Rule by the Margate Local Board of Health 1851 - 1858

Anthony Lee

Water and Drainage.

Cresy, the General Board of Health inspector, identified the lack of an adequate supply of water and an adequate system for drainage as the major problems facing Margate.1 The Public Health Act required that every house should have a supply of ‘pure and wholesome’ water, and Cresy estimated that this meant that each house would need at least 100 gallons per day on average, adding up to 200,000 gallons per day for the town as a whole. Since the wells in the town were contaminated, this water would have to be pumped from wells on the outskirts of the town. He estimated a total investment of about £14,000 for the necessary water supply. As to drainage, Cresy felt unable to make a reliable estimate of cost without a proper map of the town.

Although the issue was understood to be a serious one for the town, the problem was how to pay for the necessary improvements without crippling the town with an unaffordable increase in the rates. Cresy’s report was discussed at the second meeting of the Local Board of Health and although it was agreed that the report contained ‘exaggerated statements’ and ‘that it would be injurious, and occasion a great waste of money to adopt any of the measures therein recommended’ it was still agreed to approach the Board of Ordnance to see if they would undertake a survey of the town, and at what cost.2 The survey was undertaken, as described in the section on Margate Maps, and by October 1852 an accurate map of the town had been delivered to the Local Board.At their October meeting William Pickering proposed that a committee be appointed to consider ‘what preliminary step should be taken in reference to a complete system of drainage and water supply’. 3 After much discussion the motion was carried, by 19 to 3. In February 1853 the committee submitted its report which was to recommend that plans for a water supply and drainage should be prepared and, again ‘after much discussion’, the proposal was adopted.4

At this time the Margate Pier and Harbour Company were planning to replace the old Jarvis’s Landing Place with a new high water landing place (the Jetty). In March 1852 the Company had accepted the plans of Messrs. J. B. and E. Birch for the new Jetty and by March 1853 Mr. S. Bastow of Hartlepool had been appointed contractor to carry out the work.5-7 The Local Board took the view that since Messrs. Birch and Bastow were already working in Margate, it would be sensible to ask them to undertake the survey. It was reported in August 1853 that Mr. Bastow was busy surveying and boring for water and that he had found that a good supply was available from the springs near the Tivoli gardens.8 The Local Board was, however, under no great pressure from the ratepayers to take things any further than a survey. The South Eastern Gazette summarized things as follows:9

The question has been asked, “What is the Board of Health doing?” We can tell them what it has done; it has procured for the inhabitants what they long craved for, open courts; the election of the commissioners by the rate­payers in lieu of self-election. It has also conferred upon them several other benefits, and they are steadily pursuing a sure path, having a due regard to the interests of their constituents. What it has not done is this; they have not effected radical changes at an enormous outlay, as at many other towns has been the case, producing enormous rates. Water and sewerage will be provided in good time. We think it foolish to urge the board to do that which would cause great outlays merely for the sake of blaming them afterwards.

Things continued on their leisurely course. In February 1854 Messrs. Birch submitted their plans for drainage and water supply to the Local Board, which formed itself into a committee to examine the plans, agreeing to meet every evening for the next fortnight to do so.10 The plan was to pump sewage out to sea in the vicinity of Marsh Bay and the costs were estimated as follows:

For engine and drainage      14000
Iron pipe to convey the sewage to Marsh Bay     5000
For water supply       9000

At the July meeting of the Local Board it was agreed ‘by a small majority’ to send the plans to the General Board of Health for approval.11 The Kent Herald added: ‘It does not, however, follow that the plans will be carried into exe­cution, even should the [General] board approve of the pro­posed measures and sanction the raising the amount re­quired by a loan on the rates’.11 Opposition to the plans was strong. One member of the Local Board issued a handbill explaining the costs of the proposed ‘efficient system of drainage’ ‘which a few influential members of the Board are endeavouring to carry out’.12,13 The handbill listed the local rates in the years since 1851 when the Board was established:

Year Poor rate Church rate Highway rate Town rate Total in pound

Clearly there had been a marked increase over the years in the town rate, for which the Local Board was responsible and, in addition, a rate payer living in a special-rated district had to pay additional rates, such as those for the Fort Promenade Fence, and the Cliff-Terrace Improvement. If the cost of the drainage system, about £20,000, was borrowed and paid off over 30 years, it was estimated that it would increase the rates by about 1s. 6d. per year. It was argued that such a system was not needed in a town as healthy as Margate,  and would probably not even work properly, being just an ‘elongated cesspool’, with ‘miles of piping, reservoir, pumps and steam-engines’. The Kent Herald ended their report with a plea:   ‘We hope that our commissioners will not take a leap in the dark and increase our rates without effecting permanent good. There is no harm to be taken from waiting,  seeing that our town is one of the healthiest in Great Britain, a position clearly proved by Mr. Mottley’s "Vital Statistics"’.12

