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Bradshaw’s Guide


The harbour, Ramsgate, England. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress

Ramsgate was little better than a mere fishing Tillage before the close of the last century, and all the noble streets and terraces stretching seaward are the growth of the present. Its prosperity has been literally built on a sandy foundation, more permanent than the adage would teach us to believe, for the sands, which are really unequalled for extent, were long the prominent attraction of visitors. In 1759 was commenced the pier, built chiefly of stone from the Purbeck and Portland quarries, involving an expenditure of nearly £600,000. This stupendous structure affords an excellent marine promenade of nearly three thousand feet in length. The form is that of a polygon, with the two extremities about two hundred feet apart. The harbour comprises an area of nearly fifty acres, and can receive vessels of five hundred tons at any state of the tide. The first object that arrests attention at the entrance to the eastern branch of the pier is the obelisk, fifty feet in height, which commemorates the embarkation of George IV. from here on his Hanoverian excursion in 1821. The next is a tablet, at the octagonal head, setting forth the name of the engineer and the dates of the erection. Opposite is the lighthouse, casting at night a brilliant reflection over the dark waste of waters, and forming a striking feature in the scenery of the coast. Far away, like a phosphoric gleam upon the channel, is the floating beacon called “the Gull,11 which, with two smaller ones near Deal, becomes visible after dusk from the pier. Eight seamen and a captain, who has only occasionally a month’s leave of absence, are entrusted with the management of the beacon, and in this desolate and dangerous region they are doomed to battle with the elements at all seasons, cheered alone by the reflection that through their vigilance thousands are perhaps annually preserved from the perils of shipwreck. The Goodwin sands, traditionally said to have been the estate of earl Godwin, father of King Harold, form the roadstead called the Downs, and extend from the North Foreland to Deal, but as they are continually shifting under the influence of the winds and waves, their exact locality can never be ensured.

Nowhere is the accommodation for bathers more perfect than at Ramsgate, whether the green bosom of the Channel be selected for a plunge, or a private bath chosen instead. Most of these establishments, where baths can be had at all hours, are elegantly fitted up with hot air stoves, luxuriant ottomans, and refectories and reading-rooms adjacent. A communication with the upper portions of the town, built upon the high range of cliffs, is formed by two convenient flights of stone steps, called Augusta Starrs and Jacob’s Ladder. The lawny esplanade that has been formed before the crescents facing the sea enables a promenader to obtain an ample sea view, and the Downs being continually studded with shipping, the picture is generally extremely varied and animated. Some elegant churches in the florid Gothic style, and numerous places of dissenting worship, are to be met with in convenient situations about the town, and in Harbour-street is the new Town Hall, erected in 1839, with a capacious market underneath, teeming with eveiy kind of comestible of various degrees of excellence.

Boarding-houses, hotels, and dining-rooms are in the usual watering-place abundance and the limits of expenditure may be adjusted to the depth of every purse. The bazaars and libraries provide evening amusement in abundance, through the agency of music and raffles; and though the books partake of the elder Minerva press school of composition, and the raffling is generally for articles of indifferent worth, the excitement attendant upon both is quite sufficient for sea-side denizens.

No one of course would think of stopping a week at Ramsgate without going to Pegwell Bay, where the savoury shrimps and country-made brown bread and butter are supposed to have been brought to the very highest degree of perfection. And for a quiet stroll in another direction there is Broadstairs, two miles to the north-east, a very agreeable excursion for a day, and an excellent plan is to go by the path across the cliffs, past the elegant mansion of Sir Moses Montefiore, and return by the sands at low water.

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