Rule by the Margate Local Board of Health 1851 - 1858

Anthony Lee

Appendix VI.

Margate Incorporation 1856.

Canterbury Journal, January 5 1856.


The adjourned public meeting was held on Tuesday last, at the Town Hall, to ascertain the opinion of the rate payers in attendance, as to the advisability of joining the county, of obtaining a charter of incor­poration, or of remaining under the Dover jurisdiction.

There was a numerous attendance of rate-payers, among whom we noticed D. Price, Esq., M.D., T. Blackburn, Esq., J. Harvey Boys, Esq., J. Towne, Esq., J. S. Swinford, Esq., F. Chambers, Esq., M.D., R. G. Higgins, Esq., F. Abbott, Esq., Messrs. Pickering, Relph, F. Flint, Gardner, J. Woodward, J. Staner, W. Mercer, S. Mercer, Cooper, Philpot, Hubbard, Chap­man, Norwood, White, Edwards, Dixon, Burlton, Holmans, Reeve, &c.

On the motion of Mr. Abbott, Dr. Price was called to the chair.

The Chairman having briefly stated the objects of the meeting,

Mr. Harvey Boys referred to the correspondence that had taken place (since the last public meeting) with the Clerk of the Peace for Kent, with reference to the re­duction in the amount named by the county justices, and read a letter recently received by him from that gentleman, stating that he could give no other answer than that already given in a previous letter. Mr. Boys then read the report of the Committee as follows:—

"Your Committee have to report that since the last public meeting on 1st October last, they have communi­cated with the Clerk of the Peace for Kent, and find that there is no probability of the county justices reducing the sum originally named by them for the Thanet Division joining the county of which the parish of St. John, Mar­gate would have topay £4,200.”

Mr. S. Mercer said he would with pleasure second that resolution.

Dr. Chambers referred to the subject before the meeting, and stated that the original opinion enter­tained was, that by joining the county no expense would be incurred, which turned out a very erroneous idea, and that if the figures of his friend Mr. Abbott might be relied on, as doubtless they could, (hear,) he thought great advantage would be derived from a charter of incorporation, and he should certainly support it.

Mr. John Woodward did not at all agree with such an opinion. On the contrary, he believed a Charter of Incorporation would act very prejudicially. He con­sidered Margate was already in a very poor state — property was greatly depressed and depreciated — but the proposed Incorporation would only tend to increase that depression and depreciation. Besides, he had not yet heard one single benefit that they would derive from it, only they were to be a little more digni­fied, a dignity which would cost them dear. They had now a burial board, the expenses of which, he could assure them, would be more than any one anticipated. It was all a mistake to fancy it would be a paying con­cern: on the contrary, its only effect would be to increase the rates. He should, therefore, beg to move “that for the present we remain as we are, and give up the Charter of Incorporation."

Mr. Bath seconded it. He did not see that any of the remarks made that morning were sufficient to warrant a Charter of Incorporation.  As it was, they had already enough to do to pay their present rates, and how could they manage them when increased? And, besides, at present, they were all in the dark upon many important subjects. Not a word had been said as to the salary their Mayor was to receive: some, indeed, talked of giving him £50,but the views of the Committee had not been announced. So, again, they seemed to forget the probable cost of a charter, which he estimated at between £500 and £600. And, he would ask them, were they in a condition to meet it? Why, they had now a burial board, which was expensive enough, and a petition was shortly to be presented for more perfect drainage. Now, he was one who would be very happy to see the town in a better sanitary condition than at present: but when the expense — the necessary, unavoidable expense — was considered, it was impossible it could be done, especially if the expense of the Charter was incurred; and he therefore felt much pleasure in seconding the amendment.