At the December meeting of the Local Board the discussion was ‘very animated’ and sometimes ‘carried on with some warmth’ but finally it was decided, unanimously, to postpone for twelve months any application to the General Board for consent to borrow the £28,700 necessary to pay for the proposed drainage and water supply systems.14-16 This issue of cost finally defeated the Local Board, who abandoned any further discussion of a new drainage system. In their remaining years all they achieved was a little patching up of the existing system.17,18 In the neighbourhood of King street was the town reservoir ‘150ft. long and 12ft. wide, and generally [containing]  2,000 or 3,000 cubic feet of offensive fluid and other matter.’ This could not be done away with ‘as it prevented the main drain from becoming chocked’ but created  an ‘annoyance’ for the local inhabitants when it had to be emptied by the town scavenger. It was decided to replace the single large reservoir with four smaller ones in the hope that this ‘will enable the scavenger to clean them with less annoyance to the inhabitants’.19 

A better supply of water was, however, achieved although even this was by a different route. In April 1856 a report appeared in the Canterbury Journal that ‘the reformers of the town of Margate have now set on foot a company for the pur­pose of establishing water works in this town, and we believe shares to a large amount have already been taken, although the undertaking is quite in its infancy’.20 At the April meeting of the Local Board of Health a letter was read from Messrs. Birch informing the board that ‘measures have been taken by gentlemen in Margate and London for the purpose of establishing a company for supplying Margate with water’ and asking the Board, if such a Company was formed, would the Board give permission for ‘the roads and streets to be opened for laying down the necessary mains and pipes’.21 The views of the Local Board were apparently not very supportive, and further discussion was deferred, as the Board felt that the water supply question could not be decided ‘separately from the drainage question’.22 Nevertheless, Messrs. Birch continued with their planning and in October the Building Committee of the Local Board inspected Birch’s plans for a new water works, which they concluded ‘were not sufficient’.23 This led to a ‘long discussion’ which, it was decided, should be continued the following week at a special meeting of the Board.23 The board, at this special meeting, showed itself to be much divided.24 William Caveler proposed that Birch’s plans should be referred to a committee for consideration: ‘He was not going to enter into any discussion upon the desirability of water works in the town; and he felt sure that, in that determination, he should be supported by the feeling of the board. The proper time for such a discussion was before the committee [hear.] Of course he should be met with the old arguments, that committees were frightfully dangerous. He would be reminded about the thin end of the wedge, and so on — all things which had been heard again and again for the last many years. But he was satisfied that the water works was a subject of the deepest and most vital importance to the town, and he hoped it would receive a calm consideration.’ This proposal was supported by Frederick Chambers, and by Robert How who said that ‘if any private water company would undertake the drainage of the town, as well as to supply it with water, he would support any motion for the establishment of such a company’. Josiah Towne, on the other hand, was against the idea as he thought that, as predicted, setting up a committee would be ‘getting in the thin edge of the wedge’. He thought ‘the minds of the town’s-people would thus be imbued with the idea that the project was favourably entertained, and some fine morning they would find that a resolution had been passed, authorising some company to do what they liked with the streets of Margate. The mischief, if once done, was of a nature which could never be remedied; and, therefore, though in the abstract there might be no apparent evil in referring the matter to a committee, yet the proposition itself was of so monstrous a nature as to induce him to make every exertion for its overthrow. The matter had already been carefully considered and disposed of, so recently as the 20th April last, and he thought it ought to be allowed to rest until new circumstances should arise to warrant its being again mooted. He could assure them, if once they gave permission to a private company to supply water to the town, the General Board of Health would compel them, whether they liked it or not, to have a complete system of drainage; and thus they would be loaded with heavy and serious encumbrances.’

