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Sights & Scenes of the British Isles

Photo Focus: Birchington-on-Sea, Kent

by Peter Kessler, 16 September 2022

 

John Chawner Antique Clock Specialist, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

The village of Birchington-on-Sea is the first settlement to be found when entering the Isle of Thanet from the west, after both road and rail have crossed the Wantsum channel which traditionally divides Thanet from mainland Kent.

The Wantsum these days is little more than a series of minor waterways and some marshy ground, but in the fifth century AD it was a wide, clear river.

'John Chawner Antique Clock Specialist' is an antiques shop which dates from 1891. It is located adjacent to the footbridge over the railway just behind it. Formerly overgrown with ivy (in 2008) the building has since been cleaned up.

W.H. Walkers Livery & Bait Stables, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

Settlement in Birchington dates back to before the Romans, but it was under the Jutish kingdom of Kent that a village formed (see related links). It is first recorded in 1240 as Birchenton. It incorporates Minnis Bay, perhaps the best East Kent beach outside of Margate, and Quex Park, a nineteenth century manor house and gardens.

Barely legible now high on the wall on the right-hand side of this pair of cottages is an Victorian advert for 'W. H. Walkers Livery & Bait Stables'. The cottages were erected between 1872 and 1896, but OS maps show nothing nearby that is marked as a stables, making it far more likely that this was indeed an advertisement rather than owner's branding.

Christies, The Wine Bar, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

'Christies, The Wine Bar' occupies this triangle-shaped building which sits at the junction between Station Approach and Minnis Road. Until at least 1905, three small constructions, possibly a house and two small cottages, occupied the triangle, one at each point. The present building was erected between 1905-1932.

Sea View Hotel & Bar, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

The Sea View Hotel & Bar sits at the corner of Prospect Road. This was one of the first new-builds during the village's expansion phase in the direction of the railway, arriving in 1865, just two years after the Margate section of the railway was itself completed.

At that time it was the Railway Hotel. It was owned by Shepherd Neame, the Kent brewery with its headquarters in Faversham, until it was sold in 2017 at the lower end of its auction price.

56 Station Road, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

On the corner of Station Mews is a much more recent addition to the Station Road shopfront scene: 56 Station Road, which is divided into three shops.

The building appears to be post-war, an estimate which is supported by various OS maps, although a construction of some kind has stood on the site since at least 1896. The apartment frontages above the shops have been refurbished much more recently.

Present Daze - Cards & Gifts, 48 Station Road, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

'Present Daze - Cards & Gifts' currently occupies 48 Station Road, a quaint mock semi-Tudor half building on the corner of Eastfield Road (originally an extension of Westfield Road). It was built between 1905-1932, casting some doubt on its Tudor pretensions!

Blue Mondays Laundrette & Dry Cleaners, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

'Blue Monda(y)s Laundrette & Dry C(l)eaners' has been missing a couple of letters for only a short while. This otherwise relatively plain corner plot Victorian red brick is made far more attractive by its iron canopy, a type which is still prevalent in nearby Westgate-on-Sea.

The canopy was first installed and paid for in 1894 by G H Pettman with permission from the newly-formed Birchington Parish Council. At the time the building housed F W Pettman Greengrocers which survived into the 1920s. By about 1964 it was home to R G Scott & Sons, Pork Butchers. The current owner (in 2017), John Wood, has continued to maintain the canopy.

Rococo Rossi Interior Design, 2a Station Road, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

This building at 2a Station Road sits directly opposite the Albion Road junction and next to the northern edge of 'The Square', a section of road which links to the Canterbury Road and forms the nucleus of the early settlement of Birchington.

Even as late as the 1870s the village was largely clustered around The Square and the parish church (to the rear and left of this shot).

The grey 'Rococo Rossi Interior Design' building was, until some point between 2009-2016, painted white and housed 'Unique Blinds'. The building exists in general footprint terms by 1932, presuming it is the same one as shown on the OS map of that year. The Powell Arms public house sits at its southern corner (at the far left of the photo).

