Ramsgate & Pegwell Bay Hotel – Review

Ramsgate & Pegwell Bay Hotel – Review main

By Clare Jenkins, June 2023

If Ramsgate had its own visitors’ book, it would make impressive reading. Jane Austen visited the Kent resort in its heyday to stay with her seafaring brother Francis, later an Admiral of the Fleet. Hans Christian Andersen stayed while visiting Charles Dickens, who lived just up the coast in Broadstairs.

Wilkie Collins, author of The Moonstone, lived there with both his mistress and his wife and children – in different houses, under different names. Other residents have included Charles Darwin, Vincent Van Gogh – who taught at a boy’s boarding school in the town in the 1870s – and Mary ‘Frankenstein’ Shelley, who boarded at Caroline Petman’s School for the Daughters of Dissenters There must be something in the air.

The town has attracted both high and low in its day. Princess Victoria spent holidays at the 18th Century Albion House before becoming Queen. At the other end of the political and social scale, Karl Marx was there in 1879, buying a house for his daughter.

Ramsgate & Pegwell Bay Hotel – Review

Pegwell Bay Hotel, Ramsgate
image: Tourism @ Thanet District Council


Neither Royal nor Communist, my husband and I visited as part of a five-day Thanet Trilogy break, starting in select Broadstairs before moving on to gritty Margate. The next day, a short taxi ride took us to Pegwell Bay at the far end of Ramsgate.

Once nicknamed Shrimpville, the bay has a real On the Edge of England feel. There’s an ancient village, a small, upmarket housing estate, sweeping views across the North Sea to Sandwich and Deal – and the Pegwell Bay Hotel.

The four-storey, 41-bedroom hotel is strikingly black-painted, with a striking central tower and a smuggling history, like all this area. Opened as a hotel in 1894, it subsequently became a convalescent home for London WMCs, before reverting to its original status. Inside, the sense is of clean, fresh magnolia, with the odd stained-glass window and framed sepia photos in the corridors.

Ramsgate & Pegwell Bay Hotel – Review room

The room inside Pegwell Bay Hotel
image: Stephen McClarence

“Spectacular views”

Just round the cliff corner is a large model of a Viking ship, a gift from Denmark in 1949. Recent research has shown that the bay could also be the place where the Romans landed in 54 BC to start their invasion of Britain. In Victorian times, it became popular with holiday-makers, fossil hunters and rock poolers.

By the 1950s, the Batsford guide book was recording that ‘Pegwell Bay has become a very snobbish suburb of plebian Ramsgate’. Ramsgate itself was seen as a rung up from Margate at the time – before Tracey Emin made her hometown uber-trendy (as Margate hipsters say).

Our comfortable hotel bedroom was far more trad-70s than edgy Emin. All white-and-wheat, crisp white bedlinen, sensible pale brown carpet, splashes of colour provided by the midnight blue curtains and cushions. And spectacular views.

Ramsgate itself is reckoned to have the second most listed buildings in the country after Bath. As we walked into town along the clifftop, we passed lines of handsome Regency and Georgian houses, numerous blue plaques (see above) and much evidence of the area’s maritime connections. Elegant neoclassical crescents are named after the Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson, there’s a square called La Belle Alliance, a street called Plains of Waterloo, an Artillery Road… All commemorating the town’s pivotal role in the Napoleonic Wars, when it was an important embarkation port for troops travelling across the Channel to France.

ramsgate st augustine's church

St Augustine’s Church
image: Tourism @ Thanet District Council


On a more aesthetic level, the celebrated 19th Century architect Augustus Welby Northcote Pugin, built a shrine to his (almost) namesake Augustine there in the mid-1840s, along with a Benedictine abbey, a presbytery and his family home. The National Pugin Centre, as it’s now known, was all part of an idealised medieval community that the Roman Catholic convert wanted to recreate.

He saw St Augustine’s Church as his masterpiece – “My own child”, as he called it, as if he hadn’t got enough real ones. On West Cliff, it stands alongside the handsome Grange, where he lived for his last ten years with his wife (one of three) and eight children. Now owned by the Landmark Trust, it’s open to the public on Wednesday afternoons. As we were there on a Thursday, we could only peep over the wall at its dark brown, be-towered and many-windowed frontage.