Mr. Howe said that, as regarded the Charter of Incorporation, now was the time, or never; and such was, he thought, a perfectly right view of the subject to take — viz., that if it really was the wish of the inhabit­ants of Margate to have a corporation, now or never was the time. As an humble individual, after having studied the subject attentively, and looking at both sides of the question, his opinion was that it was not on economical principles that it could be advocated. There was also something a little compulsory in those mayors, and aldermen, and councillors. At present they could go to the Committee rooms of the Local Board, where the business was transacted; and if any grievance or abuse existed, its source and organ could be imme­diately and easily traced; but if they had a mayor and aldermen, he feared they would be kept out. Such things as those struck his mind very forcibly — whether he was wrong or right was another point. The property qualification was another subject; wealthy men — he meant men rich in property, not intellect — would then get in; and a great deal of mischief generally ensued when such persons got the upper hand. His advice to his fellow-townsmen was to take care of their own pro­perty: and he could assure them that men who did the public work, as the members of the Local Board did — without pay — were worth much more then salaried servants.

Mr. Towne said — We are here today, by adjourn­ment from the 1st of October: but I think it is not very exactly stated what is our object for thus assem­bling. It is said, I believe, “that an application might be made to the Finance Committee of the county to see whether they would alter the arrangement on which they first proposed to receive us among them"; but that was not the only purpose for which we adjourned. We had two reasons — one was for the object above stated; but there was another, viz. — to see if the rate-payers could find any further objection to the plan then advised. Now, with respect to the first purpose for which we had adjourned, it appears to have been accomplished to a certain extent by the committee, who have  been sitting since that meeting; but with respect to the  second object of our adjournment, it seems to have been entirely lost sight of and forgotten; or, if not, how is it that some of those who have come down today have  not been able to find a single further objection, a single  fresh argument, against the charter of incorporation,  though they have had three months given them for the  purpose?   Well, Sir, when we met upon the last occasion, I believe there was a general sort of good-natured feeling that a charter for Margate would be a desirable thing; and I will venture to say there were no serious objections then raised against it, except, perhaps, the one which every rational person felt — that the subject was one which demanded serious attention and consideration. On that occasion, I came here perfectly unprepared, and without consideration ofthe matter. I then thought that a charter might work very well but was in favour of an adjournment, in order that an opportunity might begiven for further consideration before a decision was come to; and I will venture to say, that if all the rate-payers have given as much attention, and have taken as much pains, as myself, that they have, indeed, given a great deal of consideration to this most important and momentous question. I have taken every opportunity in public and in private to gain information on the subject, and I have carefully considered and weighed over the pros and cons, against and for a charter for this place. It is certainly a very pretty thing to look at, and I hope it will be found a very wholesome thing to adopt. I confess that, as far as I can see, I have not been able to find a single solid objection why Margate should not have the honour of a Mayor for her chief officer. I have, as I before said, made every possible inquiry, and I do find that the probability is that it would be advisable for Margate to have a Charter of Incorporation; and as my friend has com­plained that he has heard no reasons brought forward upon this occasion, I will humbly take leave to suggest that every side of the question has not been looked at, and that there is yet information which might be given to him, and which has not been yet expressed. At all events, we have heard no reasons against it — (cheers) —excepting, of course, certain objections on the ground of pounds, shillings, and pence. But no new reasons are expressed in these words — they were used last time, and are used again this, and would be, probably, at any future meeting. But, at the last meeting, this view of the subject was very much gone into in detail, and the report which was made has been presented and circu­lated, so that every man has had the opportunity of inspecting the figures and testing their accuracy. I wish, however, to deal candidly with my fellow-townsmen; I have looked, as far as I am able, into the affair, and I confess I do not think there is a case made out on this score for any alteration in the town of Margate. I do not think that our fellow-townsmen ought to be persuaded to-day that, as regards economy, any benefit would be gained by having a Mayor. On the other hand, I do not see that any loss is likely to accrue to the town from changing our present constitution. There is nothing — as a very great statesman has said — so deceptive as figures, excepting facts; and, as regards the facts in these cases, I am not at all persuaded that the contemplated change would be at all an economical one. But, throwing aside all considerations of figures, I must mention that I think there is one very important advantage which has been overlooked, and that is, whether this town should be made a borough? Now, if you travel back to the time of the dissolution of the Roman empire, you will find that, after that event, all the little governments formed themselves into corporations — that Italy, forming itself thus, was enabled forth­with to spread the light it possessed through the country — to Germany and France. It is also recorded, as an historical fact, that the civil liberties of Western Europe were preserved by the very fact of the little corporations which were established of various kinds — political, social, ecclesiastical, and economical; and that but for them we might have been still living in the darkness of the feudal system. So much for the past; and, if we come to our country, we shall find that, at a very early period — as shown by topographical history, — in Cornwall corporations existed; and a great historian remarks that he found such corporations existing, and that they were then sending burgesses to Parliament. It is true that many of those boroughs subsequently became rotten boroughs; but, nevertheless, it was mainly owing to them that we ever had a reform bill in England. Why, a petition from a borough is looked upon with attention; but who would regard one from a poor fishing town like Margate? If ever we are to have a representative [a Member of Parliament] for the Isle of Thanet, our chance would be greatly increased if we are a borough instead of an insignificant town. We have been told to-day that, if we have a corporation, the good people of Margate will lose their representative and other rights and privileges; and all because we have Town Councillors instead of members of the Local Board, as if the one was not as much elected by the people as the other. (Applause.) I believe that that Board en­deavours to do all the good in its power. I have not a word to say against it; but the Town Councillors, elected by the rate-payers at large, will be quite as much their representatives as the members of the Local Board; and, to say they would not, is fiction, not fact. (Cheers.) All we shall obtain by making the change will be very desirable advantages; and not one of the least of them, as I have before mentioned, will be our greater chance of one day obtaining a repre­sentative in Parliament for the Isle of Thanet. The mere change itself would be beneficial; the mere fact of the Town Council being substituted for the Local Board. The present state of Margate was anything but desirable; the visitor found nothing to enjoy except the fine air of Heaven; the town had an unsocial aspect and he went away, in many cases, not to return, and never caring to say that he came from Margate. If, when we get a Mayor, we have a bad one, the evil is easily remedied the next year; and it will be our own fault if we have a bad Mayor more than a year. Mr. Towne then alluded to the manner in which birds congregate together in a field, which he considered as a certain mark of their leaning to corporations — the goose, however, always remained separate and alone; and he concluded by expressing a hope that future  historians would not have to record that Margate fol­lowed the example of the solitary bird.

