Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: Andy Bull

  • Secret Ramsgate by Andy Bull

    Pugin and Montefiore: building Jerusalem in Ramsgate

    Two remarkable men with a great deal in common but a key religious difference were building empires at opposite ends of Ramsgate in the 1840s. I explore their stories in my new book, Secret Ramsgate.

    On the West Cliff, Augustus Welby Pugin, best known for designing the interiors to the Palace of Westminster, was creating St Augustine’s church, complete with graveyard, priest’s house, cloister and school room, plus a house for himself, The Grange. His church is his monument and final resting place.

    St Augustine's Church alongside The Grange, Pugin's family home. (c. Nick Barham, Secret Ramsgate, Amberley Publishing)

    On the East Cliff, Sir Moses Montefiore, stockbroker, campaigner, philanthropist and one of the richest men in England, had made his home in East Cliff Lodge. He went on to create alongside it a synagogue, a theological college, and a mausoleum in which he and his wife Judith are buried.

    Both men were drawn to Jerusalem, and both are buried facing east, towards the holy city. Montefiore travelled there often, and constructed a famous Kent-style windmill outside the old city, along with alms-houses, designed and built by Ramsgate craftsmen. After Pugin’s death, his son Edward built St. Augustine’s Monastery in Jerusalem.

    The big difference between these two men – towering figures in Victorian England – was that Pugin was Catholic and Montefiore was Jewish. Yet in a way this difference united them. Both had to fight prejudice and discrimination, both in Ramsgate and in their wider lives.

    They both had foreign roots: Pugin’s father fled France at the time of the revolution, Montefiore was born in Livorno, Italy, and both chose Ramsgate to realise their great visions. Both were seeking to re-create Jerusalem in Ramsgate.

    Yet, there is no record that they ever met.

    Today, in Ramsgate, the legacies of these two great men are widely divergent.

    Pugin’s church now houses the Shrine of St Augustine and National Pugin Centre, and is hence the official place to honour the saint’s mission to establish Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England. After a period of decline and neglect, Pugin’s creation is carefully nurtured, and his reputation has never been higher. Support from the Heritage Lottery Fund has enabled the establishment of the visitor centre, a place for education and research, in the original schoolroom. It is visited by pilgrims, Pugin enthusiasts and scholars. His house, The Grange, has been restored by the Landmark Trust as a holiday home.

    Ramsgate Synagogue built by Sir Moses Montefiore. (c. Nick Barham, Secret Ramsgate, Amberley Publishing)

    On East Cliff it is a very different story. East Cliff Lodge was badly damaged while occupied by the army during the Second World War, then sold to Ramsgate council in 1952 and demolished in 1954. Only the outbuildings survive today. The extensive grounds are the public George VI park. The synagogue is behind high walls and locked gates, and services are only held there occasionally. The theological college was also demolished.

    Not everyone in Ramsgate approved of what Pugin was doing in Ramsgate. In many ways he was a prophet without honour in his home town. He was a controversial, and sometimes hated figure here, and there were outbreaks of violence directed against him.

    In 1845 a naval man and staunch Anglican, Lieutenant Hutchinson, of The Shrubbery, Vale Square, went into battle against Pugin. He raised £8,000 and commissioned George Gilbert Scott to build a Church of England rival to St Augustine’s Christ Church in Vale Square. The two churches rose simultaneously, almost in sight of each other.

    In November 1850, Ramsgate was swept up in a national crisis known as the Papal Aggression, a reaction to the restoration of a Catholic Church hierarchy in England. Anglicans across the country felt under attack.

    In Ramsgate, there were anti-Catholic posters everywhere, Brewer’s drays trundled around with ‘No Popery’ scrawled on the beer casks they carried, and mobs gathered in the streets. While Pugin was away in London, a gang carrying an effigy of the Pope attempted to march on The Grange. They were turned back by police but Pugin’s wife was ‘much frightened’. Some accounts have his house being pelted with excrement, the gateposts graffitied, and Pugin’s children and servants abused in the street.

    The Montefiore Windmill, Jerusalem, based on the Hereson flourmill on the East Cliff estate. (c. Ralf Roletschek under GNU Free Documentation License 1.2, Secret Ramsgate, Amberley Publishing)

    When Moses and Judith Montefiore moved in to East Cliff Lodge in 1822, having such a hugely successful financier and philanthropist in the town made Ramsgate the centre of the Jewish world, and a focus for the international Jewish community.

    In 1833 Sir Moses built a synagogue, between Honeysuckle Road and Dumpton Park Drive, and close to East Cliff Lodge. After his wife Judith’s death, in 1862, he added a mausoleum, in which she was buried, alongside the synagogue. It is a replica of Rachel’s tomb, which is on the road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and is a place of pilgrimage for both Jews and Muslims.

    As well as bringing Jerusalem to Ramsgate, the Montefiores also took something of Ramsgate to the Holy Land. The Mishkenot Sha’ananim almshouses they built, in one of the first Jewish neighbourhoods to be established outside the walls of the Old City, used decorative ironwork specially imported from G. S. Culver’s East Kent Metalwork factory in Ramsgate.

    The landmark Montefiore windmill, constructed close by, was based on the Hereson flourmill located on the East Cliff estate. Once shipped to Jaffa, it took forty men and a fleet of camels four months to transport it to Jerusalem. Sir Moses built the mill in order to break the Arab monopoly on flour and to provide work for Jews outside the Old City walls.

