We must remember Turner’. These were the poignant and only words John Croft, Margate citizen, wrote on a letter to the Tate ten years ago, alluding to the much forgotten connection artist JMW Turner had with the now run-down and abandoned sea-side town of Margate.

The light from the north which blesses Margate’s coast with sunsets and sunrises of unmatchable beauty across golden sands and over the vast horizon of endless sea, was the subject and inspiration of many of Turner’s paintings. Whilst Margate as a town has changed from a Victorian retreat for sea-bathing and holiday-making to a sadly derelict shell of its former self, Margate’s skies have never fallen from glory. Margate remains, to this day, an inspiration to many and a reminder of what Turner saw and was so moved by.

Perhaps the lost memories of Turner can help place Margate back on the map.

A decade has passed since John Croft’s words arrived at the Tate and now, tall, grand and jutting out into the sky, the David Chipperfield-designed Turner Contemporary gallery stands. This dramatic building is Britain’s most recent contribution to the international art scene: staring out across the very sea-view Turner himself watched and reproduced so many times.

The gallery, in its planning, building and now in its flesh-form has been met by much local speculation: can an art gallery transform a dying town and help in its regeneration? But the fact that the opening day alone attracted almost 10,000 people suggests that perhaps it can, and to a certain extent, it already has. Perhaps the lost memories of Turner can help place Margate back on the map.

…a growing, reviving and character-full place buzzing with the excitement of things to come.

The opening exhibition’s focal point is an 1815 painting, depicting the eruption of the Souffrier Mountains, by Turner, with works relating to it by internationally renowned contemporary artists including Daniel Buren, Douglas Gordon, Russell Crotty and Conrad Shawcross, to name a few. The spacious and considerate curation of the exhibition is sensitive to the artworks and creates an accessible and unintimidating air to the show. The opening week saw celebrations and performances including the young and acclaimed jazz group Portico QuartetCocos lovers and Casiokids. The Turner Contemporary stands now, not in a dead and broken town, but a growing, reviving and character-full place buzzing with the excitement of things to come.

O We do Like to be Beside the Seaside…

For those in want of a day or weekend by Turner’s sea, here are the top things to do and see in Margate.

Shell Grotto

“The eighth wonder of the world”, the shell grotto, exists beneath a hill on a residential road in Margate. Discovered in 1835 by accident, the underground passages and chambers have walls adorned with 4.6million shells forming impressive mosaics of symbols and elaborate patterns.

Limbo Arts Ltd and Crate

Limbo, a project space and set of artist studios, exists in the heart of Margate in a once-derelict electricity substation. Set up by artist Paul Hazelton in 2001, the savagely raw and warehouse-like space holds exhibitions and commissions residencies, gigs and screenings. It has also hosted the innovative Dead Season Live Art, a festival of artist performances through winter and continues to produce similar live art festivals. Similarly, Crate exists in the ex-printing house next to Limbo and holds exhibitions, seminars and provides artist studio spaces.

Scotts Antiques and 20th Century Frocks

R.G Scott’s is a labyrinth of furniture, books and curiosities in an ex-ice factory, spread across floors and floors of Victorian warehouse spaces. Housed within the maze of the valuable, antique and unusual is a vintage clothing shop, stocking beautiful, curious and/or rare clothes and accessories specialising through from the 1930s to the 1980s.

Margate Old Town Vintage Shops and Boutiques

Margate Old Town is home to an array of vintage and retro shops. From Madam Popoff’s wonderfully mad collection of clothing and occasional hosting of small celebratory discos, to Helter Skelter Boutique‘s assortment of exquisite furniture, posters, clothing and memorabilia, each have their own style and feel.

Also adding to the growing vintage-store community is a strange and quirky charity shop called Turner Gain. It sells art-deco furniture, strange trinkets and records and occasionally serves coffee when the time feels right. It is also home to some small birds and a dog named Guinness.

For more information on Madam Popoff’s: 01843447434

Cafes and Bars

Jutting out into the sea with its armpit inhabited by the Turner Contemporary Gallery, the Harbour Arm with its panoramic sea-views is fast becoming a hot spot for cafes, bars, markets and studios. Drink to the setting sun at The Lighthouse Bar or enjoy exquisitely delicious home-made food served by Be-Beached Café.

In Margate’s Old Town, The Lifeboat pub serves local ales and ciders in a homely and friendly atmosphere. The Cupcake Café and The Greedy Cow Deli, also in the old town, are similarly growing in popularity and reputation.

Open only once a week are the Mad Hatter’s Tearooms. With delicious cakes, wonky floors, British monarchy memorabilia, Christmas decorations adorning the walls all year round and a remarkably friendly and positively ‘mad’ host, the Tearooms, (when open) are not to be missed.

For more information on Lighthouse Bar: 07980727668; Greedy Cow Deli: 01843447557; Mad Hatter’s Tearooms: 01843232626.


Images courtesy of 20th Century Frocks, Limbo, Gareth Williams and the Cupcake Cafe


About The Author

Music student at KCL and artist living and working in London, from Margate - interested in contemporary art and music, literature, food and film.

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