A few weekends ago, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I was doing the dishes at Chez Fordiebianco when the BBC World Service featured a half hour documentary on the regeneration of Margate, one of the many seaside resort on the English coast that have slid into obscurity over the last half century. As you might have heard, Thanet District Council – Margate’s local government body – and some very dedicated public figures had tried for about twenty years to halt the resort’s decline by turning it into a cultural destination for well heeled middle class tourists who like their art with a bit of beach. The Turner Contemporary was completed in April 2011 and this month it attracted its millionth visitor. Not bad for a small museum 2 hours away from London. The aforementioned BBC documentary included an interview with the owner of a daring new hotel on Margate’s waterfront who hoped to benefit from the influx of new tourists. As the best girlfriend ever loves nothing more than a bit of beachcombing on a nice sunny day and rather fancies new art, we found ourselves on a recent Friday after work in the Blackwall Tunnel, heading westwards. 2 hours later the car was parked, the luggage unpacked and the best girlfriend ever was sitting in the beautiful dining room of The Sands Hotel, gin and tonic in hand, studying a particularly nice piece of grilled fennel.
The next morning we woke up to a rather gorgeous view:
Even at low tide the nearness of the North Sea to Margate proper gives it a nice classic sea side resort feel, and only a few metres after venturing out we were greeted with the classic accessories of beach life
Emboldened and pleasantly surprised we started walking west on a well kept path next to the beach, from time to time seeing flocks of cyclists and other tourists, but certainly not more than a few dozen within the 3 hour walk. The beach was mostly kept immaculate, with sign of machinised sweeping from the night before. Each of the three bays we walked past had a beach patrol, supervised swimming areas (proudly displaying their blue flags, awarded for cleanliness) and a more or less well kept cafe.
So far, so dandy.
There were unfortunately still many signs that Margate hadn’t yet turned the corner from decade long decline and neglect.
The charming concrete abomination that’s spurting out of the ground there is the Arlington Building, a brutalist concrete block of flats from 1964, that funnily enough has an excellent website defending it’s existence. Unfortunately it completely and utterly dominates Margate’s skyline and turns the character of this admittedly rather pleasant seaside town into a South London estate. Not a place you would initially choose for a holiday.
Of course you ask yourself: What where they thinking? And why is it still there? According to the Website:
From the Thanet District Council’s Conservation Officer’s report, 2011:“The tower block is a building of considerable merit; arguably ‘listable’ with extremely well considered crisp detailed elevations which add positively to the architectural character of the town – it’s jazziness responding well to the seaside atmosphere. It is a far superior building to the residential tower blocks erected by local authorities prior to the Ronan Point incident of 1968.”