Monday, 11 July 2016

Turner, Margate History and Something About Bookshops.

I have been busy writing a leaflet for Margate tourist information office today, here it is roughly

The Steam Boats Leaving Margate 1820

Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs are all situated on The Isle of Thanet; which as you may have noticed isn’t an island. Back before the last ice age the UK was part of mainland Europe, when ice melted the sea levels rose and Britain became an island. On the edge of this island another small island formed, The Isle of Thanet, separated from the rest of Britain by a narrow sea channel called the Wansum.

Back around 1066, the conquest and all that Thanet was run by the church, the centre being the abbey at Minster and the boss being the abbot, life for most people being farm work and some fishing. Margate a cluster of wood and chalk houses (huts) possibly around a wooden chapel, St Johns Church was started around 1100.
Droit Office & Pier1820

In 1317 the Margate men were in open rebellion and ill-treated the abbot’s stewards. Documents from this period are a bit strange, here is one from the office of the king in 1345. “To abbot at St Augustines. Certain persons bringing bulls and other things prejudicial to the king and community of the realm have newly come to the port of Meregate through the default of the abbot and his keeper at that port. Improve security and arrest as necessary. Probably papal and not horned.

We know that the Vikings raided Canterbury from The Wantsum channel in 839 and we know that by 1500 it had completely dried up, such information as there is suggests that Margate prospered and was the main port for Thanet from around 1100 to around 1400.

Sea Bathing Infirmary 1820

Henry VIII’s antiquary John Leyland visited Margate in around 1540 and wrote: “Margate lyith in S. John’s pareche yn Thanet… a village and a peere for shyppes, but now sore decayed.”

In the mid 1560s Margate had 107 housholds, 10 boats between 1 and 46 tons employing 60 persons, fishing and carrying grain.

Admiral Howard recorded that in 1588, 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. John Leyland writing about the same time says there is a pier here but it is sore decayed.

Road Leading to The Fort in 1820 now the site of Turner Contemporary

John Evelyn FRS visited Margate in 1672 and said. “This town consists of brewers of heady ale… raggadly built, and has an ill haven. 

Cobb’s Brewery, Drawn From Near The Fort

In the early 1700s when the Vicar of St Johns, John Lewis wrote his history of Thanet he describes Margate as a pretty poor place, but as the market for the whole of the isle where the crops were brought and from where they were shipped to London.

Buenos Ayres, With The Prevention Post in 1820

John Lewis’s history of The Isle of Thanet first came out in 1723 in an edition of 140 pages, followed by a much-expanded edition of 204 pages in 1736, I publish a cheap reprint of this edition, should you want to read it. Margate has had its ups and downs over the years but I think the early part of the 1700s must have been particularly bad. A couple of quotes from Lewis give you some idea. “The trade of this poor Town is now very small.” “The Shipping trade, (which was once pretty considerable before the Harbour was so much washed away by the sea, and ships built too large to lay up here) is now all removed to London…”

What turned things around was the tourist trade, from around the mid 1730s London doctors started recommending sea bathing and the drinking of seawater as the cure for pretty much everything. By the mid 1700s this had developed into social event that slowly became the seaside holiday.  

The first real insight into holidaying in Margate comes in the 1763 guide, I publish a cheap £3.99 reprint of this, for those who want their tourist guide 250 years out of date.

This is a picture from the guide, explaining the use of the bathing machine, to quote from the book. “The bathing rooms are not large, but convenient. Here the company often wait for their turns of bathing.  The guides attend, sea water is drank, the ladies dresses are taken notice of, and all the business of the like kind is managed… 

J. W. M. Turner was born in 1775, his mother suffered from mental illness and in around 1786 Turner was sent to stay with relatives in Margate; where he went to school. Turner returned to Margate on numerous occasions, producing numerous sketches, watercolours and oil paintings of Margate and the surrounding area. In later years had a mistress here in Margate; his landlady Mrs Booth.

The attraction of Margate as a resort to the rich and famous was very much related to transport, Turner’s health began to fade in 1845 and he died in 1851 aged 76, reliable railways were developed in the 1840s, whereas a reliable paddle streamer service taking 4 hours from London to Margate started in 1815, when turner was 40.

Bettison’s Library Hawley Square 1820

I don’t think there would have been bookshops in Margate or Ramsgate back in Turner’s day, books, for the most part, were borrowed from private subscription libraries.  

This is an undated sketch by Turner, looking down Margate High Street.

This an illustration from the 1820 guide to Margate, cheap reprint £4.99

Looking at that and the 1820 picture of the other side of the buildings in The High Street, I would guess the Turner is sometime earlier than that.

If you like a little puzzle this photo of Margate was taken in about 1870, before the buildings on the sea side of The High Street and Marine Drive was built, the buildings on the far right are still there.

Marine Parade &; Harbour 1820

Margate’s second up peaked in Victorian times an lasted to around 1970 Margate was developed as both a seaside holiday town and a shopping centre, from the mid 1960s there was a movement away from people staying there for a week or two, towards coming down for the weekend or a day trip.

The shopping centre suffered badly from the building of the nearby out of town shopping centre, at nearby Westwood Cross.

Thanet is now recovering from the decline of the traditional English seaside holiday, which started about 50 years ago with the cheap foreign package holiday. People are also becoming more environmentally conscious and once again are taking the train to Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs for a break.

Thanet’s natural and historic resources, sandy beaches, architecture and climate are now being supplemented with more visitor attractions, Margate offering Turner Contemporary art gallery, Dreamland Amusement Park, Margate Old Town with it’s vintage shops and art galleries and for me most of all bookshops. Ramsgate has the World War Two Tunnels, art galleries, the café culture centres around the historic Royal Harbour and of course my bookshop. Broadstairs remains the largely unchanged British seaside holiday town.

Margate has 3 secondhand bookshops, Hooked on Books, 21 High St open Mon – Sat 10-5 Sun 11-4, Old Bank Bookshop, 17 The Parade Mon – Sat 10-5 Sun 11-4, Tiverton Books, Smiths Court Hotel, Eastern Esplanade, Tue and Sun only 10-2. Broadstairs, has Broadstairs Bookshop, 7 Albion St, open every day 10-5, The Chapel 44-46 Albion St, this is a real ale pub with books for sale, open pub hours 9-12. New bookshops, both Ramsgate and Margate have fairly small W H Smiths in their High Streets, the main new bookshops, largish Smiths and Waterstones in Thanet are both at Westwood Cross shopping centre 

Finally my bookshop in Ramsgate, this is the largest secondhand bookshop in East Kent, so having phoned round the other Thanet bookshops it seemed to be down to me to write this leaflet.

Michaels Bookshop, 72 King Street, Ramsgate. Open 9.30 to 5.30 Mon, Tue, Wed, Fri and Sat. We have a stock of about 30,000 books, mostly secondhand. Book prices in the shop start at 5p, with the average price being around £2. Our main competition nowadays is the internet and we endeavour to price our books for less than buying them online would cost.

We do some things that most other bookshops don’t do. We publish about 170 books and maps about the history of this area, we have a website that doesn’t get updated very often and a weblog site that gets updated every working day where we put pictures of all the books that go on the shelves that day. I paint pictures of the local area and put them and some local news items on another weblog

Oh and here a page from the circa 1795 directory to the UK

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