Thursday 28 April 2011

47 Hawley Square burning

47 Hawley Square burning

Unfortunately, we've had another historic building in flames again. 47 Hawley Square went up in flames for the second time. It stubbornly hasn't burnt down yet.

The next door burnt out shell of the ex-Conservative Club at 49-50 is standing still with no roof covering, open to the elements for the last 3 years. Compulsory Purchase Order papers have been drawn up since last year and, yet, somehow stalled at the top awaiting final sign off. But this is a Grade II listed building. The authorities do have powers to enforce their repair. They have a chance to put a message out to low life developers that if you attack the town's historic fabric you will not make a profit and you will be punished. Sadly, given the number of fires we still have in our Georgian buildings, this isn't happening. How sad, that in this day and age, that Georgian buildings are preyed upon by those who wish to destroy them.

Friday 22 April 2011

Shop: The Seventh Magpie, Margate Old Town

Popped into The Seventh Magpie at lunchtime. It's nestled inside an original Georgian shop on Duke Street, the road that leads from The Old Town back to the Parade and The Harbour. It's become a really lovely shop with cabinets of customised treasures glinting in the cool shade of the shop. Also famed for brilliant shop window displays. A range of jewellery caught my eye, fashioned from watches and time pieces. It's one of a growing number of creative shops in Margate, who have carved out their own niche.

They have a Facebook page



Monday 11 April 2011

In the press: Margate and its new Turner Contemporary art centre

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"As the Turner Contemporary art centre opens in Margate this week, Joanne O'Connor finds an 'imperfect' seaside resort – but one that has much to love.
The sun is shining on Margate's Harbour Arm. At the end of the stone pier the BeBeached Café is doing a brisk trade, serving its signature brunch of baked eggs, spinach and mushrooms. Outside, young coffee-sipping customers sit in deckchairs, basking in the unexpected warmth of the early spring sunshine.

Across the water, the morning sea mists drift along the beach, drawing a discreet veil over the arcades, kebab shops and skeletal remains of the Dreamland amusement park, which disappears in the vapour like the ghost of summers past. A couple of hundred metres to the left of this spectre, perched jauntily on the harbour, looking out to sea, is an angular, glass-clad building. This, if all the hype is to be believed, is the shape of Margate's future.

Turner Contemporary is an ambitious arts centre which, it is hoped, will do for the Kent seaside town's fortunes what the Tate did for St Ives in Cornwall and the Guggenheim for Bilbao. For a building that carries such a weight of expectations, it seems remarkably low-key, functional even. "It looks like a fish processing plant," said one local shopkeeper. Businesslike it may be, but I like the way the opaque façade reflects the sky and helps to merge the building with its watery surroundings.

The gallery will be opened by Margate's most famous daughter, Tracey Emin, on April 16, but I was given a preview as the first artworks were being installed. Inside, the lofty reception area makes the most of the sea views while in the galleries, skylights and high windows filter in the northern light.

These are the same views, the same light that so captivated J M W Turner – the gallery is built on the exact site of the guesthouse where the artist used to stay on his regular visits to Margate. Some of Turner's most famous works were inspired by Thanet – the coastal area which comprises Margate and the neighbouring resorts of Broadstairs and Ramsgate – but only one of his paintings will be on show in the opening exhibition, which is a collection of contemporary works very loosely inspired by the artist.

From the gallery I walked into the Old Town, an attractive area of narrow cobbled streets behind the harbour. When I last visited Margate six years ago this area was down-at-heel and deserted, with many boarded-up shop windows. Today, it is home to a thriving community of independent shops specialising in vintage and retro homeware and clothing, art galleries and cafés, many of which have opened in the past 12 months.

I chatted to at least half a dozen shopkeepers and each of them said that the "Turner effect" was a major factor in their decision to set up shop here. In its first year Turner Contemporary is expected to bring 150,000 visitors to Margate.

The newest addition to the Old Town is Greedy Cow, a deli specialising in fine cheeses, charcuterie, artisan breads and real coffee, which opened last month next door to the Cupcake Café on Market Place. Rachel, the owner, is Margate born and bred, but moved away for many years.

