Location: Scotts Department Store, Margate
Walk: 0.5m (0.9km). Short. Steep hill.
Keeper: Sarah Vickery
Note: RG Scotts is open 10am-5pm, closed for lunch from 1pm-2pm, and
closed Wednesdays and Sundays.
From Margate Pier cross Marine Drive at the traffic lights and turn
left next to Barnacles pub (where scenes for the movie Last s were
filmed) down King Street. This is the easterly side of Margate Old Town
and is full of fading clues to its half-forgotten past.
Here’s one: coming up on your left is Alkali Row, so-called because
pits were dug here to burn kelp from the beach. Alkali, the resulting
ash powder, was an important export from Margate in the 1700s; today
we call it potash.
At the junction with Hawley Street cross over – taking great care
as this road can be a bit hairy – and continue straight down King
Street. The Tudor House is on your left, a wonderfully restored sixteenth
century house that was once owned by notorious gambler Lord Holland.
He was forced to sell his considerable estates to pay off his debts
and the local council own the building now. It’s only open to
the public when high days, holidays and a blue moon coincide, but don't
let that stop you from letting yourself in through the gate, wandering
around the garden and peering in through the windows.
Pressing on down King Street the gas holder appears on the horizon.
This is Margate’s last remaining industrial ironwork structure,
which, admittedly, doesn’t sound all that exciting. But this is
a beautiful skeleton and I love wandering past it and putting flesh
on the bones: I first encased it in glass and created an art gallery;
then tented it and shipped in acrobats and clowns; and am now installing
a 3-D cinema screen and packing it with
I digress. Keep walking until you reach a little road on your left called
Grotto Hill. Turn up here and start climbing out of the valley. On your
right is the Shell Grotto, a place that I struggle to describe concisely,
despite living and working here. It’s a strange and wonderful
thing, a series of underground passageways decorated with millions of
shells that form symbols and patterns that no-one really understands
and that may be hundreds or thousands of years old.
Farther up the hill is your destination: Scotts is an emporium of really
interesting stuff, piled high over three floors, in a rambling old building
that used to be an ice cream factory. This
is where you'll find all those necessities of life that you never knew
you needed. How did I live without a leather and satin pyjama case?
Or a bottle of holy water (empty) from Lourdes? Or a chef's hat and
a fortune telling cup? It's all here, or, at least, it was until I bought
it. On entering turn right and keep edging your way through the treasures
until you find the far wall. Turn around and there’s the box,
the only thing in the building that’s not for sale.