Sunday, 26 June 2011


Margate’s history as a seaside resort has followed a by now familiar trajectory. In its early days as a resort, a local glovemaker called Benjamin Beale invented the covered “bathing machine”, a wooden cart with wheels which could be used as a changing room, then rolled down to the sea, thus preserving the modesty particularly of the female bathers. Margate had its heyday in the 1950s, when people used to flock down from London, but by the 1990s it had started to go into a seemingly terminal decline, with soaring crime and unemployment and a run-down appearance. In 2009 the town featured in an episode of The Apprentice in which the contestants were given the task of rebranding Margate as a cool destination. Now there is a glimmer of hope for a revival in the form of the Turner Contemporary art gallery which opened earlier this year. Turner lived in Margate, and during his time there developed a close relationship with his landlady, Mrs Booth, even going so far as to call himself Mr Booth following the death of her husband. Another famous artist who grew up in Margate is the contemporary artist Tracy Emin. Those who like visiting smaller galleries should head for the Old Town, which has branded itself the “creative quarter” for the number of galleries, along with specialist shops and a range of pubs, cafes and restaurants. There is a similar range of attractions down at the Harbour Arm.

I have only visited Margate once, on a daytrip with my parents in the 1960s. One of the most memorable attractions I remember from that time was the vast Dreamland amusement park. The site was closed in 2003, but has now been restored as a unique attraction: the world’s first amusement park with historical rides, including the oldest roller coaster in the UK. Another unique attraction which remains open to the public is the Shell Grotto, which was discovered in 1835. The grotto is a man-made subterranean passageway with ornate shell ‘mosaics’, but its origins are shrouded in mystery. Needless to say, there are countless theories, such as that it was used as a sun temple because of the way the sun’s entry into the Dome of the grotto coincides with the fertile season.

For events in Margate see here.

Map of the area.
Margate Beach. Photo by Nick Smith, via Wikimedia Commons

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