The proposal to refer matters to a committee was then put to the vote,  and lost by a majority of ten to seven, there appearing in its favour, Messrs. Chambers, Swinford, Pickering, Brooke, Barker, Keble, and Caveler; and against it, Messrs. Bath, Stanley, Woodward, Smith, How, Rapson, White, Towne, Mercer, and Abbott. Nevertheless, the projectors of the new Water Works Company went ahead, and gave notice that they would apply to Parliament ‘for powers to supply the town with water, and for the erection of the necessary works they intend to sink a shaft or well at Dane farm, and also one in the marshes near the Tivoli, and there to erect a stationary engine. They also intend to supply St. Peter’s and Broadstairs with water, and for so doing to erect and carry on the necessary works near the latter place’.25 This was discussed at the December meeting of the Local Board where Towne hoped that the Local Board would dissent from the scheme and Frederick Chambers proposed ‘that the assent of the board be given to this application’.26 The supporters of the proposal won the day: in favour of supporting the scheme were Barker, Chambers, Caveler, Dyer, Edwards, Hunter, Jenkins, Keble, Pickering, Swinford, White, and Wood ; against it, Messrs. Bath, How, Mercer, Rapson, Smith, and Towne.

By February 1857 the Bill for the new waterworks company was before the House of Commons.27 It was proposed to raise a capital of £13,000, in 1,300 shares of £10 each.   The Kent Herald commented ‘should an Act be granted it will, no doubt, prove remunerative to the shareholders’.28 The Act listed the first Directors of the Company as George Yeates Hunter, William Barker, Alexander Brown, William Druce Pickering, William Brooke, and Edward Thomas Relph, all having already subscribed to the proposed Company; 29 three of these (Barker, Hunter and Pickering) were members of the Local Board and had voted in favour of the new Company.

The bill was discussed by the Local Board in March and Josiah Towne and William Caveler proposed that a clause be inserted into the bill ‘by which the town will be able to purchase the works within seven years, if it think proper to do so, upon the following terms: at the cost price; if the money cannot be at once paid an interest of 3 ½ percent, to be given, and if not purchased within the seven years to be upon a thirty years’ purchase’.30 It is not clear exactly what this proposed clause was meant to achieve, but J. E. Wright, the former Clerk to the Local Board, was sufficiently worried about it to write to the General Board of Health in London:31

Re Margate Local Board of Health — Waterworks

From prudential motives our Local Board has hitherto abstained from putting in operation the powers given under the 75th and following sections of the Public Health Act for supplying the rating area with water. In consequence of this pause a few gentlemen are applying to parliament for an act to empower a Company to supply Margate and Broadstairs with water. The act will be entitled “The Margate Water Works Act 1857” — On this intention being published one or two members of the Local Board became suspicious as to whether the powers proposed to be taken by such Company might not interfere with the powers of the Local Board should it at any time hereafter determine to supply the rating area with water, and suggested that a proviso should be inserted to protect the power of the Local Board.

I send herewith a copy of the Bill and you will observe that five out of the six gentlemen who appear as the active promoters of it are influential members of the Local Board of Health, and  it is rumoured that one of such five gentlemen to quiet the fears expressed, at a recent Board meeting, carried a resolution that a proviso should be inserted (in Committee)  in the Company’s Act  empowering the Local Board within the first seven years of the formation of the Company to supersede it  in supplying water to Margate upon paying the entire costs and expenses incurred by the Company in its formation, outlay &c. — Or, at any time after the expiring of seven years, to supersede the Company, purchasing its property and rights on a specified scale — a copy of this proposed very cunning proviso I have not yet obtained — the effect of it would be to tie the hands of  the Local Board in reference to a water supply unless upon repayment of probably an extravagant and unwise outlay by the water company. And it is also to be feared, looking at the influential position of the proposed Directors, that should the Company be unsuccessful, an effort would be made to induce the Local Board to enter upon a supply of water merely for the purpose of the Company being repaid from the public purse the amount of any wanton outlay they may have incurred.

I wish therefore to draw your attention to the subject and have no doubt but that you will frame and get inserted such a proviso as will fully protect the Local Board from being subjected to the consequences of a speculative scheme.

Mr. Deedes one of the members for East Kent has charge of the Bill. It is unopposed and was formally before Mr. Fitzroy, Mr. Deedes and another member as a nominal committee yesterday.

