A sunny day, a £10 day return train offer and the lure of the seaside combined with some art, seemed the perfect opportunity to finally revisit Margate. The train offer included the high-speed train from St Pancras, HS1, which we had not been on as it is normally premium rate, and so we began with the still exciting anticipation that being in the vicinity of Eurostar gives. The journey gave glimpses of delights en route, including Rainham Marshes, the RSPB flagship ‘London’ site on the Essex shoreline, and Ebbsfleet (what happened to the sculpture proposals?), but after Ashford International we were back on the slow line for the rest of the journey.
In spite of the Welcome to Dreamland sign greeting us through the train window, the first sight of Margate is not endearing. Undaunted we head for our first goal, the new(ish) Turner Contemporary Art Gallery with eyes open en route.
The restoration of Dreamland Amusement Park, one of the glories of British seaside architecture is alas so far still a dream, in spite of Wayne Hemingway’s best efforts. The revivals of the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill and the Midland Hotel in Morecambe have shown what is possible (as can be seen on the blog Under a Grey Sky here).
First mention of Turner, who did make frequent visits here in the 1820s and 1830s, comes in the approach to the gallery, rapidly followed by what from the distance did look like a large shed but turns out to be a very successful example of minimalism. Designed by David Chipperfield Architects and opened in 2011, it was yet another project hoping to restore Margate’s fortunes. It has certainly been successful as a gallery but how much of the ripple effect there has been yet is debatable.
Making Painting is the current exhibition, a brilliant pairing of J M W Turner and the American Abstract Expressionist Helen Frankenthaler. There is a review with many images on Frames of Reference, the Rowley Gallery blog.
We turn our backs to the now visible sands, site of the first use of beach donkeys in about 1780, and the first use of the beach deck chair in 1898, and go in search of the old town.
After a visit to the Shell Grotto (another post to follow) we go to find the intriguing building we saw towering in the distance from the train on our way in. This turns out to be a vast and extraordinary pub called The Man of Kent, in spite of the oriental decoration, which is also for sale. As my companion is indeed a Man of Kent this seems an augur of some kind.
Our time is running out and we find our way back to the station. As I belatedly read my Discover Margate, the original seaside leaflet I realize I have forgotten to make an intended pilgrimage to the Nayland Rock Shelter, now a listed building, where T S Eliot composed much of The Waste Land including the apposite lines
“On Margate Sands
I can connect
Nothing with nothing”
I also read that the station, dated 1926, is the first major building by Maxwell Fry, the (later) modernist architect of the Sun House in Hampstead, London and (with Walter Gropius) Impington Village College in Cambridge.
With a final view of Dreamland as it still is maybe there are reasons to return again.