The Powell Arms Public House, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

The Powell Arms Public House

The pub was built around 1840. It consists of three storeys of painted brick, with a hipped tiled roof and guttering which is supported on cast iron brackets. It stands on the western side of The Square, with All Saints Church on its south-western flank (see related links, below).

The building was Grade II listed in 1973.

Mahi Tandoori, 1 The Square, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

The 'Mahi Tandoori' occupies 1 The Square, on the southern side, no more than thirty metres west of the square itself. The building appears on the OS map of 1905 occupying the same footprint as today. Currently, though, The Square is reportedly the most polluted place on the Isle of Thanet - easy to believe given the amount of traffic which trundles through it.

North Thanet Conservative Association, The Old Forge, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

The small building - known as 'The Old Forge' - which currently serves as the North Thanet Conservative Association headquarters appears to be post-war, and post-1946, which is when the most recently-available old OS map was originally published.

It is possible, though, that the present U-shaped building is an extension of the pre-1946 L-shaped building which was presumably the Old Forge.

The White House, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

'The White House' stands on the southern side of the Canterbury Road, approximately a hundred metres east of the Station Road junction.

The house dates from the late eighteenth century or early nineteenth, although it has since been refronted in cement. It consists of three storeys with a hipped tiled roof and eaves cornice, and three windows with glazing bars missing. The front door is especially ornate.

The building was Grade II listed in 1973.

Park Villa, 193 Canterbury Road, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

Park Villa at 193 Canterbury Road sits just twenty metres or so east of the junction with Yew Tree Gardens. The villa and its similar neighbour (to the left of the photo) both existed by 1872. The grounds of Birchington Hall stood to the immediate east, now The Parkway and its adjoining branch roads.

195 Canterbury Road, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

The house next to Park Villa - No 195 - is bordered on its eastern flank by Park Road, a long-established lane which leads to Somali Farm. The wall which borders No 195 and the outbuilding behind the gate both also appear well-established.

The Stables, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

At the southern edge of No 195's property is an access lane which leads to 'The Stables'. The building formerly served the larger, detached house on its northern flank which fronted the Canterbury Road, next to Park Villa. Neither building is shown on OS maps until after 1872 and before 1896.

Queen's Head Hotel, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent
Photo © P L Kessler

Back at The Square, the former Queen's Head Hotel sits at the corner of Park Lane.

The long black strip on the wall below the upper level windows previously carried the pub's name in large letters which filled the strip's entire width. Immediately below the middle level was written 'Gardner & Co's Ash Brewery Pale Ale & Stout'.

It has been suggested that this pub was the original 'Acorn' pub, but that it changed name during the reign of Queen Victoria in order to attract the gentry. Further information suggests that the pub was serving as far back as 1769 when it was mentioned in the Kentish Gazette.

It closed in 2010 and was subsequently converted into apartments.

 

All photos contributed by P L Kessler, taken in June 2021.

Main Sources

Birchington Heritage Trust newsletter, Issue 61, August 2017

British Listed Buildings website

Dover Kent Archives

Geograph website

Google Street View

Isle of Thanet News website

Kent Live Directory

Kent XXV (includes: Margate). Surveyed: 1872. Published: 1877 (NLS OS Maps)

Kent XXV.NW (includes: Margate). Revised: 1896. Published: 1898 (NLS OS Maps)

Kent XXV.5 (Margate). Revised: 1905. Published: 1907 (NLS OS Maps)

Kent XXV.6 (Margate). Revised: 1932. Published: 1934 (NLS OS Maps)

Kent XXV.SW (includes: Acol; Margate; Minster; Monkton; St Nicholas). Revised: 1946. Published: c.1950 (NLS OS Maps)

Shopfront Elegy website

Thanet District Council

 

Images and text copyright © P L Kessler except where stated. An original feature for the History Files.