Your early and prompt attention is necessary.
Yours faithfully
signed J. Edwd. Wright

An officer at the General Board has written on the letter: ‘I do not think we should interfere. If the Local Board will not supply water we should not prevent others from doing so. And the Local Board should look after their own interests’. The Bill went ahead, without the clause proposed by Josiah Towne and William Caveler, and received the Royal Assent in August 1857.32

The works of the Company consisted of ‘a well, to be sunk in a field in the occupation of Mr. Cliff in the Dane, opposite the chalk-pits, another well near the railway arch leading to the Tivoli, on the town side of the embankment; each of  these works to have cooling ponds. There will be reservoirs at the Dane-hill and near the Thanet House, also high service reservoirs. The surface of water in each service reservoir is to be 89 feet above a mark on the S.E. corner of Mr. Banks's wall, at the end of Church-street, 111 ft. above Hawley-square, and 168 ft. above the Market place. It is intended that the pipes from the Dane-hill and Tivoli works shall meet at the summit of the hill at Thanet House, and the course of the main pipe to be through Church street, Charlotte-place, Cranbourne-alley, Hawley-square and street, through Lombard-street, and terminating in the Market-place.33

The first public meeting of the shareholders of the company was held at the King’s Head Hotel in October 1857.34 The Chairman, G. Y. Hunter, explained what a good investment the Company would be for the shareholders ‘as water was wanted and they alone could supply it.’ He reminded them ‘that although by the General Acts of Victoria 8, c.15  the maximum rate of interest had been fixed at 10 per cent, yet, if it should fall below that amount, the shareholders would not lose, as they might make up the deficit, if occurring by an unproductive year, by anticipating the next — which was not the case in respect of the Margate Pier and Harbour Company, which took only what they could get, and if they lost one year they could never get it back again. But if the water works proved a beneficial interest, as he believed they would, they would have a dividend of 10 per cent in perpetuity on their capital invested’. He reminded them of the problems of the present system:  ‘he supposed it to be impossible for any person who had a large house or a large family, not to be aware of the present inconveniences to which he was subject, from the trouble of getting water. Although he might have plenty, it was only obtainable by buckets or pumps, which involved not only an expense in getting the necessary machinery to obtain it, but a great expenditure of labour. Not only did they want a supply of good water as a beverage, and an abundant supply for cleanliness and drainage, but they also wanted it in the easiest manner, with the least expenditure of labour and the smallest amount of cost. A man was content now to have a pump in his kitchen; but if their Company went on and succeeded, those persons who liked cleanliness and wished to have plenty of water, could not be content to have it simply on their ground floor. They would like to have it on every floor where necessary. They would see the great advantage it would be to their servants, saving their time, the great expense attending water buckets, pumps, &c. These were reasons why they should, as soon as the water could be obtained through their Company, avail themselves of the conveniences that would be offered, and he had no doubt many would’.

The reason for this strong sales pitch then became clear: ‘at present they had about £200 subscribed for out of £13,000’ although ‘he had no doubt that in a few weeks they should find the share list so far filled, as to enable them to commence proceedings’ a prediction greeted with applause by the audience of shareholders. By the time of the first annual general meeting in January 1858 things had not improved much.35 By then only 348 £10 shares had been taken up, although this was attributed to the ‘recent tightness of the money market’. It was, however, announced that work would begin as soon as another 100 shares had been taken up. By February 1859 the contract for the water works had been awarded to Mr. Docura, ‘the well known contractor’, with Messrs. Birch as the engineers to the company.36 The company purchased a ‘triangular piece of land’ near Tivoli Gardens from the railway authorities, where a well would be sunk, and Mr. Docura promised to hire ‘an efficient staff of workmen’ so that the water mains would be completed before the summer visitors arrived.37 By April ‘the line from the Royal Crescent to the High Street [had] been nearly completed’ and a start had been made on the works at Tivoli.38 By September good progress had been made with the buildings at ‘Froghill, near the Tivoli’: ‘the engine-house will soon be covered in, the boiler for the engine is being put into its place, the pipes are all laid, and they are now constructing a large reservoir near Thanet House’.39 In January 1860 the Water Works Company announced ‘that they are now in a position to supply [the public] with an ample quantity of pure water’.40

Not surprisingly, there were some problems. The Kentish Gazette, in February 1860, hoped ‘those of our inhabitants who have decided to take water, will have the pipes laid on at once, in order that the roads may not be again disturbed at a later period of the year. They are in so bad a state now that we fear even the Road Committee, recently appointed by the Council, will have some difficulty in restoring them’.41 G. Y. Hunter, who was Chairman of the Waterworks Company and an Alderman, explained to the Town Council that the Company had tried to do something about the state of the roads although he admitted that ‘it might be true that the roads were not yet in a proper state of repair’. They had passed the complaints on to the contractor and ‘would again communicate with him on the subject, since their first attempt had produced no good effect’.41

