I had been promising myself a visit to the Maritime Museum in Ramsgate for a while and finally got to do it during the Steam Fair in August 2012. Various reasons lie behind this. The Museum has had a somewhat difficult past and has been opened and closed several times due to financial problems. It currently comes under the auspices of the nearby Steam Museum and seems to be going OK at present.
Although the Museum is primarily about the very rich maritime history of the area, it seems to have exhibits of all sorts of things, thus giving rise to the title of this tip. It is none the worse for that, however, and it's quirky nature seems to add to it's charm.
The Museum is housed in the old Clockhouse adjacent to the Royal Harbour which in itself is a building of interest. The main point of interest is that it was here that the Ramsgate Meridian was calculated from. At five minute and 41 seconds difference from the more famous Greenwich Meridian, why they decided to do it I have no idea but they did.
Many of the exhibits come from the nororious Goodwin Sands, a nearby hazard to shipping that has claimed literally hundreds of vessels over the years. There are many artefacts arising from the appalling storm of 1703 which claimed over 50 vessels, men of war and merchantmen alike. It was a simply terrible natural disaster. As a small sidebar, I have a friend who used to live in the area and is a diving instructor. He informs me the wreck-diving there is superb.
There is just about everything in here from the quite grand (the cannon) to the completely mundane (A large kettle for boiling food) but the whole lot fits together rather nicely. I had expected to stay perhaps forty five minutes or an hour but spent considerably longer. It really is rather larger inside than it looks from the outside. The volunteer staff are extremely helpful and friendly.
There was an area set aside for an art exhibition but it was literally under wraps when I visited, which was unfortunate as this would have been the biggest weekend of the year for the Museum.
There is a small admittance charge which goes towards upkeep of the Museum. Given it's somewhat precarious past, I do hope this money is used wisely and the place does not close again. Ramsgate really does not have much in the way of attractions for the visitor any more and is somewhat dyoing on it's feet, as I alluded to in my Ramsgate main page, and the loss of this amenity would be a disaster.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of the building (steep stairs etc.) it is not suitable for mobility impaired visitors.
This is rather a specific tip as it is for an event that only happens once a year, although if you are in Ramsgate at the appropriate time, it really is worth seeing. On the Sunday and Monday of the late August Bank Holiday weekend (actual dates vary but it is the last weekend in August) there is a steam fair centred around the Royal Harbour and held in order to raise funds for the nearby Maritime Museum (see seperate tip).
The harbourside location has a great advantage over landward steam fairs in that it can showcase steam-powered boats as well as the usual road-going steam machinery. All this makes for a fascinating mix of working exhibits, quite enough to stir the heart of any steam enthusiast. I would not describe myself as such but I was quite taken with the whole affair. It is not really laid out as such but you just wander around and look at whatever you fancy. apart from the smell of burning coal, which I virtually never experience nowadays, it was the noise that I noticed most. Between the pounding of the machine's engines, the unique sound of the calliope (if that is the right term) and the apparent competition between the various boats to see who had the loudest horn, it was quite a cacophony.
As well as the steam exhibhits, it seems that just about everyone had something to display. There were veteran and vintage cars and motorcycles, lots of childrens attraction including a beautifully decorated merry-go-round, and a decent amount of catering concessions. The weather was reasonable and the fair seemed well-attended.
There is no admission fee although donations to the Museum (a charity and not centrally funded) are encouraged. Although entry to the boats is not feasible for the mobility impaired, the surface is all on one level (if a little uneven in parts) and would be suitable for such visitors.
This tip and the associated travelogue is being written in 2012 and the "attraction" it concerns will, by it's very nature, be gone in perhaps a couple of years but I think it is still worth mentioning.
If you think of the hoardings round building sites you will probably think of a pretty unsightly but necessary safety measure. I realise that some firms are now trying to make them a little less of an eyesore but generally they are not what you would classify as a tourist attraction. The seafront at Ramsgate is probably it's greatest tourist draw and at time of writing it is undergoing a massive redevelopment of new luxury flats (apartments) and there is a simply huge hoarding surrounding the site. So what to do with it? Well, a local art group got together with the developers (Candy Construction Ltd., who deserve great credit for their forward thinking) to create a simply massive work of art.
There are literally hundreds of 8' x 4' paintings on board which have been affixed to the hoardings. They encompass all sorts of styles and, frankly, ranges of ability but the point of it is not to rival Picasso. It is about local artists, schools, groups, businesses etc. contributing to what is a very community based work of art. I certainly found it infinitely more enjoyable that wandering round the Tate Modern in London looking at some of the incomprehensible rubbish on display there, costing me as a taxpayer a fortune and classified as "art".
I did go on something of a shutter frenzy and so have created a seperate travelogue to accommodate some of the images.
Considering the old adage "the sea is a cruel Mistress" and the undoubted perils of a life at sea, it is hardly surprising that at least some sailors hold strong religious or superstitious beliefs, albeit that some, historically, were more interested in the delights of portside taverns and the associated ladies, it is not surprising that there is a Sailor's Church in the very maritime town of Ramsgate. The Church, it appears, was built in 1878 by Canon Eustace Brenan, the Vicar of Christ Church (nearby) fearing for the spiritual well-being of the seafarers putting into port here.
