Architects Architecture

Margate Winter Gardens + Fort Green Margate Kent

A Tale of One Town

Our dear friend Min Hogg, Founding Editor of The World of Interiors, invented the phrase “shabby chic”. Her flat on Brompton Square epitomised the look. She told us, “’Chic’ is simply style used with an élan that has a social or intellectual overtone.” What about ‘shabby’? “Apart from its obvious aesthetic appeal, shabbiness is the only defence and bastion against ostentation and misspent money. For architecture and interiors to have arrived at a shabby state usually implies that the things were of good quality and built to last back in their heyday. It doesn’t matter a fig if they are scuffed, worn, or out of fashion. It’s the traces of the haphazardness of living that bring things to life and give them reality, and reality is what shabby chic is all about!”

If there’s a town that sums up shabby chic, it’s Margate. Now that we are all working from home, experiencing the return of cottage industries, Margate will likely become more gentrified with an influx of Londoners wanting rooms with views – less shabbiness more chicness. Not necessarily a good thing – there’s a lot of charm in the resort’s peeling paint and overgrown hedgerows. And nowhere more so than the Winter Gardens above Fort Lower Promenade. The Winter Gardens are a bit bonkers, like Min (if in doubt check out Ms Hogg’s mischievous after hours appearance in Rupert Everett’s autobiography!). The Listers praise the Winter Gardens as “an example of a rare seaside entertainment building type. Its form, with a semicircular amphitheatre is unique. It is the only known example of a winter garden constructed within a chalk cliff.”

Built in 1911 to the design of the Borough Surveyor of Margate, Ernest Borg, the roughly shell shaped amphitheatre (later roofed over) is symmetrically hugged on either side by the grassy slopes of Fort Green and overlooked by Fort Crescent and Fort Paragon. The style is Mykonos-on-Sea. Variety and vaudeville, Dame Nellie Melba and Anna Pavlova, the Winter Gardens have had them all. Holidaying in Margate? It was the best of times, then things got even better. It was our season of sunshine, it was our summer of hope. Although Marilynne Robinson does warn in The Death of Adam, “At best, our understanding of any historical moment is significantly wrong, and this should come as no surprise, since we have little grasp of any present moment. The present is elusive for the same reasons as is the past.”

Architects Architecture Developers

Fort Crescent + Fort Paragon Margate Kent

Not the Whole of the Moon 

Dr Simon Thurley, former Chief Executive of English Heritage, confirms, “Margate is one of England’s first seaside resorts. Since the early 18th century, people have been visiting the town to bathe in the sea, first for health reasons, but in more recent years for pleasure and a change of scenery. The presence of visitors transformed this once small working coastal town into a playground for some of the wealthiest members of London society. However, as it was located along the Thames away from the capital, Margate has always attracted a wide range of visitors and was selected as the site of the world’s first sea bathing hospital.”

The cliff facing façade of Fort Crescent and the cliff facing flank wall of Fort Paragon are evidence in stucco of Margate’s growing popularity in the early 19th century. Fort Crescent was built in piecemeal form over several decades; the more uniform Fort Paragon was constructed by a local builder Harold Woodward in 1830. Together they bring an air of the Regency, a little piece of Brighton, to Margate.