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There was considerable publicity heralding the re-opening of Dreamland on 19th June ten years after it had closed. The long campaign to save the amusement park, which claims to be Britain’s oldest dating back to the 1920s, was magnificent. It managed to see off property developers, Tesco’s plans for a superstore on the adjacent site and arson attacks that damaged the Grade 11 listed scenic railway.
The fine Georgian architecture around Margate’s Hawley Square, built for the gentry in 1762, reveal its wealthy past. In the post war period it became a popular holiday resort and day trip destination for the workers from London. Margate’s heyday was the 1950s when only the extremely wealthy could afford a foreign holiday. The restoration of Dreamland is an evocation of that period. My 1950 copy of Ward Lock’s guide to North East Kent only has a short description:
“Dreamland Park, where Margate is at its merriest. From skating rink, to skittle alley and from “joy wheel” to miniature and scenic railways, all the fun of the fair is found here.”
I visited on the 26th June and from across the bay I could see that the “joy wheel” was not turning. Undeterred I carried on with my quest to visit Dreamland. The banners flying from the lamp posts in the new corporate colours lead you along the wide sandy bay to the fun palace.
Impressive retro branding for the latest attraction. The outside of the distinctive entrance still needs quite a lot of work. Posters of images from the 50s and 60s illustrate good old vintage fun.
A small notice on the door confirmed that Dreamland was closed but would be open again at the weekend. Close by me were a group of disappointed teenagers who had come on a day trip from London and were not happy. Armed with my camera I walked around the perimeter trying to get a glimpse of the rides.
My day wasn’t a complete waste as there was a very good Grayson Perry exhibition at the Turner Contemporary. Margate still has that down at heel feel once you get out of the old town but I hope that Dreamland will be another attraction that contributes to its transformation.
Margate is still waiting for the Bilbao effect to transform it to its former glory, but here and there are signs that the town is on the up – The Turner Contemporary, the old town and now The Royal Seabathing Hospital. (Previous post on Margate’s regeneration)
The old buildings which for so long were abandoned have had a face lift and repurposed into luxury seaside apartments.
Margate’s climate has much to do with its early success as a seaside town. This is how it was described in Ward Lock’s Illustrated Guide Books(1951):
“First among its natural assets is Margate’s unrivalled air, clear, invigorating and laden with ozone. All the winds except those from the south west blow as sea breezes, while the chalky soil absorbs moisture, so that the air has the same exhilarating effect as that of the Alps, intensified by the flavour of the sea.”
It was this reputation and an unquestionable belief in the curative properties of sea air that led to the foundation of The Royal Sea Bathing Hospital 1791. For two hundred years the hospital treated patients with tuberculosis and other diseases. The hospital closed in 1996 and photographs taken in 2005 can be found on Abandoned Britain.
The hospital was founded by John Coakley Lettsom a Quaker physician for London’s poor who would benefit from sun, sea and ozone. He was, however, lampooned:
“When my patients call on me,
I physic, bleed, and sweats ‘em;
Then if they choose to die,
Why, what care I, I Lettsom”.
The hospital was quite visionary and from the outset was designed with open arcased and verandas although it would be another century before open-air treatment for pulmonary TB was standard. Initially the hospital was only open during the summer months but in 1858 an indoor bath enabled the wards to be open all year round. Wards were only used for sleeping in during bad weather with beds more usually found on the verandah. Perhaps this is why London’s poor, not used to sleeping in the open air, questioned Dr Lettsom’s motivation.