THE EAST CLIFF, WHERE REGENCY, VICTORIAN AND EDWARDIAN RAMSGATE COLLIDE.
Not much has changed along the East Cliff, from Madeira Walk to Granville Theatre since the end of WWII. Small things have come and gone but the majority of the buildings, their design, and even the road layouts remain much the same as they did at the time the old photographs were taken.
This was a very well to do hotel and the site of several banquets hosted by the Duke of Wellington, where he often brought news of the War. It was built around the start of the 1800s. The area behind the Albion Hotel was a high cliff with no access to the East Cliff and, like the Royal Parade, it was changed dramatically in the late 1890s when Madeira Walk was built, giving greater access between the two cliffs. After the demolition of the Albion Hotel, the current building was erected in 1897 and would be the National Provincial Bank, which became the NatWest Bank and is now Pizza Express. James J. J. Tissot stayed and painted in the original Albion Hotel in 1876.
Keeping Pizza Express to your right, walk up Madeira Walk. It is best to stay on the left side, for a good view of the waterfall.
MADEIRA WALK AND ALBION GARDENS
In 1894 The Borough Council of Ramsgate decided to change the town’s appearance from that of a busy fishing port to one with picturesque gardens and promenades. This involved linking the harbour to the East Cliff, by demolishing a section of Albion Hotel and creating Madeira Walk.
James Pulham and son built the stratified Pulhamite ‘rocks’ along either side of the road. There is also a picturesque waterfall which you can walk over on a little footbridge in Albion Gardens. Albion Gardens belonged to part of the estate of Albion House, existing at a time before Madeira Walk had been built. There is a World War I memorial at the top of the stairs leading into the gardens. You can also see house sized gaps among the buildings here, now carparks. These were houses and hotels bombed during World War Two.
It is a delightful small public garden, ideal for a quick rest or for picnics with views of the harbour. The gardens are also home to a rare species of newt and a bat colony.
Continuing up the road, you will see Albion House.
Albion House was built 1791/2. Mary Townley purchased the property c.1810. This was sold in 1839 at the time of her death. Mary Townley was one of England’s earliest female architects. The Duchess of Kent, with her daughter Princess Victoria, later Queen Victoria, stayed at Albion House from September 1835 to January 1836.
The house was again sold in 1900 by Montague Kingsford, a solicitor, to Ramsgate Council who used it as offices until 1974 when it transferred to the ownership of Thanet Council. In November 2014 it reopened as a boutique hotel.
KENT STEPS AND ALBION CAFÉ
Looking to the right of the road, you can see Kent Steps. This was once the only way to get from the harbour to the East Cliff, without having to walk through the town centre. Essentially, the original Madeira Walk. If you walk down these steps, you will come out at the Royal Victoria Pavilion, now Wetherspoon’s flagship location.
The building at the top of Kent Steps was called Albion Café. It was one of the oldest, continuously running cafés in Ramsgate, having been in operation for almost 200 years, before closing in 2016.
Keep walking up Madeira Walk and you will reach Wellington Crescent.
As you walk into Wellington Crescent from Madeira walk, you can see the Edwardian lift to the right, built in 1912. One of two surviving cliff lifts, this is still working and operates during the tourist season.
Looking left, you can see the homes built in the same Regency style as Nelson Crescent on the West Cliff. East Cliff’s Wellington Crescent was also constructed in the early 1800s, during a time of domestic expansion as the town became increasingly popular for the ‘well-to-do’. The sweeping, balustraded buildings bordering the crescent are original to this period and are Grade II listed. During World War II, a fighter plane crashed through the front rooms of some of the houses along the crescent furthest to the left.
Wilkie Collins also stayed at number 27, as well as having stayed at Nelson Crescent on the opposite cliff. Samuel Taylor Coleridge stayed at numbers 3, 7, 28, and 29 in the 1830s.
