Margate is fast becoming the new Shoreditch.
That is to say, I know quite a few people who have left the trendier parts of London recently and set up home in this most traditional of seaside towns. One of them being my dear friend and PR supremo Donna Lambert, of Lamb to Slaughter. It’s also a favourite haunt of Tracy Emin, more of which later.
So with summer fast coming to an end, I thought I would pay my respects to the great British seaside and find out exactly what Margate was up to, and why bearded Hoxton was heading south.
As I sat on the train, the landscape suddenly changed at Faversham, and became what I always think of as true Kent countryside. Gently rolling hills, fields and orchards. I also caught sight of a cluster of half timbered buildings, and reminded myself that rural Kent is home to some fine domestic Tudor architecture.
First impressions at Margate were of families spilling out of the train, trailing noisy buckets and spades, and of the impressive but neglected vaulted station entrance that spoke of grander times. And of course, Margate was in its acme as a seaside resort in the Georgian and Victorian period.
I was soon exploring the town and stopped to admire a half timbered house that turned out to be one of the Isle of Thanet’s oldest buildings, the Tudor House. Built around 1525, it is currently having its kitchen garden restored. The house is in extraordinary condition, with a fine Tudor plaster ceiling and the original ships timber floors. I couldn’t help feeling they could have done with some of our Within ottomans for a bit of storage!
An inveterate shopper, I then started to explore the many retro antique and clothing shops. Oh joy. The choice and quality of goods was tantalizing and one deco glass rose bowl, an artichoke bottle stopper, two deco glass candlesticks and two vintage dresses later, we stopped shopping and went to have a look at the retro designed holiday flatlets that are springing up. My favorite one had a space hopper in the sitting room.
Margate clearly attracts quirky people, from the volunteer virginal player at the Tudor House, to the retro dealer who swore he was born originally in Dickens time, the lady who runs an embroidery club that delights in hiding rude words in the middle of their embroidery (I kid you not) and then there’s Jane Bishop.
Jane Bishop is the Walpole Hotel’s Fiefdom Chieftain, so named by Hotel Inspector Alex Polizzi. Built in 1914, this bit of seafront splendor is a veritable time machine of family paraphernalia, ancient (but working) lifts, and late Edwardian formal grandeur, laced with Tracy Emin.
Yes dear reader, ever since Tracy took her mum to the Walpole for a cream tea, she has championed the place, donated her art to it and drawn on lots of napkins, now all displayed in the dining room, watched over by an enormous pop art canvass of Jane. You really couldn’t make it up.
I regret that I didn’t get the chance to swim in the enormous and bracing salt water tidal pool, passagiata through Cliftonville, see a Winter Gardens show or scream on the oldest roller coaster in the UK at recently restored Dreamland. And let’s not forget the extraordinary Turner Contemporary Art Gallery, named after the man himself, who completed over 100 paintings of the Margate seascape.
But I think I must bring my kids here. It’s quirky kitsch heaven, peppered with wonderful original architecture and on a sunny day, exactly what put the Great into Britain. All I need now is a knotted hanky and my dad’s string vest.
To plan your own visit to Margate, visit http://www.visitthanet.co.uk