Thursday 29 November 2007

Endangered species

Most of us live in towns, it is has been the favored human environment for many years, and it think we have reached the point where our species needs its environment protecting.

Apart from any consideration about our social needs as a species, road travel to shops, jobs, leisure facilities, schools etc. isn’t environmentally sustainable.

As a retailer I am in a position to explain why the shops are going in our towns, my brother recently closed his bookshop in St Albans and now my father has closed his in Wimborne Minster and I have noticed a lot of shops are closing here in Ramsgate.

When I moved back to Ramsgate 20 years ago King Street was a much busier street and Ramsgate had a lot more shops and places to park it also had leisure facilities to atract tourism. Back then the shop takings were about £1,500 per week or £75,000 per year as the town disintegrated as a leisure and shopping town this figure fell at its worse to about half. It has now gone back up a certain amount to about £1,000 per week or £50,000 a year. Unlike many other retail businesses, in the secondhand book world one is able to compensate for these sort of fluctuations a certain amount, by when the shop is quiet using the time to engage in postal business which although much more time consuming, is more profitable.

Now we and the other shops have a new problem because most shops are rented on long leases, the rents tend to stay fairly stable for long periods of time until the leases come up for renewal. 20 years ago the building I rent was worth about £25,000 and the rent was about 10% of this freehold value, this is all usual practice.

Now however this building is worth about £200,000 maybe more, this wouldn’t be a problem if the planning regulations meant that it had to stay a shop, as I doubt that any other type of shop in this building would do much better, so the rent, rates and ultimately the value of the building would have to reflect what it could make as a shop.

10% of £200,000 is £20,000 per year or £400 per week converted into 4 flats with rents in the region of £100 per week it would easily generate that sort of income for the landlord. The gross rate of profit for bookshops shop sales is generally in the area 40% if it is very well run it might be possible to get 50% but not very likely and this applies to most small shops where the initial discount on what they buy to sell varies between 20% and 50% as of course not all the stock one buys sells for the amount one hopes for.

Our average book selling price is about £2 which means we buy and sell about 500 books a week, a lot of books all re used the majority of which would otherwise been thrown away.

So the bottom line is the very best the shop is likely to make to pay all of the expenses rent, rates, heat, light etc is about £500 so you can see with a rent of about £400 per week and business rates related to this figure, it’s not worth a candle.

Monday 26 November 2007

Ramsgate’s schools

WW1 bomb damage at Chatham House School

Ramsgate’s schools are back in the local papers again this week, the problem being that there is money available for rebuilding schools and some of our politicians want to use it to further their own particular brand of political idealism.

There are all sorts quirky aspects like most of the Labor politicians involved being grammar school educated, or one of the Labor politicians teaching in one of the grammar schools, or some of the Conservatives wanting to maintain single sex status for the grammar schools but get rid of it in the non grammar schools.

Now most of the ordinary people I speak to every day want to maintain the status quo as we have good and improving schools in Ramsgate and they don’t want them either unsexed or ungrammared.
I have tried to group together all of the opinions I can find in one place click here to read them.

Publisher’s dilemma

I thought I would put a book together of pictures of Ramsgate harbour, so I am in the processing the material I have borrowed from various people’s collections. What I have to do is decide what to leave out, I have published about a third of them click here to give you some idea of what I mean.

`Alpha' and Better

I have published a new book out today, `Alpha' and Better By Mikal Cole Personal memories, over the past fifty years, house by house through the village of St Nicholas at Wade A4 128 Pages stapled card covers £6.99

This blog is intended for people who have an interest in St Nicholas at Wade, its people and the book, to be able to communicate with each other.

You can leave comments for others to see, you don't have to join anything or fill in any forms, you can even comment anonymously should you wish to. Just click Comments then on leave a comment, below either dot anonymous, or other if you wish to leave your name.

A few months ago Mikal came into the bookshop and showed me this book while he was in the middle of writing it, his intention was to produce the A4 version format printed on one side only, so that anyone can write their own memories in the same book, he says, “then in fifty years time we can all get together and write another edition of this book. See you then!”

I suggested to him that, as he was already doing it as a Microsoft Word document, it would be very easy for me to produce it as an A5 stapled book that would be an inexpensive and easy to handle version for those people who just wanted to read it.

Last week, he came into the bookshop with the finished book on a memory stick and the new book is the result, which we were both pleased with and I think, is an important addition to my local publications.

I first started publishing local books about three years ago and have now got about one hundred and ten titles in print all of which I have read several times as part of the publishing process. I find more and more that it is the ones like this with one individual’s personal recollections of the area that I find most interesting.

Footpaths of Thanet by Bob Simmonds

Cedric had already asked if they knew of any attractive back passages in the area, before realising, to his horror, that the 'THANET WANDERERS' were not actually a local walking group, as he had supposed.