Mr. Chitty then rose and said, that, as a rate-payer, he claimed the privilege of addressing them on that occasion. He knew something about Corporations, and had seen how many of them worked in their little county. He had had the happiness of living in Margate three or four years, and had always regarded it as rather remarkable than otherwise for the sociability and good-feeling of its inhabitants, but he was certain that the introduction of a Charter would not tend to increase that cordiality. (Hear.) They could go to Maidstone and see there what the effect of a corporation was. They had had one there for twenty years, and the whole time the town council had been elected wholly and solely by a clique, while the people had not shared at all in electing their   representatives. Look, again, at Gravesend, where they had a trouble in getting anybody to fill the office of Mayor at all or even of Town Coun­cillor. Then, again, there was Faversham, close home. Why at the last election people paid fines rather than incur the responsibility of belonging to the Town Council, or fill the office of Chief Magistrate, and if they introduced a corporation in Margate he prophesied that a similar state of things would ensue. (Cries of “No, no.") They cried “no," but he said "yes, yes" —  it was a fact, and he had no doubt that Mr. Harvey Boys and other gentlemen would hear him out in his asser­tions. As regarded Mr. Towne's observation about £ s. d. he confessed that he always considered it was one of the utmost interest — at least, so he always felt it to be — and if such a question was to be thrown on one side, as the learned gentleman said, and if they had a corporation merely for the sake of show and pomp and a little dignity, he could tell them they would do very wrong. The speaker then alluded to what he called "the gew-gaws," with which, in his idea apparently, the office of  Mayor was inseparable; he informed the meeting that  the mayor and aldermen must go every Sunday to church, dressed in their robes of office, like "a charity boy," and, after some further observations of an equally sensible nature, he concluded by expressing his convic­tion that corporations, though useful things in times gone by, had had their day and were no longer fit for respectable towns like Margate, which, were it to adopt it, would find its liberty diminished rather  than increased.

