Sunday, 20 April 2008

Tracey from Margate paid a visit

A bit late in posting this, but I can't miss posting the column from one of Margate's most famous artists no longer in residence. I must say I share some of her views. It's sad to see so much of Margate's good disappear before our eyes. But I still believe good things will happen here and all is not lost forever. Much can be brought back of there is a will.

I would add to Miss Emin's wishlist to bring back a working bathing machine. All the visitors I've had over the last year on hearing about Margate's early tourism history have asked if there is something to see from this era. I'd also like to bring back the mechanical elephant. The wonderful spectacle from Royal Deluxe that took place in London a few years ago is now a major tourist attraction in France.

Margate needs more attractions not flats.

Tracey's article in full:

"I've spent the past few days doing exactly what I wanted to do. I've been driving, driving round and round and round, not just aimlessly but with some intention, with an instructor. The idea was to become more confident, neater, more precise. So I bought myself the time and the teacher. After hours of reverse parking, parallel parking, windy country lanes and motorway safety, I do feel a slightly better driver. But the whole point of driving is to get me somewhere. And today my driving has got me to Margate. It's got me back to exactly where I came from.

I'm like one of those people who sit in their car with a flask and a sandwich watching the tide roll in. It's so windy, the spring tides are rising high and a crest of white foam rides on top of almost every wave. The sea shelf is black in high contrast to the pale blue sky with puffy Cirrus clouds. There is a slight pinkiness to them and a slight pinkiness across the sea to give a vision of a strange nostalgia, like looking at an old tinted photograph. Sea gulls flap around, dodging in and out of the wind, swooping and diving like a cliché from Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

As a child we had a plaque hanging up on the kitchen wall. It was blue with a white seagull flying high and below the seagull were the words: "If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it's yours." At the age of 10 I always thought this quote from Jonathan Livingston Seagull was the most profound thing in the whole world, and I suppose to a certain extent it is.

Margate for me should be somewhere I rejoice to come back to. A sort of spiritual place bound up in childhood memories and the fecundity of the sea. It should be a place of passion mixed up with Edwardian charm. A place of kinky contradictions, that's how Margate always used to be. But now every time I approach the Golden Mile I am filled with dread and fear of what I may think.

Every time I come here something has gone, something is missing. This time it's the scenic railway. Another time it's the big wheel. After the storms of 87 it was the pier. In the Eighties it was the entire Lido complex. Every single time I come something has been burnt, destroyed, fire bombed, boarded up, demolished or just completely forgotten about and left to go in to a tragic state of disrepair.

It's strange to witness the death of a town. In some ways there is a melancholy romance. It's like the tragic set of a film, but the sad thing is that the star is Margate. Margate has become Britain's tragic Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard, almost nothing can save her.

I never imagined in a million years that, at the age of 44, I would be sitting in my car, staring out of my window, thinking these thoughts. As a child Margate had magic. It had charisma. It had a sense of humour. But it also had incredible architecture, thousands of holidaymakers, daytrippers, beauty competitions, a thousand fish-and-chip shops, a harbour full of hundreds of brightly coloured fishing boats and an incredible Victorian funfair.

All of this had the backdrop of some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. And that is not an exaggeration. Turner painted enough of them. And if you study Turner's seascapes, in many of his miscellaneous seascapes, imaginary seascapes, the sunset you most definitely see sets in Margate. There is something about this place which is so shaggable. It lends itself to raunchy. It makes me feel sexy being here. Even with the depression of everything falling down, everything collapsing, the sexiness of Margate overrides any of that kind of depression. Kiss Me Quick is an understatement. I sit here feeling very, very sad.

I want someone who is a giant to come along and treat Margate like their very own special model village. I want them to return Margate to its man-made majestic beauty. I want them to lovingly recreate the scenic railway and the big wheel. Make Dreamlands a place possible for teenage lovers to have dreams, the Teddy Boys to whirl on the wurlitzer and Mods to dodge with their girlfriends on the dodgems, the Victorian promenade to be graced with beautiful, wrought-iron railings.

I want the giant to flick the switch on the battery box and Margate's summer lights to twinkle and dance between every guesthouse and hotel. I want all the boarded-up hotels and guest houses to be opened up and come alive again. Tiny figures to be placed at the Lido swimming pool. The giant bends down and nimbly, with thumb and forefinger, replaces the 30ft diving board.

I am not complaining, I am just making a sad observation. An observation I'm sure many, especially those who live in Margate, have made. This tiny knuckle of England has truly been forgotten, left somewhere in the early Eighties to just die and decay. What makes me very sad is that all that is lost of the better days, of the better times, of Margate are the things that have made Britain great. An inheritance lost that belongs to no other place in the world."


  1. I used to spend my holidays in Margate as a kid. It made my heart ache to go back there recently and realise so much has disappeared. I felt so depressed. I can remember so much. Dreamland, the scenic railway, the little steam railway that used to run under our window, the evening entertainments, the cinemas, the restaurants, the pier - all gone.
    Margate has so many attractions; one of the biggest and most beautiful soft sand beaches in England; the Caves, the Grotto.
    Why the hell has this place been left to rot? It makes no sense to me just to let it fall to pieces.

    From a sad observer.

  2. A lack of vision and commitment from a council that has always been 20 years behind the times, in a nutshell Sara.

  3. I can't imagine how much it would cost to bring the Sultan's Elephant to Thanet, but it would be worth every penny. That was one of the most memorable events London has ever hosted - here are just a few pictures I managed to get on the day, with thousands more (and better) on Flickr if you do a search.

    Mind you it would bring traffic to even more of a standstill than it is now, and it would be graffiti'd before it took a step off the docks...

    And then there's the vision thing, which our local leaders have so much trouble demonstrating. I can see why Tracey Emin feels so despondent.

  4. Ms Emin is right: Margate has so much going for it. that it is a painfully bittersweet experience even as a new visitor, who has not had the privilege of witnessing its former glory days. If only I was a billionaire, I'd restore the 20s lido, if its at all feasible to do (The online photographs of its derelict interior are shocking). I would also instigate a fast rail service from London. I would open a nice cafe on the front where you can get a pot of tea after 6p.m too! The sand and the skies are just amazing and there is still an excellent (Edwardian built?) tidal pool, shockingly on a beautiful August bank holiday Saturday, I swam alone in it. There was evidence of some flats regenerating beautiful old buildings, but a lot of unkemptness, boarded up businesses and decay. Certainly, some more hotels and B&Bs would be a sight for jaded eyes in this beleaguered formerly stunning coastal resort town.. I'm told by my 80 year old father that the rot had already started when the town was effectively closed to visitors in WW2 for defensive reasons, but it sounds as though Dreamland and the lido kept it going for some time afterwards. Revive the wonders of Margate, please, someone! It sorely deserves some attention.