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Access road, underpass and retaining walls from Court Stairs to Western Undercliff

A Grade II Listed Building in Ramsgate, Kent

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Latitude: 51.3267 / 51°19'36"N

Longitude: 1.397 / 1°23'49"E

OS Eastings: 636763

OS Northings: 164105

OS Grid: TR367641

Mapcode National: GBR X0L.L23

Mapcode Global: VHMCW.5XF9

Plus Code: 9F3389GW+MR

Entry Name: Access road, underpass and retaining walls from Court Stairs to Western Undercliff

Listing Date: 4 February 1988

Last Amended: 22 May 2019

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1086050

English Heritage Legacy ID: 172076

Location: Ramsgate, Thanet, Kent, CT11

County: Kent

Civil Parish: Ramsgate

Built-Up Area: Ramsgate

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Kent

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A pathway, retaining walls and bridge connecting Court Stairs to the Western Undercliff, designed as part of the Royal Esplanade improvements along the seafront to the west of Ramsgate.


A pathway, retaining walls and bridge connecting Court Stairs to the Western Undercliff, designed as part of the Royal Esplanade improvements along the seafront to the west of Ramsgate, between 1924 and 1926 under the overall charge of BB Franklin and Basil C Deacon and executed by Deacon and James Pulham and Sons.

MATERIALS and PLAN: Pulhamite concrete laid over brick and stone hardcore. The pathway ascends in a serpentine curve between sides covered with Pulhamite which are moulded and coloured in imitation of geological strata. A footbridge, forming part of the upper terrace of Royal Esplanade and overlooking the sea, crosses the pathway. The footway is grooved in imitation of crazy paving.

EXTERIOR: at the upper level of the pathway the sides are formed by low boulders forming a rockery. As the path descends the sides become stepped and include planting troughs. The upper walkway bridges the path by means of a single arch and beyond this the Pulhamite sides gradually diminish in height and blend into the natural cliff face to the west and join with the concrete blocks of a reinforcing wall to the east.


From the mid-C18 Ramsgate became increasingly popular as a seaside resort, its expansion being accelerated by road improvements and faster sea passage offered by hoys, packets and steamers. An assembly room, warm water baths, subscription libraries and places of worship were joined by new streets such as Effingham Street and speculative crescents and squares on the East and West Cliffs such as Albion Place of around 1791-1798 and Nelson Crescent of around 1800-1805. During the Napoleonic Wars Ramsgate became a busy garrison town and a major port of embarkation. Ramsgate’s importance in the 1820s is attested by its patronage by the British and European royal families and the creation of a separate parish by Act of Parliament, served by the large Church of St George (1824-1827). The harbour is the only one in the British Isles which has the designation ‘Royal’, granted by George IV.

The arrival of the South Eastern Railway’s branch line in 1846 opened up Ramsgate to mass tourism and popular culture, bringing a range of inexpensive, lively resort facilities intended for the sorts of middle- and working-class holidaymakers depicted in WP Frith’s painting ‘Ramsgate Sands’ of 1854 (Royal Collection). Wealthier visitors were accommodated at a respectable distance from the town in developments such as EW Pugin’s Granville Hotel of 1867-1869. Competition with other Kentish resorts stimulated a series of large-scale improvements in the late-C19 and early-C20 including the construction of Royal Parade and landscaped stairs and pathways at the eastern and western ends of the seafront to join the upper promenades to the Undercliff walks. New schools, hospitals and services were also built. The thriving town attracted diverse faith communities; Moses Montefiore founded a synagogue and a religious college at East Cliff Lodge, while AWN Pugin St Augustine’s Church and the Grange as part of an intended Catholic community on the West Cliff.

Rock gardens first seem to have appeared in England from the C17 as a suitable setting for exotic plants. The influential landscape designers Humphry Repton (1752-1818) and John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) both promoted the idea of naturalistic rock formations in a landscape and this coincided with the importation of new species of plants into England from mountainous areas.

From the 1840s a number of companies began experimenting with cements to cover a base of hard core in imitation of large-scale rock formations. James Pulham and Son of Broxbourne in Hertfordshire were amongst several such makers, and also specialised in terracotta ornaments. The longevity of their company which lasted from about 1845 to 1945 under the leadership of three generations of Pulham, all named James, marked them out, as did the quality of their products. Their work and patrons included relatively modest suburban villas as well as bankers, ship and railway owners and the royal family. Work at Sandringham, Windsor and Buckingham Palace earned the company a royal warrant in 1895. ‘Durability Guaranteed’ was one of the company’s claims, and this has largely proved to be true. Whether real stone or artificial, an aim of designers was to replicate the appearance of genuine rock formations with geological strata. Pulhams was noted for this and from the 1880s they experimented with different colours and textures of cement. The structure of their designs was a core of over-burnt bricks, waste stone and slag, or other industrial waste that was locally available. Overhangs were of real slate or sandstone and the whole structure was finished with two coats of render, between 6mm and 15mm thick.

The various constructions of rockwork at Ramsgate, realised by Ramsgate Corporation from the 1890s, with the last work on the Winterstoke Chine in 1936, form one of the largest groupings of their designs and provides a good cross-section of their work and the compositional possibilities offered by different locations and gradients.

The access road, underpass and retaining walls leading from Court Stairs to the Western Undercliff were a part of the civic improvements to the western end of the Ramsgate seafront which were called the Royal Esplanade and were opened by the Prince of Wales in November 1926. The work was planned and undertaken between 1924 and 1926 and initially designed in 1922 by BB Franklin and Basil C Deacon and executed by Deacon.

Reasons for Listing

The access road, underpass and retaining walls from Court Stairs to Western Undercliff are listed at Grade II for the following reasons:

Architectural interest:
* they are comparable in interest to other designated examples of Pulhamite structures and representative of the Pulhams' innovative design and construction of garden and park structures;
* designed by the noted engineer Basil Deacon.

Historic interest:
* the structure forms part of the an important grouping of Pulhamite structures which are spaced along the seafront at Ramsgate and which were built in the period between 1893 and 1936.
Group value:

* with 1-23 West Cliff Terrace and the eastern and western quadrants of the lido (all Grade II).

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