In the latter part of the 19th century this family became citizens of Ramsgate and therefore it becomes an important and integral part of this website. In it’s heyday Ramsgate was a significant seaside resort with visitors and residents alike promenading, some being snapped by those lovely Sunbeam Photographers. Brother Brian, Panda (Sunbeam Prop) and Girlfriend ambushed by the Sunbeam Paparazzi.
Sunbeam photographers were snapping away all over the Thanet resorts from the twenties through to the sixties and their subjects were not the rich and famous, but regular people who would always be looking their very best. Mum and Dad (Henry Smith & Bessie Barrett) in their courting days being good examples. Note the cigarette, my how times change. Mum was in service at the time and had little time off, but luckily part of her duties was walking the dog so the loving couple made good use of the time. There weren’t many privileges being in service but being below stairs so to speak and walking the dog was one of them. Henry and Bessie stepping out in Ramsgate, circa 1937/8.
My Father’s family were very much involved with the Salvation Army. Dad played tenor horn in the band and would tell stories of being taken out of the cinema queues by officers, as it was seen to be, I suppose, decadent. The photos below of the Army Band include Dad, (Henry) and Uncle Alf. They are both circa 1920’s. The smaller group have Henry middle row second from right, Alfred bottom extreme right.
The Salvation Army was an important part of life at the time and still is today, always there when needed. Below is a pictorial record of a Salvation Arm funeral, circa 1930’s. It would suggest the person was an important part of the Army life.
Ramsgate, having a Royal Harbour (the only one in the country) it is perhaps not such a surprise that it developed into a classic seaside resort with wonderful Victorian buildings and crescents. Unfortunately the town has been in decline for some time and is often in a state of disrepair making it look a little sad. It has a rich maritime history. In the early days of the RNLI lifeboats were rowed by their crews, however Ramsgate had the advantage of a Tug being based there, which was able to tow the lifeboat to incidents therefore beating their rivals from Margate, Deal and Walmer etc. This was a fantastic advantage to the crew, what heroes those lifeboat men were and continue to be so today. Today’s crews have very different equipment. Ramsgate’s current vessel is the Trent Class 14-02 Esme Anderson built 1994
Victorian Ramsgate must have been a very special place and supporting many and varied attractions and would have been the Jewel of Thanet.
The picture above shows Ramsgate Harbour and the South East and Chatham Railway Terminus turntable where the locomotives were turned. The Station was eventually abandoned, I understand because of accidents in the Dumpton Tunnel, not to mention the danger of locomotives not stopping and crashing the buffers onto the promenade. The Station became Merry England Amusement Hall/Park much enjoyed by the Author in the fifties. The picture below taken in the Spring of 2012 shows a very different picture. Sand bar revealed at low water adjacent to the now reopened Sun-Deck Restaurant suggesting a lack of dredging perhaps. The Royal Pavilion is empty and on the way to being derelict and the old station/amusement site has been a failed building site for a decade and supports the Great Wall of Ramsgate. Nobody is on the sands. Ramsgate where has it all gone wrong?
July 2013 and a glorious summer’s day and things are not much improved. In previous times the sands would have been full and there would have been many and varied attractions from East to West Cliffs, for the visitors to enjoy but they are few today. Two Bandstands, (Freddie Hargreaves Band on the West Cliff) Coronation Ballroom, Model Village, Swimming Pool to name but a few. One classic seaside attraction was boat trips and Thanet was a leader in this area for generations. The Paddle Steamer Royal Sovereign shown entering the harbour was an early example of such a vessel. She was built 1893 by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering for the London & East Coast Express Steamship Services.
There were two subsequent vessels to carry that name. Both were built by William Denny of Dumbarton the first for the New Medway Steam Packet Company, but before the first of these was launched the General Steam Navigation Company (GSNC) had acquired the business. At present I do not hold a picture of this vessel that I can legally publish here. July 2013 and a different era and the beautifully restored Belgium Ketch B72 Jacqueline-Denise enters the harbour as did the P.S. Royal Sovereign in a previous century.
In WW2 the second Royal Sovereign was requisitioned for the war effort and made four trips to the Dunkerque beaches and two to la Panne and is credited with saving some 12,000 men. On the 9th December 1940 she struck a mine in the Bristol Channel and was a total loss.
Her replacement and the third Royal Sovereign was Denny’s Yard No. 1413 and launched 7th May 1948 length 87.99m. – breadth 16.6m. Gross tonnage 1,851 Engines two 12 cylinder Sulzer two stroke single action diesels – Speed 19 knots.
Perhaps the smartest day boat ever built
This lovely painting by Artist, J Nicholson reproduced on this Post Card wonderfully depicts the aspirations of ordinary people able to enjoy, at reasonable cost a little bit of luxury after the austerity of the war years. I remember many trips on her and as a school boy the specification appeared to be that of a liner rather than a day boat. Her sister ship, the M.V. Queen of the Channel, with the open sun-deck pictured below, although always around Thanet. I regret never sailing on her.
M.V. Queen of the Channel – General Steam Navigation Co.
My absolute favourite was the M.V. Crested Eagle, a smaller vessel but lovely. I remember a voyage from Margate to Clacton in Essex, with the Master picking his way through the sandbars of the Margate Roads, but my favourite was an evening cruise out of Ramsgate to the North Goodwin Lightship to take the mail to the crew, via Breaches Boy returning following the coast admiring the Ramsgate Illuminations (rival to Blackpool’s). She was built by the John Crown Shipyard of Sunderland for Thomas Round & Sons, working out of Scarborough in 1938 as The New Royal Lady. Post war she was sold to the GSNC by which time her forward false funnel had been removed. False funnels were often used to create an image above a vessels status. Of all the day boats she is still serving a purpose, albeit at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea between Malta and Gozo as a diving wreck.