Opposite these buildings, the area of the crescent on the cliff top has been home to many gun emplacements throughout both World Wars. Beneath the ground is a series of tunnels which served HMS Fervent; a naval base of operations throughout WWII and used as shelters from air raids in both World Wars. Above ground you can see the band stand and surrounding walls, which are also Grade II listed, with the band stand having been there since WWII.
Walking on from here, we come to Victoria Parade and the original toll booth, now a kiosk.
Now the Toll Gate Kiosk, looking very similar now as it did then. Built in the 1860s, probably in conjunction with Granville House and the privatisation of this stretch of clifftop.
Originally a toll gate to ensure only the wealthy could walk along the promenade. In the photo above, notice the lack of the Granville Theatre and San Clu Hotel. Granville House appears to be newly built here and without its later fascia, when it became a hotel in 1869. Photo is likely to be from 1866-1869.
The toll gate appears to have been in use for a short period of time. Later photos of the site show it either without the fence and turnstiles, or with a moveable trellis fence.
This hints at either the toll only being active during the brief period where Granville House was being sold as individual holiday villas, to give the impression of a well-to-do area, or possibly it was only tolled during festivals and events.
The Granville is a Grade II listed building, built in 1866 by Edward Welby Pugin, son of Augustus Pugin who designed ‘Big Ben’ etc., altered after 1873 and again c.1900. It’s in the Gothic revival style, with later Neo-Georgian details. It was originally built as a series of holiday villas, each the size of a small mansion. The peak of each roof shows the size of each villa. Pugin was unable to sell these properties and in 1873, he filed for bankruptcy. One Mr. Edmund Davis purchased the site and converted the building from houses to a hotel, adding facilities such as the ballroom and the 25 different types of baths.
At the rear of the site was the ballroom and at the front right is a bar currently waiting for someone to give it the love and attention it needs to bring it back to life. There is an original feature in this room, from E. Pugin; a highly stylised and intricately designed fireplace, shown above.
During the height of its popularity in the late Victorian Era, the Granville Hotel had its own named destination on London trainlines to Ramsgate. It is thought there was a tunnel from the hotel down to the sands coming out in one of the properties on the seafront but was closed when the Granville Theatre was built. Much of the lower prom was named after the hotel and became an addition to the entertainment at the former railway site.
During the First World War it was used as the Canadian Special Hospital for soldiers from 1915- 1917. The building was badly damaged in 1940 and partly demolished since. The front of the building still stands and is currently private apartments.
Across the road from The Granville is Granville Theatre, named after the house.
The Granville Theatre was founded in 1947 and is located on Victoria Parade, East Cliff, Ramsgate, with views of the Royal Harbour, where it replaced the old Granville Pavilion that was damaged beyond restoration during World War II. Soon after the war the borough engineer, R.D. Brimmell, and architect W. Garwood, decided to reinvent the space with all of the materials from the old pavilion, due to a general shortage of goods in the post-war years. Originally known as ‘The New Granville Theatre’, its name derives from the nearby former Granville Hotel designed by Edward Welby Pugin, son of Augustus Pugin who designed ‘Big Ben’ etc., architect of the Houses of Parliament, as an honour to George Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl of Devonshire. It cost c.£10,000 to create the only cinematic and theatrical venue in town, with the declaration of its opening given by the Mayor of Ramsgate, Alderman S.E. Austin, in the summer of 1947. In May 1986 the cinema became the first to show films on Sundays. The Granville is now comprised of an auditorium with two cinema screens, performance space for lectures and main stage for in-house and visiting productions. It is under the patronage of the Laurence Olivier Award-winning local actress and Oscar-nominee, Brenda Blethyn, OBE and Honorary Freeman Ralph Hoult, OBE.
Walking back towards the Toll Gate Kiosk, cross the road and turn left to go down Augusta Steps.
Ramsgate was a busy garrison town in the years throughout the Napoleonic Wars from 1803-1815. Tens-of-thousands of troops trained, stayed, and embarked for France. Though little trace remains of this period in the surviving buildings, many roads and areas are named after this period and some archaeological digs have uncovered evidence of training grounds in Spencer Square, the Granville area, and West Cliff’s Government Acre.