There had also been some confusion over fire plugs and fire hydrants. The intention was to place a number of hydrants or fireplugs in the mains so that water could be drawn off to use in the case of fires. In April 1859, the Town Council set up the ‘Hydrant and Fire-Plug Committee’ to look into this.38 The following month the Committee recommended there should be 80 fire-plugs of the kind used in London, at a cost of about £57, excluding the cost of fixing.41 The proposal was adopted and a copy of the proposal was sent to the Waterworks Company. Unfortunately, the company surveyor had already laid down fire hydrants which, it was estimated, would cost about £600 rather than the £57 for fire-plugs.42 The Company tried to convince the Town Council that fire hydrants were better, but the Hydrant and Fire-Plug Committee recommended the Council to stick to their original decision; the Council ‘expressed themselves very strongly upon the course which had been taken the directors [of the Waterworks Company]’.42 The Waterworks Company finally offered to provide the hydrants at £2 each, rather than the £7 10s. each that they had cost the Company,43 which was agreed to by the Council.44

It was also decided that in future the streets would be watered using water from the Water company rather than with sea water.45 The old system for watering was described by the Surveyor as follows: ‘it was customary to begin the watering of the streets in the month of May, and hitherto the water had been fetched from the harbour by one and two-horse water carts, and by handcarts from the pumps, and the watering confined chiefly to those parts of the town nearest the sea; the contract price of a two-horse cart was 1s. 6d. per hour, which cart contained only 230 gallons, and to get that quantity in Churchfields would occupy half an hour. The cost in money was equal to 8d. for the quantity; but if obtained from the Water Company it would not cost more than 3d. By taking the water of the company to water the town above the hills, and from the harbour to the lower parts, the difference in the expense would be counterbalanced by the decrease in the wear and tear of the water carts, which are provided by the council; the company would supply it at 6d. per 1,000 gallons, and a meter with cover, sluice cock, posts, add fixing, would cost about £21 8s. [The Surveyor] also suggested that such posts should be placed one on each side of the town.’ The idea was, after discussion, referred to the Hydrant and Fire Plug Committee,45 and agreed to at the following Council meeting.46

By 1876 the water company was supplying water to 1,500 houses.47 Unfortunately, the supply from the Tivoli well proved to be contaminated ‘to such an extent as to make its use dangerous’ and the water ‘had an offensive smell when warmed’.48 In December 1879 the water company was taken over by the Town Council, at a cost of £59,000, and a new well was sunk in the Dane.49 Finally, in 1902 it was agreed to adopt the scheme proposed by the Borough engineer, Mr. Albert Latham, of obtaining a supply of pure water from hills in the district of Wingham, about 14 miles from Margate.50 There was much opposition, of course, on the base of cost, estimated at about £90,000, but all the medical practitioners in the town were in favour and the continued expansion of the town meant that, finally, a decent water supply had to be provided. The later history of the water company is described in an article by Twyman and Beeching.51

* * *

The problem of the drainage system was probably even more serious than that of the water supply, and would drag on for the best part of forty years. A series of campaigns in the national newspapers and magazines made Margate look both unsafe and incompetent. Trouble started in 1865 with complaints to the Observer newspaper about ‘indecent sea-bathing’ at Margate, but the Pall Mall Gazette added to the mix by bringing to a wider audience a series of issues published in the Builder:52

A nice little quarrel has been going on for some time with reference to Margate. First, the Observer attacked the style of bathing, which was certainly far simpler than that which obtains on the French coast. The mayor, however, repudiated the charge that the Margate authorities were indifferent to decency, and said that they had taken every precaution possible "within their jurisdiction." Then the Builder animadverted once and again on the uncleanness and consequent unhealthiness of what ought to be one of the healthiest towns in England. "No Man's Land" was spoken of as a vast natural cesspool; "Marine-terrace" was described as suffering from a stench which came in at the back windows; in fact, the town was far from being what it ought to be in a sanitary point of view. Hereupon Mr. Reeve, sanitary inspector, writes to the mayor, hoping that as his worship had set the Observer right, so he will see fit to contradict the malicious and unfounded calumnies put forth by the Builder. The mayor, however, tells Mr. Reeve quite plainly that he noticed the Observer, believing its remarks to be untrue, but he will not reply to the Builder because "he is sure its statements are true;” and he gently hints that Mr. Reeve's "numerous occupations" prevent his attending properly to his duties as inspector. His worship will, however, take care to publish in the local papers Mr. Reeve's letter and his own reply, along with the remarks in the Builder. Hereupon the inspector becomes violent; and writes to the Builder denying almost all the matters which were complained of, and accusing the writer of the article of "hypocrisy and wickedness in alarming intending visitors under pretence of giving good advice," of grossly slandering the inspector "who has served for fourteen years," and also of "insidiously damaging his property," for it seems that part of the unsavoury "Marine Parade” is owned by the indignant inspector.

