Monday morning and I was up early again and again it was on purpose but regrettably for me it was not for the Rugby World Cup which was offering Wales vs. Georgia at 1115. I could have made it back in time for kickoff easily enough but I didn’t bother as you shall find out if you care to read on a bit. Back from where you may wonder? Go on, take a guess. Yes, you’ve probably got it, I was back to the QEQM hospital for another outpatients appointment and before I even got in the door I was thinking about this blog and I reckoned you were probably all sick of looking at the same generic image of the main entrance so I took one of the helipad just to break up the monotony. Don’t say I don’t think about my small band of faithful readers, I do. Sorry I could not hang around until a helicopter turned up but I had places to go and people to see.
I won’t bore you with the details of my appointment except to tell you that it was another chapter in the ongoing game of ping-pong between QEQM and Broadstairs Health Centre in which I had taken on the role of the ball. There was much talk of legal obligation, temporary patient status, in fact all the apparently incorrect information I had already been carrying around with me. As always, they seemed to feel the need to take blood which they did at the second rather uncomfortable attempt and told me to come back at 1130 (it had just gone 1000). I actually had the vaguest of plans for the day which is unlike me and I knew I could fit the first part in before my blood had been analysed.
Part one of the plan involved the Beano Cafe which I have mentioned before as I knew there was one on the front, 10 Marine Crescent to be exact and not to be confused with the Best Beano Cafe in Dane Road or even the Beano Cafe in nearby Westgate. It seems a little confusing but I am going to explain it all to you now but first the breakfast. One of the set offerings was egg, bacon, beans and bubble which is what I went for as I had not had bubble for literally years and I love it.
Do you know about Bubble?
Readers from London and the Southeast and probably most of England will have an idea of what Bubble is but perhaps readers from further afield will not so here is a bit of an introduction. Bubble is a contraction of Bubble and Squeak and is the square item you can see in the image. Irish readers may recognise it as Colcannon which is near enough the same thing although served loose and not normally formed into cakes like Bubble. There are variants all over Europe like Stamppot in Netherlands (which I have had) and stoemp from Belgium.
Whatever you want to call it, this predominantly breakfast dish was a way of using up leftovers from a roast dinner, if you were rich enough to afford such a luxury. It is often viewed as a poor man’s food but it is popping up in various forms in restaurants nowadays. Traditionally it was mashed potatoes and cabbage mixed together and pan fried although any vegetables can be thrown in if you have them and I have had it made with leftover Brussels sprouts which was gorgeous although I know they are a bit of an acquired taste. If you are wondering about the odd name, apparently it refers to the noise the cabbage makes as it cooks. Now you know all about Bubble, let’s get back to the “Beano Cafe Mystery” as I named it in the last post.
I got talking to the guy behind the counter when I was paying the bill (the meal was superb incidentally) and asked him were they associated with the Broadstairs and Ramsgate Beanos as they looked very much the same with the signage etc. and served much the same menu. I did not mention that the staff all spoke with the same Eastern Mediterranean accent. The story he told me was fascinating and just goes to show what you can find out if you are prepared to talk to people.
He told me that they are sort of connected but not owned by the same person. They are something like a franchise without a central franchising body. All the Beanos Cafes in Kent are run by members of a very extended Turkish family (I was right about the accent) from one village and the closely surrounding area. I asked how many there were as I knew of three and he told me 15 or maybe 20, even he did not know for sure. He told me there was one in Sheerness, which is miles away and I have found out there is one in Canterbury as well. I think they are on a mission to take over Kent and with the food they serve, the standards of hygiene, the prices and the friendly service, good luck to them say I!
With the Beano mystery solved and a bellyful of Bubble (there must be a song lyric or title in that) I jumped back on the Loop bus. All this hopping on and off buses didn’t bother me as the good old “rover” ticket covered everything.
I set out on the second part of my little plan which took me on the Loop again through Margate centre, up the hill out of town towards Northdown and back the way the bus comes from Broadstairs.
Mining in Margate?
