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Broadstairs Viking Bay.jpg
Viking Bay, Broadstairs
Grid reference: TR395675
Location: 51°21’32"N, 1°26’22"E
Population: 24,370  (2001)
Post town: Broadstairs
Postcode: CT10
Dialling code: 01843
Local Government
Council: Thanet
South Thanet

Broadstairs is a coastal town on the Isle of Thanet in Kent, a seaside resort like its neighbours. The civil parish, which includes St Peter's, had a population in 2001 of about 24,000.

The town stands between Margate and Ramsgate, Broadstairs is one of Thanet's seaside resorts, known as the "Jewel in Thanet's crown". The town's crest motto is Stella Maris ("Star of the Sea"). The name derives from a former flight of steps in the chalk cliff, which led from the sands up to the 11th-century shrine of St Mary on the cliff's summit.

The town spreads from Haine Road in the west to Kingsgate (named after the landing of King Charles II in 1683) a hamlet in St Peter parish[1] in the north and to Dumpton in the south (named after the yeoman Dudeman who farmed there in the 13th century). The hamlet of Reading (formerly Reden or Redyng) Street was established by Flemish refugees in the 17th century.

Today Broadstairs is a magnet for visitors year after year and has been likened to a "Cornish fishing town".


Before 1400

The inland village of St Peters was established after the building of a parish church in about 1080. The coastal confederation of Cinque Ports during its mediæval period consisted of a confederation of 42 towns and villages in all. This included St Peters, as a 'limb' of Dover.[2]

On the nearby coast was a cliff-top shrine, the Shrine of the Virgin Mary, at what was then called Bradstow(e), meaning "broad place" (perhaps referring to the wide bay).[3] A fishing settlement developed in the vicinity of the shrine in the 14th century., which came to be called "Broadstairs", after a flight of steps which was made in the cliff to give access to the shrine from the bay. Older forms of the name include Brodsteyr Lynch (1434), Brodestyr (1479), Broadstayer (1565) and Brod stayrs (1610).[4] Charles Culmer, son of Waldemar, is supposed to have reconstructed the stairs in 1350.

At the Reformation, the shrine was closed down.

St Mary's chapel on town street


In 1440, an archway was built by George Culmer across a track leading down to the sea, where the first wooden pier or jetty was built in 1460. A more enduring structure was to replace this in 1538, when the road leading to the seafront, known as Harbour Street, was cut into the rough chalk ground on which Broadstairs is built, by another George Culmer. Going further in defence of the town, he built the York Gate in 1540, a portal that still spans Harbour Street and which then held two heavy wooden doors that could be closed in times of threat from the sea. Richard Culmer was the son of Sir Richard Culmer by his first wife and was born in 1640/41. Richard was buried in the parish church of Monkton, on the Isle of Thanet. Of his legacies was the endowment on Broadstairs of an area of six acres of ground for the poor of the parish. The name survives to this day as "Culmer's Allotment" as does the allotment.


In 1823, Broadstairs had a population of about 300.[5] A brief outline of the history of Broadstairs Pier is given in Broadstairs, past and present, which mentions a storm in 1767, during which Culmer's work was all but destroyed. At this time, it was of considerable importance to the fishing trade with catches as far afield as Great Yarmouth, Hastings, Folkestone, Dover and Torbay and elsewhere being landed. It had become so indispensable that the corporations of Yarmouth, Dover, Hythe and Canterbury with assistance from the East India Company and Trinity House subscribed to its restoration with a payment of £2,000 in 1774.

By 1795, York Gate needed repair to repel any threat from the French Revolutionary Wars. The subsequent renovation was undertaken by Lord Hanniker in the same year as the first lightvessel was placed on the Goodwin Sands.

On the occasion of the landing at Thanet of Major Henry Percy of the 14th Dragoon Guards, on 21 June 1815 with the captured French eagle standard taken at Waterloo, a tunnel stairway from the beach to the fields on the clifftops above was excavated, and christened "Waterloo Stairs" to commemorate the event. Broadstairs was supposedly the first town in Britain to learn of this historic victory, although there is no written evidence of this.

Smuggling was an important industry in the area, and the men of Broadstairs and St Peters became adept at outwitting customs agents. This was very profitable because of the very high duty payable on tea, spirits and tobacco. There is a network of tunnels and caves strewn in the chalk strata which were used by smugglers to hide their contraband.

Development as a seaside resort

Beach crowd along Joss Bay in July

By 1724 steamboats were becoming more common, having begun to make over from the hoys and sailing packets about 1814. These made trade with London much faster. The familiar sailing hoys took anything up to 72 hours to reach Margate from London, whereas the new steamships were capable of making at least nine voyages in this time. Mixed feelings must have been strongly expressed by the Thanet boatmen in general, as the unrivalled speed of the steam packet was outmanoeuvering all other classes of vessel, but it brought a new prosperity to Thanet. In the middle of the 19th century, the professional classes began to move in. By 1850, the population had reached about 3,000, doubling over the previous 50 years. Due to the fresh sea air, many convalescent homes for children opened towards the end of the 19th century.[5]

Broadstairs was not directly served by the railways until 1863, at a time of great expansion for railways in Kent. Broadstairs station is a 10-minute walk from the beach though.