The town council continued to ignore the issue but in 1870 it was taken up by the Architect:53


MARGATE — that most popular of all our Kent coast watering-places, is an exceptionally wholesome residence; its sea breezes and fine open position warrant the legend on its corporate seal — “Porta Maris, Portus Salutis." Its death rate is uncommonly low, and there is a very small amount of illness to be found at any time among its inhabitants; yet this salubrity is actually despite its drainage, for of all the places known there is none in which the cesspool system has grown so rank as at Margate. There is positively no drainage, but beneath or adjoining each house there are one or more huge cesspools, sunk down deep into the chalk which is here 1,000 feet thick, and into this cesspool the entire suillage of each house is conveyed, the whole being cleaned out at intervals varying from a few months (as in King Street, Marine Terrace, and other low-lying places) to thirty or forty years (as in Churchflelds and the upper part of High Street), for the chalk is in one place granular, dry, and porous, and in another solid, wet, and sodden.

Yet the rumour has reached Margate of great things achieved elsewhere in the matter of drainage — Leamington, Croydon, Canterbury, and Dover to wit — and Margate must needs follow in the wake of such improving towns. Moreover, Margate has of late imported a new resident Sanitary Officer from Liverpool, who has made an official report upon the system to the Local Board — we beg their pardon — to the Town Council — in which he says Margate "soil is riddled with cesspools," and strongly advocates their abolition; a memorial from some thirty ratepayers has been sent in to the Sanitary Committee, calling their attention to some of the evils of the system, and a move has been made — a sensible move — in the right direction, for at their last meeting the Town Council directed their clerk to place himself in communication with Mr. Bazalgette, with a view to obtaining plans and estimates for a complete system of tubular sewage on the most approved principle.

Meantime, as Margate season is at an end, the Margatonians will have time and opportunity to debate the matter freely and at their leisure. Much will no doubt be said on both sides of the question, for there are not a few among the intelligent men in the town who will speak well and with good show of reason in favour of letting things remain as they are, and who will deprecate the outlay (£50,000 was the figure mentioned in the Council Chamber) until the experiment is a more safe one, and the results are more certain to be favourable. Meantime the question is open, and it is of the first — the very first — importance to Margate that her rulers should give "wise counsel," and act with prudent hesitation in a matter which — should it prove a failure — will be completely disastrous to her reputation, wealth, and progress.

The following year the reports in the Architect became more mocking:54

‘MARGATE — the most attractive of all our Kentish watering-places — whose visitors at this moment number 30,000, and her resident population 12,000, is making sad work of the drainage question. For years beyond living memory Margate has had no drainage, but a system of sewage conservatism — cesspools attached to, and often beneath the houses  — even the best houses in her squares — and into these cesspools, sunk deep into the chalk, and close to, say in many instances 10 to 20 feet only from, the wells, all the closet and house sullage has found its way, the receptacle being often only bricked over (not emptied) when full, and another similar abomination sunk alongside. Such was Margate drainage — was did we say? nay, such it is even at the present day. But in October, last year, Margate awoke from her slumbers, and The Architect more than once noted and commended her movements. About that time the Town Council, by resolution duly entered on their minute-book, resolved, "that the time has now arrived for this body to deal with the drainage of the Town," and all in hot haste Mr. Bazalgette was consulted upon the matter. But some wiseacre in the Council set forth that Margate was only small, and that Mr. Bazalgette was a great engineer and would have to be paid, and so the Council, with small dignity, dropped Mr. Bazalgette, and resolved to send seven of their own body to inspect various towns where drainage on some approved system had been carried out, and by the light of the experience thus gained, to report on and advise the main body of that board as to the best and most efficient system to be adopted. It was moreover resolved that the expenses of this Sewage Inspection Committee should be defrayed out of the public rates. Hereupon there was some little scrambling to get placed on the committee, but eventually it was composed — and we must look at its composition in order properly to understand its work — of the mayor (an M.D.), a broker, a tailor, a lodging-house keeper, a house painter, a grocer, and a soda-water manufacturer, and these gentlemen set out upon their labours. To Dover, Croydon, Brighton, Ealing, Worthing, Hastings, Eastbourne, and many other places did their visits extend, and here at last — ten months only after the appointment of the committee — is the result of this labour of intellect and fatigue of body before us in a tangible form. Let us look at it, and deduce a useful lesson as to the propriety of other towns paying for a long series of pleasure trips by one-half of their Council for a like purpose. Four of the committee recommend that Margate should throw her sewage into the sea, two of the committee recommend that she should not throw her sewage into the sea, and the seventh wise man appears to have become rather bewildered by his travels, for "F. Chambers, M.D." signs both reports. No two reports can be more at variance than that of the majority and that of the minority. "Not waste, but irrigation," says one — "Not irrigation, but waste," says the other, and their surveyor, who accompanied the committee in all their travels, sends in a separate report, in which he affirms "unhesitatingly" the report of the minority to be right, and adds that irrigation "is a system especially adapted to the town of Margate." Meanwhile cholera comes. Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Margate legislators have not by their amateur sewage engineering inspections gained much credit to themselves, nor done much to advance that most important question to all visitors and all residents, "How and when is Margate to be drained?"

