Spotlight on Broadstairs

PUBLISHED: 15:27 19 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:33 20 February 2013

Spotlight on Broadstairs

Spotlight on Broadstairs

Beloved by Dickens and with the best beaches for miles, this August Broadstairs celebrates Folk Week

Spotlight on Broadstairs

Beloved by Dickens and with the best beaches for miles, this month Broadstairs celebrates Folk Week

Broadstairs is a bright, lively, colourful town, with seven spectacular sandy-beached bays, a wonderful promenade lined with fine landscaped gardens and a High Street packed with quirky individual shops.

Its an essentially happy, welcoming place and just packed with literary traditions, most notably its connection with regular visitor Charles Dickens, who wrote David Copperfield while staying at Bleak House, the romantic, brooding clifftop mansion that still dominates the skyline above Viking Bay.

John Buchan, Wilkie Collins, Oscar Wilde, D H Lawrence and Bernard Shaw all had Broadstairs connections, and theres an annual Dickens Festival. And every August theres Broadstairs Folk Week when the main streets are closed to traffic and towns pubs and concert halls and open spaces are taken over by musicians, Morris and Appalachian dancers, ceilidhs and craft fairs. Known as the jewel in Thanets crown, its town crest motto is Stella Maris, meaning Star of the Sea.

Around town

There are five convenient car parks and on-street parking, but remember that during Folk Week all spaces may be taken. Some roads are fairly steep, but there are no formidable hills. Start your tour on Victoria Parade with the Dickens House behind you, and turn right and go along past the Charles Dickens pub, and take the first turning on the right. When you come to a crossroads youve reached the lower end of the High Street, which slopes steeply upwards. Soon you come to a turning to the left; on the flint wall of the corner house are two signs, confusingly saying Serene Place and Raglan Place: this is a row of lovely ivy-covered flint cottages typical of many of the older Broadstairs houses, of dark coloured flint with brick window surrounds.

Continue up the High Street and on the right youll see the magnificent colourful plasterwork above the Prince Albert pub. Cross the road and turn to go back down the hill. When you come to Barclays Bank, turn left into Albion Street. Notice the grand yellow-painted Royal Albion Hotel and several narrow alleys on the right that lead to the promenade. You will pass Bumbles Antiques and Bee Antiques Teddy Bear Hospital and the Albion Bookshop, in an old stone building, part of which was once a chapel, dated 1601.

At the end of Albion Street you cant miss the beautiful colourful murals above the Seafarers fish and chip shop and neighbouring Canadian Pizza restaurant. Outside Seafarers is a life-sized model of a bearded man dressed in a yellow.

At the junction of Albion and Harbour Street is the 16th-century Dolphin Inn. Turn right down Harbour Street and look out for the Old Curiosity Shop Tea Rooms. Alongside this building is a square of cottages and a wishing well; these once formed the nucleus of the original Bradstow. Further down Harbour Street on the right youll see historic York Gate (see below) spanning the road leading off to the right. At the bottom of Harbour St is a view of the sandy bay, with an attractive beach-side pub called the Pavilion on your right (once the site of a massive shipbuilding yard).

Continue along this road and you come to the flint-built Tartar Frigate seafood restaurant (01843 862013 highly recommended for its cuisine). Carry on and you get to the lifeboat station on the right, a lovely detached yellow weather-boarded building. Ahead is the beach and a car park and a glorious view out onto Viking Bay. To the left is Bleak House up on the cliff (not open to the public). Retrace your steps back up to Albion Street and go down Dickens Walk on the left. This leads to the Promenade and the beach. Turn right and youll soon come to Victoria Parade, above you to the right. To the left are the wonderful promenade gardens, with the bandstand beyond.

Major attractions

  • Dickens House museum (01843 861232) packed with Dickens memorabilia, this living museum was once the home of Mary Pearson Strong, the inspiration for Dickenss character Betsey Trotwood. Excellent guided tours, plus general information about the town available

  • Crampton Tower (01843 871133) a museum that commemorates the inventions of Mr Crampton, celebrated local railway engineer, with working model railway layouts and the Broadstairs Gallery showing historical images of the town.

