Birchington-on-Sea is a village in northeast Kent, England, with a population of around 9,800. It is part of the Thanet district and forms the civil parish of Birchington. It lies on the coast facing the North Sea, east of the Thames Estuary, between the seaside resorts of Herne Bay and Margate.
As a seaside resort, the village is a notable tourist and retirement destination. The village's Minnis Bay is a family beach with attractions such as sailing, windsurfing, a paddling pool and coastal walking routes. Its three smaller beaches are surrounded by chalk cliffs, cliff stacks and caves.
The village was first recorded in 1240. Its parish church, All Saints, dates to the 13th century and its churchyard is the burial place of the 19th-century Pre-Raphaelite artist, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Quex Park, a local 19th century manor house, is home to the Powell Cotton Museum and a twelve-bell tower built for change ringing. The museum contains a large collection of stuffed exotic animals collected by the late Major Powell-Cotton on his travels in Africa, and also houses artifacts unearthed in and around Birchington by his daughter, the late Antoinette Powell-Cotton, a keen archeologist.
Archives show the village's All Saints Church dates to around 1350. In the early 15th century, Quex Park manor house—named after the park's second owner, John Quek—was built just south of the village. The ownership of the manor passed to various families until 1770 when it was acquired by the present owners, the Powell family. In the late 17th century, the house was visited by King William III. In 1565, a report on the coast of Thanet by the commissioners of Queen Elizabeth I stated that Birchington had 42 houses and did not have an active port. Before the 19th century, the village coastline was frequented by smugglers, leading to skirmishes between them and excise officers. Several of the older houses in the village contain cellars and bricked up tunnels, once used for storing contraband.
The 1801 census recorded the village's population as 537. In the early 19th century, the Tudor Quex House had to be demolished and a replacement manor house was built in its place. In 1818, the Waterloo Tower was built on the grounds of Quex Park. It is a bell tower built by the owner of Quex Park, John Powell Powell, who had an interest in change ringing. Waterloo Tower was the first twelve-bell tower in Kent. The village was a farming community until the late 19th century, when it began to develop into a coastal resort. Birchington railway station was opened in 1863 and the Railway Hotel, now the Sea View Hotel pub, was opened in 1865. Station Road was subsequently built to serve as Birchington's main shopping street. Coast Guard cottages were built at Minnis Bay in the 1870s and the first shops appeared by the bay in 1903.
In 1896, Major P. H. G. Powell-Cotton founded the Powell Cotton Museum at Quex Park to display his collection of mammals and artefacts acquired on his expeditions to Africa and Asia. The animals were mounted by the noted taxidermist Rowland Ward. During World War I, Quex House became an Auxiliary Military Hospital run by the Birchington Voluntary Aid Detachment. In 1923, the Memorial Ground was donated to the village by Mr H. A. Erlebach for sport and recreational use. Mr Erlebach owned the village's now defunct Woodfood House School and purchased land from the Quex House estate for the school. He gave the southern part of the land to the people of Birchington and dedicated it in memory of his three sons who had been killed in World War I. The land is now owned by Thanet District Council.
Birchington-on-Sea is located at (51.377, 1.305) in northeast Kent, on the coast of the Thames Estuary. The village is 14 kilometres (9 mi) to the east of Herne Bay and 6 kilometres (4 mi) to the west of Margate. The small town of Westgate-on-Sea lies between Birchington and Margate. The village/civil parish of Acol is 2 kilometres (1 mi) to the south and the villages/civil parishes of St Nicholas at Wade and Sarre are 5 kilometres (3 mi) to the southwest.
The village is built beside four sandy bays; Minnis Bay to the west, Grenham Bay and Beresford Gap towards the centre and Epple Bay to the east. The village is situated on the Isle of Thanet, which was a separate island from mainland Kent until around two hundred years ago, when the channel in between became silted up. The area to the west of the village, between Birchington and Herne Bay, was once part of the channel and is now low-lying marshland. In the east of the village the land rises, forming chalk cliffs and cliff stacks around the beaches at Grenham Bay, Beresford Gap and Epple Bay. A sea wall stretches along the foot of the cliffs to prevent further erosion. The geology of Thanet consists mainly of chalk, deposited when the area was below the sea. Isle of Thanet became exposed above sea-level once the English Channel broke through between Kent and France, causing the sea-level to fall. The whole of the northeast Kent coast has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The drinking water in the village is classed as being 'very hard', having just over 120 mg of calcium per litre. The hardness is due to water being obtained from underground chalk sources by the water company Southern Water. Waste water is discharged into the sea after being treated at a sewage works in Margate.
Birchington-on-Sea railway station is on the Chatham Main Line which runs between Ramsgate in East Kent and London Victoria. Other stations on this line include Broadstairs, Margate, Herne Bay, Faversham, Gillingham, Rochester and Bromley South. Birchington is around 1 hour and 45 minutes from London by fast-service train. A National Express coach service also runs between London Victoria and Ramsgate via Birchington-on-Sea. A selection of trains run to London's Cannon Street station, primarily for business commuting.