Classic Post Card of a very pretty Crested Eagle
Crested Eagle approaching Clacton Pier. Photo Dolly Smith collection.
Alongside Clacton Pier – Mid Fifties. Dolly Smith collection.
I always felt that the GSNC was quite a special shipping line with commercial vessels and the small fleet of quality day cruising vessels. The GSNC flagship was the Royal Daffodil and again I do not hold a picture of her but I remember well a very bumpy cruise off the French Coast. Ironically in 1920 P&O brought a controlling stake in the company but allowed it to trade independently. Perhaps this was the reason for the quality of the vessels and the GSNC operation. The Company folded in 1972.
Sadly day cruising eventually fell out of fashion, which was quite a shame but Booze Cruises out of Dover by the Ro Ro Ferries was the catalyst I guess. Fortunately the Paddle Steamer Waverley and the M.V. Balmoral still fly the flag and each visit some of the Kent Ports from time to time. Long may they continue to do so.
Port Ramsgate has had a very diverse and interesting life from the days of sail through to modern Ro Ro facilities and now off-shore wind-farms service/support. In the days of my Grandfather, Herbert William Barrett (Certified Second Hand for a Fishing Boat of 25 Tons Register or upwards engaged in Trawling on the 19th June 1895) sail was being taken over by steam and the inner basin would have been commercial. I wonder what he would make of the Marina in the inner basin with today’s private yachts/cruisers?
Fishing vessels – Inner Basin. Note: Thames Barge at far end – Circa 1900.
2013 a very different view. The Link-Span structure can just be seen in the distance. The changes over the century are depicted in the photo below.
The leisure craft are a wonderful sight and not insignificant to the viability of the port. However, it is still very much a fully commercial working operation as it has been over it’s long and distinguished history. Thames Barges with grain etc. Volkswagen vehicle import, timber, Ro Ro in the outer harbour, vehicle carrying Hovercraft the list goes on. The development of Port Ramsgate with it’s modern link-spans, aggregate imports, Estuary Services Pilot Vessel base and specialist vessels supporting the offshore Wind Farms. Fishing, as known by my Grandfather has changed and diminished greatly but it still has a fishing fleet.
M.V. Agenor entering the inner basin, Circa late 60’s, not much room for error. Note: VW Vehicles on the dockside. These vehicles are very much before the emissions scandal of today.
Life before super yachts?
The two pictures represent a different age. Containerisations was in it’s infancy and specialist new vehicle delivery vessels were yet to emerge. It shows a busy time perhaps when the smaller ports gave a better financial return for an industry that was not so easy, particularly with the increasing fuel cost through that period. The contrast today of a busy commercial operation that make it a thriving and interesting place. Sophisticated high speed craft, fishery protection vessels, workboats, all can be seen. Today the harbour has a very different look with the inner basin devoted in the main to leisure vessels and help support the harbour, which is Ramsgate’s jewel.
Sadly Trans Europa Ferries operation came to an end in 2013, ending a long period of RO RO. Previously Sally Line (to Dunkerque) and Belgium Marine (to Ostend) operated out of the Port Ramsgate facility. I look forward to a new operator taking up the facility to compete with the ever more competitive operation out of Dover. One of the last vessels to use the terminal was their M.V. Larkspur, formerly the Sally Sky seen here arriving from Ostend in 2012.
The demise of Trans Europa Ferries appears to be contensious but the modern fleet/s operating out of Dover must make it difficult, particularly if you have ageing vessels. Ramsgate is not alone, Folkestone lost it’s link to the continent and now that part of the harbour is derelict. We just have to hope that some good eventually comes out of the catastrophe.
No port facility can survive without support and Ramsgate Harbour Slipways, which was originally established in 1839 is still operating and moving on with the technology. The lock-ups under the Royal Parade also provide marine services of various kinds. Plymouth registered tug Christine on the slipway May 2015.
The Ramsgate Maritime Museum is housed in the Clock House Building and is one of the new attractions and is well worth a visit. The Museum is run by the Steam Museum Trust and operates during the summer months. They have, as part of their collection the Sundowner, which is a Dunkerque Veteran. Built 1912 for the Admiralty and ended being owned by Charles Lightollier, who was 2nd Officer on the ill fated R.M.S. Titanic and the highest ranking officer to survive.
Another vessel is the S.T. Cervia, built 1946 and is a museum in it’s own right and currently undergoing restoration. Inside the building there are some wonderful exhibits plotting the rich maritime history of this Royal Town.
The Maritime Museum needs our support and it’s no thanks to Thanet Council that they delayed for so many years before granting the lease of the Clock House.
Ramsgate has played its part in history, none so much as in WW2 with Operation Dynamo evacuation from the beaches of Dunkerque were landed in the port. Also the gallant sailors and little ships that played such a vital role in that operation. 21st May 2015 saw the commemoration flotilla set sail early morning to Dunkerque, 75 years after the evacuation. It was a privilege to stand on the West Quay and witness the departure of the classic vessels. A snapshot of some of the vessels follow.
Come on Ramsgate you have so much you could offer and you should be making the best of it. Thanet has a new council of a different colour and not wishing to be political as it was not my vote but councillors show us you can make a difference. If Ramsgate can run events like the Dunkerque Commemoration, why can’t that be the norm. You only get out if you put in. Politicians and Residents invest in your town.
Any errors or omissions the author would be pleased to be educated. The information given is only a snap-shot of personal memories. Additional input, information, photos etc. would be appreciated and not necessarily maritime.