To try to resolve these disagreements, the Town Council decided to run a competition for the best scheme of sewage, much to the derision of the Architect:55


The pleasant town of Margate appears to have its little perplexities like places of greater and of less renown; and amongst other things it has just now drifted into a competition difficulty, from which it must escape as best it can. For our own part we have certainly no desire to enter the fray, but as lookers-on we can scarcely help accepting what instruction may come to be offered to the world at large by the conduct of this little quarrel by the quiet seaside.

It seems that the spirit of improvement has taken possession of the worthy citizens of Margate in the form of an impulse to have new sewerage. All the world is draining itself more or less in these days: and why should not this little corner of the world, which is indeed par excellence a sanitarium, permit itself the satisfaction of indulging in so highly fashionable an enterprise of sanitarianism? The idea that unwholesome gases should continue to pervade the atmosphere of the popular seaside borough is of course not to be thought of with equanimity; or even that the nostrils of visitors who have bid goodbye to certain bad smells here should be welcomed by the same bad smells there; Margate shall move with the times, and shall have a system of sewerage secundum artem [according to the accepted practice]. It is only to be regretted that this excellent purpose should in these odd days be apparently so impossible of attainment except through the troubled means of a competition of designs.

Margate is governed, as it ought to be, by a grave and intelligent municipality. The local journals, in reporting verbatim the conversations in which the mayor, aldermen, and councillors officially engage, may not perhaps lead the minds of strangers to the invariable conclusion that such a matter for instance as the science of sewerage is the intellectual specialty of each individual interlocutor; but the unconscious sneer which may be supposed by hypercritical persons to be concealed within these words of ours is fully answered, and we hope atoned for, when we further remark that it is not the custom in happy England, "where men are bold and always say their say," to submit even sewerage to the control of scientific experts, but rather to blunder through its difficulties by means of public debate and the application of that common sense which is certainly the best of sense so long as we persist in recognizing no other. To suppose, therefore, such a thing as that the Town Council of Margate should have called in at the first some expert engineer to take the direction of their sewerage is simply wasting a hypothesis; the Town Council of Margate must have a competition.

It unfortunately happens that to have a competition, although an admirably prudent thing in theory, means in practice neither more nor less than to collect a bewildering variety of rival schemes, out of the confusion of which it is generally impossible to find a way of escape except by some course of procedure which may be designated as being at least eminently unscientific; and the truth of this is still more manifest when we reflect upon that grand characteristic of English public life — the determination of every person in authority to do with his authority as he likes. It is not to be expected, therefore, that the worshipful aldermen and councillors of the pleasant town of Margate would on any account be found departing from the time honoured British custom of constituting themselves the supreme arbiters, by a majority of votes duly delivered in their body, of whatever question's of scientific interest might happen to turn up, in the course of their investigation of the drainage plans submitted to them in competition for the honour and emolument attaching to the sweetening of their borough.

Advertisements having been formally published, offering premiums for the best plans, the engineering profession, unlike the architectural in their eagerness to benefit the public at each other's expense, sent in only eight designs instead of eighty, thus contenting themselves with expending probably not more than the mean and unworthy amount of two or three times the promised reward. But, if they failed in that pecuniary generosity which shows itself in the number of competing plans, they made up for this by the intellectual liberality which produces variety in scientific principle. Differences of detail, as regards the levels drained, the lines of drainage, and the distribution of the arterial system, of course there were; but all these came to be of comparatively little moment as disturbing influences when it was found that there were no less than three radical points of primary debate, like standards of mutual defiance, on which the competitors had preliminarily concentrated attention. If this state of things can be described in almost three words, the conclusion to be drawn from the simplicity of the dispute must be all in favour of its irreconcilable obstinacy. The three fundamental questions were these: — some would carry the sewage into the sea, either pumped or not pumped; some would let it flow over land, either pumped or not; and one at least would operate upon it by the process  which bears the guileless name of "A. B. C.” for its conversion into that invaluable compost called "Native Guano." First, therefore, of all inquiries there must be this: — which of these three principles shall be preferred? Until this shall be disposed of, what can be the use of wasting the wits of the municipality upon matters of detail?

