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Margate – starting point for Cycling in Kent

In the book Victorian Cyclist, outlined in the website www.victoriancyclist.com, Margate is the starting point for all the Victorian Cyclist Rambles described there.

Margate was recorded as “Meregate” in 1264 and as “Margate” in 1299, but the spelling continued to vary into modern times. The name is thought to refer to a pool gate or gap in a cliff where pools of water are found, often allowing swimmers to jump in. The cliffs of the Isle of Thanet are composed of chalk, a fossil-bearing rock.

The town’s history is tied closely to the sea and it has a proud maritime tradition. Margate was a “limb” of Dover in the ancient confederation of the Cinque Ports. It was added to the confederation in the 15th century. Margate has been a leading seaside resort for at least 250 years. Like its neighbour Ramsgate, it has been a traditional holiday destination for Londoners drawn to its sandy beaches. Margate had a Victorian pier which was largely destroyed by a storm in 1978.

Like Brighton and Southend, Margate was infamous for gang violence between mods and rockers in the 1960s, and mods and skinheads in the 1980s.

The Thanet Offshore Wind Project was under construction in 2009 and the site is now visible from the seafront.

Victorian Cycling | Margate

Margate Clock Tower and buildings on the sea front

For at least 250 years, the town has been a leading seaside resort in the UK, drawing Londoners to its beaches, Margate Sands. The bathing machines in use at Margate were described in 1805 as four-wheeled carriages, covered with canvas, and having at one end of them an umbrella of the same materials which is let down to the surface of the water, so that the bather descending from the machine by a few steps is concealed from the public view, whereby the most refined female is enabled to enjoy the advantages of the sea with the strictest delicacy.

Margate faces major structural redevelopments and large inward investment. Its Dreamland Amusement Park (featured in “The Jolly Boys’ Outing” extended episode of the television series Only Fools and Horses) was threatened with closure because of the increase in value of the site. In 2003, one of the arcades on the seafront was destroyed by fire. This has created a new potential entrance point to the Dreamland site. In the following years, 2004–2006 it was announced that Dreamland (although somewhat reduced in its amusements) would reopen for three months of the summer; a pressure group has been formed to keep it in being. The group is anxious to restore the UK’s oldest wooden roller coaster,

The Scenic Railway, which is Grade II Listed and the second oldest in the world, was severely damaged in a fire on 7 April 2008. It was planned that the Dreamland site will reopen as a heritage amusement park in the near future with the Scenic Railway at the centre. Classic rides from the defunct Southport amusement park have already been shipped in as well as parts of the now-demolished water chute at Rhyl. More details on Dreamland’s future can be obtained from the Dreamland Trust website. Today the Dreamland roller coaster is one of only two early-20th Century scenic railways still remaining in the UK. the only other surviving UK scenic railway is located in Great Yarmouth and was built in 1932. If the Dreamland Scenic Railway is not rescued the Great Yarmouth coaster would then be the last of its kind in the country. The Margate roller coaster is an ACE Coaster Classic.

Cliftonville, next to Margate, has a classic British Arnold Palmer seaside mini golf course.

Victorian Cycling | Margate Turner Contemporary

Margate Turner Contemporary

Turner Contemporary is a visual arts venue in Margate, Kent, England intended as a contemporary arts space and an impetus for the regeneration of the town. The title commemorates the association of the town with noted landscape painter J. M. W. Turner, who went to school there, and visited throughout his life.

The original designs by Norwegian architects Snøhetta would have made the gallery part of the harbour itself. Some critics, however, questioned the prudence of placing part of Britain’s national art treasures in a spot that is exposed to the full fury of the North Sea. The costs of the original design, and controversy over the decision to change its structure from concrete to steel, have led to a legal battle, in an attempt to recover some of the costs. It was later moved to a plot of land adjacent to the harbour, on the site of a boarding house where Turner once stayed.

The building was designed by David Chipperfield, whose design ideas for the 3 storey, 20 metres (66 ft) high gallery were praised unanimously. It was built on the raised promenade following a flood risk analysis. Construction started in 2008, and was completed for opening in April 2011, at a cost of £17.5 million. As many as 10,000 visitors were expected within the museum’s opening week and in fact 14,000 people visited in its first weekend.

The scheme has been supported by the artist Tracey Emin, who opened it and was brought up in Margate, and various funding bodies including Kent County Council, with a £6.4 million contribution, Thanet District Council, who provided the land, South East England Development Agency (SEEDA), who provided £4 million the Arts Council England with support to the value of £4.1 million and the European Union. It is the largest dedicated visual arts venue in Kent.

There are two notable theatres, the Theatre Royal in Addington Street – the second oldest theatre in the country – and the Tom Thumb Theatre, the second smallest in the country, in addition to the Winter Gardens. The Theatre Royal was built In 1787, burnt in 1829 and remodelled in 1879 giving Margate more national publicity. The exterior is largely from the l9th century.

An annual jazz festival takes place during a weekend in July.

Victorian Cycling | Margate Tudor House

Margate Tudor House

Margate Museum in Market Place explored the town’s seaside heritage in a range of exhibits and displays until it was closed in late 2008 when the local authority suddenly withdrew funding to a number of museums. There is the possibility that the museum will reopen in the summer of 2011. The Shell Grotto, which has walls and roof covered in elaborate decoration of over four million shells, covering 2,000 square feet (190 m2), in complex patterns, was rediscovered in 1835, but is of unknown age and origin. It has been designated as a grade I listed building. There is a 16th century 2 storeys timber-framed Tudor house built onto a flint plinth, in King Street.

Margate features as a destination in Graham Swift’s novel Last Orders and the film made version of it. Jack Dodds has asked to have his remains scattered at Margate. The book tells the tale of the drive to Margate and the memories evoked on the way. It also features at the start and as a recurrent theme in Iain Aitch’s travelogue A Fete Worse Than Death. The author was born in the town.

Victorian Cycling | Margate Draper's Mill

Margate Draper's Mill

T. S. Eliot who recuperated after a mental breakdown in the suburb of Cliftonville in 1921 commented in his poem The Waste Land Part III – The Fire Sermon:

“On Margate sands
I can connect
Nothing with nothing”

Draper’s Mill is a smock mill built in 1845 by John Holman. It was working by wind until 1916 and by engine until the late 1930s. It was saved from demolition and is now restored and open to the public.

The town appeared on BBC TV’s The Apprentice in May 2009. The town was the title of a minor UK hit by Chas & Dave in 1982.

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