WESTGATE-ON-SEA by DR DAWN CROUCH
Origins: Westgate-on-Sea, a planned Estate “for those whose avocation may require their presence in the metropolis every day” (Keble’s Gazette, 23 September 1871), occupies a unique place in the history of the English sea-side resort. A true child of the railway, built on virgin farmland, designed by a metropolitan architect, built mainly by metropolitan builders, financed with metropolitan money and whose first residents were largely metropolitan, it was intended to be a discrete community, where the topography enabled it to be totally cut off from its neighbours, ensuring its “quietude” and exclusivity.
In 1863 the first trains of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway reached Margate
By that time, the three farms that would make up the Westgate-on-Sea Estate and then the civil parish of Westgate-on-Sea had been acquired by HERMAN DIRS MERTENS of Street Lodge (later called Streete Court) – Street Green Farm, Westgate Farm and the Hundred Farm. These were in the civil parishes of St John Margate, Minster, Acol and Birchington
1870: Mertens sold the Estate to William Corbett and Alexander McClymont, London developers
Charles Nightingale Beazley was appointed Estate architect in 1870 and drew up a plan for the Estate.
1871 WESTGATE-ON-SEA RAILWAY STATION OPENED
The Westgate-on-Sea Estate was a private estate. The owners were responsible for the maintenance of the sea walls, promenades and roads, drainage, sewerage, water and gas supply and lighting. They also maintained the cliff top gardens and Adrian and Ethelbert Squares. Residents paid rates to the Estate owners according to the size of their property.
Plots of land were sold freehold at public auctions in Westgate-on-Sea. The whole estate had strict covenants imposed on the use of the land.
The owners of the Estate were:
1870 - 1878 William Corbett and Alexander McClymont
1878 - 1880 Edmund Francis Davis London solicitor living at St Peter’s (Broadstairs)
1880 - 1884 William and Frederick Searle Parker London solicitors
1884 - 1933 The partners of Coutts’ Bank (1884-1896 as Mortgagees in Possession, 1896 - 1933 as Beneficial Owners). They disposed of the Estate between 1919 and 1933
1894 Westgate-on-Sea became a civil parish within the Isle of Thanet Rural District. Nine Parish Councillors and two Rural District Councillors were elected.
1914 - 1919 World War 1
The St Mildred’s Bay area became the site of a RNAS seaplane base, the forerunner of RAF Manston
1935 Westgate-on-Sea became part of the Borough of Margate with 3 ward councillors and 1 alderman
1974 Westgate-on-Sea became part of Thanet District with 3 ward councillors
2015 Westgate-on-Sea Town Council established with 10 councillors. It continues to return 3 ward councillors to Thanet District Council and is represented at Kent County Council.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF WESTGATE-ON-SEA
STAGE 1 1865 - 1870
- Development around Marsh Bay (still referred to as such in 1871 census), which was re-named St Mildred’s Bay (shown as such on 1872 Ordnance Survey Map)
- Four bungalows were built at the bay for Erasmus Wilson, distinguished Surgeon and President of the Royal College of Surgeons. None of these remain today. Modern flats and town houses have replaced them.
- A Coastguard Station and 8 coastguard cottages were built by the Admiralty at the bay in 1870. The coastguards left Westgate-on-Sea in 1908. These cottages were then bought by Sir William Ingram and renamed The Nests, each one being called after a bird.
- Two villas, later to be upgraded to the Beach House Hotel were built at the bay in 1865. They still exist as part of Beach Houses – the two nearest to Margate.
- The Nottingham Castle Hotel was built at the bay. It became a favourite haunt of the boatmen and was used by the Royal Naval Air Station personnel during the First World War.
- 7 pairs of semi-detached villas, on the western side of Roxburgh Road, were built by Archibald Roxburgh to be rented.
1871 WESTGATE-ON-SEA RAILWAY STATION OPENED
STAGE 2 1870 - 1890 Westgate-on-Sea’s Golden Age
- Land comprising the Westgate Estate was sold to London developers, William Corbett and Alexander McClymont, who were developing the West Brompton Estate in London at the same time.
- Plan of the proposed Estate was drawn up by the Estate architect, Charles Beazley, (large scale copy in the Heritage Centre)
- Land sales were held regularly for those who wished to build their own private houses to plans approved by the Estate to buy freehold. Special trains ran from Victoria London on the days of the sales.
- 33 houses in Sea Road were built – either as private owner/occupier “vacation homes” or as up-market Lodging Houses [Lodging House were for a family to rent for the season. They would bring their own staff including nursemaids, ladies’ maids and butlers or footmen In 1881 one such sea front house was taken for the season by the Earl and Countess of Ellesmere who played host to TRH Princess Louise and Victoria.]
- In Westgate Road (now Westgate Bay Avenue) large villa type houses (usually with 12 bedrooms + living accommodation) were built as Lodging Houses, but some private houses were built e.g. for one of Westgate-on-Sea’s first doctors and in 1886 the Vicarage.
