A FINE NEW ROAD FOR VICTORIAN MARGATE - THE MARINE DRIVE SAGA. .
BY MICK TWYMAN, RESEARCH BY ALF BEECHING.
Over the years in the pages of Margate Historical Society Magazine have brought YOU many tales of the inefficiency of our municipal forefathers. Especially when they embarked on large-scale projects for which their lack of engineering expertise (compounded by their 'shopkeeper mentalities) made them ill suited. The story of the construction of Marine Drive is a classic case of fiscal mismanagement, and we will take the opportunity to highlight some of its less savoury aspects which have hitherto been ignored, as well as correcting a few errors made previously by others.
Others were totally against the whole scheme. The Engineer, weighing in with his bit, stated that in his view, working on the assumption that only £21,400 would be expended., only a small increase in the Rates would be required to fund the loan over a period of 50 years. As it transpired, all of that confidence and optimism (based on little more than guesswork!) was misplaced. The saga of 'The Globe Hotel' alone would definitely upset their applecart! As with the Fort Road clearance scheme of the 1930s, where some 'dodgy' dealing ensured good profits for many of the town's 'leaders'. so it was with 'The Globe'. Almost certainly acting on 'inside information' of the impending Marine Drive scheme, its freehold had been snapped up for just £2.000 by one of our local worthies when put onto the market in 1876. Trouble was it cost the Council £7,247. 18s. 8d. to buy it for the scheme, and they only realised £354. 14s. 3d. from the sale of stock and fixtures. That ineptitude certainly cost the town dearly!
By January, 1879, things had started on the construction of the new wall. The first section to be tackled was that between Horn Comer (where the King's Stairs now are) and the Harbour wall. This was due to the fact that the Parade was originally a part of the Harbour basin (as shown in the accompanying photograph, the quality of which is admittedly poor but very old and rare) and much material and work would be needed to fill it in. To move the completed blocks at the construction yard and to lower them into position in the wall, the Council had hired two steam cranes from a Mr. A. Williams, but a delay was caused early in the scheme when one of them broke down and had to be sent to London for repair, its return being delayed by a strike of
engineering workers there. As it was necessary to move and stack the blocks as they were cast,this meant the wall construction had to wait for the return of the second crane. Rather amazingly, a local contractor, Mr. Thunder, sent a letter in January enquiring about the tendering process for the making of the concrete blocks. Given the fact that this tender had been properly advertised and awarded the previous year, his reaction was tardy to say the least. The Council had to write to him and gently explain the facts, but one has to wonder at the intelligence of some of those involved in this project! The repaired crane returned from London, the Council
made plans for the ceremonial laying of the supposed' first' blocks of this prestige project. Supposed because the laying of the blocks had commenced at the Harbour end in January, as already recorded. To keep the illusion going, on February the 15th, 1879, three 'foundation' blocks were carefully lowered into position by the crane at an official ceremony presided over by the Mayor and his entourage. From then on things cracked on at a fair pace, and as the length of the wall grew from both ends towards their meeting place, thousands of cubic yards of spoil and chalk were dumped behind it as infill. There was chalk from the foreshore and building works around the town, and some 7,000 cubic yards of earth were dug out from the soggy ground
around The Brooks, where Dreamland car park now is. All of this was carried out by hand,naturally, and the labour involved was hard and intensive, further complicated by the fact that access to the job of laying the blocks was governed by the tides, as for much of the time the site was underwater and. of course, the tides 'creep' an hour every day too, which doesn't help.
By March things were going well, and it was reported that, much to the relief of the residents,many of the piles of chalk dumped onto Marine Terrace for infilling purposes had been removed. But if that cheered the Council up. the Pier and Harbour Co. did not. They were threatening legal action against the Council, maintaining that a substantial area of the foreshore around the Harbour belonged to them and that the Council had no right to build on it. The Council, in another display of ineptitude, maintained that was nonsense as they had purchased the foreshore rights from the Marquis of Conyngham previously, but what they had failed to look at was the rights given to the Pier & Harbour C o. in the Act of Parliament under which it was established. Faced with the threat of an injunction by the Marquis of Conyngham, the Council were obliged to eat humble pie and compensate the Pier & Harbour Co. for the right to build on their land, an added expense made more burdensome by the fact that the foundations there had to be strengthened due to the depth of silt in that area. Not to be outdone, the Boatmen shut the job down for 'several weeks with an injunction citing that infilling the Parade Basin would damage business, but judgement went in the Council's favour. This confusion over title of the Harbour Basin returned a few years back when the Council bought the Stone Pier. wrongly believing that also gave them the area enclosed by it!
In June, Keble's Gazette was able to report that the old Iron Bridge which spanned the cut down to the sands had been removed, and the cut filled in. So good progress had been made on the work at the sea front. but things were not going at all well on the financial front. After very pointed questions had been raised as to the parlous state of the finances, and about the ability of the town's 'shopkeeper cadre (known colloquially in Margate as 'The White Hart Clique') to properly manage them, the following figures were produced in July at the request of Mr. Munns. an outspoken critic of the way in which the project had been handled. In answer to his probing questioning, it was stated that out of the £25.000 all that was left in the account was £6.072, and that was before the Council had drawn a cheque to pay for the Victoria baths which it had acquired for demolition. And he also questioned why that cheque had seemingly been 'overlooked' when all other owners of, acquired property had been paid. Obviously, if it was now paid, as it should be. it would only leave a balance of £4,57.2 and the job was nowhere near finished yet and there was an expected wages bill of £5,000 facing them. As if that wasn't bad enough, the projected £5,000 from the sales of equipment and material so confidently predicted by the Surveyor had not materialised either, so it is clear that the whole project had been a financial disaster, that original costings at around £26,00 had been far too low, and that should have been obvious given that remark to the Engineer that costs were not to exceed £61.000, which showed that one person at least had some idea of the true costs involved right from the outset.
