Ramsgate began as a fishing and farming hamlet. Its
earliest reference is in the Kent Hundred Rolls of 1274-5 as ‘Ramisgate’ or ‘Remmesgate’ from Anglo-Saxon
“Hræfn’s geat”, or “raven’s
cliff gap”, later to be rendered ‘Ramesgate’ from 1357. The legendary brothers Hengest and Horsa landed
in the 5th century (about 450) heralding the Anglo-Saxon age in England. The Roman missionary St. Augustine
landed in Ramsgate in 597 establishing the link between England and the Church of Rome that was broken 937
years later in 1534, during the reign of Henry VIII.
In 1820 King George IV set off from Ramsgate with the
Royal Squadron en route to Hanover. He was so impressed by the hospitality he received at the Kent port that
he decreed it be declared a
‘Royal Harbour’. As a result, the Harbour
has the unique distinction of being the only Royal Harbour in the United Kingdom.
Ramsgate largely developed in the form we know today from
1749 onwards. It was intended as a Harbour of Refuge, following a violent storm in 1748. Later, during the
Napoleonic wars, British troops were quartered at Ramsgate before embarking for the continent.
Ramsgate’s harbour is a defining characteristic of the
town. Ramsgate was a member of the Confederation of Cinque Ports, under the ‘Limb’ of Sandwich, Kent. The
construction of Ramsgate Harbour began in 1749 and was completed in about 1850. Because of its proximity to
mainland Europe, Ramsgate was a chief embarkation point both during the Napoleonic Wars and for the Dunkirk
evacuation in 1940.
The eighteenth-century craze for sea-bathing fuelled
Ramsgate’s development. Later, in the 1820s, the town became famous as a fashionable watering-hole after the
future queen, Princess Victoria, stayed several times. She went on to buy the acclaimed painting ‘Ramsgate
Sands’ by W. P. Frith, perhaps as a memento of happy childhood days.
The first railway came in 1846. Eventually there was a
station on the sands and ever-increasing numbers of visitors flocked to the town. Ramsgate’s guest list is
long and full of famous names: artists George du Maurier, James Tissot and Vincent Van Gogh; writers Wilkie
Collins and Jane Austen, to name just a few.
In 1901, the Isle of Thanet saw the introduction of an
electric tram service which was one of the few inter-urban tramways in Britain. The towns of Ramsgate,
Margate and Broadstairs were linked by 11 miles of track.
In 1915-1916 early aircraft began to use the open
farmlands at Manston as a site for emergency landings. The location near the Kent coast gave Manston some
advantages over the other previously established aerodromes. During the first World War, Ramsgate was the
target of bombing raids by Zeppelin airships. By 1917 the Royal Flying Corps was well established and taking
an active part in the defence of England. As RAF Manston the aerodrome played an important role in the second
World War and is now called Kent International Airport.
In October 1939, the Royal Navy established a Coastal
Forces base at Ramsgate called HMS Fervent, which operated Motor Torpedo Boats, Motor Gun Boats and Motor
Launches until September 1945. From 27 May 1940, Ramsgate harbour was the main assembly point for the
build-up of small craft needed for Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from
Dunkirk. Once the evacuation was under way, Ramsgate was the second busiest port after Dover, and just under
43,000 men passed through the port, transported onwards by 82 special trains.
Ramsgate has had its share of both World Wars. In WWI it
had the dubious honour of suffering the first air raids, from Zeppelins, when much damage was suffered.
Itwould also have acted as an ‘out port’ to the new ‘secret port’ of nearby
Richborough, constructed from scratch to serve as a supply base for the army at the front in
Despite considerable bomb damage in World War One and
World War Two, Ramsgate still played a heroic part in 1940 in sending some of the ‘little ships’ to Dunkirk.
The town then welcomed some 80,000 soldiers, safely brought back from France.
A number of early HARNETTS are buried here at St
(The Harnett Family of Kent, UK)
(Far Side of the World-II)