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'Weather Here Wish You Were Lovely!'
A History of Holidaying in Ramsgate
By Bob Simmonds
A5 format, card cover, 90 printed pages.
‘I warn you against Ramsgate, which is a strip of London come out for an airing.’
George Eliot 1852.
Contents include a mix of pictures, adverts, stories and letters projecting a picture of what it was like to holiday in Ramsgate Past. Chapters: - The Bathing Machine Mystery, From birthday suit to Benjamin Beale’s bathing machine, Come on in, the water’s healthy, What precisely went on?, 1822, Sea Water Baths, 1864, Assembly Rooms, Libraries, 1891, On chairs…, The ‘Ayday of the Harristocracy and wot went arter, 1911, A place to stay, 1914, The Granville Hotel, The Comfort Inn (San Clu), 1927, The New England – but the Old Ramsgate, From Coastguard Cottages to Car Parks, The Marina, The Pier, 1950, The Royal Victoria Pavilion, Sunbeam Photographs and The Springboard of the 60s.
From the bathing machines of the 1700s to the casino, cafes and car parks of today Ramsgate has provided a great variety of attractions and entertainments for its visitors. This book offers a collection of extracts from tourist guides and books, newspaper articles, postcards, advertisements and letters that reveals something of this town's history as a seaside resort.
A brief discussion of the problems involved in local history research leads into a study of the bathing machine's introduction, the question of who invented it, who actually used it, and some interesting accounts of what actually happened in it.
The growth of the idea that seabathing was a healthy and curative experience are then looked at, with references to the medical experts involved, and the famous people like Marx, Engels, Darwin and Fry who came to Ramsgate for their health.
The rise in the popularity of seabathing and Ramsgate, through the publicity given to it by Jane Austen, Wilkie Collins and those mentioned above, resulted in the creation of numerous rituals, buildings and attendants to meet the needs of fashion and probity. The role of dippers, guides, chair attendants, beach vendors etc. is illustrated with extracts from contemporary documents and letters. Separate chapters look at the role of sea-water baths, assembly rooms and libraries, as the meeting places for the socially elite, whilst a further section reveals, through newspaper social columns, the large number or fashionable and aristocratic visitors to the town in the early 1800s.
This is then contrasted with the later popularity of Ramsgate amongst the less well-off, and reasons are suggested as to why this happened.
The variety of places where visitors could stay - from the Granville Hotel, through furnished rooms and boarding-houses, to an overnight bathing machine (in a cartoon only!) - are covered, with a detailed description of the life in and around the Granville Hotel, the San Clu, and the development of the Marina at the bottom of the cliffs.
A careful juxtaposition of engravings and old and new photographs shows the changes and developments that occurred with the arrival of the railway and the creation of the pier, Merrie England, the Royal Victoria Pavilion and the Marina swimming pool.
With the arrival of affordable foreign holidays the number of visitors to Ramsgate began to decline, and in 1969 a survey was carried out to find ways in which Ramsgate could be made more attractive. Some of the survey's recommendations are mentioned here. Many have been implemented over the years and have no doubt helped to inspire Ramsgate's recent renaissance.
Over a period of three weeks in August 1990 a group of scientists - commissioned by the Department of the Environment - made a study of 1,040 people who went swimming in the sea at Ramsgate, (along with a control group of 840 people who just sat on the beach and shouted 'You must be mad, I bet its freezing out there!').
Over 24% of the people who went into the sea reported that the experience had given them at least one symptom of gastrointestinal illness. It was also discovered that there was a significantly greater risk of eye/ear/nose/throat and respiratory illness among surfers and divers (in comparison with the paddlers, breast-strokers and the 'just standing around going brrrrrriiiitsccccoooold'ers).
The people who didn't go swimming reported minor bouts of boredom and a greater than usual stimulation of the oral glands associated with the consumption of cones containing vanilla ice-cream with a flake-like comestible of milk chocolate construction.
[Health Risks Associated with Bathing In Sea Water
Balarajan, R; Raleigh, VS; Yuen, P; Wheller, D; Machin, D
British Medical Journal. Practice Observed Edition BMJOAE, Vol. 303, No. 6815, p 1444-1445, December 1991. 1 tab, 5 ref. ]
All of which might have come as a bit of blow to a town whose motto is - Safety for the shipwrecked and health for the sick.
I say 'might' because, as most locals know, Ramsgate's motto has for years now been as related to the town itself as the Hippocratic oath is to present NHS doctors. These days the harbour is so full of sand, and the posh yachts of the really rather rich, that there is little room left to provide safety for the shipwrecked, although the lifeboat still does an excellent job rescuing weekend sailors from the results of their foolhardiness or inexperience.
Whilst improvements to the pumping of sewage into the sea may have helped to solve the problem revealed in the study of 1990, it is unlikely that people go to Ramsgate for the sake of their health. It is difficult to see that it would be a place to be particularly healthy in. For example, whilst the top 10% of the most socially deprived areas in the whole country include ten from Thanet, four of these are inRamsgate. Of the 23 wards in Thanet, the three that cover most of Ramsgate's town centre and residential areas are in the top six for the amount of recorded burglary. [Thanet Crime and Disorder Audit 2004].
It is not for nothing that new, upmarket housing developments, like those at West Cliff House and The Royal Courtyard, are built surrounded by tall metal fences with security gates.
The town no longer has a hospital, or a police station, or any of the other things that used to help create a healthy, caring environment in which to live.
But Ramsgate was once a place where people went for their health - and not just their health, but for their happiness and their fun, and for music and laughter and swimming and relaxation and games of cards and balls and bands and promenading and coloured lights and donkey rides and shrimps and rides and dances and shows and walking along the prom in the evening as a family, and stopping to buy an ice cream or a bag of chips, and, well, just enjoying the atmosphere and the lights and the other people who were also just walking along the prom…and…well, all sorts of things…
Perhaps Ramsgate is still like that, although it never seems to be when I'm there. The loud music from the 'Royal' tends to drown out any other possible entertainment. I get the impression that the only people who holiday in Ramsgate now are those who are tied by past memories, those who actually believe the publicity from the tourist board, and those who cannot afford to go anywhere else.
So there, I have had my grumpy old man's moan, and the rest of this booklet is full of adverts, stories, letters and books that help us to discover what having a holiday in Ramsgate was like in the past.
I have cut the introductions, interpretations and descriptions down to a minimum so that they can more clearly speak for themselves and reveal what a great place Ramsgate was…and could be again.