Broadstairs & St Peter's History and Heritage
Star of the Sea
Dubbed ‘Breezy Broadstairs' in an 1897 tourist booklet, this delightful little town has long been considered a healthy and agreeable place to stay. Something to do with the fresh air, a perfectly sandy main bay, and intimate streets ranging above.
The town was originally called 'Bradstowe' (sometimes spelt ‘Bradstow'). St Mary's Chapel, now the Chapel ale and cider house, is built near the location of a chantry chapel to ‘Our Lady of Bradstowe'. Local legend has it that ships had to lower their topsails in salute as they passed this much venerated spot.
Charles Dickens visited Broadstairs frequently, staying at Bleak House, different and smaller in his day, and then called Fort House. He clearly drew inspiration from the town and its characters - the informative Dickens House Museum is set in the home of a woman on whom the novelist based Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield.
At the top end of the High Street, Princess Victoria (later Queen) stayed at Pierremont Hall, with its pleasant public gardens and still rather leisured atmosphere. Further up this road is an impressive flint structure, which was built as a water tower by Thomas Crampton, a notable Victorian railway engineer, who came from Broadstairs. Visit the Crampton Tower Museum for more information.
Going out of town in the other direction, towards the North Foreland Lighthouse, hunt for the stairs which feature in John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps.
Entertainers, actors and TV folk are part of the town's tradition too; track down the memorial to ‘Uncle Mack', a famous ‘minstrel' and singer who performed on the sands. Oliver Postgate, creator of Bagpuss and Noggin the Nog, lived in Broadstairs too.
The town's social history takes a particularly tasty form in its vintage ice cream parlours; illustrating the successful and happy integration of Italian settlers from the late-Victorian period onwards.
The inland village of St Peter's-in-Thanet, was initially a bigger and more important site than the then hamlet of Broadstairs. That's evidenced by the magnificent church dating back to Norman times. For entertaining vignettes of the village's history, head out on one of the St Peter's Village Tours. And take in Georgian Nuckell's Almshouses and the delightfully picturesque flint buildings left over from the Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens. Walter Sickert, the artist, lived in the village in the 1930s, as did Annette Mills, of Muffin the Mule fame.
Broadstairs and St Peter's have charm, character, and individuality. It all stems from their evolution, history, and buildings - don't miss.