Ramsgate art gallery gets set to open with restored shopfront and works by late artist Dave Smith

AsWasIsNow gallery in Harbour Street (Image TDC)

A new art gallery opening in Ramsgate’s Harbour Street has had its recently rediscovered original lead glass shopfront freshly restored, thanks to funding from Historic England.

In 2021, Thanet District Council was awarded government funding to help revitalise Ramsgate’s town centre through the High Streets Heritage Action Zone scheme. Part of the winning bid included funding specifically reserved for the transformation of historic buildings on Harbour Street.

Gallery owner Jo Smith secured the premises at 27 Harbour Street, Ramsgate in June 2022 to create a space to honour the memory and display the work of dad Dave Smith, who died in September 2020 aged 73.

Inside the new gallery Photo Jo Smith

The talented but humble Ramsgate dad-of-three  amassed a huge collection of works ranging from illustrations to acrylics and models.

He was formally trained in fine art and printmaking at the Manchester and Chelsea Schools of Art and was an alumnus of the University of Art London.

As a postgraduate student he exhibited nationally and internationally and was awarded a scholarship to work and study in Italy.

When he married wife Penny, Dave decided a guaranteed income would be needed and so he turned to graphic design and worked in that industry for some 20 years. A move to Ramsgate saw Dave struggle to find work and so, using his talent for words as well as art, he ‘blagged’ his way into a copywriting job with Pfizer and stayed in the role for 15 years.

With retirement came a return to his main love, with a full-time dedication to his art.

Art by Dave Smith

Jo said: “Dad retired in 2009 and returned to being a full-time artist again, He was up every morning, drawing and did lots of different types of artwork with a lot of illustrations in his later years.”

Among Dave’s work were many ‘as was is now’ pieces where he would research the history of a site and then produce then and now images combined.

Works include a 6m scroll  creation of Ramsgate seafront and many others including of Pegwell, Stonar and Margate. Other illustrations reference the shame of Grenfell, Windrush and Ramsgate’s ‘Great Wall.’

Inside the gallery Photo Jo Smith

After he passed Jo and family made it their mission to get his incredible wealth of works online on a website titled AsWasIsNow.

And then Jo went one step further to create the AsWasIsNow gallery in Harbour Street, which opens its doors tomorrow (April 1).

Renovation of the property began in January 2023. When the previous modern signage was removed an earlier shopfront with an historic Art Nouveau fascia was discovered.

The decorative leaded glass gives a tantalising glimpse to the turn of the 20th century when the building was operating as Rose Jewellers. It was decided immediately that the newly uncovered historic features would remain in place and would need to be restored.

Jo had originally hoped to buy a shop on the other side of Harbour Street but it turned out to be already taken.

However the developer then bought the current site and Jo took the plunge and bought it from them after viewing the shop in June last year.

Jo at the gallery Photo Dave Stillman

She said: “It was the right space and right location for the gallery. I had no idea how I would pay but I went to my advisor and so with an investment pension plan I bought the shop.

“I got the keys in December and work started in January and then my builder found the lead glass and we ripped all the old sign off to uncover it. Thanet council/Historic England then contacted me about the grant.”

Photo Dave Stillman

Jo, who also owns Trapeze recruitment agency, says she has no plans to rent gallery space out to other artists currently as there are more than 300 pieces of her dad’s work that she wants “to bring to life.”

She added: “Dad would be proud. He did do two exhibitions but because he was so analytical he would procrastinate so I got the shop and have done the opposite to dad and not worried about the details!”

Photo Dave Stillman

The gallery also houses Dave’s Ramsgate Scroll which takes up the entirety of the downstairs space.

The work took Dave seven years to complete and was drawn using a contraption built by a friend to hold the scroll as Dave worked.

The amazing work was printed and framed by Blue Swift who had to take 70 scans to complete the task. Jo said: “Blue Swift have done it to a standard Dad would have been proud of.”

A ‘baby’ version of the Ramsgate ‘tapestry’ will also be presented to one lucky gallery customer via a buyer’s raffle.

Jo said: “The detail is finite, it is beautiful.”

Photo Dave Stillman

Because Jo has bought the property and is not reliant on the gallery for her income she says all funds will be invested in displaying her dad’s work. She will be at the gallery each day and says her two “amazing” staff at Trapeze will run the agency from the Manston office.

Thanet District Council became aware of the planned heritage restoration works and contacted Jo to see how an Historic England grant could help restore the shopfront to its former glory.

Louise Askew, responsible for Regeneration and Growth at Thanet District Council, said: “We are delighted to see one of Ramsgate’s Harbour Street new businesses, ASWASISNOW, benefit from a High Streets Heritage Action Zone shop front improvement grant.

“The discovery and restoration of the heritage shop front at 27 Harbour Street has further enhanced the streetscape, complementing Celandine Hall, another recipient of the scheme’s funding, and demonstrates the benefits of heritage shop fronts in our town centres.”

David English, Head of Region for London and South East at Historic England, added: “It was a very special and unexpected moment when the earlier shopfront was uncovered.

“Someone in the past thought it was important to preserve this element of the shop’s history rather than remove it and it’s fantastic that the new owner felt the same.”

Find the website at: https://aswasisnow.co.uk/

Family’s mission to share Ramsgate artist Dave Smith’s work


    • I like it too, but he’s not a Goldsmith or Silversmith, no more than those Art places in Margate is a Woolworths and a newspaper printers. What’s with keeping these old signs, apart from reminding us how much better things used to be?

      • The original glass with its lettering has been kept because it is elegant, evocative
        and a pleasure to look at.

  1. Nothing wrong here ,Grant from ,historic England ,for the building ,no grant from the arts grants,not costing the public of Thanet nothing,so why moan,I haven’t seen it yet,so cannot say about the contents,of the gallery,but cannot be worse than ,rubbish at Turner ,but that’s another story

  2. Seen some of this work in another gallery.

    Very draftsman like in so aspects.

    A good set of work.

  3. With all the lovely shops, cafes, restaurants, galleries etc that it now boasts, it’s become a real pleasure to visit Harbour Street. Well done, everyone!

  4. Wonderful restoration adding to the progress now being made by my hometown.
    Can’t help noticing there’s a car parked opposite. For good reasons this whole road is clearly marked ‘no parking at any time’ – never observed, never enforced.

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