This is my third post about Margate: a seaside town in the county of Kent on the SE corner of England. Margate has a long history as a seaside resort that blossomed with the advent of the railways and with William Turner’s well-known love of the town and the surrounding area.
The following paragraphs are a summary of how Margate is described on sites I have visited on the Internet:
- Margate grew as the destination for Londoners wishing to escape the smog of the city. There was a Victorian Pier, regular, affordable paddle steamboat excursions, substantial sea-water baths and the first sea bathing hospital in the world, people came in their droves to benefit from the medicinal and recreational delights of the town.
- As more people visited the seaside resort, beautiful Georgian and Victorian buildings were erected to accommodate and entertain holiday makers. Elegant squares, fashionable hotels, and crescents with sea-views; Margate was a spectacle of architectural grandeur, which can still be seen today.
- Distinguished cinema architects Julian Leathart and William Grainger were hired to design and coordinate the building of ‘Dreamland’ – a magnificent cinema, cafe and ballroom complex. VIP guests enjoyed a buffet of caviar, oysters and champagne at its opening on March 22 1935.
- In the 20th century Margate remained a favourite holiday destination for many British families. They came to the South Coast’s ‘Dreamland’ for the sun, sea, sand, amusements and unrivalled views. In Dreamland’s Ballroom groups such as the Rolling Stones and The Who performed. Margate has left fond memories for generations of visitors.
I remember Margate from the ‘60s when I was at a boarding school in nearby Ramsgate. In those days foreign holidays were for the privileged few, but so much has changed in the fifty years since then. Many of the traditional British seaside resorts have suffered severely as the relative cheapness and promise of guaranteed sunny summers have tempted people abroad. Loss of tourist revenue is followed by inevitable decline.
And on a grimmer note Margate was one of the towns that witnessed violence between mods and rockers in the ‘60s, and further disturbances in the ‘80s.
Margate’s decline is evident and visible. My visit to Margate was very limited in its physical scope – it’s important I make that clear.
From the station, I walked down Station Approach to the seafront and along Marine Terrace and Marine Drive to the Harbour Arm and to the Turner Contemporary gallery. And then a short incursion into the town on the way back. I visited on a weekday in mid September when children were back at school and the summer season was all but over. The resort was quiet, with few people in evidence; the beach was almost deserted, and many of the small craft stalls on the Harbour Arm were closed.
Decline, however, is only one part of Margate’s story. There’s another story to tell: one of Margate fighting back, against the odds; raising money, garnering public support for projects involving regeneration, and re-vitalizing critical areas of the town.
As I walked, my eye roamed and I captured what I saw in an admittedly brief time and area. What I saw illustrated those two very different stories of Margate – three if you include images looking out to sea. Turner described this corner of Kent as having a unique quality of light.
I posted two seaward views earlier in a post: Single Figures at the Seaside. Those images were of an empty beach save for a solitary figure. And here’s another.
What do images like these say? To some who commented they suggest melancholy. To others they are serene. For those who live in seaside resorts they may express the joy of an empty beach at the end of the season. And then finally for lovers of landscapes these are merely minimalist images divorced from their location – they are seascapes, pure and simple.
I found many images that portrayed the sadder side of the resort. The picture that somehow summed it up best is this one: just a pair of old trainers hanging on the inside of a window with rusted bars.
Below this was a boarded-up window covered with an evocative face by an unknown artist.
As I walked I found a boarded up pub close to the station, the remains of a ‘Shell’ sign on premises that once housed a vehicle repair centre, a town centre boarded up pub with a longing to be something better, that was never achieved.
Renewal and regeneration is best summed up by The Turner gallery that sits prominently at the root of the Harbour Arm and was the subject of a Post last week. The publicity for the gallery states that the gallery is: ‘at the forefront of Margate’s exciting revival as Kent’s new cultural heart’. The gallery’s aim is summed up as: ‘making art open, relevant and free for all’. A local resident has commented: ‘I never imagined that my family and grandchildren would have the opportunity to walk into a local gallery to view world-class art. Now they do.’
The Turner gallery (click here to see my post about it) is a potent symbol of regeneration; but there are others, not always so obvious, but they are there if you look, and there is more than meets the eye if you start to do a little research. Here are some examples:
- Dreamland closed in 2006. The Dreamland Trust was formed to protect and re-vitalize this site, working with partners, and launching appeals for financial support. As a result of substantial public funding the first phase of restoration should be open in 2015.
- The Turner Gallery and Margate’s Old Town are at the heart of an emerging creative quarter, with a growing number of art workspaces, residential studios, and independent shops, as well as a lively café and restaurant scene (largely in beautiful Georgian and Victorian buildings).
- The Margate Old Town Heritage Initiative (THI) scheme has helped to transform some of the previously neglected and run down buildings within Margate’s Old Town into attractive, vibrant properties.
- In the Old Town local entrepreneurs are aiding regeneration by giving visitors an ever-expanding range of shops in which to browse and buy… and an equal variety of places in which to eat and drink. In 2012 Margate was chosen as one of the towns to benefit from the Portas Pilot Scheme aimed at regenerating some of Britain’s run-down High Streets. It is hoped that the money provided by the scheme will enable the re-opening of the many empty shop units in the High Street.
Children, the next generation, have also being involved in two highly visible schemes. Firstly, there are a set of three standing stones close to where Station Approach meets the seafront.
In 1997 writer Suzannah Dunn worked with local children at Artwise Youth Club, Ramsgate and other venues to explore ideas and thoughts about Margate, people, and feelings, in words, stories and poetry. From all the words written down and spoken by the children, Suzannah has drawn together a poem, which has been carved by Paul Wehrle into both sides of the three stones. (All six appear in the gallery at the foot of this post).
Secondly, on a lengthy hoarding fronting a derelict empty space next to Dreamland is another artistic project masterminded by Sophie Herxheimer called ‘Pie Days and Holidays’. You can read about in this next image, which forms part of the exhibit. Further images are in the gallery below.
The message I take away from my day in Margate, from the images garnered, and what I have read, is a story of a community galvanized into action. There is a sense of determination to regenerate their town, to make it once again a place to feel proud of. I hope they succeed.
This experience has made me think seriously about how we use images we capture to tell stories and I hope you will now click here to go to my other Blog – iSighting – to read ‘What’s the Story’. That post explores ideas around: Does the camera lie? And how we use images to tell stories.
Click on the first image in the gallery below and navigate through. All images can be individually viewed by clicking on them.