Rule by the Margate Local Board of Health 1851 - 1858

Anthony Lee

History of Ordnance Survey Maps of Margate.

Napoleon, at the end of the eighteenth century, was busy planning the military campaigns designed to make him master of Europe; on this side of the Channel the Government was considering how best to defend the vulnerable south coast if Napoleon should chose to attack. The Government’s first step was to commission a detailed survey of the area, a task they gave to the Board of Ordnance, from which the Ordnance Survey takes its name; the board, based in the Tower of London, had responsibility for managing the supply of stores and armaments for the army and for maintaining national defences. The first map produced by the Board of Ordnance was of the County of Kent, at a scale of 1 inch to the mile; it was published in 1801.1It was quickly realized that this was too small a scale to be useful for planning purposes, especially in built-up areas. A variety of larger scales were then proposed, the Treasury finally instructing the Ordnance in 1854 to survey in the future at a scale of 1:2500, equivalent to 25.344 inches to the mile, by then an international standard. Surveying at such a large scale was expensive, but it could be justified on the grounds that a large scale map provided all the information needed to produce maps at a variety of smaller scales and so would prove to be cheaper in the long run.    

The set of ‘First Edition’ maps of Kent at the 1:2500 scale was complete by 1873. A First Revision, or Second Edition, of the Kent maps was published between 1893 and 1897, with a Second Revision between 1905 and 1910, and a Third Revision between 1929 and 1936. After the war, a policy of continuous revision was adopted. However, Ordnance Survey mapping of Margate did not fall into this general pattern. Margate was one of twenty nine towns surveyed before 1854, at a scale of 1:528, corresponding to 10 feet to the mile. These very large scale maps were produced following the passing of the Public Health Act of 1848, for the purpose of sanitary planning, as described below. The map was published as twelve sheets, each 36 inches by 24 inches. The large scale of the map allowed the inclusion of details of buildings and gardens, arched passages leading into courts (often slums), the location of lamp posts, privies, dung heaps, pig sties and slaughter houses, wash houses, stables and coach houses, and much more, giving a very full picture of Margate at the time. The ‘First Edition’ map of Margate, published in 1873, was also at the scale of 10 feet to the mile. However, First, Second and Third revisions of the Margate maps published in 1896, 1921 and 1936 respectively, were at the usual scale of 1:2500. The first post-war map of Margate was published in 1954, at scales of 1:2500 and 1:1250 (50.688 inches to the mile).

The Survey of Margate

The Margate Local Board of Health was established in 1851, following a survey of the Town by Edward Cresy, an Inspector of the General Board of Health. Cresy’s report on Margate identified many things that needed to be improved in the town, including a proper system for drainage, but Cresy did not feel able to make a proper estimate of the cost without an accurate plan of the town.2 At the second meeting of the Local Board on 21 October 1851 the committee considering Cresy’s report concluded that ‘it would be highly injurious and probably a great waste of money for any steps whatever to be taken either to improve the drainage or to afford a better supply of water until a scientific and correct survey of the entire area of the district and of its levels shall have been made’.3 The Local Board therefore decided to contact the Board of Ordnance in London to ask them to carry out a survey of Margate, and ‘what would be the expense of it.’J. E. Wright, the Clerk to the Local Board, wrote again to the Board of Ordnance on 4 November telling them that ‘the Local Board is possessed of a map of the town upon a large scale and also a map of the Parish, and to request that the Board of Ordnance would send down one of their officers to see such maps with the view of determining what additional maps and survey would be required’.5 On 18 November, J. E. Wright reported to the Local Board that ‘Capt. Beatty . . . of the Board of Ordnance had inspected the maps of the Town and Parish and that he had recommended a fresh survey with levels and maps of 10 feet and 2 feet, the costs of which survey and maps he estimated at about £300’.6 Given the cost, Edward Mottley, a member of the Local Board, argued that ‘the preparation of a plan and survey would be premature’ as the Board was ‘as yet imperfectly acquainted with the provisions of the act of parliament’ and ‘the Board was not in working order’. He therefore proposed to the Board that the survey ‘be postponed for the present,’ a motion that was carried.7  

By February of the following year it was, however, decided ‘by a small majority’ to delay no longer; the Ordnance survey should go ahead.8 Progress on the survey was rapid; it was reported to be ‘in progress’ in March9 and by April ‘the Sappers and Miners are in full operation here, making the official survey for the drainage of the town. It is somewhat novel to have the red coats quartered amongst us; they appear to be a very intelligent and orderly body of men. They have a crow's nest on the top of Trinity church, for the purposes of observations’.10 In October the Ordnance Survey reported that the Margate plans were complete and consisted of ‘12 sheets on the ten foot scale, 1 sheet on the 2 foot scale, and 1 index of the sheets’.11 On 21 October, the maps were received in Margate.12 Although not certain, it is likely that these maps were the hand-drawn originals.