  • The Promenade Gardens: Nuckells Gardens, Balmoral Gardens and near the bandstand, Chandos Gardens and Victoria Gardens

  • Sarah Thorne Theatre Club (0845 2626263), performing at the Memorial Theatre, St Peters Road, Broadstairs. Ex-staff members of the Theatre Royal, Margate present quality professional plays and concerts

  • Westwood Cross Shopping Centre

  • Broadstairs Leisure (01843 861075) amusement arcade and leisure centre

  • Art: Little Art Gallery (01843 600611) and Broadstairs Gallery (01843 865849)

  • Lilliput Minigolf (01843 861500)

  • Surfing schools: Kent Surf School (07970 870098) on Viking Bay sands and the eponymous Joss Bay Surf School (01843 868171)

  • Firework displays on Viking Bay on Wednesday evenings during summer and on 5 November


  • The Seven Bays. The wonderful sandy beaches along the coast, divided into Viking Bay beside the town, Botany Bay, Kingsgate Bay, Joss Bay, Stone Bay, Luisa Bay and Dumpton Gap

  • St Peters Village. Has some of the oldest buildings in the area, a listed grade II* parish church with a large churchyard, with regular village tours (07546 514948), where you meet costumed characters, plus St Peters Church War Graves Tour and separate Churchyard Tour (01843 868646). Booking is essential for all these: check for dates of these tours, normally held only two or three times a month

  • Revolutions Skatepark and Climbing Centre (01843 866707). Skateboarding and climbing facilities to suit all levels of ability

  • North Foreland Golf Club (01843 862140), an excellent cliff-top downland course.

Past and present

The name derives from the Anglo Saxon word Bradstowe, meaning either Broad Place or Broad stairs: the latter is more in tune with the theory that it was named after the broad stairs carved in the chalk cliff that led from the beach to the 12th-century shrine of St Mary above.

It was originally a fishing settlement in the14th century and a shipbuilding trade was established, the site of the towns huge shipbuilding yard on the beach is now occupied by The Pavilion pub. In 1460 the first wooden pier or jetty was constructed, replaced by a more substantial one in 1538. York Gate was built in 1540 to protect the town from the sea: this originally held two heavy wooden doors that could be closed when necessary. In 1767 a storm destroyed the pier, but it was restored in 1774.

Smuggling thrived for centuries and networks of tunnels and caves were excavated into the chalk cliffs for concealing contraband, however smuggling cased after 1840. In the 17th and 18th centuries shipbuilding was the towns biggest industry, but this ended in 1824 when the yard closed.

The arrival of steam ships in 1824 brought easier trade with London and thus prosperity, then by 1850 there was an influx of professional people. Coinciding with this was the coming of the railways in 1830, the rail services increasing by 1851. Large houses were built, including Holland House (1760), Stone House (1764), Pierremont Hall (1785) and East Cliff Lodge (1794). The Railway Hotel and The Railway Tavern were built in the 1860s to service the growing tourist trade. Because of the pure sea air, convalescent homes for children opened up around 1900. The Broadstairs economy is now largely based on tourism.


Broadstairs Folk Week, 6 -13 August (01843 604080)

Festival of song, music and dance, 500 events, including concerts, shows, dance, poetry, workshops, craft fairs etc., and the main streets are closed to traffic. The leading acts are in Pierremont Park, with smaller gigs in pubs, restaurants, cafes and at the bandstand. Stars such as Martin Simpson, Ade Edmonson and the Bad Shepherds and Show of Hands with Miranda Sykes are amongst the headline acts this year. There are workshops in, amongst other things: singing in harmony, guitar paying, Appalachian clog dancing, pop songs of the 19th century, playing the accordion, clog dancing and Morris dancing.