"If someone had said a couple of years ago that I would be moving back to Margate I would have said they were crazy," she says. "But I've noticed a change in the town. There's a real buzz."

Across the square, Julian Newick is another returnee. Having spent years in Paris, he came home last year to open the Lifeboat Ale and Cider House, a cosy, rustic bar with an open fire, specialising in real ales, ciders and wines from east Kent. The bar has regular live music sessions and serves traditional food such as Kentish blue cheese, pies and seafood. Julian is passionate about sourcing local ingredients and hopes to start a weekly food market in the square.

On King Street, I walked into Margate Modern Art, a smart gallery specialising in art from 1870 to 1970, which opened six months ago. The proprietor, Jane Holbrey, moved from France to open the gallery. When I commented that Margate must seem a bit of a culture shock, she laughed: "Well, I used to live in Brick Lane before it was gentrified, and it had a similar sort of feel."

Modern art, cupcakes, charcuterie… it's all a long way from the popular image of Margate as the seedy and neglected town that holidays forgot. Then again, maybe not such a long way. Just a minute's walk from the Old Town and you are back on the seafront, which, sadly, does not seem to have changed much since I last visited.

But here too there is a promise of better times ahead, with plans to reopen Dreamland – which closed in 2005 – as a heritage theme park. It's hard to believe now, but in the Nineties this was one of the country's most popular attractions, pulling in two million visitors a year. The centrepiece of the new park, which is expected to open in 2013, will be the restored Scenic Railway, the oldest roller-coaster in Britain, which will be joined by vintage rides and amusements such as a Pinball Parlour, roller disco and a Fifties-style milk bar. Work has already started on the Thirties Dreamland Cinema which will house a new entertainment venue and an exhibition on the popular culture of the British seaside.

Sarah Vickery, an old friend of mine, is a director of the Dreamland Trust, which has been campaigning to save the park. We met for tea at Batchelors Patisserie, a time-warp café with original Formica tables. Sarah believes Dreamland will be more important to Margate's regeneration than the Turner Contemporary. "For years the emphasis has been on promoting Margate as this arty destination and its incredible seaside heritage has been neglected," she says.

Sarah owns the Shell Grotto, one of those strange and beguiling attractions the British seaside does so well. It was discovered in 1835 beneath a back garden in a quiet street and is an extraordinary underground cavern decorated with more than four million shells, arranged in beautiful and intricate patterns. The fact that nobody knows who created it, or why, only adds to the sense of mystery.

Margate was one of Britain's earliest seaside resorts and there are reminders of its heyday, from the grand Georgian terraces to the stone pier built for the steam packets which brought Londoners in their thousands to try the fashionable new pastime of sea bathing.

On the seafront at Cliftonville, once considered the posh part of town, stands the Walpole Bay Hotel, a gloriously eccentric remnant from the Edwardian era serving cream teas on an Art Deco veranda overlooking the bowling green, while the Victorian Nayland Rock Shelter on the promenade, where T S Eliot wrote parts of The Wasteland, has Grade II listed status.

It had been a day of surprises, but the biggest surprise of all awaited me when I checked into my b & b later that day. The Reading Rooms opened 18 months ago on a Georgian square a five-minute walk from the seafront. The owners, Louise Oldfield and Liam Nabb, who have a background in music and graphic design, moved here from London, tempted by the town's affordable Georgian housing.

"We wanted to create something special, that would stand on its own as a reason to come to Margate," Louise says. The 18th-century town house has been converted from 10 bedsits into an elegant guesthouse with three large bedrooms, decorated in shades of cream and ivory, with large French-style beds, chandeliers, stripped floorboards, and bathrooms which would put many five-star hotels to shame.

Guests can order from an extensive breakfast menu and have it delivered to their room, at whatever time they like. It's a bold move, to open a boutique b & b in a place like Margate, but the couple's bravery has paid off, with weekends booking up long before the Turner gallery was completed.
It's a difficult place Margate, imperfect and unpolished, but there is much to love. The sweeping expanse of the Main Sands is arguably one of the best beaches in the South East, and the skies which so famously captivated Turner really are extraordinary.