Having but a single copy of the map quickly became a problem, and in December the Clerk to the Local Board, now J. Harvey Boys, wrote to the General Board asking ‘where we can obtain two or three more copies of the Ordnance Survey, and at what expense’.13 The General Board replied: ‘that tracings of the ordnance map may be obtained upon application to the Ordnance Department or a competent local surveyor may be employed to make such tracings. The Board are unable to afford you any information as to the expense of such tracings’.14

With a proper plan of the town it was now possible to start thinking again about the drainage of Margate. At this time the Margate Pier and Harbour Company had started work on replacing the old Jarvis’s Landing Place with a new ‘high water landing place’, or Jetty, and in March 1852 they had accepted the plans of Messrs. J. B. and E. Birch for the work.15 The Local Board decided that since Messrs. Birch were already working in Margate, it would be sensible to ask them to produce plans for the drainage and water supply systems, at a cost ‘not exceeding 200 guineas’.16  In April 1853, Messrs. Birch asked the Local Board for a loan of the ‘Ordnance Plans’ to help them in their planning, which was agreed to.17 This raised again the problem of having only one set of the maps, and it was therefore decided to enquire about the cost of ‘lithographing or engraving’ further copies of the map.18 By May it had been agreed that Messrs. Day in London would produce lithographic copies of the map.19 Progress in producing the copies was slow because the maps were being used by Messrs. Birch20  and, unfortunately, when the proofs were received from Messrs. Day in March 1855 there were numerous errors; Messrs. Day were requested to make the necessary corrections and ‘then to furnish the Board with 25 accurate copies, according to the terms of the contract’.21 The Board also enquired about ‘the cost of the stones of the Plans already lithographed and how long Messrs. Day would keep them without charge for warehouse room’.22 By April, 25 copies of the Ordnance Plans had been received by the Local Board and Messrs. Day reported ‘that they would keep the stones free of charge for one month from the time of delivery of the copies — that the stones if purchased would average in price about £5 each, and that the charge for keeping the stones for 12 months would be 2s. per month per stone’.23 The following month J. Harvey Boys wrote to Messrs. Day including a check for £117 2s., the cost of the maps, and saying the Board ‘decline purchasing or pay for warehousing the stones as they have no further use for them’.24 In August the General Board forwarded the bill for the expense of the Ordnance Survey, which was £383 18s. 1d.;25 it was finally agreed that the bill would be paid in five annual instalments, with interest.26

The Board decided to keep five sets of the maps and that the remaining twenty sets would be sold, at £2 a set;27 the Kentish Observer reported that sets were purchased by Messrs. Towne, Edwards, Ovenden, Jenkins, Brooke, Keble and Boys.28 The  sheets of the map shown here are from Day’s lithographed copies.

The 1852 Ordnance Survey Map of Margate: 10ft/mile
Surveyed in 1852 by the Ordnance Survey Department in accordance with the Provisions of the Public Health Act
12 sheets: Printed by Day & Son, Lithographers to the Queen

Printing the maps

The small scale 1801 map of Kent was engraved onto copper plates for printing.1 Engraving would, however, have proved too costly for a large scale map produced in relatively small numbers and the Ordnance Survey decided to print these maps by lithography. The process of lithography relies on the fact that oil (or grease) and water do not mix. If you were to draw a simple shape such as a cross with a wax crayon onto a slab of porous material such as a stone, the drawing would stick to the surface of the stone and be partially adsorbed. If you then moistened the surface with water, the water would be attracted by the stone but repelled by the greasy cross. Now if you applied a greasy printing ink, the ink would be repelled by the wet surface of the stone but attracted to the greasy cross, so that the cross would be the only part of the surface with ink on it. Finally, if you laid a piece of paper on the surface of the stone and applied pressure, you would obtain a print of the cross on the piece if paper, the print being called a lithograph.

