‘Royal Ramsgate’, so-called because Princess Victoria had spent holidays there in 1835 and 1836, largely succeeded in distancing itself from its more louche counterpart Margate in the popular imagination, for most of the 19th century. Dickens’s ‘The Tuggses at Ramsgate’ sends a newly monied Tuggs family to Ramsgate as a genteel holiday destination where – by implication – they will be safe from meeting any of their old friends. Wilkie Collins contrived to spend holidays here with both Caroline Graves and Martha Rudd (lodging at separate but addresses) in the 1870s. Nonetheless The fictional cockney tourist Mrs Brown complains in 1874 that ‘parties is a deal too genteel there for me’1, and as late as 1897 John Strange Winter (Henrietta Stannard) dissects the Thanet seaside resorts in A Seaside Flirt as ‘quiet little Westgate, dull Birchington , vulgar Margate’ and ‘detestable stuck-up Ramsgate’ respectively.2
The Granville Hotel, opened in 1869, catered to a wealthy clientele (guests included Florence Nightingale) and features in the Zig Zag Guide by Punch editor and Ramsgate resident F. C. Burnand in the 1890s.
But this picture of affluence and respectability is compromised by Dickens himself as early as the 1840s. Writing to a friend from nearby Broadstairs he gleefully describes ‘Wild beasts too, at Ramsgate, and a young lady in armour, as goes into the dens while a rustic keeper who speaks through his nose, exclaims, “Beold the abazid power of woobbud!”’3 Another humourist, Israel Zangwill, observed wryly in 1896 that ‘When you see – as I saw last Bank Holiday on Ramsgate beach – Edwin and Angelina asleep in each other’s arms, the situation strikes you as too simple for analysis. It is like the loves of the elements, or the propensity of carbon to combine with oxygen.’
Feeling active? You may want to try this walk from Pegwell Bay to Ramsgate
Burnand, Frances Cowley, illustrated by Phil May. The Z.Z.G., or Zig Zag Guide: Round and about the bold and beautiful Kentish coast.
Oulton, Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton. Down from London: Seaside Reading in the Railway Age. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2022.