Broadstairs Dickens Festival

Every June, many events including Festival Play, music hall, talks, readings, bathing parties, walks and more. Encounter locals around town in costume.

Broadstairs Water Gala, 24 and 25 August.

Beach games, raft race, funfair, air displays on the bandstand and the promenade.

Broadstairs Food Festival, 28 September to 3 October

Taking place in and around the town, culminating in a three-day Food Fayre in Victoria Gardens.

Famous folk

  • Sir Edward Heath was born in town in 1916

  • Dickens visited regularly from 1837 to 1859. Wrote David Copperfield while staying at Bleak House

  • Princess Victoria was a visitor to Pierremont Hall

  • John Buchans novel The 39 steps was inspired by steps leading from North Foreland to the beach

  • Wilkie Collinss novel The Woman in White is said to be inspired by the North Foreland lighthouse

  • Hans Christian Anderson visited

  • D H Lawrence stayed in nearby Kingsgate

  • Oscar Wilde was a guest at the Albion hotel

  • Joss Snelling, the famous local excise dodger and head of the Callis Court Gang, was fined 100 for smuggling, aged 89

  • Frank Richards (aka Charles Hamilton) creator of Billy Bunter, was a resident.

Considering a move?

Property prices are quite reasonable, and compare favourably with the rest of the south east. Expect to buy a one bed-roomed flat for around 134,000, and a two or three bedroomed one for approximately 190,000. A two bed-roomed house costs around 193,500, while a three-bed semi is in the region of 222,000. Four-bedroomed detached houses are likely to be 379,000 and higher.

How to get there

Broadstairs is on the A255, around 20 miles from Dover and 80 miles from London and almost midway between Margate and Ramsgate, though nearer to the latter. There are twice-hourly trains from London Victoria, taking around two hours, plus bus and coach links to other Thanet towns.

Satnav postcode: CT10 1QS.


Eddie Ault, assistant curator Dickens House Museum

What fascinates you about Dickens?

His life in general, really. Of course his stories were brilliant, but as a man he was a very caring person. He portrayed how ordinary people lived in those days, he highlighted social problems, and did all he could for charities, raising money and using his influence to right wrongs. He was a good, kind, caring man; if you were his friend, there was nothing he wouldnt do for you.

How long have worked with the museum?

My wife Lee and I were involved from day one, in 1973, when the place opened and we were both keen volunteers. Ten years ago Lee became the honorary curator and since I retired Ive helped full time because we love the place so much. Were lucky enough to get lots of groups, particularly foreign students, and are happy to open up out of hours, morning or evening, when asked.

What else do you do in the town?

We used to run the annual Dickens Festival, and Id help out with that, and I started the annual cricket match, and also dressed up as various Dickensian characters for sightseers. We used to have horses and carriages, and one of my jobs was to go behind the horses and shovel up their natural exhaust from the road. We had the best roses in Nuckells Gardens, thanks to the barrow-loads of fertiliser I put on them! Up until last year I took part in the St Peters Village Tour, playing the role of Joss Snelling, our famous smuggler. As well as taking tours around the museum, I lead walks around the town.

Whats the town like during Folk Week?

Great fun, everywhere is packed out, and theres free entertainment and the shops and restaurants enjoy boosted trade. After all, if Lee and I dressed up in funny clothes and put bells around our ankles and started dancing in the street wed be locked up, but in Folk Week we can get away with it!

Where would you take guests?

For a walk along the seafront, maybe as far as Ramsgate if the tides are right, and back along the harbour to see the buildings around town. In the evening wed go for a meal at the Broadstairs Tandoori (01843 865653), which serves wonderful Nepalese cuisine.

What you like most about Broadstairs?

The Dickens connection, and also the lovely bays weve got. You can walk all the way to Kingsgate when the tide is out, people are extremely friendly and its quiet and peaceful. The seas proximity makes the air quality marvellous. I wouldnt want to live anywhere else.

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