I had read about this Church although I had no particular plan to visit it on a lovely summers day as I was walking round Ramsgate having been to the Steam Fair (see seperate tip). I just decided to take a wander along the quayside and there it was so, always one for seeing something new, I doffed me headgear and went inside. The first thing to note is that it is not built in the traditional style of Christian churches in England. As the image shows, from the outside it looks more like a typical redbrick Victorian workhouse and, indeed, I believe there were rooms upstairs at one time for sailors needing one. The local branch of the Sea Cadets is housed there now. It looked very much like the adjacent building, now private offices, that bear the wonderful inscription "The Ramsgate Home for Smack Boys". I should explain here that a smack was a small fishing vessel and lads apprenticed as fishermen used to stay here whilst ashore. They certainly were not too far from their place of employment!
The design is unusual in several ways. Apart from it's outward apprearance, it nestles at the bottom of a large cliff, has no spire nor belltower and, most surprisingly, as the images again show, the sole entrance is not to the rear of the building, as is normal, but by the side of the altar.
On entering, I was initially struck by the two signs you see in the image, in German and French. If my schoolboy French does not desert me and my minimal German serves, I believe it welcomes all in those respective languages. I have no idea when these signs date to but they looked pretty old and I wondered whether they were from the inter-war period. France is visible from here on a clear day (as it was) and was our "friend" whilst Germany was "the enemy" in both conflicts. It struck me quite forcibly, the two signs sitting with no annotation side by side. That was only throught the door, but there was much more to see.
Sadly, a couple of young teenage boys had to be reminded that this was a place of worship as their behaviour certainly did not reflect that. I am not a Christian, as I have mentioned elsewhere on VT, but I respect all such places. They left fairly quickly but that was just bad luck on my part, I do not wish to suggest that the place is a habitual haunt of teenage thugs and deter potential visitors.
After examining the numerous plaques and memorials on the walls, I made my way to the back and had a look at the small "museum" which houses some excellent model boats and a few other bits and pieces. On leaving, my attention was drawn to the wooden memorial on the wall of the vestibule naming the various fishermen who had lost their lives at sea. A powerful reminder, if any were needed, of the risks involved in that particular profession.
No, it is not the grandest Church you are ever going to see, nor the oldest, largest or anything else but, if you are in the area, I do really recommend you pop in for a few minutes either for prayer if that is your belief or just for a look around. If you do wish to worship here, I am having difficulty finding service times. I do not believe the Church is in general use although there are Sunday evening services at 1800 during the summer months.
It is certainly an interesting place and worth a visit.
Ramsgate has a history largely built on seafaring and indeed the sea provides a living for many in the town to this day between the ferry port and the running of the nearby wid farm at sea. The harbour is a focal point for the community and is certainly worth visiting in it's own right although if you are there I would suggest a visit to a specific vessel, the M.V. Cervia, which is the last ocean-going steam tug in the UK and quite magnificent it is too.
A quick history of the vessel is a story of tragedy and the huge dediaction of the volunteers who have brought her back to the condition she is in now. Built in 1945 - 1946, Cervia was one of an order of 17 vessels for the Dept. of War Transport but thankfully the war had ended before she went into service in 1947 and was originally named the Raymond. The name Cervia refers to a small Italian coastal town where the owners had maintained a holiday home. As the Raymond, her first duty was an interesting one, going to the aid of the stricken liner Queen Elizabeth which was aground off Southampton.
The now renamed Cervia plyed between Gravesend and the Wash until, on 25th October 1954, disaster struck. Whilst hauling the liner Arcadia in the Thames, there was a near collision with another vessel requiring a fairly violent manouevre. The Cervia was in danger of being dragged under and the crew tried to sever the hawser using a special device designed for such an emergency. Unfortunately, the device failed and the vessel was dragged under, taking the lives of the skipper and four other crewmen. If there can be said to be a good side to this awful event, it was that the release mechanism was re-designed, amking it more reliable, thereby undoubtedly saving many lives in similar circumstances.
Cervia was refloated by salvagers and fixed up, continuing in service until 1970. In 1971 she was offfered to a Museum for preservation but there were insufficient funds and she returned to work in European coastal waters, notably towing North Sea oil rigs before being finally lent to the current Museum for p[reservation in 1985.
If you do visit, you will be shown round by a member of the restoration team, in my case a young guy called Jason who was hugely enthusiastic and very knowledgeable. He proudly showed me one bulkhead which had taken all his recent free time for a month to paint. Dedication indeed although I am not sure how impressed his girlfriend might be!
As well as the boiler and associated machinery which are hugely impressive, I was rather more taken by the insight into how the crew lived. The captain's cabin, as you can see from the image, is anything but palatial, although comfortable enough I suppose. All the other crew lived in a forward cabin with no porthole and extremely cramped conditions which is accessed through a tiny hatch that I had to crawl through on my hands and knees as it is so small. A tough life indeed. The entire crew were fed from a galley about the same size as a walk-in wardrobe. How they did it, I just don't know. As this tip only permits five images, I have created a travelogue do give you a better idea of the whole thing. I do hope you enjoy it and it gives you a better idea of this wonderful vessel and I do recommend you visit it, it is well worth the money.
