Saturday, January 28th 2017
Tigger had arranged to go to the cinema with a family friend. I had been invited but was not interested in the film, so it was agreed that I would entertain myself while the others were in the cinema. The cinema in question is not in London but in a small seaside town called Westgate-on-Sea. This is in Kent and the maps below will help you locate it, should you wish to do so. Clicking on the maps will take you to the Google Map of the area.
This was a purely rural area until the Victorian era when the vogue for seaside resorts brought in a phase of what we would now call ‘development’, with the building of houses and shops for both permanent residents and holidaymakers. Unlike Margate, Westgate has remained relatively small. Those who seek quiet and a calm environment will like it but those who prefer a livelier atmosphere and the typical entertainments of seaside resorts should patronize Margate instead.
Westgate was just plain “Westgate” until the railway reached it in the 1870s when the station was named Westgate-on-Sea, an appellation that soon became applied to the town itself. The name, which is recorded in 1168 as Westgata, comes from that of a manor house that once existed here. The word ‘gate’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon geat, meaning, in this case, a gap between cliffs allowing access to the sea. Towns with ‘east’ or ‘west’ in their names are usually so called because of their position relative to a more prominent neighbour. This suggests that the original Anglo-Saxon settlement was named Westgate because it lay to the west of its larger neighbour, Margate.
Even getting to Westgate proved unusually difficult today as the usual through train service was suspended. Information on the reason for this was conspicuous by its absence but rumour suggested that a goods train had been derailed, blocking the main line. As a result, we had to take the train to Rainham and board that traditional British stand-by, the Railway Replacement Bus. These are usually superannuated vehicles kept mothballed by transport companies for just such purposes. Ours was the yellow vehicle in the picture. This took us on a 45-minute run to Faversham where we could board a train to Westgate.
We reached Westgate’s typical suburban railway station at last and set off to meet our friend. We spent some time in a cafe restaurant called the Ice House. Happily, the welcome and the interior were warmer than the name might suggest. After catching up on our respective doings and adventures, we went our various ways, Tigger and friend to the cinema, SilverTiger to… well, to wherever I could think to go.
Fortunately, the weather wasn’t too cold and so I spent the duration of the film wandering around Westgate and taking the odd photo here are there. There isn’t a lot to see and do in Westgate and I think you could probably explore and photograph the most interesting part in about 30 minutes or less. I had to spin this out to about two hours.
Here we are looking at the corner of Station Road (going off to the right and over my left shoulder) with Ethelbert Square. Note the canopy to protect shoppers from inclement weather. This is a feature of the shops in Station Road. At this end of the street, the canopy is tiled but further down it is covered with corrugated roofing. I don’t know whether this is intended to indicate a greater prestige attaching to this end of the street. The canopy is no doubt a survivor from the Victorian era.
Wandering at random, I turned off Station Road into Roxburgh Road, a street of large and once elegant houses. They are still elegant to a certain degree though some look in need of care and attention.
Continuing along Roxburgh Road leads you into Sea Road where you are presented with a view of the sea. There is a path, its entrance barred to vehicles by concrete posts, that leads down to to the beach.
I say ‘beach’ and perhaps there is a beach sometimes but while I was there, the waves were coming right up to the sea wall though by watching the ebb and flow carefully I deduced that it had been high tide and that the water was now beginning to retire again.
To my eyes, the light seemed rather strange and then I realized why. Having lived my early life on the south coast, I was used to looking south from the beach, more or less into the sun. Here, though, as you can see from the map, looking out to sea from the shore we are looking north with the sun behind us. My own shadow impertinently tried to get into my photos!
After watching the waves for a while, still having time to use up, I turned back towards what I think of as the centre of Westgate, Station Road. Rather than take that road, however, I went down Westbury Road instead. It is separated from Station Road by the railway line, posing the question of how to cross from one to the other. The answer is that just before Westbury Road turns sharp right, there is a footbridge that crosses the railway line. (I suspect there was once a level crossing here – can anyone confirm this? – but if so, it is no longer extant. Update: See the comment by Ian Priddis below.)
From the bridge I had a good view of some decorative wrought-iron work on a building in Station Road and was immediately intrigued. The lettering spelt out the words ‘JACKSON’S STABLES’. Who was Jackson and when did he run his stables here?
I also photographed the building next to Jackson’s, thinking they were separate entities, but I now suspect that they were really part and parcel of the same enterprise. You can mentally place the above picture to the left of the preceding one to have an idea of the complete set.
So what about Jackson? I found only two references to him (and suspect that one of these was copied from the other) and from these I gather that Joseph Jackson started his stables in 1879 and built up a successful business which included running a stagecoach service between Westgate and Canterbury. Later, the stables transmuted into a garage capable of repairing and servicing motorcars and a showroom specializing in Austin models. The premises were modernized in 1937 and a new façade applied, which I take to be that of the building in the photo directly above. It’s nice that the building still recalls the origins of Jackson’s with horses.
For want of something better to do, I again cruised along Station Road where I took this photo of the corrugated-roofed canopies, imagining Victorian ladies in long dresses accompanied by gentlemen in top hats strolling and perusing as I was doing. In Victorian times, larger cities often acquired an elegant shopping arcade but for the relatively small Westgate, a canopy had to suffice.
Still having time to spare, I went and sat on the bench in the bus shelter, where buses to Canterbury called from time to time. Then I wandered up to the top end of the road and had a look at the parish church.
Historic England has not found much in Westgate worthy of listed status, fewer than 20 items. I don’t know whether they are not trying or whether Westgate really is that lacking in historical interest. Anyway, the church is one of the items that does merit their attention, scoring a Grade II listing. It was built in 1873-4 to a design by Charles Nightingale Beazley (1834-97), whose crowning endeavour it appears to be.
I thought of taking a look inside, not for any religious purposes, of course, but because local churches often contain matter of historical and aesthetic interest. It was not to be, as I found the entrance firmly barred by a metal gate.
This seemed also the opportune moment to photograph the cinema wherein my beloved was enjoying her film. The Carlton Cinema is arguably the gem of Westgate, as far as buildings are concerned. It comprises no less than three screens showing different films and a tea room accessible from the street. You might wonder why such an eye-catching building was erected here. The answer is that it was built as the headquarters of the local Rural District Council. Hence the grandeur of the place, nobly topped off with a clock tower. According to Historic England’s Grade II listing, it is late 19th century but other sources assigned it to the early 1900s. Originally called the Town Hall Cinema, it was renamed the Carlton in the 1930s.
I now betook myself back to the Ice House where I dawdled with a pot of tea until Tigger and friend emerged from the cinema. We had a meal and talked until we could no longer put off the rigours of the three-part return journey. Train, bus and train brought us finally back to London.
Westage may be small and quiet, but it has a character of its own and I am quite fond of it. We shall no doubt come back soon.