Perched on the outermost reaches of eastern Kent, England, is a 250-year-old Castle. Throughout its time it has played host to aristocrats, celebrities and the wealthy. But how did it all start?
Former Castle resident David Evans takes you on a journey into the past..
Sea-farers have long known of the perils of rounding Thanet’s Foreness Point. As far back as 1499 a warning beacon has been lit on the cliffs at North Foreland, alerting sailors to the proximity of the treacherous Goodwin Sands – a legacy of which is the lighthouse that stands today and whose beacon still shines across Joss Bay and its neighbouring inlets.
Whether its light was visible, though, when King Charles II and his brother the Duke of York made a sudden and possibly desparate landing at the then St Bartholomew’s Gate in 1683, is a moot point.
For the ageing King, who was to die just two years later from apoplexy, had been married for some time to the Portugese princess, Catherine of Braganza, and was known to be on his way to Dover, possibly to meet up with another vessel taking him to the continent, when he and his brother were forced to interrupt their journey.
Perhaps it was the notorious northerly winds – sweeping down the North Sea towards the Channel and which risked dragging their ship onto the lethal Goodwin Sands – that made the Royal brothers abandon this part of the journey.
Who knows? Certainly the North Forelands have long been a major hazard to sailors, with their rocky coastlines the last resting place of many a ship down the centuries.
All that is certain is that the Royal brothers were forced to scramble ashore, perhaps even lucky to be alive, at the desterted fishing hamlet of St Bartholomews, just a mile or two from Bradstow, as Broadstairs as the town was then known, and which in itself boasted only a few hundred inhabitants.
As the pair clambered up through a gorge in the chalky cliffs towering some 50ft above them, so began a new chapter in the life of the hamlet – and with it a new identify from which today, some three centuries on, Kingsgate Castle still bears testimony.
Soon after his landing the grateful King, who was to die just two years later, decreed that henceforth St Bartholomew’s should be renamed “King’s Gate”, with the spot where he came ashore commemorated by a flint gateway erected at the top of the chalk bay and whose remnants can still be seen today in the grounds of Port Regis nursing home nearby.
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