However, we could look round the meditatively calm Grade 1-listed church, with its Minton floor tiles, rich decoration and a font originally designed for the 1851 Great Exhibition. A carved, vividly coloured mural depicts the Stations of the Cross, and there’s any amount of other RC statuary depicting suffering and death.

Ramsgate & Pegwell Bay Hotel – Review shrine

St Augustine’s Shrine
image: Stephen McClarence


Pugin himself is buried in a majestic carved alabaster tomb, and the visitor centre tells the intertwined stories of Augustus – ‘A visionary who changed the face of Victorian architecture’ – and St Augustine, who landed nearby in 599 AD, to bring the gospel from Rome to the Anglo-Saxons.

“It is worth waiting all one’s life for to see a real church with all its fittings in the isle of Thanet, the cradle of Roman Catholicism in England,” Pugin wrote in 1849. As one display board says, “He tried to put into practice the ‘true principles’ of medieval style Gothic architecture, in which he so passionately believed.”

Floating back down to earth, we had lunch at the nearby Lookout Café, an excellent place for chip butties, vegetarian breakfasts, 50p dog sausages (for dogs only), jacket potatoes, toasties and soups. Food I understand.

A further ten-minute walk took us past high brick Victorian arches (housing ships’ chandlers, cafes and artists’ studios) to Ramsgate harbour. Filled, Riviera-style, with yachts and boats, Britain’s only Royal harbour is home to the Royal Yacht Club and the country’s biggest Wetherspoons.

Ramsgate & Pegwell Bay Hotel – Review harbour

Ramsgate harbour
image: Tourism @ Thanet District Council


The town centre itself has seen better days, though maybe there are further better days coming, given the young fashion designers, artists, musicians, jewellers and other ‘creatives’ moving in. Although the main streets could be prettier, they do offer a couple of old-style cafes, including the 1940s-inspired Home Front Tearoom, serving Spam sandwiches, pilchards on toast, jelly and ice cream, and ‘child’s evacuee special’.

It was too blowy for one of the seal boat trips from Ramsgate Harbour, and I was too claustrophobic to sign up for a much recommended tour of Ramsgate Tunnels along the Marina Esplanade. Britain’s largest network of wartime tunnels sheltered up to 60,000 people during air raids, as the Germans attacked nearby RAF Manston.

So instead, we took the popular Thanet Loop bus all the way round the houses back to Pegwell and our hotel. Dinner was in its traditional pub-restaurant, the Sir Stanley Gray, across the road. Mid-week, it felt rather empty, though the two young waitresses, Megan and Lily, were efficient and delightful. From a menu of classic pub fare – cod and chips, sirloin steak, scampi, sausage and mash – we shared a satisfying halloumi, mushroom and roasted red pepper burger (£14.50) and a delicious sweet potato and spinach curry (15.50). All accompanied by music befitting the 1970s décor.

Ramsgate & Pegwell Bay Hotel – Review sunset

Sunset outside Pegwell Bay Hotel
image: Tourism @ Thanet District Council

“Unfussy and familiar”

Next morning’s breakfast was in the hotel dining-room, also part of the pub, this time accessed via a basement corridor under the road. Large windows opened onto a sea-facing terrace. The décor, meanwhile, was all dark panels and dark wood furniture, white anaglypta walls, cream- and gold-carved ceiling, extravagantly-framed paintings of Ramsgate scenes and candle chandeliers. All very unfussy and familiar – and firmly ‘heritage’.

Rooms at the Pegwell Bay Hotel, Pegwell Road, Ramsgate, range from £115.50 double B&B up to £154 for a superior room. Tel: 01843-599590. pegwellbayhotel.co.uk
St Augustine’s Shrine and Visitor Centre, St Augustine’s Road, Ramsgate, CT11 9NY; augustine-pugin.org.uk
Southeastern Railway runs very regular train services to Broadstairs from London St Pancras station: southeasternrailway.co.uk
The regular Loop bus, connecting Broadstairs with Margate and Ramsgate, is run by Stagecoach: stagecoachbus.com
The excellent Visit Thanet website is full of invaluable information and advice about the whole area: visitthanet.co.uk
Top image: Tourism @ Thanet District Council


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