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Tag Archives: Kent

  • 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.

  • Kent in Photographs by Bryan Phillips

    We have the power

    Power down, Port Richborough and Pegwell. (Kent in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    Richborough in Kent is well-known for a number of reasons. One of these is its link to history and the Roman invasion. A large site of a Roman fort was discovered many years ago and it shows the evidence of underfloor heating along with structures that would have made a significant impact on anyone seeing the stronghold. Now run by English Heritage the fort still holds its magic with the feeling of treading on the very ground those Romans did so long ago.

    Another less well known location, now confined to history is Richborough power station. Our power in the UK is generated by a number of facilities across the country and until a few years ago, Richborough added to this, providing a well needed balance to the southern end of the chain. Now that there are the undersea cable links to France and other providers, the older power stations are no longer required. Richborough was therefore demolished but the site remains as an interconnection across the National Grid.

    The demolition was the subject of a local competition to select someone to push the button to start the process. This was won by a schoolboy but as the project was delayed he was left waiting for a while until he could claim his prize. The demolition of the towers was quite a talking point locally but the transformation of the site into a green energy supply link was enough for the clearance to be concluded. The image from Kent in Photographs shows a view before the demolition took place.

    Wetland habitat, Pegwell Bay. (Kent in Photographs, Amberley Publishing)

    On the doorstep of the towers is Pegwell Bay, a coastal nature reserve. It is a peaceful haven and great spot for bird watching as well as hosting picnic sites and leisure walks for anyone visiting. It is a great example of nature reclaiming its land as the area was a former hovercraft landing site and once abandoned, the greenery returned and with the mudflats and saltmarsh being rich in potential food, many wading birds can be seen at various times throughout the year. Several artefacts from the recent past can still be found such as steps, bollards and cats eyes but the basic transformation is relatively complete. It is said to have been visited by Vincent Van Gogh who remarked "The ground we walked on was completely covered with large grey stones, chalk and shells...the sea, as calm as a pond, reflecting the delicate grey sky."

    Pegwell is also the place where invaders have landed over centuries. Romans, Vikings and Christians are amongst the most notable latterly St Augustine in AD597 bringing Christianity to Britain for the first time. St Augustine also has a commemoration not far from the site in the form of a cross somewhat off the beaten track now with modern road incursions. Finally the area is able to show in its geology some of the history with ammonites found in the chalk which were alive some 80 million years ago, the area being at that time very much under water.

    All the above are very much available for locals and travellers alike and within easy reach for anyone around the south east coast of Kent.

    Bryan Phillips's new book Kent in Photographs is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Rochester by Philip MacDougall

    Another Chapter in the Secret History of the Medway Towns

    A general view of Rochester as seen from the north, with both the castle and cathedral clearly visible. (c. Ewan Cambell MacDougall, Secret Rochester, Amberley Publishing)

    Strange it must have been in December 1812, when a fleet of twenty-two warships gradually, over a period of a few days, slowly made its way up the River Medway to moor within view of Chatham, Gillingham and Rochester. I say strange, because none of those ships were flying British flags, as each flew aloft the ensign of the Imperial Russian navy. As with other episodes in the history of the Medway Towns that I have previously written about in Secret Chatham (2016), Secret Rochester (2019) and soon to be published Secret Gillingham book, this is another little-known local event, but one of great significance.

    So why had the Emperor of all Russias, Tsar Alexander I, sent to Chatham such a powerful battle fleet? Quite simply, Napoleon was poised to march on St Petersburg, the Russian capital and the home of the Imperial fleet. To prevent that fleet being captured, it had been sent out of the country, guided by several ships of the British Royal Navy.

    The Guildhall. (Secret Rochester, Amberley Publishing)

    Imagine Chatham, Gillingham and Rochester at the time. Suddenly, in their midst was a massive force of 10,000 Russian seamen, of which only a few spoke English. While, maybe, only the officers were usually allowed to go ashore, entertained by some of the wealthy families in the area and given frequent banquets at the Guildhall in Rochester. They must have been a regular sight in their immaculate gold braided uniforms. In particular, local merchants especially profited by their arrival, frequently called on board the Russian ships to open a market for both men and officers. Not that problems didn’t occur. To feed 10,000 men, huge quantities of flour and meat were required, sometimes purchased locally by the Admiralty’s Victualling Board, with supplies for local residents occasionally falling short.

    The nearest I have got to mentioning this fleet in the ‘Secret’ series is in writing about Dr William Burnett, a naval physician who was put in charge of caring for the sick and wounded of the Russian fleet. It was this that led me to find out more about that fleet and why it came to the Medway. One thing I certainly learnt from Burnett and the writings of other naval physicians: it was a fleet not in good health. Scurvy, typhus and smallpox were not uncommon, with extra hospital ships having to be laid on for the care of those in fever.

    In having touched, occasionally, on the presence of that fleet in the Medway, and which returned to St Petersburg in May 1814, it has encouraged me to undertake further research into the background of that fleet. This is something I am currently doing, so expect more from me on this subject in the future. Incidentally, when Secret Gillingham is published, this will represent my sixteenth book on the Medway area and I love to get feedback from my readers.

    Philip MacDougall's new book Secret Rochester is available for purchase now.

