Rule by the Margate Local Board of Health 1851 - 1858

Anthony Lee

Jumble Joss Island.

Amongst the parts of the town objected to by Cresy in his report was the region at the top of the High Street, in front of  St John’s Church: 1

Church-alley consists of four or more dwellings. At the corner house cholera prevailed last year. The churchyard is within three feet of these houses, from which it is separated by a wall 15 feet high, built to prevent the windows overlooking the burial-ground. All ventilation is stopped; the drainage through the churchyard passes off in this direction. At the entrance to the alley is a grating, through which the surface-waters pass; and as the smell is at times very much complained of, there can be little doubt but that the inhabitants use it for the discharge of their several utensils, and which, from their confined position, they cannot avoid.

Six Bells-lane, leading to the church, appears to be in bad condition, and the houses without either drainage or proper ventilation.

Crossing High-street, opposite the “Six Bells” the privy which served three houses is in a very bad condition; the smell was very offensive. In one house, without any drainage but into the cesspool, were several deaths from cholera.

Jumble Joss Island
Jumble Joss Island [1852]

Of these properties, the most offensive was a block of houses, known as Jumble Joss Island. This consisted of a triangular block of ‘old rude buildings’,with the Six Bells Inn on one side, and Church Alley on the other.2 Serving the block of houses were three privies and a well in a small yard with ‘not a clear yard between the privies and the well’. 3 Making things worse, this area was known as a centre for prostitution.  A letter to the Thanet Advertiser in 1864, after the area had been cleared, described the old ‘Church Alley huts’ as ‘once a hot-bed of vice and infamy, and shunned from its immoral character’.4 In 1797 a local man, Vincent Andrews, was returning late at night to his house ‘near the upper part of the town’ when he was assaulted by two ‘helpers at a stable yard’ and one or two ‘gentleman’s servants’, beaten, and dragged into ‘a house of ill-fame’. There ‘in a state of insensibility’ he was robbed of 30s. Fortunately for Andrews the attack was seen; someone called the constables who arrested the attackers, who were taken next day to the Mayor of Dover who committed them to prison to await trial.5,6  The area was in the news again at an inquest held in 1837 on the body of John Edwards, found in Margate Harbour.7 The witness was Elizabeth Eudon, commonly called, according to the Kentish Chronicle, ‘Toothless Bet’. She described how John Edwards called at her house at the top of the High Street, ‘near the Six Bells public house’ on Sunday evening; at the time she had with her a neighbour, Catherine Goldfinch, described in a later court case as ‘a rough woman’,8 but Goldfinch left when Edwards arrived. Edwards was ‘not sober’ when he arrived, but Eudon claimed ‘still he knew what he was about’. He spent ‘about an hour’ with Goldfinch and then they left the house and walked together as far as the King’s Head passage in the High street, where she claimed she left him. How Edwards came to drown in the harbour was never determined.

In 1844, the Dover Telegraph reported that: ‘Several persons have lately been robbed in the houses of ill fame at the top of the High street [Margate], which are a most disgraceful nuisance, and one that ought to be suppressed. Last week one gentlemen lost £27 and a gold watch, and another young flat lost a silver watch, and £10’.9 The report in the Kent Herald was more forceful:23

Houses of ill fame. The apathy existing on the part of the parish authorities towards these abominable nuisances situate at the top of High-street, calls forth the condemnation of every respectable house keeper and visitor of the town – no one can leave the town by way of the High-street without having their eyes offended with the most indecent scenes. Pass these houses when you will, nothing meets the eye but showily attired females standing at their doors ready to catch the unwary.

