Posted by: madkentdragon | April 5, 2011

Quirky Kent 9, Broadstairs, a shrine, Mr Dickens and a Wind Farm

Before we move on to Broadstairs, look out to sea and behold! The world’s biggest off shore wind farm! It covers 13.5 square miles with 100 turbines, it was completed and opened in 2010 and is supposed to supply enough electricity for 240,000 homes. I wonder what the Vikings, Romans or Augustine would have thought of that?

Further down the coast not far past the Wantsum is another one off the coast at Whitstable, so this part of the North Sea seems to be developing its own forest of these gigantic machines.

Broadstairs was named after a flight of broad chalk steps that led from the sandy beach up to the 11th Century shrine to St Mary which was on the cliff top, and the town’s motto “Stella Maris” – star of the sea comes from this. As did most towns in the area, Broadstairs started life as a fishing hamlet with the church in the nearby village of St Peters which it has now nearly incorporated.

The shrine was supposed to have existed before the Domesday Book and in 1070 a stone and flint built church replaced the old wooden structure that housed a replica of the statue at Bradstowe. The shrine here was known as the Shrine of Our Ladye, Star of the Sea, the contents of this shrine seem to have been moved to the Culmer Chapel nearer the sea than St Peters and was the gathering place for all sailors, who for centuries would lower their mainsail as they passed the area. A storm in 1520 destroyed most of the shrine on the Culmer estate but was rebuilt using original stone, but not in the same way and is not as beautiful. The tower at the shrine was topped with a navigational lamp to aid those at sea.

The original chapel in St Peters still remains on Albion Street but it has been incorporated into more modern buildings, and is now considered to be the oldest remaining structure in Broadstairs.

A wooden jetty was built in the 15th Century and an arch erected by George Culmer over the track that led to the sea; as the village grew, the track became a road – Harbour Street and in the following century another George Culmer improved the archway and added doors, these were
known as “York Gate” and were to be closed against invasion. The structure, minus the gates still stands on Harbour Road and yet another Culmer, this time a Richard Culmer in the 17th Century, left a legacy to the town of six acres of ground to the poor of the parish. Culmer’s Allotments are well known, if not by name, by sight, to anyone who parks their car in the main car park and follows the footpath past them to the sea.

A storm in 1767 destroyed the jetty but as the fishing trade was at that time very important, a grant was made from the East India Company,
and Trinity House for the pier to be restored, and the York Gate was repaired in 1795 by Lord Hanniker, the MP for Dover, as the French Revolutionary Wars were threatening to invade. The same year the first lightship was stationed on the Goodwin Sands.

Another set of steps leading through a tunnel from the sands is known as the Waterloo Stairs; the legend is that, after the fall of Napoleon
at Waterloo, the French Eagle Standard was brought ashore here by Major Henry Percy of the 14th Dragoon Guards and displayed in the town, making Broadstairs the first place to know about the defeat of the French. The more mundane explanation is that they were smugglers’ steps to enable the goods to reach the cliff top easily. Smuggling was rife in this area at that time.

King  Charles landed here in 1683 and the area of the landing is now called Kingsgate Beach, the other main beaches are Botany Bay, Viking Bay and Joss Bay and all are sandy, which encouraged the tourists to visit and stay for a while, and the merchants who traded out of Ramsgate lived in the more genteel surroundings of Broadstairs.

Of course we cannot forget one of Broadstairs most famous residents, Charles Dickens, who lived in Fort House, now known as Bleak House,
every summer from 1837 to 1859 and there is a large Dickens Festival here every year. Bleak House is now an hotel and is easily spotted high on the cliffs as there are crenellations all around the parapet.

Other famous residents were Uncle Mac – you’d have to be my age to remember his Children’s Choice (later Children’s Favourites) or children’s hour – he greeted the Saturday morning show with “Hello children, everywhere” and closed the children’s hour every evening with “Good Night children everywhere” His memorial stands on the sea front. Ted Heath was born and brought up in Broadstairs but as his history is well known, I won’t bore you with it here. 

I know I haven’t mentioned all the surrounding villages, but the mainland of Kent is calling!



  1. Hi

    Does the Waterloo Steps still exist and if so where? Do you have a picture?
    I am researching this for a possible reenactment in June 2015

    • I don’t know exactly where they are – a bit of research indicates that they do, the little chapel is in Albion Street, Albion Furnishers seem to share the space. I suggest they must be near here

  2. thanks for that. Although I have found a site that says the steps were cut and named in commemoration, rather than being there at the time


    • Possibly Albion Stairs between Owlers Nook and Chapel

      • Much of these things depends on word of mouth and memories which are often faulty. You are quite possibly right, but you could probably find a few more variations if you looked into it further

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