Lovers of all things retro will delight in Scott's Furniture Mart – Kent's largest emporium of antique furniture, bric-a-brac and vintage clothing – and in the quirky shops of the Old Town. And the recent influx of artists and creative types has given the town a dynamism which is lacking in more gentrified resorts such as nearby Whitstable, with its twee shops and fishman's cottages.

The Turner Contemporary will bring some much-needed publicity to the town and, if successful, the Dreamland heritage park will introduce a new generation to the simple pleasures of ghost trains, candyfloss and penny arcades. I hope so. It seems fitting that the blend of seaside kitsch and kiss-me-quick fun that saw Margate fall so spectacularly out of fashion could yet be its salvation.

Margate basics
Where to stay
The Reading Rooms, Margate (01843 225166; Decadent rooms and breakfast in bed at this elegant Georgian town house. Double rooms from £150 a night.

The Walpole Bay, Cliftonville (01843 221703, Double rooms from £65 a night.

Belvidere Place, Broadstairs (01843 579 850; In a neighbouring resort, this b & b is a breath of fresh air with its mix of contemporary and vintage furnishings and seasonal, locally-sourced food on the breakfast menu. Double rooms from £100 a night.

Where to eat
Bebeached Café (07961 402612, The best brunch in Margate, served overlooking the water at the end of the Harbour Arm; evening meals by candlelight.

Harbour Café Bar (01843 290110) Good bistro food in a great seafront location, with prime views of Margate's spectacular sunsets and regular jazz evenings.

The Ambrette (01843 231 504, Kent's finest ingredients, including lamb, wood pigeon and belly pork, subtly spiced and served with a modern Indian twist. Booking essential.

Eddie Gilbert's, Ramsgate (01843 852123; The best seafood in the area. A fishmonger, chip shop and seafood restaurant rolled into one, serving the freshest fish bought directly from the fleet in Ramsgate."

Saturday 2 April 2011

In the Press: FT article: Something out of nothing


“If you want a dirty weekend, go to Margate. You can be as dirty as you like. Van Gogh and Turner, Ronnie Biggs and the Krays all went there ... Margate – the nub of the Isle of Thanet, thrusting like a bent forefinger from the crazed knuckle of England. Planet Thanet, also known as the Last Resort.”

This is Tracey Emin, writing in her 2005 memoir Strangeland, on “the derelict seaside town” where she grew up with “nothing to do but blend in with the general decay ... and wish your life away”.

Would her unhappy life there have been different if Margate had boasted a gleaming free-entry museum, its white silhouette standing sharp against the waves, dominating and energising the Victorian harbour?

Opening in a fortnight, Turner Contemporary, a £17m new museum designed by David Chipperfield, is just that. The name plays on Margate’s association with the 19th-century artist, a regular visitor: it occupies the site of the guest house run by Mrs Booth, JMW Turner’s landlady and intimate. Its naturally lit galleries and glass exterior exploit the exceptional coastal light, so viewers will see why Turner reckoned “the skies over Thanet are the loveliest in all Europe”. Chipperfield, whose showpieces include Berlin’s Neues Museum and the extension to the Museum Folkwang in Essen, says the light in the Margate museum is “the best we’ve done”.

But can Margate, a small, working-class town suffering far higher unemployment than the average across south-east England, and in decline for a century, really become an art world player?

I wonder. In seven years as the FT’s art critic, reviewing more than a hundred shows annually, I have never seen a world-class exhibition in England outside London. In the same period, dazzling modern or contemporary shows in European provincial towns have included Cézanne in Essen, which continued to the Guggenheim in New York; Baden-Baden’s Sculpture by Painters; Black is also a Colour at Saint-Paul de Vence in the south of France; Rotterdam’s De Kooning, and Grenoble’s current Chagall. All drew wide local and international audiences.

Turner Contemporary is also aiming to attract both Margate residents and cultural tourists, whose visits, it is hoped, will kick-start new enterprise and so help urban regeneration. No one should underestimate the difficulties of promoting instant aesthetic consumption, however: Margate is not the chic hilltop village of Saint-Paul de Vence or the affluent Black Forest spa town Baden-Baden – and even the former grimy industrial heartland of Essen has had its Folkwang Museum since 1922.