- The eastern side of Roxburgh Road and Adrian and Ethelbert Squares were built with houses to rent.
- Station Road and St Mildred’s Road, south of Westgate Road, were developed as a shopping area. c1890 10 shops were built at the eastern end of Cuthbert Road. Despite the population recorded in 1881 being a mere 1002, there were 50 shops occupied by 1891. These all had spacious living accommodation above for family and staff. (e.g. the draper had a live in dressmaker and a milliner)
- 18 artisan houses were built by 1878 in Westbury Road, which lies parallel to the railway line and south of it. The houses were large enough for the householders, who were almost all “superior” craftsmen, to take unmarried boarders in the same trade, but it was not possible to sub-let to another family. This prevented the over occupation which led to slum development in places such as Brighton.
- In 1878 Corbett & McClymont sold the Westgate Estate to Edmund Francis Davis, a solicitor living at St Peter’s, who was also developing the Granville Estate at Ramsgate.
- 1878 Three roads of artisan housing were built to the south-east of the railway – Essex, Chester and Queen’s Road. These properties were all rented, often from the employer – e.g. many were owned by Alfred Lockwood, whose building business was one of the most successful in Westgate-on-Sea for a century.
- In 1880 Davis sold the Estate and the Gas Works and Waterworks to William and Frederick Searle Parker, London solicitors.
- 1883 Westgate-on-Sea’s two “Grand Hotels” Westcliff in Sea Road and the St Mildred’s at St Mildred’s Bay were opened. Their visitors’ books reveal that aristocracy and royalty stayed in them.
- In February 1884 the Parker brothers went spectacularly bankrupt and absconded from the country. Their mortgagees were the partners in Coutts’ Bank (a private bank). The partners of the day became the new proprietors of the Westgate Estate, first as Mortgages in Possession and then, after twelve years had elapsed, as Beneficial Owners.
- The Estate proprietors had many responsibilities including the sea walls, promenades and roads. Residents paid road rates to them. They controlled the roads – in 1898 they would not allow them to be opened up for the laying of electricity cables, so that Westgate-on-Sea did not have electricity until the 1920s.
- 1884 St Saviour’s Church of England and Christ Church Congregational Churches were opened.
- 1886 St Saviour’s National School was opened
- The first two prestigious Boys’ Prep. Schools were opened – St Michael’s in St Mildred’s Road in 1883 (better known as Hawtrey’s) and Wellington House in Rowena Road in 1886
- South of the Canterbury Road, Hatton House (now the Ursuline College) and the Tower House Retreat (now St Augustine’s) were built. There were already 2 large houses in huge grounds with lodges and stables – Doon House and Streete Court
- In the extreme south west were the Gas Works, Waterworks and cottages to accommodate the workers in those industries
STAGE 3 1890 - 1920
- A few of the private homes in Sea Road, no longer required by their owners, who wanted more sophisticated holiday venues, converted to other use – especially as private schools or “pensions” – an upmarket way of describing a boarding house – the term guest house was not in use until between the wars.
- Several large new private homes were built in the western part of Sea Road, in Cuthbert Road and Thanet Road.
- In 1886 26 acres of the Streete Court Estate were sold, although the mansion and “pleasure grounds” remained.
- These 26 acres were bought by the Kent and Sussex Land Society, roads laid out in a grid pattern and plots sold off to builders and developers. Some terraces were built, some semi-detached houses and a very few detached. These were superior to the accommodation in the Essex /Chester Roads area and many of those who had started their Westgate-on-Sea life in the latter moved to the new development. They were skilled artisans – carpenters joiners, bricklayers and an increasing number of painters and decorators (The late Ivor Read said that the upkeep of the Westgate-on-Sea housing stock was very expensive because of its fine woodwork)
- In 1894 Streete Court mansion became a boys’ prep school. The principal was John Vine Milne, the father of A.A. Milne. The author of children’s books.
- At the same time Doon House, on the corner of Minster and Canterbury Roads, became Doon House Boys’ Prep School
- In 1903 the Tower House was sold and became the Convent of Les Oiseaux (Benedictines and associated with the Abbey at Ramsgate)
- In 1906 Hatton House was taken over by the Ursuline Convent.
- Both Convents had “Schools for Young Ladies”
- There was still no further development in the Linksfield area, other than a few more cottages.
- 1894 Westgate-on-Sea became a civil parish with its own elected Parish Council. The parish was part of the Isle of Thanet Rural District.
- In 1909 the Town Hall Buildings, Westgate’s most iconic building, was built by Sir William Ingram to be the home of the parish council, which was housed in 4 Cuthbert Road. A dispute over the rent led to it being used as an entertainment centre – cinema, skating rink, theatre
WORLD WAR I
- The St Mildred’s Bay area became the site of a Royal Naval Air Service seaplane base.
- Officers and men were billeted in the area around the bay. The admiralty requisitioned 40 acres of land to the east of the bay, belonging to the Governors of the Bethlem and Bridewell Hospitals.
- The area was found to be unsuitable for night-flying.
