The first time I came to Margate was in the early 1980’s when, with a group of friends, I visited the Bembom Brothers Theme Park (aka Dreamland). I had a great and exciting day enjoying the many attractions and rides, including the Mary Rose which was made famous in the ‘Only Fools and Horses’ episode ‘The Jolly Boy’s Outing’.
I did not return to Margate until the New Year of 2016. A friend’s son, who plays in an ‘Indie’ band, was thinking of buying a flat there. So I accompanied ‘the band’ to go take a look.
Much had changed during the intervening twenty five or so years. Dreamland had been sold to a property developer, who had tried to turn it in to a housing development. Fortunately it had recently re-opened and was thriving again, having been saved by the Dreamland Trust.
The town had hit rock bottom in the early nineties and many of the gracious old hotels had either been demolished or converted into flats. The shops in the Old Town at that point were mostly closed and boarded up. The game changer has been the opening of The Turner Contemporary Art Gallery in 2011, built on land which had previously been part-occupied by a house once owned by a Mrs Booth. She was both the landlady and amor of JMW Turner – our country’s most famous painter. Turner as a young boy had attended school in Margate and would return regularly throughout his life. He once remarked that ‘the skies over Margate are the loveliest in Europe’. He would use an alias, Mr Mallord, in his later years, so as not to attract attention.
The Turner Contemporary was designed by David Chipperfield, the modernist architect. Love it or hate it – the spaces inside are wonderful.
The current exhibition, entitled ‘Seaside Photographed’, incorporates an interesting exhibit of nine photographs taken by Keith Vaughan by the seaside. The photographs have been loaned by the University of Aberystwth from their Keith Vaughan collection.
Vaughan was born in Selsey in West Sussex. He was to return to the nearby Pagham Beach with a close coterie of male friends in the 1930’s. These pictures date from that period. Along with those famous skies, they are an excuse to visit Margate and to enjoy the entire free exhibition of seaside photography on display.