The municipality of Middelkerke (17,930 inhabitants on 1 July 2006; 7,565 ha) is located on the North Sea, a few kilometers south-west of Ostende. It is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Middelkerke, Leffinge, Spermalie (the result of the merging in 1971 of Schore, Sint-Pieters-Kapelle, Mannekensvere and Slijpe), Westende (including Lombardsijde since 1971) and Wilskerke. In 1971, the borough of Raversijde, formerly part of Middelkerke, was incorporated into Ostende.
In the Middle Ages, the nine villages belonged to the Country of Bruges (Brugse Vrije), except Lombardsijde that had been granted municipal rights in the early Middle Ages; the eight other villages, except Schore and Sint-Pieters-Kapelle, belonged to the domain of Camerlincx. In 1795, the French administration set up nine municipalities, each of them being a kerkdorp (village grouped around a church). The windmillas and the churches were used as visual landmarks, especially the big church of Leffinge, known as "The Cathedral of the North".
In 1885, the opening of the steam (later electric) tramway line between Ostende and Middelkerke opened up the villages and boosted the development of coastal tourism. The line was increased the next year to Nieuwpoort. A company founded in Brussels in 1876 attempted to build a sea resort without involving the local administration; they opened a casino in 1891 but had to transfer the development of the resort to the municipality of Middelkerke.The main tourist attraction at that time, although inexpected, was the Tilted Well, a freshwater harnessing made of concrete that progressively tilted in the sand.
The first vacation houses in Westende were built by people from Brussels in 1896.
The First World War completely wiped out the early development of the sea resorts: the casino and the town hall of Middelkerke were ruined, as was Westende, including the once famous Grand Hôtel Bellevue, and most of the rural villages of the hinterland. During the Second World War, the Germans built on the coast fortifications belonging to the Atlantic Wall; the batteries of Leffinge protected Ostende while those of Westende protected Nieuwpoort. After the Liberation, several building dedicated to flat tourism were built in Middelkerke and Westende, suppressing the last remains of the earlier sea resorts.
Graphic sourced with thanks from Wikipedia.org/wiki/Middelkerke