Saturday, 12 October 2013

More on the development of Ramsgate harbour.

The picture shows Moses Shipyard where Port Ramsgate is now, you can see a fishing smack building, on the slipway, in the yard and another one at sea. My guess at the date is a bit of a wild one at around 1900, any help on that front would be appreciated. 

I have modified my text about the development of Ramsgate as a port and copied it below, once again any help with inaccuracies would be appreciated.

What I am trying to do is to avoid the repetitious quotes from previous historians and historical sources, which make the thing boring for those who have already read them before in numerous local history books and write local history – as it were - from the seat of the pants. 

I have had far to many rolls today, the rolls contain the letters from the mediaeval monarchs, mostly to the lords warden of the Cinque Ports and believe me when I say they are very long rolls indeed.

“Ramsgate is formed by a natural valley meeting the sea through the chalk cliffs, the oldest picture I know of that shows Ramsgate shoreline viewed from the sea, is the 1790s print based on a drawing from the newly completed harbour.

This natural feature means that there would have been some sort of sandy cove at Ramsgate since prehistoric times, and it is likely sea fishing has taken place here for millennia.

The sand that built up in the inlet would have restricted the erosion by the sea, so the shoreline in the harbour area has probably been in the same place since well before Roman times.

Archaeological digs show that there was some sort of pier, where the slipways are now, at least as far back a roman times, as they found roman coins there as well as the remains of a roman pier there.

Around a thousand years ago, when Thanet was a proper island and Sandwich was an important port on the coast facing Thanet, King Edward the Confessor (1042 – 1066) made Sandwich a founder member of the Cinque Ports (the main English ports).

The main port on the south side of Thanet was Stonar, which the Abbot of St Augustine possessed by edict of Cnut (King Canute 995 – 1035) from 1027. Sandwich was in the hands of the Prior of Christ Church Canterbury under a similar edict from 1023.

There was an ongoing legal battle between the two ports, for the trade, which attracted taxes, and although a jury convened by Henry I 1127 decided the Sandwich should get the trade and the taxes, Stonar continued to prosper until it was burnt to the ground by the French in 1365.

The monarch would obviously support the Cinque Port as it was the Cinque Ports that provided the ships for fighting and defence before the formation of the navy in the 1500s.

At the same time Margate was described as a port in a letter from King Edward III in the 1340s telling the bailiff there to arrest the ship owners there.  

By 1422 when Ramsgate became a limb of the Cinque Port of Sandwich, the port of Sandwich itself was starting to silt up.

The village of St Lawrence from which Ramsgate was to grow built a chapel in 1062 and in 1124 the chapels of St John (Margate), St Peter (Broadstairs), St Laurence (Ramsgate) and their mother church Minster were assigned to St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury.

St Laurence was consecrated as a church in 1275 with the name Ramsgate appearing in documents, for the first time around that time.

Because of various letters from monarchs about wall repairs, we know that defensive walls along the coast  protected the parts of Thanet protected against/from what? that weren’t protected by cliffs.

Around a thousand years ago the hamlet of St Lawrence started to expand, towards the end of the 1200s it had become a large enough village to have a church, such use as the inhabitants made of the sea would have been down the valley, to what would become Ramsgate.

There would have been a defensive wall there with a gate to the sea and over the period from around a thousand years ago, to around six hundred years ago, the people from the village of St Lawrence who fished from Ramsgate would have acquired boats, built storage sheds and eventually started to live at Ramsgate.

The use of boats in the Ramsgate area wasn’t confined to fishing. There was a considerable amount of what is called locally “foying”, taking provisions and recreations out toships moored off the coast, helping ships in distress, for a fee and so on. Recovering ships’ anchors from sandbanks and selling them to ships that had lost their anchors, being an example.

Much money was to be made from shipwrecks and ships belonging to enemies of the monarch, which was fair game although there are many letters from the monarchs between about a thousand and about five hundred years ago, seeking redress where the men of Thanet have taken cargoes or whole vessels from the monarchs friends. 

As late as 1488 when the Cinque Ports were waning – as a standing navy which later became the Royal Navy was formed in the early 1500s – King Henry VII granted Cinque Ports fishermen the armed power to fish wherever they wished in any part of England.

Around 1500 the printing press was invented and from that time people started producing histories of England, although frankly little was said about fishing and agriculture, the emphasis being on the aristocracy.

