Ramsgate became a popular seaside resort and harbour in the 18th century. With the coming of the 19th century, the population of Ramsgate extended towards the sea and along the seafront. By the early 1820s, Ramsgate’s population (as distinct from the population of nearby St Laurence, which was older) was about 6,500. Ramsgate’s increasing numbers meant that there was no church room for the poor beyond that in St Laurence, which only had sufficient toom for its own parishioners.
This concerned the Minister of St Laurence and other worthies. A meeting of Ramsgate people was held on 23rd October 1823 “to take into consideration the great want of Church Room for the inhabitants of this town and the necessity of supplying the deficiency”. At the meeting, it was decided to build a church to seat 2,000 people, with free seating for 1,200. Trustees were appointed to oversee the project and on the day after the meeting, they applied to the Society for Promoting Enlargement Building of Churches for grant aid and to the Exchequer Bill Loans Commissioners for a loan. The search for a suitable site also began and eventually land was bought from the Townley family for £900.
The cost of building the church ended up being £27,471-5s-2p. £9000 came from the Commissioners for building churches and £13,000 was a loan. Trinity House donated £1,000 towards the cost of the octagonal Lantern and the inhabitants of Ramsgate subscribed £2000, over £1,100 of which was pledged at the first meeting.
Once the site was identified, the design of the church had to be decided. The Trustees had already agreed that a Gothic style would be appropriate. Mr Jarman, a local builder who would later be involved in the construction of the church, and Mr Watkins, one of the Trustees, travelled the country looking at various designs. However, the decision to offer a prize to the architect submitting the most suitable designs elicited good results and the plans of Mr Henry Hemsley were adopted in January 1824. Unfortunately, Mr Helmsley died shortly afterwards and Mr Henry Kendall succeeded him as architect. he insisted on changes to the design which increase the cost. Nonetheless, the foundation stone was laid on 30th August 1824, the same day that Ramsgate’s streets were lit by gas for the first time.
Building progress was slow — even as late as 1826 the building was only four feet above ground level. The Trustees had difficulty in persuading Parliament to release the necessary funding. However, in 1827 an Act of Parliament was passed “to separate the Town or Vill of Ramsgate from the parish of St Laurence and making the same a distinct parish and for completing the new church building therein”.
The church was completed in 1827 and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Manners Sutton, performed the ceremony on 23 October 1827, four years to the day since the first meeting had been held. There were numerous attendees. Admission was by ticket and a “very numerous body of constables were sworn in to preserve order, aided by the civil power from the Royal Harbour”.
The sermon was preached by the first vicar, the Revd Richard Harvey, whose father and grandfather had been incumbents at St Laurence. The music was provided by an orchestra and a choir of fifty, including choristers from Canterbury Cathedral.
Queen Victoria was not in attendance. As a princess, she stayed regularly in Ramsgate and worshipped at St George’s, but had returned to Kensington Palace nine days previously.
The Church in the First World War
The Victory or Lady Chapel was dedicated on 20th July 1919 by the Bishop of Dover to intercede to God on behalf of various people who died during the First World War.
The Church in the Second World War
At the outbreak of the Second World War, the crypt was opened up for use by the pupils of St George’s Boys and St George’s Girls Schools until facilities could be provided on school premises. Once the children could be accommodated safely, members of the public were admitted to the crypt.
After the evacuation of Ramsgate in 1940 and air attacks intensified, many of the few remaining inhabitants slept in the crypt. Bomb damage to the church rendered it unsafe to use and pews and furnishings were removed to the crypt. It was dedicated by Archbishop Cosmo Gordon Land as a place of worship on 10th September, 1940. A small harmonium provided music and services went ahead with surpliced choir and a good congregation.
In early 1943, some of the services resumed in the Church, although with difficulties as many of the church windows had been blown out. The windows were re-glazed in clear glass or boarded up. Restoration work began on 11th March 1946. The Dunkirk window, commemorating the evacuation of Dunkirk, was installed in 1961.