On my various trips to the QEQM hospital in particular and Margate in general I had noticed something that I could not remember seeing before and that was the rather smart building you can see in the image above. I had heard about the Margate Shell Grotto and was wondering if I was getting confused and this was it with a fancy frontage but then I had seen signs elsewhere for it so that could not be the case. For once my old mind was not playing tricks on me and it transpired that this building had only been opened about a month. As I have mentioned, there is not too much to do here so I thought I would go and pay a visit.
I went in to what was a very pleasant coffee bar type of space which I believe also doubles as a community facility. I spoke to a charming lady who told me a bit about the caves, sold me my entrance ticket and readily agreed to look after my rather heavy daysack for me as it was becoming a bit of a burden in my slightly weakened state. I really must get something lighter than my laptop to write up my blog for you good people.
The first room was on the ground floor adjacent to the ticket desk and obligatory gift shop and gave a general overview of the caves. I got the impression that it was mainly aimed at children as there were a lot of “hands on” exhibits, mostly at small person height near the floor. It was nicely mixed up though and there was enough information to keep not so small persons like me interested. With my brief overview finished I made my way to the stairs where there were a couple exiting accompanied by the volunteer guide who asked me to wait a moment whilst she changed over with her colleague. No problem, I was in no rush. Barring the guide, these two visitors were the only other people I saw which made for a pleasant experience.
Despite the introductory room, I still was not entirely sure what to expect as I descended the stairs and followed the new guide along a narrow walkway which was a little uneven underfoot into the caves. I should mention here that because of the nature of this attraction it is entirely unsuitable for those with mobility problems or baby buggies etc.
As I entered the main chamber I was immediately struck with the thought, which persisted throughout my stay, that it was like a cathedral with it’s vaulted roof, quiet from the outside world and so on. It is not huge and the artworks are hardly going to rival the Sistine Chapel but that was my over-riding impression.
In contrast to the Margate Museum which I have mentioned elsewhere in these posts and where photography is banned, it is positively encouraged here with signs exhorting you to go image mad and post everything on anti-social media as I call it. Whilst I do not subscribe to any of those sites, I am happy to do so here albeit that it will not generate anything like the traffic the others would but every little helps as they say.
The caves were originally dug out as a small chalk mine in the late 17th and early 18th centuries although not much is known about them then as they were an illegal venture and nothing was recorded officially. They then fell into disuse and were more or less forgotten about until a chap called Francis Foster “rediscovered” them. He was the man who built nearby Northdown House, a listed building which survives today as a wedding and conference venue.
There are various stories told about how he located them ranging from a family pet disappearing down a hole in the grounds of the house to ground subsidence to observations of rabbits but nobody really knows. Foster re-opened the caves and used them as a wine cellar and ice house both of which were guaranteed to impress his visitors. There are stories that the caves were used as a prison during the Napoleonic Wars with prisoners manacled to the walls but the flaw in this tale is instantly apparent. Chalk is one of the softest types of stone in existence, why do you think we use it on blackboards? The thought of anchoring manacles to it is laughable as they would just fall out!
Eventually the caves metamorphosed into a tourist attraction in the 19th century with the advent of the tourist trade here and this continued on and off for many years with a secondary use as a shelter from German aerial attack in both world wars. In 2004 the hated “health and safety police” closed the caves down but the local people banded together and after a serious amount of fundraising they got the caves fully compliant with the multitude of regulations placed in their way and the wonderful new visitor centre / community facility. It is a credit to them.
During the time they were originally a tourist draw various paintings were added to the bare walls and they range in quality from, shall we say, of the naive school to the frankly appallingly amateur but they do have a certain charm. I should add that they had all been professionally restored in the original style prior to the re-opening. I have reproduced a selection here so you can make up your own mind.
I believe that the image above is supposed to represent King Vortigern and this is the name given to the caves by an enterprising entrepreneur in the mid 19th century in a bid to attract customers. There is much myth surrounding Vortigern (or any one of the myriad alternate spellings of his name) but he is believed to have invited the Saxons Hengist and Herta to Britain effectively as mercenaries to defeat the Picts but they turned on him and founded what is now Kent. Or so the story goes. Whilst it may have impressed the Victorian daytripper, there is no archaeological evidence whatsoever to support Vortigern’s presence here.
