Lucy Shrimpton takes a walk down Addington Street in Ramsgate where retail reinvention, community clout, and tangible social histories emerge on Kent’s hip Isle of Thanet.
Tucked away behind the grand Regency facades of Ramsgate’s West Cliff, the still of a street slowly comes to life. Paintbrush in one hand, dog lead in the other, an artist opens up her shop chock-full of arresting painted faces. A troupe of schoolchildren – cock-a-hoop to be out of class on a Friday – line up two by two outside a bookshop. A consignment of branded boxes lands at number 26 – the thud of new life on an old road.
This is Addington Street in Ramsgate, one of a growing number of independent quarters in coastal Kent slowly reviving its faded spaces, and standing stock-still under its Victorian street furniture and ghost signage, and with few cars to break the daydream, you could almost be forgiven for thinking you were on the set of an urban period drama.
On this old high street that once thrummed with the grocery-seeking monied of Ramsgate now emerges a hybrid of residential and retail – sustainability, conscious shopping, and conservation its growing community’s watchwords.
POSITIVE RETAIL AT NUMBER 26
Small shopfronts can be deceiving, because within these walls a revolution rumbles. Positive Retail’s is a concept that clearly befuddles passing shoppers, its next-level designer treasure from well-known multi retailers perhaps the last thing they expect to see in a quiet seaside street.
The idea to sell premium brands’ deadstock and individuals’ preloved items came about when two things collided in the mind of owner Anna Woods, formerly of Top Shop: first her growing unease about levels of waste, overproduction, and poor quality in a fashion industry that e-tailers were decimating; second a standout childhood memory of going to a dress agency with her mum, the concept of affordable quality planting its seed.
And evolving Addington Street was just the place to test the waters. “First I had a pop-up here for six weeks, then I moved to these permanent premises,” the Mary Portas of Addington Street explains, looking around and recalling her pleas to the landlord to retain as many period features as possible.
One of Sunday Times’ Style Mag’s ‘Best 50 Independents’ now has a second store in Margate, plus a third on the way in Deal “but there’s a different energy here in Ramsgate,” Anna says of the town she’s also chosen to make home, “…a feeling of space, beautiful architecture, a peaceful undertone.
“And it’s so interesting to see how quickly people are waking up to future-facing concepts,” she says of the public appetite for community, urge to protect the planet, and acceptance that shopping doesn’t have to be a 24/7 thing. “People wander down to Addington Street at the weekend, pop into the bookshop, get a coffee, have a look around, chat. There’s a reason to visit.”
MARGO-IN-MARGATE AT NUMBER 35
If Margo McDaid had a pound for everyone who’s pointed out to her that she’s not in Margate, despite the name of her business, she’d be paving the way to the richest of retirements. Truth be told, though it was Margate’s natty urban dressers who inspired her first paintings when she moved to these shores 13 years ago, Ramsgate’s where it’s at for her, the one-woman-band explains with soft Northern Irish intonation.
And Addington Street in particular marks the spot: “I love its energy, that it’s not over polished, and that you can really feel the origin of the street,” she says gesturing to where big glass bottles used to populate the former pharmacy’s window display. “And I get to see the sea at the end of the road every day. That’s really something.”
It’s the mark of a humble type who calls her space a shop rather than a gallery, and indeed there’s no overly sparse curation here, but a generous wall of the signature affordable art she paints in her studio on site: bold, unapologetic women – sharp bobs, stripy tops, knowing looks, and affirmation slogans that capture Thanet’s zeitgeist.
Late to the arty party after careers in teaching, lighting design, and waiting tables in New York, “all this,” she says “came from a pivotal point in my life when I bought a £30 pot of Indian ink – the proceeds from my first piece of work. You only need a little of something to oil an engine. Now I’m an artist and I’m gonna walk down Addington Street with my paintbrush to prove it,” she says, wink-in-eye.
SEABIRD – THE NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
With decades of hospitality experience behind them, 2023 and Addington Street seemed like the perfect time and place for Damian Williams and Stuart Langley to embark on their new venture: an intimate neighbourhood cafe-bar in the town they call home.
Pastries by day from the town’s Modern Boulangerie (something of a Ramsgate tourist attraction in its own right), inventive cocktails by night (Picante Verde is surely one of your five-a-day, right?) – and a through service of dishes using top-notch local goodies, music too plays no second fiddle; in the building that already had a reputation for emanating tunes (an ex-Squeeze band member formerly ran cafe-bar Eats & Beats here – now on King Street), expect a soundtrack of cool-vibes and full-album playbacks on vintage hi-fi. (Thankfully, No New Kids on the Block!)
COASTAL COMMUNITY SUPERPOWERS
With a second-hand furniture shop, kids’ ethical clothing store, gallery, vinyl records specialist, and sewing repairs shop also populating the street, the threads running through Addington Street are climate awareness, creativity, and peoplepower – its community group’s projects including plans to make the road Ramsgate’s first plastic-free, and also to revive its street fairs – a Portobello Road in the making.
“And Addington Street feels a bit like one big ship,” corroborates Dani at Moon Lane Children’s Books at number 43, provider not just of the most engaging children’s titles but a whole host of inspiring literacy initiatives: “When it’s been a quiet week, we all feel it together, which is why we often get together to organise trails and events or coordinate opening hours. And we regularly communicate via a WhatsApp group to share good news. It’s a whole microcosm of a town on one street.”
Sally at interiors store No.36-by-SP is in agreement: “The sense of community is why I invested and chose to live on this amazing street where no two buildings are the same. The people living and working here reflect that unique character.”
EMBARK ON A RAMSGATE RAMBLE
Ramsgreat, Pramsgate, Rammy – call it what you will – there’s a great deal to peruse in CT11. Head out on an urban trail checking out some of the cultural landmarks and shop stops providing the essence of the town just 75 minutes by train from London, or 15 from Margate.
Drop into Petticoat Lane Emporium, a sprawling Aladdin’s cave of vintage finds to reward the rummager. Then, down on the Marina Esplanade, while the claustrophobes among you chill on the beach or go for coffee up at elegant Albion House, the rest of you enter The Tunnels, a fascinating three-mile-long underground World War Two city constructed as part of the town’s air-raid precautions.
Heyday nostalgia is high around the Victoria Pavilion, penny slots the evidence, and here you’re only steps away from the focal point of town: the Royal Harbour from where the historic Little Ships headed to Dunkirk in 1940 on their epic mission.
Cut into the hub of town via Harbour Street (Book Bodega for reads, Modern Boulangerie for patisserie, Alchemy for clothes, and tucked-away Saltworks for exclusive fragrance). Detour to see what’s on at hub of emerging artists Ramsgate Music Hall, then return to nip up Queen Street coveting Potters’ sublime artisan crocks and Molly Pickle’s coast-inspired wares as you go.
To ogle Ramsgate’s emblematic townhouse architecture, ensure your trail includes Spencer Square (where you’ll find the locals playing pickleball and coffeeing at Vincent’s; the world’s most famous Vincent lived on this square), the church and family home of Augustus Pugin (designer of the Houses of Parliament), and Liverpool Lawn (arguably Ramsgate’s most beautiful bricks and mortar). Refresh at Archive, one of the Harbour Arches: industrial units repurposed into space for bike hire, art studios, marine supplies, and antiques.