The stones used in the lithographic process were soft limestone blocks that had the property of adsorbing both oil and water.29,30 In conventional lithography a design was drawn in wax or some other oily substance onto the polished surface of a block of limestone either using a greasy crayon (confusingly called a chalk) or using a greasy ink applied with a pen or a brush. Weak nitric acid mixed with gum Arabic was then rolled over the surface, fixing the design by filling up the pores of the stone and stopping the areas of grease from spreading. The surface was then wiped with a wet sponge so that the parts of the stone not under the drawn design would adsorb water. An oily ink was then applied with a roller and was adsorbed only by the greasy areas; pressing against a sheet of paper then transferred the ink to the paper.

Several methods were used to draw a map onto the surface of the stone.31,32 The map could be drawn directly onto the surface using lithographic crayons or steel pens with lithographic ink, probably copied from a paper original created by the cartographer. This task required considerable skill, not least because the image drawn on the stone surface would need to be a mirror-image so that the final map printed from the stone would be the right-way round. An alternative was to draw the map with lithographic ink on specially prepared paper, from which it could be transferred directly onto the stone surface. Maps were also produced by a method more akin to engraving on copper, referred to as the engraved style of lithography.29 This started by covering a stone with a layer of gum Arabic coloured with lampblack or red chalk so that the engraver could see his design. The map was either drawn directly onto the stone or traced onto it. The map was then engraved onto the stone using a burin, a sharp steel cutting tool hard enough to cut glass, with a handle shaped like a mushroom that fitted snugly into the engraver’s palm, allowing the engraver to keep the tool steady. When the engraving was complete, a mixture of thin varnish, tallow and lampblack was rubbed into all the engraved lines. The plate was than wiped with a woollen rag to remove the original black or red coating, leaving the surface of the stone white except for the engraved design which was now black. To print the map, the stone was wetted with a cotton rag and then ink was applied and rubbed into the lines either using a rag or a roller. Any ink that had adsorbed onto the surface of the stone was wiped away with another wet cloth and the image was printed onto a sheet of paper. It is not known which of these techniques was used to produce the twelve sheets of the 1852 map of Margate.

As described, the Margate 1852 map was printed by Day and Son, Lithographers to the Queen. An account of the Day and Son’s works in Great Queen Street was published by Augustus Sala in Household Words in 1852:33

 Up a court, shady and secluded . . . is the door leading to the workrooms of the establishment we want. Staggering before us in the sunshine, is an individual of Herculean build, bearing on his back a ponderous stone, the weight of which is sufficient to crush three ordinary men, but which only makes him bend and sway a little as he turns the corners. A swing-door admits us into a large vestibule, cumbered throughout with stones of all sorts and sizes. These are the raw material for stone pictures, just arrived from the banks of the Danube, from Turkey, and from India, where, in the Deccan, lithographic stones are plentiful. The Atlas, bearing the big stone on his back, brings us to the grinding room. Here, over large troughs of water, the stones are ground, grained, and polished for the different styles of lithography in which the drawings they are to bear on their surface are to be executed. They have been sawn to a proper size and thickness abroad, and are now tested with a straight-edge, to secure their being unerringly level. For graining and polishing, two stones are placed face to face, and water, mixed with silver-sand, being sprinkled between them, are rubbed together — the upper stone being moved in a circular direction — till a proper grain is given . . . we ascend, through room after room, where busy presses are at work. We are struck by the prodigious number of stones, not only being printed from, but which are piled in every corner, and ranged on shelves and in racks from floor up to ceiling . . . The studio is a large lofty room, with plenty of windows; for you want no concentrated rays of light here, as is required for painting pictures, but plenty of light everywhere. All round the walls are ranged stout wooden tables on which, generally supported in slanting positions, are the stones. Here are a score of artists occupied in the production of almost every variety of stone picture. The beautiful studies, heads and figures . . . gorgeously  tinted landscapes . . . caricatures, political and social; plans and sections of bridges and machinery; charts of railways; maps of towns and countries; anatomical plates; bill heads, address cards . . . county bank notes . . .  When the . . . drawing is quite finished, the stone is placed in the cradle of a "lift", and sent down stairs to a room on the level with the grinding and graining department to be etched. It is laid in an oblong trough; and nitric acid, very much diluted, is poured over it. The drawing is then carefully washed with rain-water, and is now ready for "gumming in" and "rolling up"; and is, for that purpose, carried to the press-room. Three stories of the establishment I have endeavoured to describe are devoted to presswork, and may hold, perhaps, twenty presses each.