The caves were supposed to open in time for the summer season 2019 but due to them being let down by various contractors they did not manage to unlock the doors until mid August thereby missing a good proportion of the “season”. This is a shame and I hope it does not damage them too much financially.
I had a long chat with the guide who was delightful and who I would have said was in her late teens or early 20’s and I asked her if she enjoyed being down here. In an answer that surprised and heartened me in about equal measure coming form one of her age she said she loved it especially as her mobile (cell) ‘phone didn’t work down there. I would not have believed that possible (her mindset not the lack of signal as I struggle at ground level in Thanet).
As you have probably guessed from the tone of my writing I enjoyed the caves and would recommend a visit. No, it is not a full day activity and I would suggest an hour would easily cover it but I am so impressed with the ethos behind it that I believe it deserves all the support it can get.
Lest we forget not once but four times.
With the caves ticked off my list I decided to walk back into town as it is not too far and all downhill, plus which I had spotted a war memorial en route and wished to visit. regular readers of my submissions here and elsewhere will know that I like to visit war memorials for a couple of reasons. The first is that I believe it right to pay my respects to those who died in former conflicts and, regrettably and occasionally current ones, and secondly I contribute to the excellent War Memorials website which is under the overall supervision of the Imperial War Museum. The linked website gives much fuller details but it is basically a website and resource dedicated to recording every war memorial in the UK. Whilst it does include the traditional war memorials you see in towns and villages the length and breadth of the country, it also includes numerous items you would not expect and it is a fascinating site to visit or even contribute to if you feel so inclined.
The war memorial is a traditional obelisk set in what looks like a park although I worked out later that the park is in fact the site of the Holy Trinity Church which was destroyed in a German air raid in 1943 which I suppose makes it a somewhat appropriate site.
I walked in through the “uphill” gate to a well-tended green space regrettably bearing the signs of misuse by the locals as it appears it is used as some sort of drinking den.
Before I even made it to the main memorial I had to pause at not one but two other memorials to the fallen. The first I chanced upon was in memory of those killed in the Korean War of 1950 – 1953 and which has been slightly forgotten by history, overshadowed I suppose by the Second World War which had preceeded it a mere five years earlier.
The second memorial was to a theatre of operations in that global conflict which has been dubbed “the Forgotten War” and that is the war in the Far East, particularly Burma and a conflict that has particular resonance for me. I have visited Burma (before the new regime) and loved the country and the people. That trip will form the basis of another series of posts here if I ever get time but that is not the main reason for my connection to the fighting there. My uncle Tommy was serving with the RAF regiment in the Far East campaign, was captured and died due to maltreatment at the hands of the Japanese in the infamous Changi prison camp in Singapore. He is commemorated on the memorial there. I was a little dismayed at the slightly rundown appearance of some of the lettering on the memorial as you can see in the images but I shall report it to the appropriate body through the memorials website (another of it’s functions) and hopefully something can be done about it.
I deliberately left the rum bottle and polythene bag in situ as I took the image to shw the complete lack of respect some people have for places like this and which I mentioned above. I did remove and bin them but no doubt there were more deposited that evening. Sad really.
I didn’t even bother replacing my headgear as it was only a few steps to the largest memorial, the one I had seen from the bus so often. It is of a fairly typical design of such structures erected after the First World War and was apparently erected in 1922 by public subscription as they all were.
TTo the rear of the obelisk is the series of tablets you can see in the images which are dedicated “In memory of those of this town who lost their lives in the 1939 – 1945 war…..” and this leads me to believe that both service personnel and civilians are commemorated here. Certainly there is a Master Bernard Evans, a Councillor W.R.P. Avery and, most tragically, a Baby J. Denton noted but in the absence of a separate memorial to those who made the ultimate sacrifice whilst serving I can only surmise that they are noted here without rank.