Mr. Smith said that he did not have any intention of addressing them on that occasion, but a pamphlet had just been put in his hand, from which, in justice to those present, he would read an extract. They would re­member that in 1849 there was a committee formed for the purpose of considering the advisability of obtaining a charter, and the extract he should read was taken from it, signed by Dr. Chambers and other gentlemen. (The extract was read: It consisted simply of an opinion by the Committee that they did not then, in 1849, consider a charter to be advisable for Margate, in consequence of the expense of obtaining one, the cumbrous machinery with which it was connected, and the public feeling at that time not being very favourable to such a scheme. The report was dated Jan. 18, 1849.)

Dr. Chambers replied — As the question had been put  touching the report and views of the Committee ap­pointed to consider the separation from Dover, he might mention that, after the expenditure of a good deal of  money and time, it certainly was their then opinion that it was not the time for the proposed separation. But it did not necessarily follow that the opinions of 1849 must be the opinions of 1856: the times had changed since then. One great expense — that of obtaining the act — which they then had to consider was now done away with, as it would cost hardly anything. Matters were at the present moment more promising; and he saw no reason for their being ashamed of the opinion then expressed. On the contrary, he should ever be proud of his name having appeared on that list, for the Committee had been most energetic, and had accomplished considerable good.

Mr. Boyce said that, among the observations that had been made by various speakers, it had been remarked that nothing had been urged against the Charter, though he certainly thought that nothing had been said forit. On a previous occasion, one of the recommendations which the Charter of Incorporation was said to possess, was that the Local Board would be superseded. But he gave them to understand, however much they might differ from him, that the functions of the Local Board, be they so grievous to them as they might, would be exercised by a town-council or a corporation. If they hoped to get rid of whatever was disagreeable in the Public Health Acts and Local Board by such means, they would find themselves woefully mistaken. The only recommendation he could see was, that the property qualification would in such a case be but £15 instead of £20, as it was under the Local Board; and they would  thus have a little more of the elective power in their  hands than at present.

Mr. Abbot replied — He had come prepared for a series of arguments, but had found to his surprise that nothing of the sort had been adduced, so that he really had nothing to answer — no argument to refute — no objection to overcome. He commented upon the observation that had been made as to the deprivation the citizens would sustain in their elective power, and showed that the only difference would be that whereas they now elected members of the Local Board they would then elect Town Councillors. Brighton was he considered a fair example of the benefit of a charter; for it was but a few days since that they saw accounts in all the papers of the celebration of the Incorporation with great splendour, and evident signs of prosperity.

The Chairman in putting the amendment said — You have heard some very hard words and some very good arguments. Do not let the hard words weigh over your good sense, and I would say — I would take the liberty of suggesting to you that if you have not thoroughly made yourself acquainted with the matter now before you — you are not yourself well acquainted with them, you will act more wisely in not voting, if you are not quite decided on which side to give your vote, than to swell a majority against the original proposition. I say this in justice to yourself that you may act consistently like men who have come here determined to give the ques­tion a fair hearing, and vote accordingly.

The amendment was put and lost by a considerable majority; the original motion was then carried by the same majority, and when announced was received with loud cheering.

The following gentlemen were then put on the Com­mittee to prepare an address to her Majesty, praying for a charter:— Mr. Waddington, Mr. Blackburn, Mr. Higgins, Mr. Abbot, and Mr. Hunter, with power to add to their number.

Dr. Chambers rose to move that the preliminary ex­penses incurred amounting to £40 be paid to the Local Board; but it was negatived, Mr. Towne intimating that they had not the power to do so.

The proceedings terminated with a vote of thanks to the Chairman.