Marx & Engels at the Seaside – Ramsgate Part One

Karl Marx and his family – Jenny his wife, their children Jennychen, Laura and Tussy (Eleanor) and live-in help and long-term family friend, Helene Demuth (Lenchen), all spent time at the seaside. Friedrich Engels too, with his long term partner Lizzie Burns and her niece Mary Ellen, known as ‘Pumps’. Marx sometimes went alone to bathe in the sea and to take cures for his boils, carbuncles and skin inflammations. Medical scholars now believe that Marx may have suffered from Hidradenitis suppurativa which even today is a painful and debilitating disease and one which is still difficult to treat.

Seaside trips were rare in the early years of exile in London. The Marx family not only lived in distressing poverty but shared what little they did have with a large circle of exiles from the defeated revolutions of 1848 and with endless visitors from the European socialist movement. Such was the lack of money that the favourite family child Edgar, known to all as ‘Musch’ died at the age of eight from poverty related diseases. Marx was so distraught he had to be supported at the funeral and prevented from throwing himself into the child’s grave. Musch had been a lively character, playing in the streets of their home in Dean Street, Soho, picking up Irish rebel songs from his playmates and writing to Marx (at the age of six), addressing him as ‘Dear Devil’, and signing off as ‘Colonel la Musch’.

As money fortunes slowly improved seaside holidays were taken on a regular basis. Margate, Ramsgate, Hasting, Eastbourne and the Isle of Wight were all destinations. There is even a trip to Dover by Jenny Marx in 1866 when she stays at the Rose & Crown Inn near the Town station. This was right in the middle of the port, industrial and crammed with sailmakers, warehouses and shipping services. It was not exactly a ‘seaside’ destination. It is not clear why she went there or how long she stayed.

I was trying to work out the topography of Ramsgate from the 1860s to the 1880s and what buildings would have been in existence and haven’t been too knocked about since. But I over stretched things. My overall plan was to walk around Ramsgate and then up the coast to Broadstairs and look at the architecture of Edgar Ranger. That will have to wait for another day. I didn’t spend enough time in Ramsgate and by the time I did get to Broadstairs I was so hot, tired, thirsty and hungry I went home. The walking tour was a revelation and I didn’t have time to visit Hardres Street, Adelaide Gardens and Cumberland Road which are all addresses which feature in the letters. That will require a second trip.

The first two photos are of houses in the High Street. The larger group is Chatham Place, built in the 1780s. Ramsgate has a large volume of good quality examples of late eighteenth and early nineteenth architecture. Chatham Place is the familiar style from a London vernacular that Marx and Engels were acquainted with.

The Church of St George, 1824 – 1827 by Henry Hemsley. The clutter of road signs has been airbrushed out and makes it look older, and for reasons which are not clear, aesthetically more pleasing and peaceful. The Clock House, centre, is from 1817. The row of houses is Albion Place, built in the 1790s.

This is Abbot’s Hill (formerly Clover Hill). There were houses here from at least the 1830s. The photograph on the left is of 16 Abbot’s Hill were Marx stayed from mid April to 5 May 1874 for treatment for his skin conditions. He writes that ‘There is a Tom-thumb sized clay figure of Napolean I, standing on a brick pedestal, dressed in black, yellow and red’, in the middle of the front garden. There is no front garden anymore.

I met some people in the street and spent some time talking to them. They invited me into their house and showed me a map from the early 1800s.

This could be the back of the house – or…there could have been a garden before the street was build up. (Collected Works, Vol 45, page 13). That little alley way is just around the corner. It leads to the Red Lion pub (see below).

Engels stayed at No 11 Abbot’s Hill in July and August 1874. (Collected Works, Vol 45 – p15). It’s the middle house in the photograph on the left. The houses with the bowed windows are on the opposite side of the street.

This is the Red Lion pub and you can see how the alley from Abbot’s Hill connects to it. As it appears that Engels visited Marx in Abbot’s Hill can we assume they drank there? There are records of a Red Lyon pub here from 1650.

The photo on the left shows the Plains of Waterloo (with the red steps) where Marx stayed in August 1879. This is a short walk from the house in Artillery Road where his elder daughter Jenny was living. She gave birth to Edgar Marcel Longuet here. He was registered as a British citizen in Ramsgate on the 14 September 1879.

The Granville Hotel by Edward Welby Pugin, opened in 1869. Holy Trinity Church, 1837 – 38 by Decimus Burton.

Neither Marx nor Engels expressed the slightest interest in architecture. But I’m sure Engels would have been interested in the geology of the chalk formations between Ramsgate and Broadstairs.

And I wonder if they ever walked this route, and can we imagine what they might have talked about?

The whole day brought a great deal to life.

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