Jane Austen (1775–1817), her world of fluttering hearts and heroines set on advantageous marriages may seem a world away. But you can step right back into it in Georgian and Regency Ramsgate. The novelist visited in 1803 when it was a garrison town during the Napoleonic wars and her beloved brother Francis led the Sea Fencibles set up to repel invasion. Jane was also eager to meet her future sister-in-law, local girl Mary Gibson – the “lovely couple, side by side” wed in 1806, as celebrated in Jane’s poem, ‘Post Haste From Thanet’.
Today you will find Ramsgate Royal Harbour – the only Royal Harbour in the country – alive with cosmopolitan waterside cafés and bars, while shiny yachts bob in the marina. Discover more on the area’s seagoing heritage in the Maritime Museum and view the town’s remarkable Georgian terraces, squares and Regency villas, as Jane would have done, with Ramsgate Costumed Walks or on a Ramsgate Town Rounders walk created by Active Ramsgate
Also take care! Casting an amused satirical eye on middle class propriety, Jane hinted that Ramsgate’s sea breezes could loosen morals and manners as well as bonnets and collars. It’s in Ramsgate that 15-year-old Georgiana Darcy is put at risk of being seduced by the deceptively charming libertine Mr Wickham in Pride and Prejudice; and in Ramsgate that Tom Bertram in Mansfield Park makes the social gaffe of giving all his attentions to the younger Miss Sneyd “who was not out”, thus offending the elder sister.
Austen’s contemporary, leading Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), was more interested in the health benefits of the increasingly fashionable sea bathing and loved to “Ramsgatize”, as he called it, seeking relief from his chronic ailments during a series of holidays, 1819–1833 – you will find a blue plaque where he stayed in Wellington Crescent. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner author enthusiastically recorded his experiences in copious letters, including how he plunged from a bathing machine: “It was glorious! I watched each time from the top-step for a high Wave coming, and then with my utmost power of projection shot myself off into it, for all the world like a Congreve Rocket into a Whale.”
Bathing machines may have gone, but you can still enjoy plenty of sea fun and the “aery cliffs and glittering sands” of Coleridge’s poem ‘Youth and Age’, claimed to refer to Ramsgate, still beckon to be explored.