What makes this the most amazing building in Broadstairs?
Secret Broadstairs is about the unexpected: from this, the building with the most remarkable history in town, to the things you don’t know about Charles Dickens.
Dickens is by far Broadstairs’ most famous visitor, and many of his connections with the town are familiar and celebrated, but there are also fascinating secrets to be revealed: about his time here; the people who visited him and, most particularly; the relationships he forged with locals.
While it is known that Dickens based the character of Betsy Trotwood in David Copperfield on the town’s Mary Pearson Strong, her own story – and the enduring legacy she has left to Broadstairs – remains largely unknown.
Bleak House, Dickens’ holiday home in Broadstairs, is synonymous with the author. Far less well-known is how Wilkie Collins, Dickens’ great friend and collaborator, took over the house after his mentor’s death, and why the man who wrote The Woman in White in Broadstairs came to think of it as ‘the most dreadful place in the world’.
Away from Dickens, there is the story of Lord Holland, the eccentric king of Kingsgate, and how he turned a stretch of clifftop into ‘another name for paradise’, building a mock castle, faux monastery, almshouse and a range of monuments.
The climax of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, one of the most popular spy novels of all time, famously takes place in Broadstairs, but there is also a little-known – and equally compelling – real-life story of Fascists, spies and Nazis to be uncovered at almost exactly the same spot on the North Foreland.
Then there is the allegedly-true story of how the Germans attempted to assassinate Lord Northcliffe, proprietor of the Daily Mail, at his home in Reading Street. As we shall see, there is a good deal more to that tale than meets the eye.
We will also reveal the key part Broadstairs played in the downfall of Oscar Wilde.
Finally, there is the overlooked local hero Thomas Crampton: a truly great Victorian pioneer, honoured by the French and Germans, yet never given any official recognition in his home country.