(Illustration 1) A view of the Bay before the construction of the Marine Drive began. At the right, behind the cluster of bathing machines, can be seen the Iron Bridge over the cut leading down to the Sands. From there the stone wall sloped up to Andrew's Passage This is the path that now skirts the front of Marine Gardens.
(Illustration 2) is of indifferent quality, but gives a very rare view of how the Harbour"basin once projected right back into The Parade. The building on the left is still there at the bottom of the High Street, while on the right are 'The Globe' and Victoria Bathing Rooms, the acquisition and subsequent disposal cost the Ratepayers of Margate dearly and it was a surprise that things had progressed that far in what had been a very inclement winter.
But despite the welcome steady progress of the work, it was obvious as the year wore on that the financial side was in deep crisis. Up stepped a saviour in the form of Mr. Cobb with his Margate Bank to provide loans to carry on. One wonders at some of the meetings which must have taken place behind closed doors as all of these councillors and friends struggled to keep control of a project seriously out of its depth. Take the Pier and Harbour Company's demand for compensation for the foreshore on which the wall and road was to sit. As it happened most of the Directors of the Company were councillors too, yet they had no qualms about taking money from the Ratepayers they claimed to serve, despite the fact they would have been aware from the outset that they had the rights to the foreshore in question.
The job slogged on throughout the summer and following winter, and by March, 1880, was virtually complete. In that month it was reported that the process of filling and levelling the space behind the wall had been completed by a top dressing of chalk which had been well rolled in, the kerbs for the road had been laid and the footpath given a temporary dressing of gravel. There was a promise forthcoming that the road and path would be partially opened and ready for use by Easter. To top things off, work was started on building the new King's Stairs and installing the pathway and drains in front of the buildings on the south side of the road. Finally, in May, 1880, it was deemed that the project was far enough advanced for an official opening. But the sense of chaos which had characterised the whole business lingered to exert its malign influence one more time, much to the delight of the crowds who had gathered to watch the big parade. It had been intended that the Mayor should make his grand speech outside of the Kent Hotel, at the beginning of the new thoroughfare, and it would have made sense for he and his entourage to have waited there for the large parade, led by the band and men of the East Kent Mounted Rifles, to arrive and halt whilst he did the business. However, for reasons probably reflecting his own opinion of his high status, he very foolishly decided that he and his party would lead the parade. Trouble was, when he stopped outside the Kent the parade marched on, leaving him to chase after and stop it so that he could give his speech. What a farce the whole thing had been, but totally in keeping!
Of course (May 1880), is always given as the date of the completion of the project, but that is wrong. In March, 1883, it was reported that Messrs. Benstead, the contractors employed to pave Marine Drive, had found it impossible to commence the work due to the adverse weather conditions, and in the following month another firm, Messrs. Bateman, had been engaged to report on the apparent deterioration of those 'handsomely carved stone pillars' in the fence line which had only been in place a short time. as it was not until July, 1880, that Keble's Gazette had proudly announced, "We are pleased to see that eight of the new lamps have been fixed on their stone pedestals they are execellent specimens of cast iron workand the design is massive and handsome Messrs. D.& W. Bentley and Son, who have supplied them, have applied a new burner of more than the usual illuminating power, but at ''no additional cost''. That brings me back to my point of taking the lowest quote, you get exactly the quality you pay for. The job still lingered on into the mid-1880s, as in July of 1885 Messrs. Paramor successfully tendered to build that flight of stone steps from Marine Drive to Andrew's Passage at the lowest quote of £72, and in July, 1886, another t was advertised to lay York Stone paving from those new steps to the King's Head. Before I move on to the final part of this article, I should like to point out that a basic rule of quantity surveying when preparing estimates is that the cost of labour equates roughly to that of materials, so for the Council to boast of only £600 labour costs against £2,000 for materials validates Mr. Munns' claim of 'barbarity and slavery'.
Shortly after 'The Globe' had been bought it mysteriously caught alight (nothing new then, is there?). Unfortunately for somebody or other, the blaze had been extinguished before it destroyed the property. By August, 1880, it had become imperative that the building be sold as the Marine Drive account was £7,380 overdrawn. Despite this ridiculous state of affairs, there were arguments in the Council about selling it with restrictions on use and covenants on future redevelopment of the site. It was advertised for sale by auction in London on the 30th of August, together with a plot of land adjoining, both being freehold. The building had cost the Ratepayers dearly and yet there were still those in the Council who seemed determined to hamper its sale by placing restrictions upon its future. Fortunately, wise heads prevailed and the Council finally got rid of it, clawing back some funds in the process. The financial ineptitude displayed was simply breathtaking as the Victoria Baths, acquired for £1,500, had been sold at auction in March, 1880, and fetched the princely sum of £12! The final cost of the scheme was over £50,000, twice the original estimate, and the burden on the Ratepayers large.
(Illustration 3) This view Hazardous Row at right and the Harbour basin at left gives a clear indication of just why the Council were forced to buy the freeholds in order to proceed with the project, a very necessary expense which they failed totally to anticipate. The problem was that all of these properties had balconies which overhang the area of the proposed development area, and which had to be removed. These days they would have been compulsorily purchased, but no such powers existed then and some people made a lot of money out of the Council for what were really nothing more than timber shacks, and only after hard bargaining for their freeholds.