Once a popular seaside resort where Victorians came to take the air, where day-trippers streamed off the London train and crossed the barely 200 yards to deposit themselves and their paraphernalia on the famous beach; where poets including Keats, the Rossettis and T. S. Eliot came to recuperate, and artists to paint the sunsets, where Dreamland hummed with jingled music and punters screamed braving the 1920 Scenic Railway, Margate was to suffer the fate of many other seaside towns: limping through the end of the last century with rising unemployment, dilapidated structures, organ music, and absent holiday makers abandoning the British seaside for the Costas.
But a very different Margate has arisen over the last twenty years due to considerable investment in the cultural sector, the Turner Centre being its flagship. Attractions like the Margate Caves and Dreamland have gone through a reincarnation, most of these made possible by dedicated pressure groups. Artists have always lived and worked in the area and renewed artistic innovation and enabled renovation, created workspaces and studios, bringing the Old Town back to life. While there remains a gap between poor communities and the blossoming of the arts, there are many projects and workshops to enable engagement and development. Thanet Writers, for instance, publishes stories, poetry and essays; and the Margate Bookie is a vibrant book festival that’s been running at the Turner for a few years. There were also thriving Spoken Word events at The Tom Thumb Theatre. Despite Covid, most of these activities are still being offered online.
It remains to be seen what impact Covid will make on the new creative industries, and small businesses on the whole. But the town’s success at evolving proves that adaptability, above all, is the key to meeting future challenges.
My book In Margate by Lunchtime offers a bird’s eye view of Thanet from pre-Roman times to the 21st century. Just as our early ancestors would have found miraculous the Thanet windfarm which stands now off the coast like sentinels an act of magic, so might they of a mermaid tour guide on a Vespa, except of course she’s real.
For more on the history of Dreamland see ‘Canterbury Tales: from the City to the Sea’