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A Potted History
I have recently discovered that Michael's Bookshop in Ramsgate publishes books on the local history of the Isle of Thanet. Two of the most recent books published in 2006 are "The Small Happy Family of Broadstairs" and "The Petrified Haystack of Broadstairs" both of which make very interesting reading. The books from Michael's Bookshop cover many aspects of local history and are available from either the publisher or other local bookshops.
There are a number of other websites which go into some detail of the History of the Isle of Thanet and Broadstairs, I hope it will be of interest. You can view larger images below by clicking on them.
600BC to 2003AD
In Roman times the Isle of Thanet was indeed an island, being separated form the mainland Kent by The Wantsum Channel. The Romans actually built forts at each end of the channel, Reculver to the north and Richborough to the south. These are now sites of historic interest and the remains are tourist attractions. In AD449 the Viking Hengist actually landed near Ramsgate at Pegwell Bay. Today there is a replica Viking long ship on display at Pegwell Bay. This replica was actually rowed across the North Sea in 1949 and landed at was then called Main Bay in Broadstairs - now renamed Viking Bay in honour of this event. In June 2005 this longship was returned to public display at Pegwell Bay having been completely restored by Tommi Nielsen & Co, a firm specialising in maintaining historic sailing ships. This restoration was funded jointly by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Thanet Council.
In the middle ages St Peters was a thriving farming community and had a nearby fishing village which became what we now know as Broadstairs. Its name being derived from the Anglo-Saxon word Bradstow which means a broad place.
Much later shipbuilding became of great importance for Broadstairs and in 1538 George Culmer built the first pier and York Gate to protect his shipyard which was on the site currently occupied by The Pavilion and Garden on the Sands.
The York Gate is the archway which can be seen near the bottom of Harbour street today. Shipbuilding continued in Broadstairs until 1824 when the business transferred to Whites on the Isle of Wight.
In 1850 Whites donated the first lifeboat to Broadstairs, sorely needed because of the treacherous Goodwin Sands. These boards mounted on the Harbour building show all of the rescues of the lifeboats based in Broadstairs. Today the modern lifeboats are based at Margate and Ramsgate.
Smuggling was almost as important an industry as anything else in the area and the men of St Peters became very good at outwitting The Revenue Men! This was very profitable because of the very high duty payable on tea, spirits and tobacco - not much change there now for the latter two! There were many tunnels and caves which were used by smugglers to hide their contraband.
The tourist industry started in the early 19th century, Broadstairs being popular with the gentry after 1829 which the then Princess Victoria spent her summer at Pierremont Hall. Charles Dickens was also a regular visitor, hence the museums and festival named after him.
The growth of the railways brought more and more people to holiday at Broadstairs, and encouraged the development of many schools and convalescent homes. Broadstairs and St Peters continued to grow into a thriving residential area and a major holiday resort.
In recent times Broadstairs as a major holiday centre for one or two week summer breaks has declined but the town continues to thrive, sometimes despite the best efforts of the local Council! It has adapted well to serve short stay and day trip visitors although it still retains a healthy number of hotels and guest houses. As you can see elsewhere on this site there are a number of events each year to attract visitors, perhaps the most well known being the week long events of the Dickens Festival and Folk Week, and Water Gala Day.
Some Famous Residents
Broadstairs and the surrounding areas have has some very famous residents in the past. Here is a short list of some:-
- Sir Edward Heath - born in St Peters and an old boy of Chatham House School, and a very enthusiastic member of the Broadstairs Sailing Club. Until quite recently he used to return each year to conduct the Broadstairs Carol Concert.
- Jack Warner - actor famous as Dixon of Dock Green
- Walter Richard Sickert - artist
- Annette Mills - associated for many years with the children's TV series Muffin the Mule.
- Alfred Charles Harmsworth (Lord Northcliffe) - newspaper magnate.
- Frank Richards (Charles Hamilton) - author creator of Billy Bunter.
