West Cliff Hall, Ramsgate – The Building
The West Cliff Hall sits at one of the gateways to the UK overlooking the port of Ramsgate and on a clear day you can see the cliffs of France. It has a huge, sunny, south facing terrace on the port side with superb views out to sea and a lovely sheltered garden amphitheatre on the landward side.
The building is approximately 36 metres by 23 and of steel framed construction with concrete infill. It is set into the cliff so that it supports part of the West Cliff Promenade which runs across its roof. The side walls support the main access road to the harbour which is used by more than 2,377,000 vehicles per year including pantechnicons making deliveries to the town centre, buses and tourist coaches.
The West Cliff Promenade is the main pedestrian thoroughfare connecting Central Harbour and the West Cliff. 43,000 walkers per year cross the roof. It also forms part of the Viking Coastal Trail, a major attraction for cyclists.
Until Project MotorHouse got involved the building was a blight on the neighbourhood with a lot of anti-social behaviour including drug taking, vandalism, rough sleeping, rubbish dumping and the lighting fires. Project MotorHouse worked with the local residents and Ellington & Hereson School to clear the site, repair the garden walls, and improve security. We have also done extensive propping of the building’s frame.
The building opened in July, 1914, as a concert hall called the West Cliff Hall and Gardens and hosted everything from war time dances to an early Rolling Stones concert. In 1985, it became a motor museum but that closed in 2005 and it has been empty ever since.
There were three of these buildings built into the cliffs of south east England just prior to the First World War. On a sunny day, the entertainment was taken outdoors. If it rained it was brought back inside again.
This is the smallest of the three, the only one that retains its indoor/outdoor performance capability and the only one that is derelict. It is owned by Thanet District Council and is on the Theatres Trust Buildings at Risk register.
Current State of The Building
From 2009 to 2013, Project MotorHouse worked on the assumption that the building could be saved despite being warned by the Ramsgate Society that they believed the steel frame was beyond repair. Unfortunately, they turned out to be right.
The recent structural survey shows the building’s frame is heavily rusted and has reached the end of its design life and is dangerous in places. Part of the Promenade has had to be fenced off.
There is a void in the ceiling above the main hall which has been storing water leaked through from cracks in the Promenade above. Not only is the frame very rusted, most of the internal plaster is in very poor condition. Few original features remain. The windows have been removed and the apertures boarded up. The toilet block which supports the side of the road is in very worrying condition.
Acting on the advice of our structural engineer and with the assistance of Thanet District Council, Project MotorHouse has extensively propped the building. But this is not a permanent or desirable solution.
Doing nothing is not an option.
Because of the road and the Promenade, safety has to be paramount with the frame. Our plan is to take down the current frame and rebuild, putting a modern spin on the original concept of an indoor/outdoor entertainment venue and incorporating as much of the old building as we can save.
The West Cliff Hall Survey