Colonel Henry James, the Superintendent of the Ordnance Survey, described in a report to Parliament in 1857 the problems created by ‘the great size and weight of the stones, and their expense, with their liability to breaking under the press’.34 As a consequence, the First Edition Ordnance Survey maps, including the 1873 map of Margate, were printed by the Ordnance Survey themselves, using the process called zincography, a process in which a tracing of the map was transferred onto a zinc plate which was then etched with a mixture of nutgalls (nut-like swellings on oak trees caused by parasitic wasps and a source of tannic acid in ink manufacture) and phosphoric acid and printed with lithographic printing ink.

First Edition Ordnance Survey maps were sold both coloured and uncoloured. Colouring was done by boys, aged between 13 and 14, and Colonel James proudly explained to Parliament how the boys were paid between 6d. and 1s. a day, resulting in an average cost for colouring a sheet of 1¼ d., but ‘we charge 6d. extra to the public for the coloured impressions.’34   



1. Richard Oliver, Ordnance Survey Maps. A Concise Guide for Historians, The Charles Close Society, 2005.

2. E. Cresy, Report to the General Board of Health on a preliminary inquiry into . . . the sanitary condition of . . . the parish of St. John the Baptist, Margate, W. Clowes & Sons, London, 1850.

3. Kent Herald, October 30, 1851.

4. Canterbury Journal, November 1 1851.

5. Kent Archives, Minutes of the Margate Local Board of Health, 1851-1858, November 4 1851.

6. Kent Archives, Minutes of the Margate Local Board of Health, 1851-1858, November 18 1851.

7. Canterbury Journal, November 22 1851.

8. Kent Herald, February 12 1852.

9. Canterbury Journal, March 20 1852.

10. Canterbury Journal, April 3 1852.

11. National Archives MH 13/123 Board of Health Margate 1848-1871, Letter from Ordnance Map Office, Southampton to General Board, October 14 1852.

12. National Archives MH 13/123 Board of Health Margate 1848-1871, Letter from J. Harvey Boys to General Board, October 21 1852.

13. National Archives MH 13/123 Board of Health Margate 1848-1871, Letter from J. Harvey Boys to General Board, December 15 1852.

14. National Archives MH 13/123 Board of Health Margate 1848-1871, Reply from  General Board to J. Harvey Boys, December 16 1852.

15. Canterbury Journal, March 6 1852.

16. Kent Archives, Minutes of the Margate Local Board of Health, 1851-1858, March 22 1853.

17. Kent Archives, Minutes of the Margate Local Board of Health, 1851-1858, April 19 1853. 

18. Kent Archives, Minutes of the Margate Local Board of Health, 1851-1858, April 25 1853.

19. Kent Archives, Minutes of the Margate Local Board of Health, 1851-1858, May 17 1853.

20. Kent Herald, February 9 1854.

21. Kent Herald, March 8 1855.

22. Kent Archives, Minutes of the Margate Local Board of Health, 1851-1858, March 20 1855.

23. Kent Archives, Minutes of the Margate Local Board of Health, 1851-1858, April 17 1855.

24. Kent Archives, Minutes of the Margate Local Board of Health, 1851-1858, May 15 1855.

25. KentArchives, Minutes of the Margate Local Board of Health, 1851-1858, August 7 1855.

26. Kentish Observer, March 27 1856.

27. Kent Archives, Minutes of the Margate Local Board of Health, 1851-1858, October 30 1855.

28. Kentish Observer, November 29 1855.  

29. Alois Senefelder, The invention of Lithography, English Ed., Fuchs and Lang, New York, 1911.

30. Ian Mumford, Lithography, Photography and Photozincography in English Map Production before 1870, in The Cartographic Journal, Vol.  9, pp 30-36, 1972.

31. Michael Twyman, Lithography 1800-1850, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1970.

32. W. W. Ristow, Lithography and Maps, 1796-1850, in Five Centuries of Map Printing, ed. David Woodward, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1975.

33. Augustus Sala, Stone Pictures, in Household Words, pp 176-181, 1852.

34. Parliamentary Papers, Report on the Ordnance Survey of the United Kingdom, for 1855-56, 1857.