The photo above shows the Granville Hotel in use as a Canadian Special Hospital during World War One. The Granville is on the site of some of the old military training grounds and camps during the Napoleonic Wars.
ROMAN FINDS: VENI, VIDI, VICI
As with the Napoleonic period in the town’s history, we had many Roman camps and burials in the area. There have been many high-quality finds on both the East and West Cliffs, including human remains, encampment areas, glass bottles, and quite spectacularly, the horn of a white rhino on the site of Granville House.
Recently, the original landing site of Julius Caesar has been uncovered in a field in Ebbsfleet, Ramsgate. It has been dated to mid-first century BC and is likely the first landing spot Caesar found to begin his invasion of Britain. Although he left for the continent without conquering the island, he set up treaties with the local royal families, which may have aided the later invasion by Claudius in AD43.
The above photo shows the original fireplace still in position in Granville House, designed by E. Pugin. Granville House was built on a site where various Roman remains were uncovered during a an archaeological excavation before construction began in the 1850s.
Located opposite the Toll Gate Kiosk, the steps run down the cliff face. The original Augusta Steps were built in the 1850s and after collapsing in 1947 were later replaced by the current, rainbow coloured steps in the 1950s/60s, receiving their current hue in 2014.
The steps were named after Lady Augusta Murray (1768-1830), later Augusta De Ameland, the illegitimate wife of Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, sixth son of King George III. The marriage was annulled under the Royal Marriages Act 1772 due the marriage being morganatic and happening without the King’s consent. This prevented Lady Augusta being styled Princess or Her Royal Highness and her children could not inherit their father’s titles, instead being given the name D’Este. The family names of D’Este, Truro and Augusta can be seen in the street names around the Granville area of the East Cliff.
You can walk down Augusta Steps to reach the seafront, the next area to visit on this walk. If you need an alternative route, there is a long slope down the side of the cliff, which will turn right at the bottom and lead to the base of the steps. From the steps, turn right and you will see the main entrance to Ramsgate Tunnels.
The above photo shows bomb damage to the West Wing of Granville Hotel duing World War Two, located very close to Augusta Steps Occupants are thought to have evacuated through the tunnel leading from Granville Theatre to the seafront and main tunnel system.
KING GEORGE VI PARK (BONUS SITE)
At the far end of the East Cliff is the King George VI Memorial Park, which was formed from the grounds of East Cliff Lodge. The park, named in honour of the father of the current queen, is of particular significance because the Lodge was the home of Sir Moses Montefiore, considered to be one of the first truly global celebrities. Sir Moses was a renowned “humanitarian, philanthropist, and campaigner for Jewish emancipation on a grand scale”.
Montefiore bought East Cliff Lodge in 1831 after visiting Ramsgate on his honeymoon and renting the Lodge for a year subsequently. He lived in the house for more than 50 years. During this time, having acquired a considerable fortune from his business activities, he devoted his life as a devout Jew to improving the lot of the Jewish people all over the world. His many trips included visits with two Tsars of Russia, a meeting with the Sultan of Morocco and seven trips to the Holy Land, the last of these being made when he was aged 91.
Little more than the stable courtyard and an adjacent refurbished early 19th century Italianate glasshouse now remain of the Lodge which dated back to at least 1794. Montefiore bought the glasshouse, a Grade II listed historic monument, from Bretton Hall in Yorkshire after seeing it in an auction catalogue.
Montefiore was made Sheriff of the City of London and knighted in 1837 in recognition of his work. In 1847 he received a baronetcy from Robert Peel for his efforts ‘to improve the social conditions of the Jews in other countries by temperate appeals to the justice of their rulers’.
Montefiore died in 1885 aged 100. He is buried with his wife in a nearby mausoleum the design for which was copied from the legendary tomb of Rachel, the biblical wife of Jacob, which lies on the road to Bethlehem. The synagogue built soon after his purchase of East Cliff Lodge is also nearby. The park although named after George VI can be regarded as a fitting memorial to Montefiore.