In 2017, Ramsgate was named one of only 10 Heritage Action Zones in England and the first in the South East. Ramsgate is rich in heritage with over 450 listed places, including 443 listed buildings, 1 scheduled monument, 1 registered park and a number of historic shipwrecks off the coast. The Ramsgate Conservation Area is therefore at the heart of the Heritage Action Zone project.
The great variety of heritage in Ramsgate is reflected in the different characters of the three main conservation areas within the Heritage Action Zone. These are: Ramsgate Royal Esplanade Conservation Area, Ramsgate Conservation Area and Ramsgate Montefiore Conservation Area. The centrally located Ramsgate Conservation Area is the largest of the three and the earliest to be designated in 1970 and later extended. It will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020.
The Ramsgate Conservation Area takes in most of the town centre from the listed buildings near the top of the High Street (including the 17th Century Grade II listed Sylvian hotel), to The Grange in the west (designed by Augustus Pugin) and stretching as far east as the Winterstoke Gardens constructed with Pulhamite stone.
This conservation area is unique because it includes the most defining feature of Ramsgate – the Royal Harbour, the only harbour in England to have a Royal Designation (George IV 1821) Construction began in 1750 to create a harbour specifically designed to offer refuge for sailing vessels caught in storms in the Channel. It is a striking monument to the amazing feats of Georgian engineering. The Clock House is the most iconic building in the Royal Harbour and is Listed Grade 2* by Historic England and was placed on the “at Risk” register in May 2019. Ramsgate’s harbour has a wealth of stories to share around England’s maritime history including the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940.
Once a thriving and prosperous town with an economy based on agriculture, fishing and tourism, large parts of Ramsgate are now in the 10% most deprived areas in the country according to the Index of Multiple deprivation, but in 2017 Historic England recognised the unique potential Ramsgate’s heritage has to play in regenerating the towns economy by designating Ramsgate a Heritage Action Zone (HAZ)
This was based on an assessment by Historic England of the towns rich architectural heritage which has long been overlooked, particularly in the Ramsgate Conservation Area. Historic England immediately recognised that the Ramsgate Conservation Area has a wealth of assets of architectural and historic interest which the Heritage Action Zone will look to capitalise on so that the benefits and value of Ramsgate’s heritage can be maximised for the local population and contribute towards the economic growth of the town.
In particular, the Heritage Action Zone in Ramsgate is focusing on:
- Enabling the heritage of Ramsgate to be better understood, enjoyed, valued and protected.
- Engaging the local community of Ramsgate and increase participation with the historic environment.
- Raising awareness of Ramsgate as a heritage destination.
- Developing and improving heritage related capacity and skills in Ramsgate.
- Promoting heritage management best practice and raise design standards and quality.
Teams from across Historic England are currently working in partnership with local organisations, including The Ramsgate Society, to understand what makes the Ramsgate Conservation Area really special, to share its stories and to improve and protect those places for the future. There are lots of opportunities for local people and groups to get involved with projects involving schools, opportunities for training in heritage related skills and public exhibitions and programmes.
With the HAZ as the catalyst, local community groups are working together to ensure local residents appreciate the value of living in a conservation area. These include The Ramsgate Society, Ramsgate Town Council, Thanet District Council, The Ramsgate Town Team, The Ramsgate Heritage and Design Forum, The Friends of Ramsgate Seafront, The Friends of Ellington Park, The Ramsgate Neighbourhood Plan Committee, the Eastcliff Residents Association, The Friends of Spencer Square, the Ramsgate Litter Forum and others.
Earlier this year volunteers from these local groups, with support from Historic England, undertook a detailed Conservation Area Appraisal, which will be published by Historic England later this year. This work will help inform and prioritise grant applications for improvements to the area including the recently announced Heritage Horizon Awards.
As part of this renewed interest in the Ramsgate Conservation Area, there was great excitement locally in 2019 when it became generally known that Vincent van Gogh spent the summer of 1876 in the Ramsgate Conservation Area. He lived in 11 Spencer Square and taught at a small school for boys at 6 Royal Road. The Friends of Spencer Square recently took on the maintenance of the garden in Spencer Square on a voluntary basis and have renamed it The van Gogh Garden. A beautiful bust of van Gogh has been erected in the centre of the garden. The publicity around this event has raised the profile of the Ramsgate Conservation Area amongst local residents. The Ramsgate Society obtained a grant of £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to organise a series of events called The van Gogh Summer. These events were attended by a large number of people which did a huge amount to raise the profile of the conservation area with the wider public.
With the Ramsgate Conservation area at its heart we very much hope that the Ramsgate Heritage Action Zone will help deliver some much-needed improvements in the public realm which will help underpin the local economy and the quality of life for local residents.