Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Marine Drive:A Tale for Today?

Today I will post the saga of Marine Drive, its building and its costs. A story with a modern twist.


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.
In 1878. the seafront road of Marine Terrace only communicated with the Harbour and Market Place areas (as far as vehicular traffic was concerned) by way of Marine Gardens and the High Street, and for pedestrians via Andrew's Passage, had long been a thorn in the side of the locals and visitors alike. As a result of endless carping and lobbying, the Council decided to get the Borough Surveyor to draw up plans for a new roadway to skirt the line of the sea frontage from the Marine Terrace right through to the end of The Parade. As well as the plans he was also charged with producing costings for the project involving the many buildings which would have to be purchased in order that things could proceed. As a lesson in just how inept the Council could be, We will turn the clock back a little to 1876. In Jan~ of that year it was recorded that Messrs. Gore had tendered to install wooden groynes in front of Marine Terrace, and a Mr. Taylor offered to reconstruct them in stone. Now. the Council thought that the Pier & Harbour Company had an obligation to bear some of the cost of this operation as they were under the impression that the existing stone groynes which were now in need of restoration had originally been installed by them. But this is where the small town shopkeeper mentality of the Council failed it yet again as, on checking things out, it was found that in 1837 when the groynes had been installed the Pier & Harbour Company, always astute and with an eye for business, had simply lent the stones to the Council and had not the slightest obligation, or intention. of putting any cash in the Council's way!
So obviously not having taken that lesson of superior acumen on board. the Council decided to press ahead with its grand design for a sweeping boulevard which would link Marine Terrace with the Harbour. Desirable though this might have been. the tone of events to come was set when the Borough Engineer, charged with ascertaining the costs involved in acquiring properties along the route for demolition or modification and construction of the wall and roadway, found that on the plans issued to him the Council had omitted to include the proposed building lines! He was told simply to produce an estimate for the wall and road, which cost was, "not to exceed £61,000". In the meantime, tenders had been sought for the supply of ballast and cement to manufacture the concrete blocks required for the wall and. by the end of 1878, that process at least was well underway. It was a disastrous start to the project to exclude the costings for property required, as it was that feature which was to have such an impact on things as it progressed but the final estimate for the wall and road construction came in at £26,600, less an estimate of £5.000 for sales of equipment and materials etc., making a total required of £21,600. The Council lost no time in seeking a loan of £25.000, doubtlessly thinking they had everything stitched up neatly. But they were soon in for a very rude awakening!
All through 1878 the project was the subject of intense argument. There were those like Mr. Fagg who recommended a start in February of that year otherwise the coming season would get in the way, and Robert W ood, the Mayor, who in March was recommending the scheme wholeheartedly and Mr. Reeve, who did likewise despite the fact that he only thought the cost would be around £22,000 without the inclusion of freehold purchases and John Bayly, who objected to the publication of figures as it was, "indiscreet and prejudicial to the interests of the Ratepayers"!

