Spotlight on Ramsgate
- Credit: Archant
The harbour and marina may be Ramsgate’s shop window but there’s plenty more to attract you: listed buildings galore, fine sands, coastal walks and wonderful sea views
Ramsgate was a tiny fishing and farming settlement until around 1780 when it became a tourist attraction, boosted more when the harbour and marina were completed by the 1790s.
The Napoleonic Wars enhanced its fortunes, when stately homes were built for English officers and it became a garrison town for departing troops.
In the late 1960s the overseas holiday trade boomed, presaging a period of stagnation. But since the turn of the new century Ramsgate has been on the up, the seafront’s massive regeneration being a major factor in the town’s renaissance.
The Inner Harbour, behind the Royal Harbour Marina, is a great place to enjoy coffee or a drink in one of the many harbourside establishments.
Near here is the fascinating Sailors’ Church (01843 589848, CT11 9LG), with collections of model ships and paintings.
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Beyond the Inner harbour is Clock House, now home to Ramsgate Maritime Museum: four galleries of exhibits telling the seafaring history of the area.
Also in the harbour you’ll see the restored 1940’s steam tug Cervia, which can be viewed at weekends.
Fans of architecture will appreciate the houses in Guildford Lawn, Wellington Crescent, Westcliffe Terrace and Madeira Walk. England’s iconic gothic revival architect, Augustus Pugin, also lived and worked in the town and his house The Grange (01628 825925, CT11 9LJ) is open on some Wednesday afternoons.
Next door is St Augustine’s Abbey Church, also built by Pugin, with a scenic clifftop churchyard.
Children will love the Boating Pool (01843 581999, CT11 0HE), which also has arcade amusements, a restaurant and mini-bike track, boating pool, within Westcliffe Leisure Park.
For the active there’s Ramsgate Sports Centre (01843 585111, CT11 9TT), while for entertainment check out the Granville Theatre and Cinema (01843 591750, CT11 8DG). And make sure you don’t miss the Italianate Greenhouse, within the George V1 Memorial Park (CT11 8BD).
Shop then dine
The shops are mainly small, interesting independents and on Fridays and Saturdays there’s also a market in the pedestrianised part of town.
Westwood Cross is the local ‘out of town’ main shopping centre, with 53 stores, restaurants, a cinema and bingo hall.
Excellent restaurants include Age and Sons (01843 851515, CT11 8HE), The Royal Harbour Brasserie (01843 599059, CT11 9RN) and The Empire Room at The Royal Harbour Hotel (01843 591514, CT11 9JF: see also July Kent Life) and Bon Appetit (01843 852750, CT11 8LH).
Good pubs include Churchill Tavern (01843 587862, CT11 9JX), The Montefiore Arms (01843 593265, CT11 7HJ) and The Queen’s Head (01843 853888, CT11 8LP).
Topical talk: tombstones and trouble
On the seafront there is a large area, originally occupied by a 1960’s amusement centre called Pleasurama, which burnt down in 1998.
A locally unpopular plan for a major redevelopment was envisaged and permission granted by Thanet District Council. TDC signed an agreement with developer SFP in 2006, but little was done, except in 2011, when upright strip foundations were erected, sticking up out of the ground like tombstones.
Ramsgate townsfolk were not amused.
Uncovering the past
During the Second World War, a network of air-raid shelter tunnels was dug under Ramsgate’s pavements, linking up with disused Victorian subterranean railway tunnels. These were recently opened to the public, marking a three-year project of excavation, of which only part is complete.
The Landmark Trust has launched an appeal to raise £671,000 to restore the architect’s Grade I listed St Edward’s Presbytery, part of Pugin’s famous masterpiece at St. Augustine’s in Ramsgate. The pretty, twin-gabled house of brick and flint will then be let out to the public for holidays.
Landmark has already restored The Grange, Pugin’s own neo-Gothic home, which is successfully let out.
This is the final piece in the restoration and adds to the general plans which are underway to restore the church and open a new visitor centre.
Donations to the appeal can be made via the charity’s website: www.landmarktrust.org.uk
Ramsgate Maritime Museum
This is now run by the Steam Museum Trust and is open Tuesday to Sundays, during the daytime.
The Trust also runs a supper club called ‘A night at the museum’ on the evenings of 8, 22 and 23 August when for just £22 you can enjoy the cuisine of talented local chef Simon Chipperfield. The monies raised will go towards support ongoing costs
Food is served in an upstairs gallery lit by candlelight, where you can see all kinds of exhibits while enjoying views out across the harbour. To book call 07810 358 135.
The Museum and Pier Yard have been the subject of regeneration plans and The Steam Museum Trust envisages a new café and a restaurant, renovations of the clock house building’s façade, including a makeover with colourful awnings, a memorial wall and improved exhibits.
The Cervia steam tug is also to be moved, so as to be the focal point of Pier Yard.
Art in town
The Updown Gallery (01843 588181, CT11 9BW) is a privately run art gallery based in Satis House, once a home, now converted to a large exhibition space.
The gallery has hosted exhibitions featuring the best of modern and contemporary British, European and American art, and past shows featured Bridget Riley, Sir Peter Blake, Sir Howard Hodgkin and Piers Secunda.
Curator and director Kate Smith (above)has extensive experience across the art world, and sees Updown as building on the massive success of the nearby Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate.
Kate, who lives with her husband Guy in Pegwell Bay, also offers an art consultancy service, covering aspects such as starting a collection to investing in art for the future.
“We have Kent connections that helped when starting the gallery: I grew up in Canterbury and Guy’s family have farmed down here for two centuries,” Kate says.
“This house had a great sense of space that we instantly fell in love with. Collecting art for me is a passion and an addiction, and the idea of the gallery is to bring top-quality exhibitions to Ramsgate.
“We were also involved with the Summer Squall last year and organised an Open Art competition, something we’re doing again this year – but this time we’re hoping to include the whole of Kent, not just Thanet.
“The people of Ramsgate are some of the nicest I have ever met.
“I love the beach with its magnificent white cliffs, and the full moon’s reflections on the sea. I like the slower pace of life, as compared to London or New York.
“I love walking our dogs on Pegwell Bay and Ramsgate beach in the early morning at low tide, with the possibility of a swim when the water warms up.
“Age and Sons is a favourite restaurant of ours, and I always spend lots of money in the gift shop Nice Things (07939 542990).
“I am a true Ramsgate convert – I really should work for the tourist board – but I do think that Ramsgate is a real gem.” n