That same year, in his poem “The Waste Land”, TS Eliot, who had been recuperating from a nervous breakdown in the Kent seaside town, wrote “On Margate sands/I can connect/Nothing out of nothing”.

Turner Contemporary is the latest in a string of young British regional museums, each the focus of efforts to transform a 20th-century urban wasteland into a 21st-century metropolis where cultural and intellectual connections spring up, as it were, out of nothing. They include New Art Gallery Walsall and Salford’s The Lowry (both 2000), Baltic in Gateshead (2002), De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill (2005), Middlesbrough’s MIMA (2007), The Public in West Bromwich (2008), Nottingham Contemporary (2009) and, opening next month, the £35m Hepworth Wakefield, named after the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, a native of the West Yorkshire city. Also designed by Chipperfield, this sombre but luminous assemblage of angled pavilions on the banks of the Calder, will be the UK’s biggest purpose-built museum outside London.

If the 1990s saw unprecedented ambition in British art-making, the noughties was the epoch of museum-building, the bricks-and-mortar embodiment of the widening interest in art in the past two decades, a democratisation achieved partly through the vernacular language of Young British Artists such as Emin and Damien Hirst, whose savvy bypassing of Mayfair galleries in favour of organising their own shows opened art to a fresh public.

The YBAs’ success also spawned a new elite coterie of curators, artists and dealers, mostly concerned with conceptual art, emerging from schools such as Hirst’s alma mater Goldsmiths College. Their power base is London but their influence is felt nationwide. The touring British Art Show 7, for example, opened last October in Nottingham featuring 39 artists, more than half of them conceptualists from east London galleries; no English galleries outside London were represented.

Such trends beg an important question about the new regional museums: who benefits from them – local residents and visitors, or London-oriented curators and artists using these venues for their own interests? Does anyone want to see the exhibitions the latter deliver to the former?

. . .

Beyond doubt, showcase museums can give towns a contemporary face. Nottingham is no longer just defined by Robin Hood but also by Caruso St John’s arresting £20m gallery with its verdigris-scalloped concrete surfaces and 132 skylights. Baltic, a £45m conversion of a former Rank Hovis flour mill, towers over the Tyne at Gateshead, symbolising culture’s potential to transform former industrial heartlands.

Except that Baltic has no collection, nor any budget for acquisitions. Nor do Nottingham, Margate or Bexhill. In the rush to endow these places with trophy buildings, attention to the contents – what characterises a gallery, what makes it revisited, loved and remembered – was forgotten. But without art to call their own, museums are empty shells. They cannot trade loans, nor build shows around core holdings. Their huge spaces look bare; yet so sacrosanct is the desired feel-good effect that questions about their real workings are rarely raised.

Nottingham had a fanfare inauguration with superb early David Hockneys, but its programme has since been lacklustre: mainly earnest thematic shows such as Uneven Geographies, about art and globalisation. Baltic, which has seen four directors in under a decade, and opened not only minus a collection but without cloakroom or information desk (signs that visitors were not first priority) has a narrowly conceptual programme. Newcastle-based critic William Varley, who described Baltic as “the safely provincial test-bed of the wannabe cutting-edgers”, says: “I am not making a plea for a popularist programme but one of quality, wider curatorial scope and greater balance.”

Turner Contemporary’s opening schedule is just as disappointing. Revealed promises a single Turner, “The Eruption of the Souffrier Mountains”, alongside work by “six major international artists”. Three of these, Russell Crotty, Teresita Fernandez and Ellen Harvey, are no such thing; but they and the others – conceptual painter Daniel Buren, geometric sculptor Conrad Shawcross and film-maker Douglas Gordon – are spuriously linked to Turner because, according to a statement by Turner Contemporary director Victoria Pomery, all “play at the borders between what we can see and know and the truly fantastic”. A second show, Nothing in the World but Youth, explores “youth experience ... through artworks, photographs, films, music, fashion”.

