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."

Pre-Raphaelite studio update

Following last week's post about the artist studio and the history of the Towers Bungalows, I received information from the Birchington Archives that the studio is owned by one of the bungalows along the cliff top. The artist who had it excavated and built was Solomon Joseph Solomon. Birchington Archives thought him not to be a Pre-Rafaelite member, however, a little digging and it looks likely that he was. All the more reason that the site is of historical interest.

Solomon also was a pioneer of camouflage techniques. More info on his wikipedia entry.

I'm told there was a television programme made about ten years ago about the studio. If anyone has a copy they could share, I'd be really interested to see it.

Great to see this story has been picked up by the Thanet Gazette in their best of the blogs column.

Sunday 13 April 2008

The Pre-Raphaelite Studio in Birchington

I was taken out last week by my trusty guide to Thanet and shown the derelict Pre-Raphaelite artist studio in Birchington. It's sited on the cliff face in front of the Towers Bungalows private estate, which were some of the first bungalow houses built in Great Britain. I've only just come to the story, and I'm not sure that what remains of many of the Towers Bungalows are the original structures.

It seems the building where the Pre-Raphaelite artist Rossetti stayed and died was eventually demolished in the 1960s and seven houses were then later built on the site. But the first bungalows in the UK were built in Westgate and Birchington along that stretch of cliff, utilising new pre-fabricated building techniques and enjoying a new relationship with the sea, views and healthy living. The money to finance construction came off the back of the colonies with the involvement of the East India Company and the bankers Coutts, the architects also came from London. They built the houses for the new breed of upper middle classes brought along to the coast by the new railways.

Back to the derelict studio. It seems a real shame if this is going to simply deteriorate and disappear. It's an interesting piece of history and a fantastic site. Surely it shouldn't just crumble to pieces? The view from there is really beautiful and one can imagine why it was a perfect studio space. I imagine it is perhaps owned by one of the properties to the rear. But no confirmation on that as yet.

I found mention of the history via the ever useful Google Books in a publication called The Bungalow: The Production of a Global Culture by Anthony D. King.

Further reading: The First Bungalow Estate by Alan Kay
The Rossetti Bungalow by Pat Orpwood

Saturday 12 April 2008

Where's the snake gone?

Back in the Margate doing the rounds, and I noticed the snake thingumy that was a prominent feature of the corner building on Fort Hill has disappeared. The shop has just been renovated and there's no sign of the snake on the pole. Here it is in situ featured on the Margate Civi Society news page.

Tuesday 8 April 2008

Great pictures of old Margate

I only just found Michael's post with pictures of old Margate including Dreamland.

Amazing how great the place once looked. If the original buildings that are still standing were restored and revealed from under the layers of plastic windows and bad signage things would be much improved. That is if the buildings survive and aren't burnt to the ground.

TDC call for rebuilding of the Scenic Railway

Date: Tuesday, 08 April 2008
Contact: Cheryl Pendry Press and Media Manager
Tel: 01843 577 034
Fax: 01843 295 343



Margate’s historic Scenic Railway can be rebuilt and everything should be done to ensure that happens.

That’s the message from Thanet District Council, after fire broke out in the Grade II listed structure yesterday afternoon (Monday 7 April) for the third time in its history. The Scenic Railway, which is in the famous Dreamland amusement park site on the town’s seafront, was the first amusement park ride to be listed in the country.

The Dreamland site and the Scenic Railway is privately owned and the responsibility for rebuilding the ride lies with the owners.

Planning guidance, developed by the council, working with other organisations including the Margate Renewal Partnership and the Save Dreamland Campaign, sets out that the Scenic Railway should be kept as part of an amusement based destination. This was given strong support by local people, with 92% who took part in the consultation saying that the Scenic Railway should be kept.

Council Leader, Cllr. Sandy Ezekiel, said: “The fire is a terrible blow for Margate. Many local people hold the Scenic Railway very dearly in their hearts, as our recent consultation showed, and understandably so. It’s perhaps the single most important piece of the town’s cultural heritage and has been a part of Margate for generations. We are determined that, if possible, the Scenic Railway, should be rebuilt as soon as possible and we would expect the owners to do just that. It’s a listed structure and the expectation is that, wherever possible, a listed structure should be rebuilt. Let’s not forget that in the history of the Scenic Railway, it’s been the victim of fire twice before and on both occasions, it’s been re-built. We are hopeful that can happen again this time.

“Our conservation and planning officers have a wealth of technical expertise that can be called upon by the owner if they require it and we would be happy to offer them help and advice. In the first instance, we are calling on the owners of the site to take urgent action to ensure that security at the site is stepped up, in view of what’s happened. I’m sure that local people would agree that it’s vital that this is done to safeguard what is left of the Scenic Railway today.”


Say it isn't so... Scenic Railway arson attack

I'm not in Margate at the moment and so caught the news late. Am extremely saddened and angry to report that the second arson attack on Margate's seafront has severely damaged the Scenic Railway in Dreamland.

More news from the Beeb.
Discussion on the Save Dreamland Campaign forum.
The running commentary from Thanets finest mouthpiece, ECR.