All aboard for a seaside rollercoaster ride
When Dreamland, Britain’s oldest amusement park, reopened in Margate this week after a £10million building project, it could seen as symbolic of the Kent town’s rollercoaster journey. What began as a much-loved beach resort 250 years ago had, by the Nineties, become a run-down town with high unemployment, typical of many English seaside spots.
Now Margate is starting to take a new course, spurred on by the opening of its Turner Contemporary gallery in 2011, investment in its transport and leisure offerings and a new wave of independent shops. Margate’s grandiose town houses, which had been carved up into poky rented flats, are increasingly being restored by private investors into single homes again.
And then there’s Dreamland, the 16-acre theme park built in the 1880s but in decline by the start of the 21st century. Wayne Hemingway and his wife, Gerardine, are behind Dreamland’s reinvention as a heritage amusement park.
“Dreamland fits in perfectly with the vintage hipster atmosphere of the old town. There’s a real Fifties feel, which people love – the vintage shops, independent cafés and secondhand furniture shops and donkey rides,” says Simon Backhouse from Strutt & Parker Canterbury. “Margate is a bucket and spade destination for people who are looking for a cheap English seaside holiday, but it can be a real eye-opener for people who haven’t been before. It’s full of fantastic Georgian houses – the sort of Georgian square you’d find tucked away in east London.”
Margate may have the period architecture and the embryonic signs of hipster-dom that have consumed areas such as Hackney, but property prices still bear little resemblance. A six-bedroom terraced house in good condition is on sale in Hawley Square for £300,000 (01843 231222; milesandbarr.co.uk). On the seafront in Sea View Terrace, the Grade II listed Seascape House, which has been modernised throughout, retaining its period features, is on the market for £750,000 (01227 807817; struttandparker.co.uk).
Strutt & Parker are also marketing 6 The Beach House – one of 11 newbuild, two-bedroom homes overlooking Westbrook Bay, costing £495,000. Could Margate be the next Brighton in a decade or so? “Perhaps,” thinks Backhouse, “but it will need more investment, particularly in the high street.”
London-style “hipness” is starting to pervade several areas of the east Kent coast, says buying agent Helen Turner of Property Turner. “I see a lot of self-employed people or those who need to go to London a couple of times a week starting to move to Deal, St Margaret’s Bay and Folkestone.”
Folkestone has seen substantial regeneration, including the creation of a Creative Quarter in its old town, at the hands of former Saga boss Roger de Haan. And the value, particularly to London eyes, is striking. Within a two-minute walk of Folkestone Central station, a six-bedroom house with an indoor swimming pool is on sale for £600,000 (01303 256505; wardandpartners. co.uk), and on a clifftop, there’s a five-bedroom Edwardian semidetached house for £350,000, also through Ward & Partners.
Folkestone fares well in Savills’ recent look at Kent “coastal commuting” towns, with journey time to London coming in just under an hour and average property prices of £183,365.
In its analysis, Savills also finds three “emerging prime” locations on the Kent coast. These include Deal, which has seen 23 per cent price growth over the past five years. “Despite its impressive growth, Deal remains good value, cheaper on average than other coastal locations in Kent such as Whitstable, Hythe and Sandwich,” says Savills’ researcher Sophie Chick.
Deal has found a following among creative types – Norman Wisdom and Charles Hawtrey were both residents. The “pink pound” is strong here too, says Strutt & Parker’s Simon Backhouse. “We have sold to a number of couples who buy lovely little fisherman’s houses and turn them into truly amazing second homes,” he says.
Deal’s seafront has a genteel air, with a handsome stretch of buildings facing its pebbly beach. Among them, a Grade II listed, three-bedroom town house will cost about £600,000. Deal’s high street was voted the best in Britain by The Daily Telegraph last year.
The new high-speed rail service has halved journey times to London, now at 1hr 20min, which means that London commuters are beginning to see Deal as a viable option, according to Ben Hugill, branch manager of Haart.
At the highest end of Deal’s market is Ty-Bryn, a detached sixbedroom house believe to have been built by Winston Churchill’s private secretary, Eliot CrawshayWilliams, on sale for £1.6million (struttandparker.com).
Along the coast, Sandwich has two world-class golf courses, a medieval centre – and it’s about to get a Waitrose. As for property prices, there’s a three-bedroom mid-terrace period cottage on the market at £279,000 (01227 452780; humberts.co.uk).
“Sandwich has become a magnet for people looking for value for money and quick access to London. For less than £300,000, you can buy a beautifullyrenovated three-bedroom home and be in King’s Cross in less than an hour and a half,” says Martin Jordan, director of Humberts in Canterbury.
“It’s a town that I didn’t even know existed when we first visited about eight years ago. I loved it the second I saw it with its ridiculously well-preserved medieval core,” says John Fothergill, 39, who advises artists on commercial strategy. He and his wife, Dorothy, 34, a movie costume designer, initially bought a weekend home in Sandwich, before moving to Temperance House, a listed 16th-century town house. It had “three walls, no floor, no ceiling” when they bought it three years ago. Now the four-bedroom house exudes a stylish, quirky boutique London chic in its large, beamed rooms.
“It was a real top to bottom, intensive renovation as the property was at death’s door,” says John, who has put Temperance House on the market for £625,000 through Strutt & Parker (01227 451123; struttandparker.com) as it’s no longer ideal for their soonto-toddle child.
“It’s happening all along the coast in Ramsgate, Margate, Sandwich and Deal – but each town has a very different feel,” he says. “Deal already feels like it’s becoming an outpost of London. Sandwich has a slightly older population, but it’s a bohemian place full of people with interesting back stories.”
Sounds faintly Shoreditch – but John feels this corner of Kent is still oddly overlooked. “Other towns a similar distance from London in the other direction are far more densely populated with far higher property values, yet Sandwich’s Edwardian and Victorian housing stock is phenomenal. We know various people who have sold in London for around £1million and bought a great full-time house here and still had enough left to buy a pied à terre in London,” he says.