For more than a century Cliftonville’s Oval Bandstand and Lawns has enjoyed all the beloved eccentricities of British seaside culture. The iconic swathe of coastline has staged Royal visits, revered musicians and famed comedians, while model villages and grazing donkeys have all once resided here.
Previously owned by school headmaster Charles Schimmellmann, the land was sold to Jacob Lewis in 1890. In 1897 a temporary bandstand was replaced with an ornate wrought-iron structure complete with landscaped amphitheatre, which was surrounded by 2,000 deckchairs for music lovers.
Keeping the surrounding grass area pristine for Cliftonville High Society was donkey-keeper Benjamin Baker who used the area to graze his animals.
For the next 30 years, The Oval was the centre of Cliftonville entertainment. In 1926, improvements were made and an impressive opening ceremony was staged when the Prince of Wales, later the Duke of Windsor, opened the Prince’s Walk promenade.
Between the wars, many vocalists and comedians who played at The Oval, went on to fame and fortune. The Oval included a number of local musicians over the years. Pianists included Alex Inman in 1959 and, trombonist Jackie Wright in 1960 – who later found fame in The Benny Hill Show. Vocalists Carole Hayes and Dennis Stewart also appeared in the 1950s.
In the late 1960s and ’70s the bandstand staged all-in wrestling with the likes of wrestlers Pat Roach and Big Daddy.
In the 1970s there was also a model village, which tourists flocked to for a chance to see miniature Margate buildings that included a Dreamland replica made by Thanet councillor Mick Tomlinson.
Work began on the models, which were scaled 1 inch to 1 foot, in 1968 and on-site in 1970. It was opened in April 1971 by the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, with a second stage due for completion the same year. Proposals for stage two included a fishing village with boats and ferries, a quarry, watermill, school, Abbey ruins, shops, houses a fire station and more.
More than 5,000 plants were bedded in and there was even a miniature railway and illuminations at dusk. The village was located near where Queen’s Court residential home is now situated.
Since 2001 the Cliftonville Residents Association have held a monthly Farmers’ Market at The Oval, and for several years they also organised concerts throughout the summer months.
The people of Thanet and its many visitors have shared special experiences at the Oval Bandstand and Lawns but for many it is the memories of the celebrated and much-loved organist Tony Savage that people cherish the most – In homage to the musician GRASS played a short video clip of Tony’s performance at the bandstand before a screening at our open air cinema.