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  • Writer's pictureMary Smith

Mods in Margate

Updated: Feb 4, 2022

©Harding-Lee Media

The ever-popular Margate seafront

With wide sandy beaches and a favourable maritime climate, the Isle of Thanet has always been a popular choice for holiday-makers. Its principal towns of Ramsgate, Margate and Broadstairs each offer their own brand of seaside escapism and all boast a huge range of restaurants, cafe's and bars to cater for every taste. They all also have their own cultural personalities and Margate in particular has a rich and diverse history in this respect. The Mod sub-culture in particular is enjoying a resurgence again, making Margate a destination town for its aficionados.

In fact, Mod culture has been alive and well in Margate for a long time. Those in the know will tell you that it never really went away. If you've watched Quadrophenia (and if you haven't, you really must), you will remember the images of 60's Mods and Rockers descending as rivals onto Brighton beach. Many of the films' scenes were base on real-life events and people there at the time report that a good deal happened in Margate too. Of course, it wasn't all fighting but that was the aspect most picked up by the newspapers.

Back in 1964, the first post-war generation had come of age and were challenging everything they thought was old and boring. That year - partly stirred up by sensationalist media - hordes of 'wild ones',  as they were labelled, notoriously made their mark by travelling down to Brighton, Clacton, Hastings and Margate on motorbikes (Rockers) and scooters (Mods.)  A true clash of cultures ensued, to the horror of the usual day-trippers. You can see original reports here.

Inevitably a good number of them ended up in court, another scene made immortal in Quadrophenia. Margates' Mods and Rockers were not left out and quotes from the old Margate Magistrates' Court proceedings were used in the scene to great effect. Margate Museum, now housed in the same heritage building, curated a fascinating show in 2012/3 exhibiting all sorts of interesting emphemera relating to the era and how the post-war youth identified with the suited and booted sub-culture.  And then there is the Mod revival of the late 70's and early 80's, led by the Jam amongst others and the release of Quadrophenia in 1979. Your writer herself remembers being asked, way back when, by one of the boys on her first day of a new primary school in Thanet "Mod or Rocker?" At the ripe old age of 9 I didn't have a clue, but I got the sense even then that I should've.

These days a stroll around Margate's old town will take you to Rat Race Margate, a long-established and very sharp clothes retailer specialising in classic British menswear. Most recently they have set themselves up in the fabulous Old Kent Market just opposite the Turner Contemporary, and very good it looks too. 

Rat Race Margate, set up nicely in the Old Kent Market on the seafront. Image courtesy of Rat Race Margate

Just along from there is the iconic Olbys Cafe & Music Rooms which has pleasingly evolved over time into an important creative hub and community interest company. They are also host to various local festivals throughout the calendar, including the very cool Margate Mod & 60's Festival to coincide with the Whitsun bank holiday. Alas it's been stopped in its tracks this year due to Covid-19, but promises to return with a vengeance in 2021. Be there or be square!

Margate's Mod & Sixties Festival, back 2021

Another must-see at this time of year is the Margate Meltdown, the annual classic motorcycles and scooter charity ride-out organised by London's historic Ace Cafe no less. Now in its 13th year, the 2020 ride-out is also cancelled, but we highly recommend you get along next year to witness hundreds of classic riders arrive in Margate's old town after a burn down the M25-M2 in convoy.

Old-school Mods and Rockers arrive at the Margate Meltdown. Image courtesy of Isle of Thanet Gazette

The Mod scene is just one aspect of Margate's colourful and varied cultural heritage, why not come and see for yourself sometime soon? #margatemuseum #ratracemargate #olbyssoulcafe #margatemodand60sfestival #acecafe #margatemeltdown

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