    Of East Cliff Lodge, only the Grade II stable yard and Grade II* glass house remain, on the clifftop at the end of Montefiore Avenue.

    Following Sir Moses’s death, on 28 July 1885, thousands lined the streets from East Cliff Lodge to the synagogue. In his will, he left a sum of money to Pugin’s parish of St Augustine.

    Andy Bull's new book Secret Ramsgate is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Margate - 'The remarkable secret life of Turner’s Mrs Booth' by Andy Bull

    On the face of it, there aren’t many secrets about J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851). His Margate connection is very well-known. The Turner Contemporary gallery, built by the harbour at the very spot where he lodged, makes the link between Turner and Margate very clear and evident. He was sent to school here, and returned many times in later life, painting the sunsets which he called ‘the loveliest in Europe’.

    Turner Contemporary. (c. Bejamin Beker, Secret Margate, Amberley Publishing)

    Yet for my book Secret Margate I discovered a very powerful, personal story, concerning the person Turner lived with in Margate: Sophia Caroline Booth.

    Today we know Mrs Booth’s name, and that she was his landlady, but very little else about her. The view from the Turner Contemporary is the one the artist saw from her home, Harbour House, on Bank Side Quay.

    When Sophia and Turner met, she was soon to be widowed for a second time, and twenty years his junior. A relationship developed, which Turner chose to keep secret. Mrs Booth’s story deserves to be better known, and she should be acknowledged not just as a footnote in a great man’s life, but as the remarkable woman she was. Turner and Mrs Booth lived together for eighteen years, for the bulk of them in Margate.

    One small clue in the town hints at a tragic, little-known story about Sophia, and suggests that there is much more to be discovered about her. That clue is on her gravestone in St John the Baptist church at the southern end of Margate High Street.

    Sophia Booth's grave at St John the Baptist. (c. Nick Barham, Secret Margate, Amberley Publishing)

    While Turner is buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, Sophia’s name, almost completely obliterated by time, appears at the very bottom of a gravestone headed by the name of her son, John Pound Booth, ‘The beloved and only son of John and Sophia Caroline Booth, who died June 26th 1832 in the [and here the figure is obliterated by time] year of his age.’

    If that figure were legible, it would record that John Pound Booth was only six when he died, of cholera, which swept the town that year, and may also have infected his mother. His death was not the first tragedy to scar the life of Sophia Booth.

    Sophia was born Sophia Nollte, to parents of German immigrant descent, in Dover 1799. She married her first husband, a nineteen-year-old Margate fisherman called Henry Pound, at St John the Baptist on 3 February 1818 when she was twenty-two. They had two sons, Joseph Henry and Daniel. This marriage was to prove tragically short. In the early hours of 22 March 1821, Henry Pound and his brother set out from Margate harbour in the Queen Galley, a small fishing boat, with five others. Returning that afternoon in rough weather, the boat was caught on the treacherous Margate Sands and broke up. All lives were lost. The tragedy left seven young children fatherless, and the Kentish Gazette published an appeal for charitable donations ‘with a view to alleviating the distress of the surviving relatives which in several respects is very great’.

    Three years later, the widowed Sophia suffered a further tragedy, when her five-year-old son Joseph died. Widowed and again bereaved, Sophia struggled to cope. Little wonder then, that only the next year she married the much older John Booth, who described himself as ‘a gentleman of Margate’. She was twenty-six, he was sixty-three. Within a year they had a son, John Pound Booth, whose tragic end is recorded at the top of the gravestone described above.

    Deeply concerned for his wife’s health, John Booth amended his will, leaving the substantial sum intended for his now-dead son to her, saying that this was ‘in consideration for the bad state of my wife Sophia Caroline Booth’s health and in consequence of the lamented death of my son John Pound Booth’.

    The Shell Lady - Anne Carrington's tribute to Sophie Booth. (c. Nick Barham, Secret Margate, Amberley Publishing)

    When Sophia and Turner met, she was living with her elderly second husband at Harbour House. When Mr Booth died, Sophia was only thirty-four, but already twice widowed and mourning the loss of two sons. Turner was also recently bereaved: still deeply affected by the death, in 1829, of his father William, to whom he was enormously close. William had worked as his son’s studio assistant for thirty years, and Turner suffered bouts of depression following his passing.

    Turner would travel down to Margate on the so-called Husbands’ Boat, used by the men of London at the weekends to join their families who were staying, or living, in the healthier air of Margate.

    He clearly adored Sophia, wrote her love poems and gave her sketches, but did he ever paint her? The Tate has a work described as A Sleeping Woman, perhaps Mrs Booth and some experts believe that the erotic sketches Turner produced in his last twenty years were inspired by his love of Mrs Booth.

    The relationship seems to have suited them both very well. Sophia was financially independent and undemanding, and Turner was almost entirely wrapped up in his art. Sophia seems to have stepped into the emotionally and practically supportive role previously filled by Turner’s father. She died twenty-seven years after the artist, who succumbed to cholera in 1851.

    Sophia does have a public tribute in Margate. At the far end of the harbour wall is a modern sculpture of a shell lady entitled Mrs Booth. The 12 ft bronze was created by Anne Carrington, who says of it: ‘The sculpture is a scaled-up version of the tiny shell lady ornaments which are sold in the souvenir shops on Margate sea front. What I like about this sculpture is its unlikely size and setting as the shell lady is granted all the civic respect of a local hero.’

    Andy Bull's new book Secret Margate is available for purchase now.

2 Item(s)