In 1841, 44 mariners were recorded as resident in Broadstairs; nine of these being specified as fishermen, and of course the residual boat-building activity that remained after the Culmer~White yard closed in 1824 (under pressure from the steamships), still continued (though there were only four shipwrights recorded in the census: Solomon Holbourn and Joseph Jarman among them). Others may have been at sea on census day: Steamer Point, as the pier head at Broadstairs was then known, would have been fairly busy with shipping movements since consignments of coal and other produce would have been traded along the coast and there would have been regular work on the steam packet to and from Ramsgate. By the 1840s, the smuggling had ceased.[5]


White cliffs along sea at Kingsgate beach

The town lies above a harbour with cliffs on either side. It has seven bays of golden sand, which are (from south to north) Dumpton Gap, Louisa Bay, Viking Bay, Stone Bay, Joss Bay, Kingsgate Bay and Botany Bay. North Foreland rises between Stone Bay and Joss Bay.

On the cliffs above Kingsgate Bay is Kingsgate Castle, formerly the home of Lord Holland, but now converted into private residences. Follies surround the castle.


As a seaside resort, the economy is mainly based around tourism; there are hotels and guest houses on and near the seafront, to accommodate the influx of all year round visitors. Although the number of hotels in recent years has declined because of the high land redevelopment values, this has resulted in an improvement in quality of the existing premises. The High Street has a wide variety of independent shops and services, and there are a small number of factories mainly situated on the small industrial estates on the town's borders. The above-average population age has led to many health and social care jobs at local care homes. As of the 2001 UK census, 1.8% of the population resided in a medical or care establishment, which is more than double the national average of only 0.8%. Many jobs in education are provided by the town's relatively high number of schools and colleges.

Entertainment and leisure

  • The Broadstairs Dickens Festival is held annually in honour of the novelist Charles Dickens in the third week of June. A Christmas event in December is now part of the calendar. The festival includes a production of one of Dickens' novels and people about the town wearing Victorian dress. The festival first took place in 1937, when Gladys Waterer, the then owner of Dickens House, conceived the idea of commemorating the centenary of the author's first visit by putting on a production of David Copperfield, a novel written in the town.[6]
  • In the second week of August each year, the town holds the Broadstairs Folk Week music festival. The main acts perform at the Concert Marquee in the town's main park (Pierremont Park), but smaller gigs are also held in many pubs, restaurants and cafés as well as at the town's bandstand.[7] Whilst Folk Week's origins are centred around Folk music and its appreciation, for many this period is simply an opportunity for general festivities in which pubs and bars have later opening hours and the main streets are closed to traffic in order that revellers may fully enjoy open air drinking and social merriment.
  • Music continues throughout the year in the many pubs in the town. The popular Broadstairs Live!!! website carries up-to-date details of past and upcoming events.
  • During the summer season, and on 5 November the town hosts firework displays every Wednesday evening on Viking Bay, with hundreds of people lining the overlooking cliff tops.

Sport and recreation

  • Thanet Wanderers Rugby Union Football Club is based in Broadstairs at St Peter's Recreation Ground.
  • Sandcastle building competition takes place annually.
  • Broadstairs has a Green bowling club.
  • Broadstairs & St Peters Tennis Club
  • Beach Volley Ball is held on the beach in the summer.
  • Broadstairs is home to the North Foreland Golf Club.
  • Broadstairs Sailing Club in Harbour Street once had former prime minister Edward Heath as a member.
  • Fishing competitions are regularly held in the Harbour.

Landmarks and places of interest

Botany Bay
  • There is a small cinema, "The Palace Cinema" (formerly known as The Windsor), in Harbour Street.
  • Also in Harbour Street, the Pavilion on the Sands hosts a summer show and all-year entertainment. There are extensive views across the bay. Its location and facilities make the Pavilion a popular wedding venue.
  • The beaches at Botany Bay and Joss Bay. Viking Bay beach is the main beach in Broadstairs
  • Viking Bay has a number of cafés and ice cream outlets. During the summer, this bay is often very busy.
  • Punch and Judy and donkey rides a feature of the summer beach entertainment.
  • There are four firework displays on Wednesday evenings over Viking Bay in the summer and a free display on 5 November.
  • The Dickens' House museum is situated on the seafront, which displays many artefacts relating to Charles Dickens and his life in Broadstairs.
  • Crampton Tower by the railway station houses a museum. The museum contains Thomas Russell Crampton's working drawings, models, graphics, patents, awards and artefacts connected to his life and works. Other galleries illustrate the history and development of the railways, the electric tramways, road transport and other aspects of local industry. The original Broadstairs stage coach built in 1860 is displayed alongside seven working model railways in gauges N, OO, O and Gauge One.
  • In the village of St Peter's, tours are held throughout the summer.
  • The church of St Peter-in-Thanet has one of the longest churchyards in Britain.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Broadstairs)


  1. Kingsgate Kent - A vision of Britain through time
  2. Cinque Ports History
  3. Bygone Kent, vol. 1 no. 6, 1980.
  4. Glover, Judith, The Place Names of Kent, 1982, ISBN 0-905270-61-4
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 History of Broadstairs at the Town Council website
  6. "Broadstairs Dickens Festival". Retrieved 2007-05-29. 
  7. "Broadstairs Folk Week". Retrieved 2007-05-29.