- An alterative site was found and RAF Manston came into being.
STAGE 4 - Between the wars
- Much of the land to the south of the Canterbury Road was used as playing fields for the various schools (these are clearly marked on maps of the period).
- The Streete Court area (including Richborough, Reculver and Belmont Roads and Victoria Avenue) was further developed.
- Some building took place on the western part of Sea Road, then known as Sea Drive
- In 1919 Coutts’ Bank decided to sell off the Estate. A two-day auction took place, when all remaining building land (mostly in the south of the town) was sold. It included the 49 acres of the Golf Club, which were described in the auction catalogue as building land. Fortunately for Westgate-on-Sea that land was bought by Arthur Read, who decided to retain it as a Golf Club and upgrade it.
- Between 1920 and 1933 the bank divested itself of its remaining assets to the Isle of Thanet Rural District Council, of which the Parish of Westgate-on-Sea was a part. These included Ethelbert and Adrian Squares (sold for £5), the roads (which all had to be upgraded before the Council would accept them), the sea walls and promenades.
South of Canterbury Road
- 4 acres of land was bought in Lymington Road to create a Recreation Ground for the parish as a War Memorial (1920)
- 4 more acres were bought by the Westgate on Sea Parish Council for allotments in 1920
Development of land at the southern end of Minster Road to its east
1925 - 1937
- St Benet’s Road 100+ houses built
- St Margaret’s and St Crispin’s
- Wellington and Wellesley Road and their environs
9 January 1937 Advertisement in Isle of Thanet Gazette appeared for houses for sale in this area
- Houses for sale or to let £500 - £600
- On main road (Minster Road) - Semi detached with room for garage £750
13 February ITG. p.3
- Alderman Wells applied for a licence for a proposed hotel to be known as the Crofton at the junction of St Benet’s and Minster Roads
- Solicitor said it was “essentially a working class area... Mr Wells had built 136 houses in the immediate vicinity and 175 in the neighbourhood. Licence refused; a shop was built there but it has now closed.
- These houses were within comfortable cycling or walking distance of Manston Aerodrome, which was becoming a new employer.
- 1925 First 8 council houses built in Dunstan Avenue
- Council bought 4 more acres in the vicinity of the Gas Works (land had been bought by Arthur Read at the grand auction of Coutts’ property in 1919) for more council housing. Another 20 completed.
- Arthur Read was building Suffolk Avenue, small houses for rent in the private sector – he retained many for himself as landlord.
January 1925 Gas Works and Waterworks Road to be known as Linksfield Road
September 1929 St Saviour’s Parochial Church Council opened the Linksfield Mission Room
April 1935 Westgate-on-Sea became part of the Borough of Margate
1938 King Ethelbert Secondary School opened
WORLD WAR II - Had an enormous effect on Westgate-on-Sea
- There was mass evacuation of the civilian population in 1940 because of the threat of invasion.
- Thanet was a restricted area
- The large houses, hotels and boarding schools were commandeered by the military.
- Private schools all evacuated – only 4 out of 20 returned in 1945/6
STAGE 5 Post World War II
Westgate-on-Sea tried to get back to normal and quickly began to provide holiday accommodation again, but there were many large properties which were in a bad physical state and a there was a huge demand for housing.
Many new houses were built in south Westgate-on-Sea between 1950 and 1970. Some was social housing, although some was built for private landlords. Gradually too there were more owner/occupiers.
- Kelly’s 1948 Directory lists a newsagent at 135 Linksfield Road, and a General Store at 136., whilst a General Store and Post Office is listed in Lymington Road (there were only 4 houses listed in that road, so this would have been at the junction of Lymington and Linksfield Roads
- 1961 the new Westgate library was opened in Minster Road
- 1963 St Crispin’s Infant School opened
- Kelly’s Directory for 1970 lists the same as above, but in addition a butcher, a hairdresser, and a wool shop.
- From 1960 onwards several large properties on the sea front were demolished
1974 Margate Borough (including Westgate-on-Sea) became part of Thanet District
TODAY: it is impossible to generalise about Westgate-on-Sea today. Many of the large houses have been demolished and replaced by flats. Empty spaces (including former gardens) have been developed and there has been a lot of in-filling. Town houses and accommodation over shops have been converted for multiple occupancy.
In the south developments such as Abbey Court (c2001) and St Augustine’s Park (c 2006) have been built
Land belonging to the Catholic Church (the former Doon House), St Augustine’s College and school playing fields in Lymington Road and Minster Road, has been developed into modern housing stock mostly owner/occupied.
2015 – There has been an explosion of building on the cliffs at the western end of West Bay.
Dr Dawn Crouch*
*PhD Thesis, “Westgate-on-Sea 1865-1940: Fashionable Watering Place & London Satellite, Exclusive Resort and a Place for Schools”, University of Kent, 1999
In the Westgate Heritage Centre collection there are nearly 50 A4 files of information about the history of Westgate-on-Sea. Sources are given for all material used so that anyone interested in following up some aspect can do so.