Broadstairs

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Broadstairs is a coastal town on the Isle of Thanet in the Thanet district of east Kent, England, about 80 miles (130 km) east of London. It is part of the civil parish of Broadstairs and St Peter’s, which includes St. Peter’s and had a population in 2001 of about 24,000. Situated between Margate and Ramsgate, Broadstairs is one of Thanet’s seaside resorts, known as the “Jewel in Thanet’s crown”. The town’s crest motto is Stella Maris (“Star of the Sea”). The name derives from a former flight of steps in the chalk cliff, which led from the sands up to the 11th-century shrine of St Mary on the cliff’s summit.

The town spreads from Haine Road in the west to Kingsgate in the north (named after the landing of King Charles II in 1683) and to Dumpton in the south (named after the yeoman Dudeman who farmed there in the 13th century). The hamlet of Reading (formerly Reden or Redyng) Street was established by Flemish refugees in the 17th century.

The inland village of St Peters was established after the building of a parish church in about 1080. The coastal confederation of Cinque Ports during its mediæval period consisted of a confederation of 42 towns and villages in all. This included St Peters, as a ‘limb’ of Dover. On the nearby coast was a cliff-top shrine, the Shrine of Our Lady, at what was then called Bradstow(e), meaning “broad place” (perhaps referring to the wide bay). A fishing settlement developed in the vicinity of the shrine in the 14th century. This came to be called “Broadstairs”, after a flight of steps which was made in the cliff to give access to the shrine from the bay. Older forms of the name include Brodsteyr Lynch (1434), Brodestyr (1479), Broadstayer (1565) and Brod stayrs (1610). Charles Culmer, son of Waldemar, is supposed to have reconstructed the stairs in 1350.

In 1440, an archway was built by George Culmer across a track leading down to the sea, where the first wooden pier or jetty was built in 1460. A more enduring structure was to replace this in 1538, when the road leading to the seafront, known as Harbour Street, was cut into the rough chalk ground on which Broadstairs is built, by another George Culmer. Going further in defence of the town, he built the York Gate in 1540, a portal that still spans Harbour Street and which then held two heavy wooden doors that could be closed in times of threat from the sea. Richard Culmer was the son of Sir Richard Culmer by his first wife and was born in 1640/41. Richard was buried in the parish church of Monkton, on the Isle of Thanet. Of his legacies was the endowment on Broadstairs of an area of six acres (24,000 m²) of ground for the poor of the parish. The name survives to this day as “Culmer’s Allotment” as does the allotment.

In 1723, Broadstairs had a population of about 300. A brief outline of the history of Broadstairs Pier is given in Broadstairs, past and present, which mentions a storm in 1767, during which Culmer’s work was all but destroyed. At this time, it was of considerable importance to the fishing trade with catches as far afield as Great Yarmouth, Hastings, Folkestone, Dover and Torbay and elsewhere being landed. It had become so indispensable that the corporations of Yarmouth, Dover, Hythe and Canterbury with assistance from the East India Company and Trinity House subscribed to its restoration with a payment of £2,000 in 1774.

By 1795, York Gate needed repair to repel any threat from the French Revolutionary Wars. The subsequent renovation was undertaken by Lord Hanniker in the same year as the first lightvessel was placed on the Goodwin Sands.

On the occasion of the landing at Thanet of Major Henry Percy of the 14th Dragoon Guards, on 21 June 1815 with the captured French eagle standard taken at Waterloo, a tunnel stairway from the beach to the fields on the cliff tops above was excavated, and christened “Waterloo Stairs” to commemorate the event. Broadstairs was supposedly the first town in England to learn of this historic victory, although there is no written evidence of this.

Smuggling was an important industry in the area, and the men of Broadstairs and St Peters became very good at outwitting customs agents. This was very profitable because of the very high duty payable on tea, spirits and tobacco. There is a network of tunnels and caves strewn in the chalk strata which were used by smugglers to hide their contraband.

