‘Had one talked, and thought, and corresponded, and investigated about lodgings for a month before starting, I doubt we could have made a better business of it than we have done. Certainly in point of situation there is no better in Ramsgate or in the world: looking out over a pretty stripe of lawn and gravel walk on to the great boundless Ocean!’1

Jane Welsh Carlyle to Thomas Carlyle, Sunday, August 4, 1861 from Mrs Stokes’s, 21, Wellington Crescent, East Cliff, Ramsgate.

Jane Carlyle, wife of the Scottish historian, philosopher and essayist, Thomas Carlyle, visited Ramsgate with her dear friend, novelist and book reviewer, Geraldine Jewsbury in August 1861.

Jane, who was an inveterate letter writer, wrote to her husband on her arrival, describing their accommodation which was agreeably situated if a little noisy:

‘With no sensibilities except my own to listen to them with, I can get used (I think) to the not extravagant amount of crowing and barking, and storming with the wind, and even to occasional cat-explosions on the opposite roofs! If I can’t, I can exchange beds with Geraldine; and there I can only have the noise of the sea (considerable!) and the possibilities of occasional carriages passing (I have none to-day but it is Sunday) and ‘rittle-tipping’ of Venetian blinds.’2

Geraldine, with whom Jane had a close but sometimes tempestuous relationship, slept “like a top” whereas Jane was awake half the night ‘feeling for bugs, which didn’t come!’3 In fact, the bug-less white dimity beds were one of the more positive aspects of their stay, as Jane was to discover.

Commenting on her hosts, who were ‘civil and honest-looking and slow’,4 Jane felt that the accommodation was overpriced, but she was prepared to accept this for the slower pace of life, the food which was ‘very well cooked’ and the promise of rest and recuperation.

However, in a letter, written two days later, her disenchantment with Ramsgate becomes apparent. Although she admired the East Cliff which was ‘clean and genteel and airy’,5 she was less impressed with the rest of the town with its ‘narrow, steep, confused streets like the worst parts of Brighton. The shops look nasty, the people nasty, the smells are nasty! (spoiled shrimps complicated with cesspool!)’6

In addition to the odours, the cacophony of street sounds, drove Jane to distraction:

‘from early morning to late night, cries of prawns, shrimps and lollipops – things one never wanted, and will never want, of the most miscellaneous sort, and if that were all! But a brass band plays all through our breakfast, and repeats the performance often during the day, and the brass band is succeeded by a band of Ethiopians, and that again by a band of female fiddlers! and interspersed with these are individual barrel organs, and individual Scotch bagpipes, individual French horns.’7

In an attempt to escape the rowdiness of Ramsgate, the two women drove to Broadstairs, where Dickens who had commissioned 17 stories from Jewsbury8, had holidayed two years earlier, but they were unable to find new lodgings.

Jane could not rest, complaining that she was unable to write with the incessant sound of carpet-beating, passing carts and piano playing. Geraldine, on the other hand, impervious to the noise, added to Jane’s mounting irritation as she wrote with her ‘rapid, continuous scrape, scraping’ of her pen.9

On a more positive note, Jane acknowledged that the air was good. She had come to ‘swallow down as much as sea air as possible, and that end is attained without fatigue; for lying on the sofa with our three windows wide open on the sea, we are as well aired as if we were sailing on it.’10

Geraldine was keen to stay a second week, but Jane felt she had ‘better have gone to Scotland than that.’11

Jane died in 1966. After her death, Geraldine moved from London to Sevenoaks where she lived at Walnut Tree House, London Road.

This article was published: 6 April 2023.


  1. Carlyle, J., Carlyle, T. and Froude, J. Letters and memorials of Jane Welsh Carlye New York Scribner’s sons, 1883, p.199. 

  2. ibid. p.199 

  3. ibid. p.200 

  4. ibid. p.200 

  5. ibid. p.200 

  6. ibid, p.200 

  7. ibid. p201 

  8. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911) “Jewsbury, Geraldine Endsor.” Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

  9. ibid. p.202 

  10. p.202 

  11. p.203