There are Stagecoach bus services running to Westgate-on-Sea, Margate, Broadstairs, Canterbury and Herne Bay. The A28 road runs between Hastings and Margate via Ashford, Canterbury, Birchington and Westgate-on-Sea. 3 miles (5 km) southwest of Birchington-on-Sea, the A28 crosses the A299 road which leads along North Kent towards London, becoming the M2 motorway at Faversham.
|2001 UK census||Birchington||Thanet||England|
|Bachelor's degree or higher||15%||13%||20%|
|Over 65 years old||36%||22%||16%|
The village had 4,742 households, of which 47.9% were married couples living together, 5.3% were cohabiting couples and 6.8% were lone parents. 35.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 26.9% had someone living alone at pensionable age. 18.0% of households included children aged under 16 or a person aged 16 to 18 who was in full-time education.
The ethnicity of the village was predominately white with over 95% of its residents being born in the United Kingdom and 2% in other Western Europe countries. About 80% of residents claimed to be Christian, 0.6% Muslim, and less than 1% either Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu or an alternative religion, while 7% did not state their religion, and 11% claimed no religious affiliation.
For every 100 females, there were 80.2 males. The age distribution was 4% aged 0–4 years, 10% aged 5–15 years, 3% aged 16–19 years, 21% aged 20–44 years, 26% aged 45–64 years and 36% aged 65 years and over. The village had a very high percentage of residents over 65, compared with the national average of 16%. As a seaside resort, Birchington-on-Sea is a popular retirement destination.
The industry of employment of residents was 16% retail, 14% health and social work, 11% manufacturing, 11% education, 10% real estate, 9% construction, 7% transport and communications, 6% public administration, 5% hotels and restaurants, 3% finance, 2% agriculture, 1% energy and water supply, and 5% other community, social or personal services. Compared to national figures, the village had a relatively high number of workers in the construction and health/social care industries and a relatively low number in finance and manufacturing. Many residents commute to work outside the town; as of the 2001 census, the town had 3,370 employed residents, but only 1,711 jobs.
As a seaside resort, the village's economy is based around tourism, with several hotels, caravan parks and leisure attractions. The village shopping centre attracts walk-in trade from tourists. One of the largest retailers is the Somerfield supermarket. The elderly population of the village has generated health and social care jobs at local care homes and at the Birchington Medical Centre. As of the 2001 census, 1.4% of the village's population resided in a medical or care establishment, compared to the national average of only 0.8%.
Minnis Bay is a popular family beach with attractions such as sailing, windsurfing, cafes, beach huts, public houses, restaurants, a paddling pool and coastal walking/cycling routes. The beach has gained a European Blue Flag Award for its cleanliness and safety. The village has three other smaller beaches, which are surrounded by chalk cliffs and cliff stacks. The Thanet Coast Project runs trips out of the bay in July and August to observe the wildlife of the Thames Estuary including seals, velvet swimming crabs and the migrant Turnstone.
To the south of the village is Quex House, a 200 year-old manor house situated in of parkland and gardens. Several rooms, decorated with oriental and English period furniture, are open to visitors, and guided tours are provided. The Powell Cotton Museum houses three galleries of stuffed animal displays, depicting more than 500 African and Asian animals against their natural habitats. Further galleries display a vast collection of African artefacts, European firearms, European and Asian cutting weapons, European and Chinese porcelain, and important archaeological finds from Thanet and East Kent.
Paintings by local artists are displayed at the Burley Gallery in Birchington Library. Community activities take place at the Birchington Village Centre, including adult education classes, drama productions by the Birchington Guild of Players and concerts by the Birchington Silver Band. In 1989, Birchington-on-Sea was twinned with the town of La Chapelle d`Armentieres, near Lille in northern France; Birchington Twinning Association arranges events between the two communities, such as school trips, concerts and war remembrance services. Since 1932, Birchington has held a street carnival each summer.
As a seaside resort, there are several clubs for watersports. Minnis Bay Sailing Club, founded in 1950, is a dinghy and catamaran club where members can sail for fun, but competitions are also held most weekends. Speed boats, jet skis and water skis can be hired for use near the beach at Beresford Gap by members of Beresford Wakeboard and Water Ski Club, which was established in 2004 to help alleviate anti-social behaviour in the area. Anglers are catered for by Birchington Sea Angling Society which is based at Epple Bay.
Several teams compete in local leagues: the Birchington United Services Club runs a football team in the Thanet Sunday Football League Premier Division and a netball team in the Thanet and District Netball League, while Birchington Chess Club competes in the Thanet League. Westgate and Birchington Golf Club has an 18-hole course on the cliff tops between Westgate and Birchington. Birchington Bridge Club meets twice a week at the Our Lady and St Benedict's Church Hall. A football pitch is provided at the council owned Birchington Recreation Ground.
There are four local weekly newspapers providing news on the Thanet district area. Isle Of Thanet KM Extra and Thanet Adscene are free newspapers, while Isle of Thanet Gazette and Thanet Times are paid-for. Isle Of Thanet KM Extra is owned by the Kent Messenger Group, Isle of Thanet Gazette, Thanet Adscene and Thanet Times are owned by Trinity Mirror. There are two local newsmagazines produced for the people of Birchington: The Birchington Roundabout, which began publishing in April 2003, and The Birchington Forum. kmfm for Thanet is a radio station on frequency 107.2FM, owned by the Kent Messenger Group.
Notable residents have included the British screenwriter Tudor Gates, who wrote a number of female vampire stories for Hammer Studios in the early 1970s. Gates died in the village in January 2007. In early 1882, Pre-Raphaelite artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti rented a bungalow in the village, in an attempt to recuperate from ill-health. However, he died in April the same year and was buried in the churchyard of All Saints, under a tombstone designed by fellow artist, Ford Madox Brown.