Admission is £2:50 for adults and £1 for accompanied children under 10, unaccompanied children not permitted. It is only open (apart from special events) on Saturday and Sunday between 1100 and 1700. Due to it's nature e.g. narrow gangways and steep steps this activity is regrettably not suitable for those with mobility problems.
The East Coast of Kent has a long history of all things military, specifically the Second World War when it was central to the evacuation of Dunkirk with many of the little ships coming from here or returning with their cargo of exhausted servicemen to the harbours along this stretch. The Battle of Britain raged above the skies here and many unlucky pilots had to be resued from the Cahnnel and returned, often to Ramsgate. Nearby RAF Manston (now a civil airport) was vital in the Battle of Britain effort. One incident that I had not, to my shame, heard of previously is what has become known as the "Channel Dash" and this is a memorial to the incredible heroism of the men who took part in that action.
In early 1942, several German warships were in the port of Brest in Northern France. These included the Prinz Eugen, a heavy cruiser, along with two battleships and their escort. The German plan eas that the vessels should return to base in Germany but that meant running through the relatively narrow English Channel which was covered by coastal artillery and patrolled from the air and sea. Despite the air surveillance, the convoy managed the first 12 hours of their run undetected and made it to the Straits of Dover.
For various reasons, the British response was not what it should have been, ill-equipped vessels, enforced radio silences from 'panes and so on. In a mission that was quickly named Operation Fuller, six Fairey Swordfish of the Fleet Air Arm took to the skies despite awful weather conditions including snow. For those not aware, the Fleet Air Arm is the air component of the the Royal Navy. The Swordfish had been brought to Manston from Hampshire, further West along the coast. In truth, the Swordfish were very nearly obsolete by then, old-fashioned biplanes.
Under the command of Lt. Cmdr Eugene Esmond DSO (at that time) they headed out to attempt to destroy the convoy. It was basically a suicide mission. As well as the formidable firepower of the German ships, the Luftwaffe had approximately 250 aircraft available. This formidable array may have been due in part to the fact that the operation had been personall ordered by Hitler. to counter this, Esmonde and his crews had been promised five squadrons of RAF fighters but only ten aircraft actually turned up, leaving them hopelessly outnumbered. Esmonde dropped his 'plane to 50 feet above the waves and continued the attack. it was carnage, with all six aircraft being shot down and only five of the 18 crew surviving, some seriously injured. The convoy continued and eventually made their home bases.
The actions of Esmonde and his man was of the highest order of heroism, a fact reflected in his posthumus award of a Victoria Cross, the highest military honour available in the UK. All other members of the mission were decorated in various ways.
I stood looking at this monument for a long time and trying to imagine what type of courage it would have taken to have done such a thing. I couldn't manage to do it. If you are at the Royal Harbour, do pause here for a moment and spare a thought for these brave men.
I have mentioned in other tips for various places along the Kent coast the huge part it played in the Second World War. For much of that conflict it was effectively the UK's first line of defence against the Nazi German regime who occupied a large proprtion of Europe. It was also the scene of much of the Battle of Britain activity. However, it was also the scene of one of the pivotal oments of the early part of the War, the evacuation of Dunkirk.
For those of you unaware of this action, the British and colonial forces had sent an expeditionary force (BEF) to Europe at the beginning of the war which had been forced back and were pinned with their back to the sea at the coastal town of Dunkirk. Conventional means of evacuation would have been impossible and so a flotilla of pleasure craft, fishing boats and just about anything that floated and was capable of carrying men was assembled. Many of these were manned by their civilian owners, sometimes assisted by Royal Naval personnel. Organised by Admiral Bertram "Bert" Ramsay from the underground bunkers in nearby Dover Castle this flotilla of tiny craft, often loaded to the gunwales and in danger of being swamped, managed to evacuate over 200,000 BEF troops as well as 120,000 French and Belgian allies. Many of these troops were landed here in Ramsgate.
I was slightly disappointed in the condition of the monument. I appreciate there is perhaps not much you can do about the depradations of seagulls or indeed salt air but the whole thing looked just a little bit shabby. Perhaps the local Council could do something about it.
The Maritime Museum is situated right on the edge of the Royal Harbour.
It contains stuff to do with the local maritime history and also things found on the many wrecks in the seas around the Kent coast.
Admission charges £1.50 per adult, £0.75 for kids under 16. A family ticket for up to 2 adults and 4 kids is £4.00
Hanging out the washing
The lighthouse keepers
wouldn't have to worry about
tumble dryers in those days!
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Not too much time to explore, particularly enjoyed the lift up and down the cliffs! Just a few photos
Close up of the lighthouse tower
notice the 2 men ..this will give you
an idea of the scale
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Another section from the
2 men relaxing on the grass..
probably worked at the
lighthouse or closeby
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Here you can see better
the 2 men at the base of
the tower and in front of
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