Down at the far bottom right-hand corner of England, Ramsgate is a pleasantly unchanged little harbour and seaside resort town.
It’s also a place with a lot of history: Hengist and Horsa travelled here from Jutland in the 5th century to bring in the pagan Anglo-Saxon age in England, and this is also where St Augustine landed on his mission to reconnect England with Christianity and Rome.
So it’s not at a bad town to call into for an afternoon with friends. Strolling around reveals one surprise after another – so many that if you have an eye for these things you’re likely to end up feeling pleasantly bemused by the place.
For example, there’s a wonderful 1880s-built Home for Smack Boys, a splendid jumble of architecture Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau architecture, and even the chimney pots catch the eye. The only real disappointment is that the maritime museum is closed, and there is no outward sign that it’s likely to re-open anytime soon.
But the Ramsgate feature that most caught my eye on our latest visit was this seaside kiosk originally designed by the legendary architect and founder of the Gothic revival Augustus Pugin (1812-52). Imagine my amazement – the man who was responsible for much of London’s Houses of Parliament also drew this tiny pointed seaside shop selling sweets and ice-creams to holidaymakers. It’s almost too much to take in.
A little research reveals that Pugin was a sailor and liked the company of sailors, a class of man he first met when working as a youngster painting scenery for London’s theatres – I gather sailors were often employed back stage because of their knowledge of knots and using lines generally.
From a review published by The New Criterion I learned that having been intrigued by the sailors he met, the young Pugin bought himself a boat and began wearing clothing based on a seaman’s rig – a habit he kept up for the rest of his life.
From the Age of Umber website, I discovered that by the time he was 20, Pugin had already been a smuggler, been shipwrecked, been furniture designer to the King and been jailed for debt – and had also become a widower with a baby daughter.
Towards the end of his life, he ran a part-time salvage operation from his house on the cliff above Ramsgate, as well as doing a bit of smuggling on the side. And some people call me hyperactive…