Having just read Eastcliff Richard’s frustrated comments to the anonymous ramblers making unrelated comments on his blog about one of Ramsgate’s lifts. “What has all that got to do with the lift? If you want to ramble, please do it in the countryside!” It really is very annoying to be having a chat about a lift while anonymous people are replying about holocaust denial lectures and the smuggling ring run by Geoff Capes in the 1970's as though this was somehow related.

I thought it was time some of us went for a ramble so featured here is my publication, Footpaths of Thanet by Bob Simmonds. The illustration is from the book.

This is a book for those who -

- like to get around without having to use the car,

- take pleasure in seeing their surroundings from a different point of view,

- enjoy discovering unfamiliar parts of East Kent,

- sometimes want to get away from all the noise and the traffic, and take a wander down a leafy lane,

- get a kick out of finding themselves somewhere they least expected,

- prefer to go and come back by different routes,

- or just like walking for the sheer pleasure of it.

With lots of information about the network of footpaths, alleyways and leafy lanes that cover the Isle of Thanet, it will enable you to do seemingly eccentric things - like walk to Westwood Cross avoiding the traffic, get up close and personal with the planes at Manston airport, or find pleasant ways to cut quickly across deadly-dull housing estates.

Click here to read more

Friday 23 November 2007

Here in Ramsgate one of our most important buildings the Royal Victoria Pavilion is coming up for grabs, unless of course the council have already sold it, they are not always to keen to publicise what they are up to but there is nothing recent about it on their website.

Designed by architect Stanley Davenport Adshead who also designed Ramsgate Library the floor is well below the flood line, so the building is not just at risk from how the council dispose of it.

Anyway the current occupant the casino is due to move off to improve the traffic congestion at Westwood Cross and I am afraid they haven’t been to kind to our pavilion.

Their greatest act of external vandalism being the demolition of Adshead’s ornate porch and bricking up all the windows, internally they have let a large part of the building that they didn’t want to use become derelict.

I wonder if they will have to do anything to return it to its former glory when they leave, I suppose being casino operators they would be able to afford to.
You may consider that Brighton makes rather more of its pavilion so there you have it a building the size of the Turner Contemporary in a prime site, I wonder what will happen.

Monday 19 November 2007

Cliff collapses in Ramsgate

One of my customers came in with some pictures of the collapse at the Paragon in the late 50s today, copies above. He recons the date to be about 1958 or 59 going by his age, he is the lad in one of the pictures and claims he didn’t do it.

He had seen the pictures of the other cliff collapses on my website and thought that it would be interesting to add these, any further information would be appreciated.
You may also wish to comment on the cliff behind Kent Terrace that I believe to be in danger of collapsing at the moment.

Sunday 18 November 2007

Confused ramblings from the secondhand book trade

Having been commenting on various blogs about retailing Westwood Cross and the problems that this poses for all the Thanet towns, with other retailers saying how bad the situation is.

Saturday’s sales in the bookshop were more than 50% up on both those of 2005 and 2006 looking at the sales analysis this was mostly ordinary secondhand books, I have to say I am totally miffed.

Now things are pretty bad in the secondhand book trade at the moment my brother has just closed his shop in St Albans that was established 45 years ago blaming the combined effects of out of town shopping and the internet.
The demise of the secondhand bookshops is particularly bad at this time because of the affect on the environment at the moment everywhere I go they seem to be closed or closing.


We went to see Ramsgate Operatic Society’s production of H.M.S PINAFORE yesterday just a note of thanks to say how enjoyable it was and how pleased we were to have them performing back at the Granville Theatre in Ramsgate again.

Friday 16 November 2007

Architectural disaster

Having just discovered the very interesting Margate architecture blog where the latest posting is related to what was demolished to make way for Argos, Somerfield and Iceland in Margate I thought I would post something about what was on the site of the Ramsgate Argos. I have taken the illustrations above from my publication Ramsgate & Broadstairs by Camera and Pen by J Bavington Jones which was first published in 1904.

I was astonished that that the grand Sanger’s Hotel and Sanger’s Amphitheatre (pictured above) was demolished in 1960 to make way for the supermarket (Fine Fare) now Argos.

It is a sad that the supermarkets and chain stores have, over the last 50 years, caused so much damage to the Thanet towns, both by their developments and eventual closures.

The word that comes to mind here is parasite, feeding of the host town until it's dead and then moving out of town.

Rolling Stock

We now have the first of our new Japanese arrivals for testing, as a schoolboy a popular joke was, the train standing at platforms 1 to 20 has come in sideways, whereas now I am trying to get my ideas about them straight.

The new bullet trains which look to be going to knock about 20 minutes of the journey time from Thanet to London nearly all of the time saving being on the stretch between Ashford and London.

I asked around a few engineering friends why there would be hardly any time saved between Ramsgate and London and have formed the impression that a further 20 minutes could be saved by two new investments on the line.

The first being updating the signalling system between Ashford and Thanet, apparently it is very antiquated and means that trains have to wait for very long lengths of line to be clear of a train before the next one can enter.