By 1824 steamboats were becoming more common, having begun to take over from the hoys and sailing packets about 1814. These made trade with London much faster. The familiar sailing hoys took anything up to 72 hours to reach Margate from London, whereas the new steamships were capable of making at least nine voyages in this time. Mixed feelings must have been strongly expressed by the Thanet boatmen in general, as the unrivalled speed of the steam packet was outmanoeuvering all other classes of vessel, but it brought a new prosperity to Thanet. In the middle of the 19th century, the professional classes began to move in. By 1850, the population had reached about 3,000, doubling over the previous 50 years. Due to the fresh sea air, many convalescent homes for children opened towards the end of the 19th century.

Although numerous holidaymakers were attracted to Broadstairs and to other Thanet seaside towns during the Victorian era, it was not directly served by the railways until 1863. This was a time of great expansion for railways in the South East; in 1860 Victoria Station had been completed, followed by Charing Cross and Cannon Street. Rail access to Broadstairs had previously relied heavily upon coach links to other railway stations in the district or region; with firms such as Bradstowe Coachmasters, operated by William Sackett and John Derby, principally involved. Their coaches connected Broadstairs to Whitstable station where a railway service had begun as early as 1830 (one of the first in England, with its pioneering Stephenson’s engine Invicta). By 1851, the region’s network was still more complete, being supplemented by the London to south coast route, including the coastal link from Chichester to Ramsgate, the cross-country service between London and Dover and the Mid-Kent line that linked Redhill, Tonbridge and Ashford to London’s new terminal at Waterloo (opened in 1848). Broadstairs station (unlike neighbouring Margate) is a 10 minute walk from the beach. Although rebuilt in the 1920s, electricity was not installed at the station until well into the 1970s, and the buildings and platforms remained illuminated by gaslight until then.

In 1841, 44 mariners were recorded as resident in Broadstairs; nine of these being specified as fishermen, and of course the residual boat-building activity that remained after the Culmer~White yard closed in 1824 (under pressure from the steamships), still continued (though there were only four shipwrights recorded in the census: Solomon Holbourn and Joseph Jarman among them). Others may have been at sea on census day: Steamer Point, as the pier head at Broadstairs was then known, would have been fairly busy with shipping movements since consignments of coal and other produce would have been traded along the coast and there would have been regular work on the steam packet to and from Ramsgate. By the 1840s, the smuggling had ceased.

By 1910, the population had reached about 10,000. A “guide book” of the 1930s by A H Simison (the photographic chemist) entitled Ramsgate (The Kent Coast at its best) Pictorially Presented, describes Broadstairs town as having approached modernisation and urban development “always with a consistent policy of retaining those characteristics for which it has for so long been renowned”. The town has retained a great many aspects of historical interest, besides its maritime history. Amongst these is its notable religious history, evoked by places such as the Shrine of Our Lady, Bradstowe.

Today Broadstairs is a magnet for visitors year after year and has been likened to a “Cornish fishing town”.

Lifeboats arrived in Broadstairs in 1851. News of the loss of the Irish packet Royal Adelaide with 250 lives, on the sands off Margate on 6 April 1850, may have been the prompt that led old Thomas White to present one of his lifeboats to his home town of Broadstairs that summer. The lifeboat saw its first use on 6 March 1851, when the brig Mary White became trapped on the Goodwin Sands during a severe gale blowing from the north. A ballad was written to celebrate the occasion, “Song of the Mary White”.

Solomon Holbourn, coxswain of the Mary White of Broadstairs had an aunt, Sophia who married at Folkestone in 1813 to William Stevenson. His eldest son William became a mariner and boatman, and married an Elizabeth Wellard in 1839 at St Peter’s, Broadstairs. One of their children, born in 1848, was named after his father, William, but in his adult life was better known as Bill “Floaty” Stevenson, and as a member of the Frances Forbes Barton lifeboat crew. The “Frances Forbes Barton” was originally, in 1897, the legacy of a Miss Webster to the boatmen of Broadstairs. It is recorded as having remained at that station until 1912, when it was moved to the Walmer station when the Broadstairs one closed, during which time it had been taken out on 77 launches and saved 115 lives, by far the most effective of the RNLI craft stationed there.

Broadstairs’ lifeboats were further supported by a fund established in the 1860s by Sir Charles Reed FSA.

