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Townley House in Ramsgate
This History provided by Paul Nettleingham of Blackburns of Broadstairs following his two decades of years of working inside Townley House.
Townley House must surely rate as Ramsgate's finest architectural masterpiece, an outstanding memorial to the design ability of Mrs. Mary Townley.
A chance meeting in a cathedral city coffee house some years ago brought a reminder of a remarkable woman who was responsible in the later years of the eighteenth century for designing many of the elegant buildings which still give grace and charm to Ramsgate.
This encounter took place in the early 1970`s when the late Leslie Hogbin, Ramsgate estate agent and auctioneer, was visiting his daughter in Lincoln. He was introduced to a Miss Mary Townley Sugden, who proudly informed him that it was an ancestor of hers, Mrs. Mary Townley who designed Townley House. Miss Sugden, herself a schoolgirl at Townley house in the Edwardian era, added that she possessed a written memoir of Mrs. Townley, compiled by another member of the family in 1927. By this account, Mrs. Townley ( nee Mary Gosling , born in 1753 ) Sir Joshua Reynolds, she shone as an artist and had a flair for architectural design which made her unique among women of her day. After her marriage to James Townley, an eminent proctor, in the 1770`s, the couple established themselves in Ramsgate, then a small port of growing importance.
The money acquired by Mr. Townley in business was mostly invested in the construction of buildings designed by his wife. These included some barracks for the government which subsequently became dwelling houses forming part of Spencer Square, a considerable portion of Albion Place and the Mews at the rear, and the commencement of Royal Crescent. But it is, of course, Townley House that is the gem in Ramsgate's collection of late Georgian and Regency buildings. Built in 1792 the large and commodious mansion soon became the centre of social life in Ramsgate.
Mrs. Townley was a prominent pillar of local society and many were the balls and masquerades given at Townley House, attended by nobility and gentry of the county. Cards, at which she excelled, were a feature of the regular entertainment over which she presided, and to accommodate the overspill of Townley Castle was built opposite. It later became a boys school around the turn of the century and Vincent Van Gogh is rumoured to have applied to be a freelance art teacher there during his stay in Ramsgate. This structure was badly damaged during German bombing in WW1 on 22nd August 1917 when eight people were killed as giant Gotha bombers dropped twenty eight bombs on the town. What was left of the building has sadly long since been demolished.
William IV was among the celebrated visitors that the Townleys entertained and during the 1820`s, the Duchess of Kent, together with the infant Princess Victoria ( later to become Queen ) stayed at Townley House for several months.
The Townley`s family consisted of eight children, two girls and six boys and it was after the deaths of her eldest and youngest sons, James ( 1808 ) and Poyntz Stepney ( 1810 ) , that Mrs Townley lost much of her fondness for fashion and gaiety. Two of her other sons, Henry and Charles became devout Christians and it was not long before the once gay soirees were replaced by evening readings of scriptures and the Bible preferred to bezique. Following the death of her husband, she took an active part in the church in Ramsgate until her death on March 19th 1839, in her 86th year.
In 1840 Townley House became a young ladies boarding school and continued more or less in this capacity until the end of World War 1. A few years later it was converted into five flats and prior to the Second World War the name was changed to Townley Mansions.
During and after the War the building deteriorated rapidly and soon became derelict and in 1966 there was the threat that it would be razed to the ground by a local developer and a petrol filling station put on the site !! The building registered as a Grade Two Starred Listed Building and the potential buyers pulled out. The property was bought by my uncles, the Farley brothers, and restoration was started and I had the pleasure of ensuring its upkeep during my time there, winning a Ramsgate Town Award for our efforts.
When a grant was applied for the repainting, the experts that the council had employed decided that the building fascia should be painted dark and light GREEN, despite the fact that there isn't a single picture of Townley House with such a colour scheme. So it was painted in it's usual white !
I have also come across many personal stories, probably the most interesting of which came from a very elderly lady who left for Australia many years ago who told us that when it was a girls school there was a brass plaque embedded into the floor at the top of the magnificent spiral staircase which said that at that point that the young Princess Victoria, later Queen Victoria, had dropped a full inkwell over the floor and was made to scrub it clean. Despite her age the lady gave us a hand - drawn plan of where the plaque had been.
And Townley House certainly has it's own ghost, it's scared quite a few in it's time ! Mysterious crashes, ghostly footsteps load enough to make two grown men run out of the building, strange foreboding presence feelings, and most famously a single ghostly white hand floating through the air touching Mr. Harold Farley on the shoulder and then disappearing through a wall, making him run through the building and leaving him quivering, speechless in a chair, so bad we all thought he had suffered a heart attack. There are people who won't even enter the building, or those who certainly don't want to be in there alone. There is one room at the back of the building on the first floor which seems to be the cause of most of the happenings, it's unnaturally cold all year round. The tunnels under the building fanning out in all directions hold there own secrets, one linking the main building to the ill fated Townley Castle with it's own tales of gruesome hangings, others rumoured to go to St. George's Church. So much has happened in the building it's no wonder it's haunted.
The headstone now against the front of the building was originally found in the back garden area. It was moved when the restoration work was started. The Inscription reads :
Here Boxer lies after years of faithful service. He came to an untimely end April 19th 1850
For many years we were not sure of the identity of " Boxer ". We guessed that he was a dog but no one was quite sure. Then in 1998 I was sent the text from a book currently in Australia which revealed all. It was the housekeepers dog when Townley House was a boarding school. A poem written in 1839 by one of the pupils gives us the details.
" For Boxer "
Townley House Repository and School Mirror 1839
I am a very handsome dog
My master tells me so
Though me he now and then does flog
For what I do not know
I have a collar which I wear
When I go for a walk
And the young ladies kind and dear
Do often to me talk
Go further Boxer some do say
When I too near them sit
Youíre not agreeable today
I donít like you a bit
Others more kind feed me with cake
And call me their dear friend
They love me for my masterís sake
And say it neíer shall end
Some order me to shake a paw
And some to make a bow
And when they ask me civilly
I donít care what I do
But now Iíve told you all I can
Iíll wish you a good night
And go and ask the servant Ann
To chain me up quite tight
Writer - King