The area was even known to Charles Dickens. In 1841 Dickens wrote to his friend Daniel Maclise, describing the joys of Margate: ‘there are conveniences of all kinds at Margate (do you take me?) And I know where they live’.10,11

Church Alley played a part in a further inquest in 1859, this time on the body of a German man found dead on the sands at Ramsgate. The German, thought to be named Matterig, had spent a few days at Ramsgate but on Sunday, 10 April he went by train to Margate. There he fell in with Samuel Gibbs, a local labourer. He explained to Gibbs that he had at least £40 or £50 and that ‘he wanted a young woman’. Gibbs then took him to 3, Church Street where Charlotte Nind lived with her mother. Charlotte talked with Matterig and then agreed to meet him at the house of a Mr. Brasier in Church alley, where Charlotte went upstairs with Matterig whilst Gibbs remained downstairs with Mr. and Mrs. Brasier. Charlotte and Matterig remained together for about a quarter of an hour and then Matterig left, giving Charlotte 3s. 6d.; he also gave Gibbs 6d. In its report of the inquest the Guardian concluded that Gibbs and Charlotte Nind were both ‘persons of disreputable character,’ a not unreasonable conclusion. The Guardian also concluded that Matterig must have been followed from Margate back to Ramsgate, where he was ‘inveigled into some low house . . .  and there murdered.’  The inquest concluded that ‘the deceased died from a wound in the left breast, between the evening of the 10th and morning of the 11th, but by whom inflicted there is not sufficient evidence to show’.12-16

With such an unsavoury reputation and such unsanitary conditions it is not surprising that the Local Board of Health should want to remove it. The possible purchase of Jumble Joss Island and its demolition was first discussed by the Local Board in January, 1853, when it was decided to refer the matter to a committee.17 There the matter rested until April 1856 when Charles Crickett, the owner of the property, wrote to the Board offering to sell them the land on which the houses stood, for £200. A committee, ‘The Jumble Joss Island Committee’ was set up to discuss the possibility.18 This time the committee moved rapidly, and presented its report to the Board at the next meeting, in May.19 They recommended the purchase of the site, ‘if it could be obtained for £120’ and that ‘the site be left open for the benefit of the inhabitants.’ Discussion of the report followed in the usual fashion:20

Mr. Caveler moved the adoption of the report, which was objected by Mr. Edwards.   Mr. Woodward did not consider the pulling down of houses improved people's morals.   Mr. Rapson was of opinion that vice alone lived in darkness, and that light killed it; the proposed alteration would be a beneficial one. Mr. Caveler moved and Dr. Chambers seconded the resolution, "That the report be received and adopted," which was met by an amendment, proposed by Mr. Woodward and seconded by Mr. Bath, "That the report be received but not acted upon."   A second amendment was proposed by Mr. Towne, and seconded by Mr. Edwards, "That the report be received and referred back to the committee for them to ascertain if they can obtain the row of houses next to the church, and opposite Jumble Joss Island [the upper part of Church Alley], at a moderate price." For the first amendment 5, against 8; for the second amendment 5, against 9; both amendments were lost, and on the original motion being put there were 10, against 5. Motion carried.

Purchase of the land was finally completed in September, at £200, £120 being contributed by the Board, with the remaining £80 being raised by subscription by the Vicar.20,21 By July 1857 the site had been cleared, ‘throwing open the entrance to the church’, ‘one of the greatest improvements by our Local Board of Health’.22 New iron gates with stone columns were erected at the entrance to the Church grounds, which, it is reported, had ‘a pleasing effect’.22 Some years later the upper end of Church Alley was also demolished, ‘throwing open to view from the High-street the whole of the sacred building’.22 



1. 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.

2. Canterbury Journal, November 1 1856.

3. Kentish Observer, May 22 1856.

4. Thanet Advertiser, April 23 1864.

5. Kentish Gazette, October 6 1797.

6. Star, October 7 1797.

7. Kentish Chronicle, September 12 1837.

8. Thanet Advertiser, May 11 1872.

9. Dover Telegraph, August 17 1844.

10. Peter Ackroyd,  Dickens, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990.


12. The Times, April 13 1859.

13. The Times, April 21 1859.

14. Guardian, April 22 1859.

15. Guardian, May 9 1859.

16. Daily News, April 21 1859.

17. Kentish Observer, January 27 1853.

18. Kentish Observer, April 24 1856.

19. Kent Herald, May 29 1856.

20. Kentish Gazette, September 2 1856.

21. Canterbury Journal, May 2 1857.

22. South Eastern Gazette, July 14 1857.

23. Kent Herald, August 15 1857.