Until a few weeks ago the only other things I knew about Margate was that it was where J.M. Turner painted many of his greatest seascapes (and visited his lover); then a hundred-and-something years later Tracey Emin grew up there and made different art; plus Margate is at the end of a good coastal walk from Broadstairs. But a recent work trip has opened my eyes to the growing number of other reasons to visit this newly un-faded Kentish seaside resort.
From a rapid lunch-break visit to the cracking little town museum in an old police station I learned that Margate used to be a one-family town, with the venerable Cobbs controlling not only the local bank and shipping trade, but also running the town brewery. It was almost certainly a far-sighted member of this clan that noted the prosperity being gained by Victorian spa towns and persuaded a local doctor to improbably proclaim that the sea water at Margate had healing properties. After the local newspaper (editor Mr A.N. Cobb, I’m sure) confirmed this medical fact in the public mind with the statistic that people lived longer in Margate than anywhere else in England, well-healed crowds started to arrive from London and beyond to cure their gout, boils and syphillis.
Contrary to my understanding of Victorian values, much of this bathing was enjoyed in the nude. While the Royal Seabathing Hospital’s ‘modesty wagons’ enabled patients to enter the water unseen from the beach, Peeping Toms set up telescopic observation posts along the curve of the bay.
Today Margate is where artists and their hipster followers move to enjoy the sea air and avoid London property prices. As a result, fruity craft ales far out-number watery lagers at the bar pumps. We enjoyed a pint at the friendly Lifeboat, replete with decent live music even on a Monday night, plus the seafront Glass Jar, where the range of ales was too much for our last orders visit.
A second hurried lunchtime excursion ticked off the Turner Contemporary gallery, which was fun and featured Laura Ford’s clever ‘Penguins’ (image above), separated from their natural habitat, partially human, and conveying a sense of foreboding about climatic change.
All in all a place to come back to. Although, of course, everyone is ultimately waiting for Dreamland, the vast J.G. Ballard-esque amusement hotel by the train station, to fully re-open and then the crowds really will return to Margate, but that’s another blog.