Thursday 15 February 2024

Come just as you are - a postcard from Ada in Margate

In 1939, Margate could boast 240 hotels, 1300 boarding houses and 5000 other properties taking in paying guests. Visitors could also take advantage of the Winter Gardens, opened in 1911, the Lido (1927), two small tidal pools (1937) and the magnificent art deco Dreamland leisure complex, completed in 1920. This together with numerous cinemas, restaurants and other places of entertainment, led to the town being referred to as "Merry Margate". 

Day-trippers and holiday makers flocked to the seaside resort and many of them would have sent postcards to friends and family, reporting on their holiday activities, the weather and their lodgings. These postcards occasionally turn up online, in vintage stores or in charity shops, and give a glimpse of life at the time they were sent. Some cards were designed to promote a specific resort, usually featuring images from the town, carefully selected to tempt more people to come. Others took a more humorous approach, such as the slightly saucy cards (although very tame by today's standards) produced by Donald McGill and others. The card I purchased on a recent Margate trip falls some way between the two, depicting a woman in her nightclothes reading a note,  inviting her to "come just as you are" with "To Margate" emblazoned across the image.

The rear of the card bears a short message: "Have not seen Mr and Mrs S. since we arrived, they are far too busy, hotel packed, they sat down yesterday (220) people so we were lucky to get fixed up here at all, lovely weather. With love from Ada." Ada does not tell us where she was staying, but it must have been a large hotel to be able to seat so many people. She also omitted to date the card and the postmark on the rear is illegible. The halfpenny stamp on the back bears the image of King George V, who reigned from 1910-1936, which means it was sent during Margate's merriest period. There are no clues about the identity of the card's designer.

Ada's message is addressed to a Mr. Brown at Anderton's Hotel in Fleet Street, London. Anderton's no longer exists, having been demolished in 1939, but the hotel and its site had a long and interesting history. The Horn Tavern stood there in the fifteenth century and over time is said to have been popular with both the legal profession and Cornish tin miners. A new six floor hotel was built in 1880, with a red brick facade and retail properties on the ground floor. A 1931 photograph on the Historic England website, shows it to have been a handsome building, flanked by the Methodist Recorder newspaper on one side and large commercial premises on the other. Prolific architects Herbert Ford and Robert Hesketh were responsible for the building's design. They are thought to have worked on approximately 400 buildings during their working lives including residential and commercial properties.

Anderton's was more than just a hotel and many groups and societies would meet on its premises, including the Professional Photographer's Association, which had its first meeting there on 28th March 1901. In 2001, a commemorative plaque was mounted on the site of Anderton's, to mark the centenary of that meeting. The hotel also had a Masonic Hall, a 1922 photograph of which appears on the Historic England website. In 1920, the hotel hosted a gathering of twelve trade unions, who two years later would amalgamate as the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU). 

The hotel closed its doors in January 1939, ahead of its demolition. On January 29th, the New York Times was moved to write: "Fleet Street landmark goes: Anderton's a link to Shakespeare's Day, to be replaced by office building...a gloomy structure, some things not certain." Things don't change very much do they?

Most of Margate's hotels and boarding houses closed during the Second World War and for many years the town deteriorated, its glory days seemingly in the past. More recently, there has been a revival with a handful of boutique hotels, new high quality restaurants,  the Margate Bookshop and Turner Contemporary, the David Chipperfield designed gallery overlooking the sea. The many independent shops include Ramsay and Williams ice-cream bar and gallery where vintage posters, books and other collectibles are sold alongside interesting ice-cream flavours including ginger and marmalade. It's one of my first stops on any visit to Margate and it's where I found Ada's card to Mr. Brown.


  1. Fascinating stuff! I love collecting old postcards, a little glimpse into history!

  2. Margate Bookshop, with tea and coffee served, is the perfect way to enjoy the beach environment.