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History of Margate

Margate comes from the Old English ‘mere’ meaning ‘sea or water’ with ‘geat’ as ‘gate’; therefore, a ‘gateway to the sea’. Records in 1254 show Margate as Meregeat.

Margate parish church is a Grade: I listed building, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. The Monks of St Mary’s Minster built the first church in 1050 as a Chapel-of-Ease to St Mary’s, for their benefit when visiting the area. The Normans rebuilt it in 1124, with additions and extensions at different times since. Around 1400, an unknown founder cast and hung two bells. John sturdy added a tenor bell in 1440, and in 1585, Thomas Hatch cast a treble. After, the dissolution of the monastery and the change brought by the reformation, the chapel of St John the Baptist became entirely separated from the mother church of Minster. In 1785, William Mears recast the bells into a ring of six. Traditionally, St John’s served a farming community, although lost its centre of population as a new Margate turned to face the sea. In 1800, Edward Hasted describes the Margate church as standing ‘about half a mile from the lower part of Margate southward, on the knoll of the hill; it is a large building of flints, covered with rough-cast; the quoins, windows and door cases of ashlar stone. It consists of three isles and three chancels, having a low square tower, with a small pointed turret on it at the west end of the north isle, in which is a clock and six bells’. Thomas Mears added two treble bells in 1823 to complete eight. In 1875, Ewan Christian repaired the roof together with a general restoration of the church.  

In the 15th Century, Henry VI added Margate as a limb of Dover in the confederation of Cinque Ports. In 1753, Benjamin Beale introduced a modified bathing machine to Margate and transformed a small fishing town into a traditional holiday destination for Londoners drawn to its sandy beaches. 

In 1815, the new harbour enabled steamers to use Margate. With the steamers came the visitors, so much so, that, by 1841, six steamboat companies vied for the passenger traffic. Despite the arrival of the railway, steamboats continued until 1967. 

The first railway to arrive was a branch line from the South Eastern Railway’s (SER) main line at 
Ashford and opened as ‘Margate Sands’ on 1 December 1846. Not being a direct route from London meant visitors needed to change trains at Ashford also trains had to reverse from the terminus at Ramsgate. Despite that, it proved popular with even greater numbers of visitors adding to those arriving by steamboat. In 1863, the SER lost its monopoly, when on the 5 October the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, completed its North Kent line and opened ‘Margate West’ station. Following the forming of Southern Railway in 1923, Margate West lost the suffix, and the route to Ramsgate closed…. more

In 1887, the town built a clock tower to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Potts of Leeds installed the clock while John Warner cast and hung five standard bells.

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