- Sir Samuel Luke Fildes - artist.
- Thomas Russell Crampton - engineer and the museum named after him.
- Joss Snelling - known as The Famous Smuggler.
- James Henry Summerson - aka Uncle Mack - With his Minstrels he entertained hundreds on the sands, pier and promenade between 1895 and 1948.
- Sir Edmund Vestey - with his brother William founded Vestey Brothers, Union Cold Storage Co Ltd and Blue Star Line shipping.
- Sir Richard Rodney Bennett - b. 29th March 1936 d. 24th December 2012 - composer perhaps best known for his film music, most recently Four Weddings and a Funeral.
- Bruce Robinson - b. 1946 in Broadstairs he is an actor, writer and film director. His films include The Killing Fields and Withnail & I.
- Tom Pendry now Baron Pendry - b. 1934 in Broadstairs he was the Labour MP for Stalybridge and Hyde from 1970 to 2001 when he was made a Life Peer.
- Lord Reading (formerly Sir Rufus Isaacs) a lawyer and Lord Chief Justice in the early 20th century. He became Viceroy of India in 1921 and was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in Ramsey McDonalds National Government in 1931. I believe he lived at a house called Greywood in Kingsgate. If anyone has any more information please email me.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived in Ramsgate for a number of years from 1816
- Sir William Garrow (1760-1840) the barrister who eventually rose to be Attorney General for England and Wales and later a Judge and Privy Councillor lived at Pegwell Lodge in Ramsgate. The TV series Garrow's Law is loosely based on Garrow and cases from the Old Bailey from that time.
Some Famous Visitors
Apart from those mentioned above there have been many other famous people over the many years who have visited the town, in no particular order here are a few:-
- Daniel Defoe visited Ramsgate in 1723
- Vincent Van Gogh the Dutch painter taught in Ramsgate for a short while around 1876
- John Keats visited Margate 'for his health'
- John Buchan - author of The Thirty Nine Steps, said to have been inspired by the steps leading from North Foreland to the beach.
- Oscar Wilde - stayed at The Albion Hotel.
- George Bernard Shaw - in his young days applied for post of keeper at the North Foreland lighthouse, but was rejected!
- Wilkie Collins - stayed at The Albion Hotel with Charles Dickens, it is said that the North Foreland lighthouse inspired the title of his detective novel The Woman in White.
- Douglas Fairbanks & Mary Pickford - spent their honeymoon in Broadstairs.
- George Eliot - with Herbert Spencer came for 'a discreet holiday'.
- Hans Christian Andersen - visited Broadstairs with Charles Dickens.
- DH Lawrence - stayed at Riley House in Percy Avenue, Kingsgate with Frieda Weekley (later Mrs Lawrence) in 1913.
- Dennis Wheatley went to school in Cliftonville
Some Infamous Visitors
There have also been a couple of rather infamous visitors or residents in Broadstairs' past:-
- Arthur Tester - lived at Naldera a 20 room mansion in the North Foreland Estate. This house was owned by Lord Curzon and was named after a favourite residence while he was Viceroy of India. Lord Curzon's daughter Cynthia married Tom later Sir Oswald Mosely, founder of the British Union of Facists. Tester was a member of the British Union of Facists and apparently a german spy during the mid 1930s. It has been said that his escape from England was via the passage from the North Foreland estate to the beach and then by boat. It has also been suggested that when John Buchan wanted an ending for his 39 Steps novel he borrowed the story of Arthur Tester's escape this, however, cannot be true since the novel was first published around 1914!!
- Dr Herman Goertz The Manston Spy - rented a bungalow called Havelock in Stanley Road Broadstairs in 1935. He was foolish enough to leave his spying equipment in the bungalow while on a return visit to Germany which was discovered by the bungalows owner. For the full story please see this page.
This Potted History now continues on a second page with listings of convalescent homes and schools which existed in Broadstairs during the 1900's.