One of the most famous seaside resorts, Margate had been receiving visitors from London, travelling on hoy boats or making the 12 hour trip by horse drawn carriage, long before the railway reached the town in via a branch line in 1846. With the Bank Holiday Act of 1871 came increasing numbers of day trippers from the metropolis, who could buy a third class train ticket for four shillings and take a holiday without losing a day’s pay. Not surprisingly in 1884 an estimated one in five of the Kent workforce was connected in some way with the railway.
Visiting invalids would have been advised to try the Sea Bathing Hospital, while nearby Westgate was home to the Tower House Retreat and Sanatorium (licensed under the Habitual Drunkards Act of 1879).
While the health benefits of the sea air were widely acknowledged, many visitors were drawn more to the thrill of seeing each other with fewer layers of clothing than were normally considered essential for respectable Victorians. One obstacle to such flirtation was provided by the famous bathing machines (the invention of the ‘modesty hood’ in the 18th century is attributed to Benjamin Beale of Margate). Despite the town’s rather salacious reputation however, mixed bathing was not permitted on Margate beach until 1906 and a mounted policeman was employed to ensure that male and female bathing machines remained at least fifty yards apart.
Even as Lucy steps off the train at Margate, she can detect an atmosphere of fun, with no small measure of devilment thrown in.
There are children running freely along the platform, their parents already too absorbed in their holiday to reprimand them. Young couples walk arm-in-arm, in a manner that would have seemed over-familiar in Whitstable or Faversham.
Lucy checks that her hat is in place, and wonders whether Margate will prove itself quite respectable. At the same time, though, she cannot help but smile along with the eager crowds, surging towards the sea…
Your father has written to suggest that you visit his aunt in the Royal Sea-Bathing Infirmary. Go straight there.
You have heard about an extraordinary underground Shell Grotto on the outskirts of town. You cannot resist going there first.