Mayors Speech East Court 23rd Sept 2023

Speech from the Mayor of Ramsgate, Patricia Moore, upon the occasion of the unveiling of the Blue Plaque for Dame Janet Stancomb-Wills at East Court, 3pm on 23rd September 2023

Good afternoon and a very warm welcome to you all.

As the Mayor of Ramsgate in 2023, I am delighted to unveil the Blue Plaque celebrating the first woman mayor for the town (and Kent) from 1923, Dame Janet Stancomb-Wills at her home, East Court, here on the East Cliff.

I know many of you here today have personal and family connections to this beautiful house. Others of you are here because of the amazing support you have given to the 23for23: Leading Ramsgate Women project, which came about because of Dame Janet’s centenary year. But I know all of you are here because you are deeply proud of Ramsgate, and its wonderful history and heritage.

Dame Janet Stancomb-Wills loved Ramsgate and she dedicated the last twenty or so years of her life to improving the lives of Ramsgatonians during and in the aftermath of the First World War. In 1911, she inherited this house and a huge sum, in the region of £80 million at today’s values, from her beloved uncle and adoptive father, William Henry Wills – later Lord Winterstoke. We estimate she spent half that amount – about £40 million – on gifts and projects for the town. We still benefit directly from many of these today, including: Winterstoke Gardens and the Winterstoke Chine, Jacky Baker’s, the Destiny statue, and of course the Dame Janet Primary Academy school.

But she had not always been wealthy. She was born into a respectable but not well-off middle class family just outside Bristol in 1854. She had a good education and became a teacher in a local school. Her family was left bereft by the death of her father and brothers, and she and her sister Ida went to live with their mother’s sister, Elisabeth Perkins in the early 1870s.

Elisabeth had married William Henry Wills in 1853, when he was a junior manager in the family firm. As he became more successful, he also became involved in the company’s philanthropic endeavours. In 1880 after being elected MP for Coventry and clearly seeing Janet’s potential, he asked her to help him. By the early 1990s, she was working on the plans for the new Art Gallery for Bristol, which became the new home of the Royal West of England Academy in 1911. Later that year, Dame Janet was elected as its first president, years before the other Royal Academies even allowed women to become members. 

We believe that Dame Janet first came to Ramsgate in 1889 while East Court was being built as a holiday home by the sea for Elisabeth, who had been in poor health for some years. Dame Janet moved permanently to East Court in 1911, after the death of Lord Winterstoke. Like her adoptive parents, the house was always full with visitors and guests, including her friend, the Antarctic explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton.

From one mayor to another, I think Dame Janet would have thoroughly approved of today’s gathering. However, I also think she would have been her usual modest self, insisting that the celebration was not about her, but about all of you, and what you give to Ramsgate.

Thank you.