To get to grips with Ramsgate’s past, head back to Roman and Anglo-Saxon times, and the two famous landings that took place nearby. The first, according to legend, was of Hengist and Horsa, the Germanic brothers who helped establish the Anglo-Saxon’s in Kent. Next in 597, came the Roman St Augustine who re-introduced Christianity to this part of Britain.
In the beginning, Ramsgate itself was just a collection of fishermen’s cottages clustered around a harbour. But by the end of the seventeenth century a burgeoning shipping trade saw the port growing in importance. Four ‘Ends’, or roadways, became established, with houses springing up alongside. These roads crossed where the centre of town is now.
In 1820 King George IV set off from Ramsgate with the Royal Squadron en route to Hanover. He was so impressed by the hospitality he received at the Kent port that he decreed it be declared a ‘Royal Harbour’ – a status that’s unique in mainland Britain.
Ramsgate largely developed in the form we know today from 1749 onwards. It was intended as a Harbour of Refuge, following a violent storm in 1748. Later, during the Napoleonic wars, British troops were quartered at Ramsgate before embarking for the continent. Climb up Madeira Walk to Ramsgate’s East Cliff to see Wellington Crescent, a reminder of this period.
Down at the waterfront, don’t miss the Sailors’ Church and, not far away, the Maritime Museumbuilding – all part of Ramsgate’s sea-based heritage.
The eighteenth-century craze for sea-bathing fuelled Ramsgate’s development. Later, in the 1820s, the town became famous as a fashionable watering-hole after the future queen, Princess Victoria, stayed several times. She went on to buy the acclaimed painting ‘Ramsgate Sands’ by W. P. Frith, perhaps as a memento of happy childhood days.
The first railway came in 1846. Eventually there was a station on the sands and ever-increasing numbers of visitors flocked to the town. Ramsgate’s guest list is long and full of famous names: artists George du Maurier, James Tissot and Vincent Van Gogh; writers Wilkie Collins and Jane Austen, to name just a few.
There are more famous names too. Over on the West Cliff, near Nelson Crescent, the pretty Spencer Square and Regency Crescent, you can see the house of renowned architect Augustus Pugin, designer of the interiors of the Houses of Parliament and leader of the Gothic Revival. He built his house, the Grange looking out over the sea, and the beautiful St Augustine’s Church alongside.
Back on the East Cliff, the celebrated Jewish philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore lived for many years at East Cliff Lodge, dying in 1885 at the age of 101. Although the main house has gone, the charming Regency Italianate greenhouse in Sir Moses’ grounds can still be seen in the King George VI Memorial Park.
Today’s Ramsgate bears witness to this history. Locals have a strong sense of identity and independence of character. An upbeat, lively town, with a growing café culture, Ramsgate knows it can look to the future by building confidently on its impressive past.