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.
Apart from that, Mr. Munns had other concerns of a moral nature which he had unsuccessfully tried to raise with the Mayor in February. Looking back from our age, it is obvious that an attempt had been made to do the whole job on the cheap. It has always been a basic flaw of any kind of project, whether by local, national government or private companies, that they will go for the lowest quote where tenders are concerned. But this has a built-in tendency to guarantee that your finished product will not be of the highest standard possible. This sort of process at work was highlighted by the Cemetery Chapels which, built to the lowest tender in 1857, had to be virtually rebuilt a few decades later. It should be obvious to all that you get exactly the quality you pay for, and whilst the concrete blocks for the Marine Drive wall were of good enough quality, problems were later experienced with some of the materials for the street works, but more of that later. Mr. Munns appears to have been a man of fairness and principle, which is more than can be said for some of his colleagues in the Council. Back in February, 1879, he had raised the issue of the non-payment of the £1,500 for the acquisition of the Victoria Baths and asked for a detailed account of expenditure, as he had worked out that there was only a little over £9,000 remaining then and that would be further depleted by payment for the Baths. Amazingly, he was told by John Bayly that the figure could not be given 'off-hand'. But Munns was a worthy opponent for the 'White Hart Clique' and when the labour costs were being discussed he made a point which should have shamed the Council.
The figures were produced in March and stated the total amount expended on labour up to then was only £600 which, given the amount of work achieved by the 79 men employed, proves to us today that they were working on the cheap. Admittedly, those were hard times and men were only too glad of a chance to work, but the Mayor's boast that 64 of those 79 men were paid at not more than five pence per hour, with the highest rate being eight pence and only 4 or 5 men receiving more than £2 per week reflects a sad state of affairs. It was also 'pleasing' to him to see that the highest number of weekly hours recorded in the wage sheets in front of him was 841h, 'only' 16 hours per day! But Munns countered this by stating that he had evidence that the week previous to the meeting he had found that one man was working 120 hours per week - 21.5 hours per day - and that when he had raised such issues with the Mayor three weeks ago, he had refused to discuss the matter, so now he had raised the matter in Council the time was ripe for debate.
Sadly, the reaction of the Mayor was simply to state that he had, "often done it" himself. Munns countered by stating that only left 3.5 hours a day for food and rest, to which the Council Chamber erupted to laughter and cries of, "Bosh!". But Munns hit back saying that 16 hours was considered a very fair day's work (times have thankfully changed since then!) but when a man worked 20.5h on behalf of the Council he thought someone was guilty of gross barbarity. He pointed out that if anybody had treated an animal in such a fashion they would have been jumped on by the Inspector of Cruelty to Animals, but because this was a man, and a very poor one too, there was nobody willing to interfere to prevent such slavery. When Mr. Kendall asked if it were true that a man had really worked such long hours for the Council, the Mayor's response was that if he had, it had been of his own free will and that nobody had asked him to do i!! The Mayor had proved himself to be totally arrogant as any 20.5 hours he might ever have worked would certainly not equate to anything like the physical effort required of the man in question, and the fact that 16 hours of physical labour was apparently considered a fair day's work by the Council left a lot to be desired too.
It had been obvious in March that the financial side of things were not all they should be, and by that time it was also apparent that the project had been started without any forward planning on the material side. With coastal shipping then being sailing ships, the failure to lay in sufficient stores of ballast and cement beforehand for the blockmaking process caused huge supply problems when the job started in the mid-winter. As it transpired, shipowners were reluctant to risk their vessels in the bad weather conditions prevailing and serious shortages occurred, especially in the shipping of ballast, their skin being saved by the notoriously shady Margate bargeowner and sometime councillor, Elwin Hawthorne. And the public was often unappreciative of the mess caused by the work. Just as there had been complaints regarding the piles of chalk on Marine Terrace, the same occurred with the amounts dumped at The Parade for the filling in of the old Harbour basin. The wet weather had delayed the work badly and the Surveyor responded to criticism that not enough was being done to get The Parade filled, levelled and finished for the Whitsun of 1879, by stating that not only was the weather holding work up, but he was being hampered by a shortage of materials. Despite all of that, he hoped to beat the Whitsun deadline. Given the amount of work done by the men since January and the sheer volume of the thousands of cubic yards of material required for infilling at The Parade and behind the course of the wall, it is little short of a miracle.

(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 rain which seemed to fall incessantly caused problems behind the wall in the partly filled areas. Laying in puddles as it did which were added to by raw sewage from leaking pipes from the High Street properties, this soon deteriorated into a huge public nuisance, not to mention a health hazard. And, just like today, people were prone to dumping their rubbish and this, added to the offensive water, caused howls of protest in the local paper from the hotel and boarding house keepers, alarmed at the prospects of what this stinking mess which they described as, "an open cesspool", might do to their business prospects for the looming holiday season. There had been displayed to the public in April, 1879, a model of a section of the cast-iron railings which were eventually to adorn the seaside of the new road, and this also showed the 'handsomely carved stone pillars', set at intervals of 20 yards in the iron railings, which were to have atop them the famous dolphin lamps, made to the same pattern as those which adorned the Embankment in London. These were obtained from the manufacturing foundry by Messrs. D. & W. Bentley, the Margate High Street ironmongers. Rather optimistically, a write-up of the fence and lights contained the information that the pavement would have a barrel profile, "so that any sea which may wash over it will thus immediately rush back into the sea again". Confident stuff but, as all those of us who witnessed the Great storm of 1953 will attest, seriously over-optimistic. The sea then not only flooded and tore up Marine Drive's road surface, but smashed the iron railings and a concrete police-box which stood near to the Clock Tower!

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.
Margate had its new road, but what a perfonnance it had been. And whilst we might shake our heads in amazement at the antics of those who do not seem to have been capable of organising things financially then, we have just witnessed another prime example of exactly the same problem with the the Turner Centre, where councillors and their friends talked in telephone numbers about the ridiculously escalating costs of that design and were totally oblivious to public opinion and local knowledge which told them right from the outset the whole thing was a joke. But one thing is certain, the money lost on Marine Drive and the millions wasted on the Turner Centre all came from the same place the poor old public who paid everytime!

(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.


  1. Fascinating stuff, thanks for this!

  2. Great account and some very interesting pictures.

  3. Lots to read will come back later