To the bottom right of the WWII memorial, presumably where there was space, is the single name Alistair Leighton, again with no rank indicated, a victim of the Falklands War. A quick internet search shows him to be a MEM(M)2 [Marine Engineer Mechanical (Mechanical) Class 2 ] in the Royal Navy whose body was lost at sea following the sinking of HMS Ardent in 1982. He had joined the Navy at 16, served three years and was 19 when he perished which made him younger than me and certainly gave me pause for thought when I just discovered that.
With all three memorials duly recorded and respects paid, I continued my walk back into town and was confronted with a most lovely sight and something I cannot believe I had never seen before as I like to think of myself as being pretty observant but apparently this is not the case. I shall let the image above show you how it seems incredible I had not noticed it. I checked it out but it appeared it was only open at very limited timesand this was not one of them. Still, another one for the “to do” list.
The day was not yet done though and I chanced upon the blue plaque you can see above which was attached to a rather nondescript modern block of flats and which made me smile somewhat as to the “interconnectedness of all things” as the late Douglas Adams once wrote. There are some famous people who seem to follow me around or perhaps I follow them around although I do not do it consciously and the noted painter J.M.W. Turner after whom both the prestigious Turner Prize and the Turner Contemporary (the large art gallery in Margate) are named. Some years ago I lived in an area of the East End called Wapping and my local pub was named “Turner’s Old Star” where Turner once lived under an assumed name with his mistresses Sophia Booth and which still stands. Interestingly, she was a widowed landlady from Margate. Then I come to Thanet and the good Mr. Turner has followed me. Another such historical “stalker” is Karl Marx but that is a story for another time.
My next “find” was a building which proved to be of great interest. What first drew my attention to the gable wall of what was to prove to be rather a large building I saw two rather dilapidated plaques, one on either side of a door which bore the legends, “The Ruby” and “Buvette” respectively. I know that buvette means bar in French and a bit of research on the excellent Lost Pubs website, to which I also contribute, shows a Ruby Bar here which closed c. 2014. It was subsequently renamed and went for another few years but is once again closed.
Looking up, as I tend to do when exploring, I saw the blue plaque you can see in the image which showed that Prince Frederick aka “The Grand Old Duke of York” of nursery rhyme fame, or infamy if you prefer, lived here and I must say that he had a very decent view. If you are wondering about the nursery rhyme it refers to the abortive Anglo – Russian invasion of Holland in 1799 where the indecisiveness of his actions were due more to political influence than incompetence on his part as he was generally regarded as a very good career officer.
Frederick’s residence here gives rise to the naming of the street I was on as Duke Street and, when I walked round to the front of the rather grand building I discovered that it was named Royal York Mansions, presumably for the same reason. It has actually been mansions for some time as the hotel closed in 1909 and whilst researching the building I found out that a dwelling there will cost you a pretty penny indeed. Perhaps you still need to be a Prince to afford to live on the Parade at Margate.
Taking a walk back along the front I was confronted by yet more bars, three to be precise and none of which was open for various reasons but which tell a story about the state of the licensed trade in East Kent. To the extreme left of the image is the Imperial Lounge and I do not know if it is permanently closed or not although it was when I went past at just after 1300 on a Monday in September. I do know there are recent plans to turn it into a boutique hotel. Next to that is XYLO’s, another of the crop of micropubs that are proliferating like Japanese Knotweed in the area and directly adjacent to it is, you’ve guessed it, yet another micropub called Halves. Micropubs generally do not open at lunchtime as they do not make enough profit so they only open in the evenings and weekends. I do not know where it is all gong to end but I do not see it being a happy ending for the independently run traditional freehouse.
Heading back to Broadstairs, it was back into the George where Dave once again took it upon himself to feed me up with a good dose of leftover chilli which, as always, he had “livened up” especially for me. He is such a nice guy and he and Bev really do run a great pub. I know I go on about it but he does not even ask any more, he just produces food as he thinks I need feeding up and it is much appreciated.
Back off to what I was now considering as home in my lovely little room in the Wrotham and it was yet again a very contented Fergy that drifted off to sleep.
The next post will be another composite where we can whizz through a few days before getting back to the touristy stuff so stay tuned and spread the word.