  • South East England Buses in the 1990s by David Moth

    Guildford & West Surrey Leyland Olympian 903 (F573 SMG) is seen outside Camerley railway station on 8 April 1995. (South East England Buses in the 1990s, Amberley Publishing)

    The 1990s was an interesting time for bus operations as it saw the consolidation of the bus operating industry where a lot of companies that had been privatised and sold to their management teams in the late 80s were sold on to the emerging big groups. Such as Badgerline, Drawlane, later British Bus, and after that, Arriva and Stagecoach. Also a lot of the operators still showed their NBC heritage by the large number of Bristol VRTs still in service. Maidstone & District and East Kent Road Car were both smart fleets with a high proportion of double deckers in their fleets. It was a real shame that these companies inevitably got swallowed up by the big groups and eventually lost their individuality. Southern Vectis remained independent until 2005 and was well regarded by enthusiasts for their attractive livery and vintage fleet.

    Seen on 30 July 1994 is Luton & District Bristol VRT 934 (SNV 934W). (South East England Buses in the 1990s, Amberley Publishing)

    Reading was an interesting place to visit as council owned Reading Buses had a smart fleet of various types of buses. Plus from 1994 onwards there was the independent operator Reading Mainline that were extremely unusual in that their entire operational fleet was composed of just one type – Routemasters.  Reading Mainline were taken over by Reading Buses in 1998 and operations ceased in 2000. Another operator using Routemasters was Timebus who for a short while operated Routemasters on services around Watford. Although their bus services didn't last long, Timebus is still in business as a private hire operator and still has several Routemasters today. Luton & District was another interesting former NBC operator that was formed from the part of United Counties that was transferred from Eastern National in the 1950s. They had an interesting fleet with a high proportion of double deckers and took over neighbouring London Country North West before being taken over themselves by British Bus in 1994. A particularly favourite fleet of mine was Southend Transport which had a fascinating, but aging fleet in the 1990s, with a very high proportion of second hand buses in its fleet, including several Routemasters, Leyland Olympians, Leyland Nationals and Bristol VRTs.

    All the photos in this book were taken by me in the 1990s for my own enjoyment and for my friends. Which is why some areas are very well represented, i.e. Kent and Southend, and some are very much over looked, i.e. Sussex and Oxfordshire.

    It is a matter of regret that I didn't keep the bus photos I took during two visits to Brighton in the 1990s and several photos taken in Kent and Oxford in 1992.

    David Moth's new book South East England Buses in the 1990s is available for purchase now.

  • Malting and Malthouses in Kent by James Preston

    When I have mentioned that I have been looking for malthouses the general reaction has been a blank look. Malt as a material is no longer understood. It has no relevance to generations that were not fed cod liver oil and malt or Virol! It might as a word appear on malt vinegar labels but has no meaning for most people. Even its connection with beer is not recognised. Beer emerges from a brewery, with a flavour of hops which is recognised in Kent because of the number of oast houses, but the fact that beer is made of malt and water is not understood by many. I have to explain that malt is made from barley which is germinated before being kilned to whatever degree is desired for the type of beer being produced. I then have to go on to describe the type of building used in the process, and what features would distinguish a malthouse from a hop oast.

    This is part of the reason that I wanted to put this information into book form, to make accessible for the first time for Kent what had happened to a once widespread industry that had disappeared from view. Another reason for publishing is that over the years I had accumulated a mass of miscellaneous notes relating to a wide number of malthouses, had photographs of most of the extant buildings, and it seemed appropriate to share my knowledge.

    Malting pic 1 Moving grain from the store to the steep using a traditional barrow. (Whitbread plc)

    The malting process in Kent was floor malting in which barley was soaked for a couple of days before being spread over a floor to germinate and sprout, being turned all the while to promote even growth and to prevent matting. Once the sprouts had reached roughly half an inch the green malt was kilned to stop growth and help convert the starch to sugars. The process determined the type of building utilised. This was usually long and with low ceilings to help with temperature control, with a kiln block at the opposite end to the soaking steep. The length of the building allowed the grain to be moved towards the kiln as it was turned on the floor. Early malthouses looked very similar to oasts, but had one distinguishing feature, other than the low ceilings, which was the very small usually shuttered windows which were also an aid in keeping temperature adjusted. Early kilns for making pale malt would, like oasts, have employed wooden slatted kilning floors covered with horse hair mats over open fire baskets. Later nineteenth century malthouses such as at Hadlow or Gravesend (now flats), Faversham (Tesco) and St Stephens, Canterbury (Barrett’s car sales) which can been clearly identified by their scale, utilised wire mesh kilning floors which allowed higher temperatures for dark malt.

    Malting pic 2 Perry Street Oast, 2011

    For those researching malthouses there are pre nineteenth century references in leases, marriage settlements and legal documents which give sparse information, usually the parish, name of owner, and sometimes, of the occupier. Locations are vague such as to the north of the London road. Identifying the locations in the field is difficult to impossible. As illustrated by the photographs in the book redundant malthouses were often converted into dwellings and have lost all features such as kilns. In nineteenth century newspaper sales advertisements for malthouses it was often stressed that they were suitable for conversion into cottages. Unfortunately many, particularly later eighteenth century and nineteenth century malthouses stood in urban areas, became valuable redevelopment sites, and have been demolished.

    The book is not intended to be a compendium of all that is known about malthouses in Kent. There were one or two malthouses in almost every parish over the centuries, and their enumeration would be tedious. The book sets out to describe the floor malting process as utilised in Kent (as distinct from pneumatic malting which is currently employed in Norfolk and elsewhere) and the buildings employed, and to try to explain the decline and disappearance of the industry from Kent. It also lists and illustrates those malthouses which remain, showing a progression in building form.

    I hope those with an interest in Kent’s industrial history will find the book a useful guide to this neglected area of our past and will use it to visit some of the sites. I have to caution though that access to the inside of buildings is only possible at Faversham at Tescos, Canterbury if buying a car and at Hythe, and even in these places most features have been removed.

    9781445653068

    James Preston's Malting and Malthouses in Kent is available for purchase now.

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