Broadstairs is within the Thanet local government district. The town contains the five electoral wards of Bradstowe, St Peters, Beacon Road, Viking and Kingsgate. These wards have eleven of the fifty six seats on the Thanet District Council.  Broadstairs and St Peters Town Council has 15 members, who are elected every four years, led by the mayor. The town is in the constituency of South Thanet.

The town lies above a harbour with cliffs on either side. It has seven bays of golden sand, which are (from south to north) Dumpton Gap, Louisa Bay, Viking Bay, Stone Bay, Joss Bay, Kingsgate Bay and Botany Bay. North Foreland rises between Stone Bay and Joss Bay.

On the cliffs above Kingsgate Bay is Kingsgate Castle, formerly the home of Lord Holland, but now converted into private residences. Follies surround the castle.

Broadstairs has a very mild maritime climate.

The town is situated 20 miles (32 km) from both Dover and Canterbury, and about 60 miles (97 km) from the M25, London’s orbital motorway.

The town is also served by Southeastern train services to/from London, via either North Kent and Medway or Canterbury and High Speed 1. It is unusual in the sense that trains to London can run either way through the station.

As a seaside resort, the economy is mainly based around tourism; there are hotels and guest houses on and near the seafront, to accommodate the influx of all year round visitors. Although the number of hotels in recent years has declined because of the high land redevelopment values, this has resulted in an improvement in quality of the existing premises. The High Street has a wide variety of independent shops and services, and there are a small number of factories mainly situated on the small industrial estates on the town’s borders. The above-average population age has led to many health and social care jobs at local care homes. As of the 2001 UK census, 1.8% of the population resided in a medical or care establishment, which is more than double the national average of only 0.8%. Many jobs in education are provided by the town’s relatively high number of schools and colleges.

The industry of employment of residents, at the 2001 census, was 15% retail, 14% health and social work, 13% manufacturing, 13% education, 10% real estate, 8% construction, 7% transport and communications, 6% public administration, 5% hotels and restaurants, 3% finance, 1% agriculture and 5% other community, social or personal services. Compared with national figures, there was a relatively high number of workers in the education and health/social care industries and a relatively low number in finance and real estate. Many residents commute to work outside the town; as of the 2001 census, the town had 9,842 employed residents, but there were only 9,049 jobs within the town.

  • Broadstairs’ & St Peter’s Chamber of Commerce has existed for over 100 years and has been instrumental in establishing links between traders and authority and raising money for projects including the town’s CCTV scheme. It organises events and promotes tourism to benefit the town economy, the local customer and visitors.
  • The largest of Broadstairs’ industrial estates is at Pyson’s Road.
  • Residential building land is now scarce and property prices within Broadstairs tend to be higher than the rest of Thanet.
  • Broadstairs has seen major development in its area recently with a large out-of-town shopping development at Westwood called Westwood Cross. This has attracted national retailers, a new Travelodge hotel a Mecca bingo club a casino, a ten screen state of the art vue cinema, a new fitness centres, and an Ask, Nando’s, Frankie & Benny’s and Chiquito restaurants.
  • Land is currently being redeveloped to extend the existing Westwood Cross shopping centre.
  • Within the Broadstairs boundary there are three large supermarkets: Asda, Sainsbury’s and a Tesco Extra, which, before redevelopment, was the home of a large Co-op store (one of the first hypermarkets built in the UK). Tesco has a metro store in the town. Tesco also has a convenience store (Tesco Express) in the town and there is a small Co-op in St Peter’s village.
  • A high speed train link to London Via Canterbury and High Speed 1 has been running since December 2009.
  • Motor and household insurance claims of Saga Insurance Ltd. are managed in Broadstairs (as an extension of their main offices in Folkestone).

