doughty-looking fellow and has been well looked after.
Here we learn that ‘Hercules was salvaged from a Spanish brig of that name which came ashore on the 16th of January 1844. The “Rib Bones” above the figure head came from a 70 ton whale washed up at Broadstairs on the 2nd of February 1762. Gratefully restored by the students of Thanet College 2010’.
Here are some more gull pictures. (Again, no apologies.) Top left shows a gentleman who came and sat on a bench to eat a sandwich. He was immediately spotted by the gull who tried to stare him out between pacing impatiently up and down. Alas for the gull, the sandwich eater was not in a sharing mood! As I have noted before, gulls seem to like to perch on the roofs of cars. The one at the bottom left was sufficiently relaxed to settle down and contemplate the changing scene around him (or her). The juveniles of all gull specifies wear a similar brown and white costume which makes it difficult to identify their species. This one is certainly a herring gull and is already fully grown and able to fend for himself. Sadly, in a seaside resort with plenty of trippers, fending for themselves means mainly begging or stealing food from humans.
Today the sea was calm and though it dashed some waves to foam and spray against the pier, it seemed to do so playfully. I can imagine, though, that when the wind is strong and conditions stormy, it could be an altogether more dramatic situation.
The pier is relatively short but it curves and provides a protected area where boats can be moored. We saw a lot of action here with parties dress in life jackets being taken out on excursions in motor launches. Broadstairs used to be a fishing village but I think today the most of the fishing is of the leisure kind.
Any self-respecting seaside resort needs beach shelters. These are designed to protect from the wind, rain and even sunshine while providing a clear view of the surroundings. I don’t know anything about these beach shelters but would hazard a guess that they are Victorian or Edwardian. The decorative brackets, reminiscent of what you see in railway stations of the period, is suggestive of that.
We can be sure, however, that this beautiful round shelter with a weather vane and clock is not what it seems. If you thought it was Victorian, built in 1897 for the Jubilee of the Queen, you would be right… and wrong! That was indeed the provenance of the original but this, sadly, was destroyed by fire in 1975. The present one is a replica, built, if my information is correct, by apprentices of the Thanet School of Building. It is a very creditable piece of work, every bit as good as the original, as far as I can see.
When it was time to leave, we could have caught a bus to the station as we often do but today, as the weather was fine, we went on foot, stopping off for tea along the way. We took Albion Street (past Dickens’s hotel) and then the High Street. The up platform is accessed by an entrance leading off a small car park. Everything is understated in the Broadstairs manner!
We shall return to the pleasant town with its crescent shape beach again. In the meantime, here is a final photo of Viking Bay (click to see a larger version).