The first reference I can find to fishing off the coast of Thanet is from William Lambarde writing in 1570 who says, the waters of our coast provide good wholesome fish, but not in much quantity orvariety.

The next writer to say anything about Thanet’s fishing and agriculture was William Camden writing in 1586. He describes the locals as very industrious, working both as farmers and seamen.

Fishing, farming and exporting their own produce suggests locally owned cargo vessels.

Camden paints a picture of pastoral prosperity supplemented by fishing and profiting from the local shipwrecks.

However Admiral Howard writing about Margate in 1588 portrays a very different picture of the Thanet locals. After fighting the Spanish Armada some of the returning ships with the sailors suffering from typhus, dysentery, scurvy and starvation, sailed to Margate hoping for help. The sailors hadn’t been paid by the government and when Howard arrived they were without shelter or food, and were dying in the streets.

So whether Thanet was a prosperous and civilised area by around 1600, or whether it was brutish and poverty stricken is something that is lost to the mists of time.” 


  1. Michael - re: the date of your postcard, I think that I can see the passenger shelter on the East Pier that preceded the Eagle Café and later concrete landing stage. If that's the case the view must be 1906 or later, as the contract to build it was awarded by the Board of Trade to Andrew Handyside and Co. in February of that year. (TNA MT21/53)

    The twin-funneled tug is almost certainly AID 2, built 1890. She was sold to the Admiralty in 1914 and transferred to Dover.

    Therefore, best guess is that the card photo was taken between 1906 and 1914.

    1. Thanks for that Mac, much appreciated, I know just how much checking goes into that sort of comment.

      Looking at it again I am pretty sure the vessel at sea is a barge and not a fishing trawler as said, I think the strange mainsail shape could only really be generated by the sprit, which of course the fishing boats don’t have.

    2. You're right about the spritsail barge - low freeboard and no sheer and that give away sail configuration. There is a ketch-rigged smack aground on the grids at the corner of the croswall and the West Pier.

      There is a bucket dredger alongside the West Pier - probably the Hope - but she was at Ramsgate from 1901 -1936, so doesn't help with dating the P.Card.

      For the sake of acccuracy, AID 2 was withdrawn from service and advertised for sale in July 1914 but it was not until June 1915 that she was purchased for £800 by the Admiralty (Michael Hunt, History of Ramsgate Harbour)

  2. Dear Sir
    Re your first line of your article, the picture does not show "where Port Ramsgate is now" it shows where the former V.A.G. Shed is now and had been since before "Port Ramsgate", thanks.

    1. Quite right 4.33, too much time reading mediaeval documents and not enough on the photo caption, thanks for the correction which helps putting the book on the fishing smacks together.

  3. Holyer's disappeared.....and so has Hamilton.

    1. So has Mallinson.....and Epps! There's a pattern emerging here.

  4. Still here thanks 9:07, just nothing of note to comment on at the moment. Nice to know I'm missed though :)

  5. Tim,

    Behave yourself. There is a learned and interesting historical thread running at the moment which I am enjoying. I suggest you accept that you have nothing to contribute, and that you should therefore bless us with your silence. In other words, shut up.

    1. It wasn't Tim you senile old idiot!

    2. You are all charm and good manners, 9:13. John Holyer uses his own names and has told us he is retired after a long career in both the RAF and civil service. Somehow, for his honesty, you seem to think that gives you the right to call him a senile old idiot.

      Well, whilst we know nothing about you, it is readily apparent that you are a rude and craven coward who hides behind a cloak of anonymity from which you issue your insults. Do you really believe your comments add anything to the blogging world.

  6. "Still here thanks 9:07, just nothing of note to comment on at the moment."

    True of everything you post Hamilton

    "Nice to know I'm missed though :)"

    totally incorrect Superham

    1. Dull as it may be for you, 9:03, I do not comment on things that are of no interest to me or on which I feel I have nothing to contribute. As for someone's assumption that because Hamilton, Holyer, Mallinson and I had not commented, some pattern is emerging, all one can say is please get some help. James, Checksfield, Smithson and Driver had also not commented. Is that also supposed to mean something?

  7. Anon 0913

    If you are not in truth Tim then I'm sure that Tim will contact me to put matters straight. He has my email address as does anyone who glances at my profile.

    You speak frequently of senility, which I find curious. Senility is a medical illness. I am prepared to concede that you know more about medical illness than I do, for obvious reasons.

  8. I mean to say 'mental' illness. Spellchecker.


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