 

  • The Broadstairs Dickens Festival is held annually in honour of the novelist Charles Dickens in the third week of June. A Christmas event in December is now part of the calendar. The festival includes a production of one of Dickens’ novels and people about the town wearing Victorian dress. The festival first took place in 1937, when Gladys Waterer, the then owner of Dickens House, conceived the idea of commemorating the centenary of the author’s first visit by putting on a production of David Copperfield, a novel written in the town.
  • In the second week of August each year, the town holds the Broadstairs Folk Week music festival. The main acts perform at the Concert Marquee in the town’s main park (Pierremont Park), but smaller gigs are also held in many pubs, restaurants and cafés as well as at the town’s bandstand. The playing fields at Upton Junior School become a vast campsite (as visible on the Google Maps view of Broadstairs taken during a Folk Week in the mid-2000s) as the town’s population swells with thousands of tourists, both the traditional folk reveller, and the curious visitor keen on imbibing seaside culture. Whilst Folk Week’s origins are centred around Folk music and its appreciation, for many this period is simply an opportunity for general festivities in which pubs and bars have later opening hours and the main streets are closed to traffic in order that revellers may fully enjoy open air drinking and social merriment.
  • Music continues throughout the year in the many pubs in the town. The popular Broadstairs Live!!! website carries up-to-date details of past and upcoming events.
  • During the summer season, and on 5 November the town hosts firework displays every Wednesday evening on Viking Bay, with hundreds of people lining the overlooking cliff tops.
  • Sea swimming: The beach on Viking Bay is patrolled by lifeguards during the summer and is popular with swimmers. Dickens swam there. There are public toilets at the beach level, as well as basic changing facilities and a single fresh water shower (summer only). The bay is marked by striped posts on rocks at either end, and the bay is alternately full of water at high tide or completely dry at low tide. At high tide, the beach shelf drops off quickly and a swimmer can be out of their depth within a few feet of the shore. At middle and low tides, the shelf is much more gently sloping and it is possible to play in the surf, and even swim, in water that is only waist high. At high tide and middle tide, swimmers that stay within the bay (within the posts) are completely sheltered from the tidal stream of the English Channel. At any tide, swimmers venturing out beyond the striped posts may encounter a strong tidal current running parallel to the coast, flowing either from south to north or north to south, depending on whether the tide is coming up the English Channel or draining out through it. Even strong experienced swimmers will find it difficult to make progress against this tidal stream at its greatest flow, and swimmers in difficulty should swim directly towards the nearest part of the shore, rather than try to return to the point where they originally entered. Current sea temperatures at Sandettie Light Vessel (Straights of Dover).

A new event was added to the mix last year – Big Broadstairs Weekend. Starting the season in May, the event is themed, comprises a dance at the Pavilion on the Friday night, Film on the Beach on the Saturday night and Guinness World Record Attempt on the Sunday. Broadstairs currently holds the record for biggest remote dance class. www.bigbroadstairsweekend.co.uk

  • There is a small cinema, “The Palace Cinema” (formerly known as The Windsor), in Harbour Street.
  • Also in Harbour Street, the Pavilion on the Sands hosts a summer show and all-year entertainment. There are extensive views across the bay. Its location and facilities make the Pavilion a popular wedding venue.
  • The beaches at Botany Bay and Joss Bay have both been awarded the Blue flag rural beach award in 2005. Viking Bay beach, the main beach in Broadstairs, won the Blue Flag in 2006.
  • The main beach (Viking Bay) has a number of cafes and ice cream outlets. During the summer, this bay is often very busy.
  • Punch and Judy and donkey rides a feature of the summer beach entertainment.
  • There are four firework displays on Wednesday evenings over Viking Bay in the summer and a free display on 5 November.
  • The Dickens’ House museum is situated on the seafront, which displays many artifacts relating to Charles Dickens and his life in Broadstairs.
  • Crampton Tower by the railway station houses a museum. The museum contains Thomas Russell Crampton’s working drawings, models, graphics, patents, awards and artifacts connected to his life and works. Other galleries illustrate the history and development of the railways, the electric tramways, road transport and other aspects of local industry. The original Broadstairs stage coach built in 1860 is displayed alongside seven working model railways in gauges N, OO, O and Gauge One.
  • In the village of St Peter’s, tours are held throughout the summer.
  • The church of St. Peter-in-Thanet has one of the longest churchyards in England.

Broadstairs and St. Peter’s is twinned with Wattignies in northern France.

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