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Margate Mercury

MARGATE HISTORY

Writer

Seb Reilly

Photography

Margate Museum & Ben Bowles

THE C H A N G I N G FAC E O F

M A R G AT E

The architecture in Margate is both stunning and varied, featuring gems from almost every era, dating back centuries. To discover why, you need to look even further into the past

M

argate has changed and evolved extensively over the years from its origins as a fishing port. Originally an island, Thanet, the district where Margate resides, was surrounded by water, with its most northerly point being Margate. The gaps in the cliffs gave access to the ocean, leading to the name Mar-gate, or gateway to the sea. When the Romans arrived two thousand years ago they found the population of the south east to be the most eclectic of all of Britain. Travellers from Europe settled in East Kent and regularly traded with the continent. Julius Caesar visited the isle on his expedition here, after landing up the coast at Walmer, and found Thanet to be a diverse agricultural and fishing community. At the time, the majority of buildings were residencies and stores for crops; all of which have since disappeared beneath the earth. Archaeological digs have discovered extensive artefacts from the Bronze and Iron Ages. Margate was the launching point for boats to fish the North Sea, with its favourable beaches and natural harbour. The Romans built forts just outside Thanet, on the mainland, but the isle itself remained its own entity. Thanet was passed to royalty and tribal leaders over the years, usually gifted as some form of reward. Vortigern, King of the Britons, passed it to the brothers Horsa and Hengest

for assisting with a war; and later Egbert, King of Kent, gave it to Princess Domneva to use to keep her deer. In the early to mid-fourteenth century, Thanet had the highest population density in all of Kent, and was used, among other things, as a granary store for Calais. Caves and walls were built beneath the cliffs to house stock which was imported from and exported to Europe. These structures, and more besides, were later used for smuggling, and the complex set of tunnels beneath Margate became known as Vortigern’s Caves. Within, paintings adorn the walls, depicting the Thanet Hunt and all kinds of wild animals. Perhaps Margate’s most famous cave, however, is the Shell Grotto; a strange and remarkable subterranean structure decorated with shells and featuring a painting of the Thanet Giant. Unlike Vortigern’s Caves, little is known of the origin or history of the Grotto before its discovery in the nineteenth century. Above ground, Margate was changing, as was Thanet as a whole. The Cinque Ports annexed Margate harbour to Dover, and the Wantsum Channel that separated Thanet from the mainland filled with silt, bringing the isle into the country proper. The area was becoming developed, as the beaches and sea were seen as an attractive prospect by the wealthy. The Tudor House in Margate still stands, and represents the architecture of

the day. Local churches were also laboriously constructed over decades to stand steadfast and strong, with the larger buildings laid out in the shape of a cross so God could see them when he looked down from heaven. Agriculture and fishing were still the main local trades; however the area was becoming increasingly popular, not least for the incredible sunrises and sunsets that could be witnessed over the sea on either side of Thanet. Due to its location, and a combination of North Sea weather and the ocean, Margate became famous for stunning skies, especially during the setting sun, inspiring artists like JMW Turner to stay in the town and paint. Margate developed into a popular seaside resort in the early nineteenth century after the introduction of steamboats, which offered Londoners the opportunity to venture down the coast and enjoy the local town. The Theatre Royal was built to offer entertainment and class to the area, and this increased the reputation of the town significantly. Georgian terraces looked out to sea from Cliftonville, named quite literally as the town on top of the cliffs. Factories and hospitals were built as the industrial revolution reached East Kent, and brought money to the local economy. The railways only increased the footfall further, and the Clifton Baths were built to capitalise on the therapeutic seawater. More

Profile for The Margate Mercury

Issue 2 – Autumn 2016  

The Margate Mercury is a free quarterly magazine about modern-day life and culture in the British seaside town of Margate. We feature the mo...

Issue 2 – Autumn 2016  

The Margate Mercury is a free quarterly magazine about modern-day life and culture in the British seaside town of Margate. We feature the mo...

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