These strike me as uninspiring prospects. Recent years have shown that to put a museum on the map you hold a must-see retrospective of a significant artist. Attendance figures – more than 200,000 visitors for Tate Britain’s Freud and Bacon shows, over 400,000 for the Royal Academy’s Van Gogh and Tate Modern’s Gauguin versus 47,000 for arid conceptual sculptor Roni Horn at Tate Modern – confirm audiences flock to quality. If Britain’s new museums are to avoid ending up white elephants, they must be more ambitious, grasp their role is to show the best art, not indulge curatorial whims, and to navigate a meaningful local role within an increasingly global cultural economy.

The different ways they are finding to do this unravel the web of interests and control in today’s art world. Some have become determinedly regional. The Lowry, for example, mainly shows its namesake’s work, plus neighbourhood exhibitions such as the current Unlocking Salford Quays. Walsall, though it was bequeathed an international collection by Lady Kathleen Epstein, also typically chooses to show local exhibitions.

West Bromwich’s The Public carefully dovetails the local with the larger picture: its spring exhibitions opening this week feature a West Midlands knitting group, industrial photography from the Black Country and works from the international collection of Frank Cohen, who has a gallery in Wolverhampton and buys in China, India, and from fashionable dealer Larry Gagosian. This sounds a surreal juxtaposition but The Public, a £52m project stalled by delays and budget problems, has been welcomed locally and takes seriously its role as “a place where people who don’t normally feel comfortable in arts venues can enjoy themselves, feel welcomed and are confident to experience new things”.

MIMA, recognising the limits of its smallish space and budget, is becoming a centre of expertise for drawing. An Ellsworth Kelly display and The End of the Line: Attitudes in Drawing have been among several thoughtful shows, and have encouraged gifts of an impressive one hundred works on paper from artists and collectors. This in turn has conferred a status that attracts promising young artists – I hugely enjoyed the first public exhibition devoted to abstract painter Katy Moran there in 2008.

The De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, East Sussex capitalises on its heritage 1935 building to expand understanding of modernism. A John Cage exhibition opens this month, and its contemporary choices slant towards conceptualists who engage with space and architecture – Nathan Coley, Tomoko Takahashi – and to abstract modernists such as Kenneth and Mary Martin. Yet despite its cohesive programme, one longs to see a lush, sensuous painter or figurative, tactile sculptor illuminating this unique space.

Hepworth Wakefield opens in May
The newest museum, the Hepworth, starts at an advantage: it owns 6,000 works amassed by the city of Wakefield, mostly of 20th-century British artists – Hepworth, Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, David Bomberg, Patrick Heron. Its inaugural displays will be a seminal group of 44 plasters casts gifted by Hepworth’s family, loans of Brancusi and Mondrian, and Hot Touch, a solo show by Eva Rothschild, who makes subtle, melancholy sculptures in diverse materials. This presses persuasive 21st-century buttons: visibility for women, balancing young and historic, national and international. Should the Hepworth fulfil its promise as an innovative gallery with its strengths in sculpture, this part of England (the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is seven miles away, the Henry Moore Institute is in nearby Leeds) could become a truly global centre. Not before time. In Europe, historic connections have created several important regional milieux. The Côte d’Azur is a showcase for postwar modernism, with museums devoted to Picasso, Chagall, Leger, Matisse, Bonnard – who all lived there. Helped by connections to local residents Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter, Germany’s Ruhr is also thriving, with Essen’s Folkwang joined by Dusseldorf’s K20 and K21 museums, and Cologne’s Museum Ludwig.
In Britain, the cultural gap between the capital and the regions was always more marked than in federal Germany or statist France, where museums come under the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, ensuring fairer distribution of important pieces.

The UK’s variations on this model, such as the Hayward’s touring displays, have historically been low-key. A landmark change, in 2009, was dealer Anthony d’Offay’s Artist Rooms, a donation of 725 contemporary works on constant tour, organised by Tate and Scotland’s National Galleries. The scheme is transforming quality, international scope and, crucially, expectations in regional galleries, with selections and venues sensitively chosen: sculptor Beuys at De La Warr; Anselm Kiefer, who deals in industrial aftermath, at Baltic.

D’Offay’s “art without a museum” is the perfect fit for museums without art. It is already prompting more regional awareness at Tate, which has outsourced this year’s Turner Prize to Baltic, only the second time it will be hosted outside London and the first time outside a Tate museum.