The second being straightening out the approaches to those stations where the line curves round platforms instead of running straight between them.

It also looks as though there is an intention to run the new trains on slow local services, which would appear to be a bit of a waste of money.

I may have got this all wrong so am interested in any comments from those who know better.

Wednesday 14 November 2007

John Smeaton Ramsgate Dry Dock

Looking at Ramsgate dry dock leaking badly during the recent tidal surge I was reminded of reading John Smeaton’s account of its first test in 1787 and the subsequent disaster.

Back in the 1700s the building of harbours and docks was the rocket science of the day and many things went wrong. In the case of the dry dock the builder ignored the advice of Smeaton the civil engineer with fairly spectacular results click here to read it or you can read it in the reprint of An Historical report on Ramsgate Harbour 1791 By John Smeaton that I publish. It is a most charmingly account of a man explaining the failings of others.

Friday 9 November 2007

Thanet’s tidal surge

The tidal surge was fortunately a bit of a non-event here in Thanet Ramsgate only had a slightly higher tide than the spring tide back in September that was much more spectacular due to the larger waves. I did notice that the dry dock in Ramsgate harbour was leaking pretty badly and suspect it needs some maintenance.
Here are some pictures there are also some on Thanet Life Eastcliff Richard and Zumi blogs

Thursday 8 November 2007

The Mansion of Mirth

Today’s featured publication is The Mansion of Mirth -
Sandgate as Seen Through the Eyes of the Alhambra Music Hall and Rex Cinema
Martin Easdown, Eamonn Rooney and Linda Sage

You can read sample pages from the book by clicking here

You can leave comments about the book or communicate with other people with an interest in the book or Sandgate’s history by commenting here.

Apart from Martin & Co’s excellently researched and interesting text the book contains many pictures: - Sandgate – Hythe Horse Tramway, Sandgate Hill Lift, Sandgate High Street 1860s & 1903, Turnpike Toll House, Sandgate Esplanade, Sandgate Hill (Upper Folkestone Road), Martello Terrace, The Bevan Hospital, The Star and Garter Home, Damage to May Terrace 1923, Rex Cinema, Demolition of Sea Point Café, Tower Flats and More.
I have just noticed 2 interesting pictures of old Sandgate on Zumi’s excellent local blog

Wednesday 7 November 2007

Crazy plans for the Pleasurama

Looking through the various crazy plans for the Pleasurama site, according to the book Old Ramsgate by Michael Mirams 1984. In 1926 when Ramsgate Harbour Station closed plans were drawn up for an Indian village on the site, complete with snake charmers and elephant rides.

Monday 5 November 2007

Pleasurama Update

For those of you who don’t know I have had an ongoing debate with Thanet District Council about a proposed development on Ramsgate seafront click here to read about it.
I still haven’t received the up to date plans that I asked for in March however TDC have sent me what they describe in the accompanying letter as the approved plans for the Pleasurama building

I hadn’t seen these approved plans before and they are the craziest so far, they show a building which when viewed from the side is 17.5 high when viewed from the front is 16.25 meters high when viewed from the rear is 16.5 meters high inside at one end it’s 17.5 meters high the other 16.25 meters high.

One drawing shows a vehicle embedded in the car park ceiling and another several people with their heads embedded in the ceilings.

I gather that these approved plans have also finally been sent to the Environment Agency who asked for them so that they could make a formal flood and storm risk analysis.

The idea is that the Environment Agency who can only officially comment on the approved plans will use them to work out how safe the building is relative to their predicted flood levels.

I have tried to do this using the height of the top of cliff behind the new building, which I have been promised that the roof of new building will be below.

With all the inconsistencies on the plans I couldn’t do it so I showed them to a qualified professional architect who for obvious reasons doesn’t wish to be named neither he nor I could work out the level of the bottom of the building to within 2 meters the lowest level being on the beach, the highest level still being liable to flooding.

His final comments were. “To build this dangerous ill conceived, badly designed structure that has the look and many of the features of some of the worst structures of the 1970s on that site is truly obscene.”

There has obviously been a further delay to work starting both on the cliff repairs and the temporary access road to the site both of which were due to start last month.
I can only presume that TDC won’t send me the up to date plans because the show something that they don’t want me to see, in view of the approved plans it’s hard to imagine that they could be worse.

Friday 2 November 2007

Book buying rambles with camera

If you stand on the cliff at Ramsgate and look to your right the furthest bit of coastline you can see is the town of Deal, on a clear day you can see Deal pier. I have a great affinity for our Deal neighbours having published several books about the Deal boatmen. Anyway I went to Deal yesterday and took a few pictures of Deal click here to see them the visit culminated in a visit to the Golden Hind bookshop click here to view their website their stock is entirely antiquarian and Kent topography. I bought a copy of The History of Deal by Stephen Pritchard 1864 with the intention of reprinting it when I get some contemporary pictures, any help with this would be appreciated.