Still, Tate could do more. It has hundreds of masterpieces in storage (see box page 1). The greatest of these should be dispatched up and down the country. Commercial galleries cannily exploit this resource – Gagosian borrowed Tate’s triptychs for its 2006 Bacon show; Helly Nahmad supplemented his 2010 Matisse exhibition with Tate’s “The Inattentive Reader”. How perverse that seminal works belonging to the nation are boosting dealers’ (selling) shows rather than reaching nationwide audiences.

Stone walls do not a museum make: great art does.

In the vaults but ripe for exhibition

The contemporary and modern collections in London and Edinburgh rank among the best in the world, yet space constraints dictate that far more is kept in the vaults than on display. Below are some of the unseen riches that could be star exhibits in exhibitions up and down the country.

Tate. The resources in the store here are staggering. They range from Pierre Bonnard’s shimmering, unstable “The Table”, acquired from the artist in 1925 and among his greatest works, through Lucian Freud’s chilling but much-loved “Girl with a White Dog” (1950), a portrait of his first wife Kitty, and “Black Triptych”, one of the important series painted by Francis Bacon after the suicide of his lover George Dyer, to Chris Ofili’s “No Woman No Cry” (1998), a London painting known both for its masterly, inventive form and subject – it is a tribute to murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Tate points out that though they are not currently on display all four works have been exhibited at a Tate gallery or on loan to another institution “within the past year, and in some cases within the past month or two”.

National Galleriesof Scotland. Distinctively Scottish works include still lifes, studio pictures and occasional landscapes by the wonderful, still underrated modernist colourists Samuel John Peploe (“Pink Roses, Chinese Vase”; the cubist 1913 “Still Life”), Francis Cadell (“The Model”, “Portrait of a Lady in Black”), George Hunter (“Still Life, Stocks”) and John Duncan Fergusson (the Whistler-esque firework painting “Dieppe, 14 July 1905: Night”). Of 34 Edinburgh-owned works by this group, only one is currently on display, though the gallery says autumn exhibitions of all three artists will run over the next three years, starting with Cadell in October 2011.

National Portrait Gallery. More a showcase of subjects than of artists, this popular museum also is home to unshown examples of 21st-century portraiture such as Paula Rego’s “Germaine Greer” and Maggi Hambling’s “(Alan) George Heywood Melly” and Allen Jones’ “Darcy Andrea Bussell”.

Friends of Margate Caves Collecting Memories of the Caves

Dear Friends,

I am writing to ask for you to share any memories you have of visiting the Margate Caves. If you have any photos to go with these memories that would be even better.

We will be collating all the memories/stories and pictures we receive to create an article to help support our campaign. We may also use these recollections as a feature on our website.

As always with our campaign time is of the essence, so we would really appreciate it if you could take the time to share these memories/stories with us as soon as possible.

Once again, thank you so much for your support.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,

Peter Davis
Friends Of Margate Caves

Friday 1 April 2011

Friends of Shell Grotto news

From our very favourite Shell Grotto:

"Hello Friends

Another brief update from me to bring you news of all that's happening in April. First up, the Grotto is moving onto summer opening hours – daily, 10am-5pm, from Saturday 9 April. This is also the date for Obscura Day, an international day of "expeditions, back-room tours and hidden treasures". Check it out here:

Our event, early-evening candlelit tours of the Grotto, is here:

You’ll need to book your places on the Obscura website and this is one event when we can't offer free entry to Friends (because it's being administered by the Obscura team). Scroll down from our event and you’ll also find details of what the guys at the Substation are doing for the day.

The long-awaited opening of Turner Contemporary happens on 16 April. There’s a 10-day programme of free festivities around the town, details here:

So, what with Bank Holidays galore, April is a good time to come and visit! Hope to see you soon.


Shell Grotto"

Event: Pie Days and Holidays at Marine Studios

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Marine Studios invites you to First Friday. Pie Days and Holidays, Margate Food Stories. Marine Studios have been working with artist Sophie Herxheimer to collect food stories. Exhibition launch 1st April at Marine Studios from 3pm-7pm.