The question may possibly arise in the mind of the reader — why was not this perplexing difficulty set at rest as a preliminary to the competition? The only answer that occurs to us to offer is that perhaps the learning of the Town Council had not as yet attained to the full knowledge of the existence of such a quandary till the competition itself made them all too sadly acquainted with it. To this any one who pleases may add the suggestion that, possessing this knowledge from the first as a matter of public notoriety, the worthy magistrates nevertheless considered they would be none the worse, if not all the better, for leaving the doubt to be solved at the competitors' expense. At any rate, one thing is now clear enough, that the Council, by their own confession, appear to be as fully satisfied, at the last as they ought to have been at the first, that until they can agree upon this they can agree upon nothing.

So far the incidents before us are of course very instructive; indeed if nothing else may be said of "the competition system" to its credit, this at least may be maintained — that it is so full of interesting contingencies as to render it impossible for human understanding to assign limits to its fertility in the creation of unanticipated difficulties. But it is also a rule that novel embarrassments never come singly; and in the heretofore calm atmosphere of Margate the sewerage War may now be expected to pass into any extremity of complication that one chooses to imagine. For instance, it is already freely alleged that the names of the competitors have ceased to be concealed beneath the decent cloak of the Latin mottoes and vernacular catchwords with which their drawings are inscribed. What is more, the columns of the free and independent newspapers of the locality have graciously admitted to such publicity, as they afford certain letters to the editors, by which the competitors are enabled to expound to the bewildered population the rival merits of such plans as bear the appropriate legends of "economy," "experience,” "carefully considered,” ”intermittent filtration," and so forth. But these little eccentricities, although interesting in the extreme, are even excelled in interest by what has further to be noted; in fact it is doubtful whether the incident we have now the privilege of mentioning has ever occurred before amongst the multiform curiosities of the competition system

One councilor of the good borough appears to be actually a professor of the subject in hand, and, after a full consideration of the collection of competing projects, the melancholy conviction appears to have forced itself upon this gentleman's mind that none of them would answer the purpose. This, by the way, is not altogether a novel incident; and it is not at all impossible that the opinion in question may be perfectly sound; but what follows? The professional councillor addresses to his colleagues a letter; and, lest it should be imagined by some leader too much accustomed to finesse that we are disguising under a semblance of unconcern a spirit of reproach, let us say that we cannot perceive in this letter — and it is but a fresh evidence of the inexhaustible resources of the competition system that we are seriously able to say so — anything else than the perfectly honest expression of the public spirit of the writer:—

“I beg leave," says he, "to prepare at my own expense and lay before you a plan for the drainage of the Borough and for the disposal of the sewage, on the condition that no charge whatever is to be made unless my scheme is accepted. It would take me some time to prepare such a plan, and I would not produce it until your present competition is decided; but the scheme I shall propose will be entirely different to any that is now before you and less expensive."

This well meant but scarcely well considered offer was respectfully declined; and in the report of the debate by which the resolution was arrived at we find the following sententious remarks to have been made by the worthy magistrate himself from whose liberality the proposal had emanated: —

"I venture to think," said he, "I can point out how the town will be drained. My opinion is you will never carry out any of the plans you have before you. I speak with every respect of the plans, and we must of course award the premiums; but I think you will never carry out one of them."

The proposal, we have said, was eventually withdrawn; but it is not quite clear that it is not to be revived so soon as the little formality has been achieved by which the competition premiums are to be awarded. What is to be the upshot of the affair we shall be interested to learn when the time comes, but it is the dramatic force of the present situation that concerns us for the moment. Here are a handful of professional engineers contending nobly for the glory and reward of salubriating Margate. Yonder another handful of accidental town-councillors are entrusted with the task of judging between them. Surely the judges are better authorities than the competitors, or why should they be the judges? One of these is confessedly possessed of a profounder understanding of the subject than all his colleagues. Does not the inevitable force of logic point to this individual as the one who can best solve the problem: if not, what is the use of reasoning upon the matter? Well, there is very little use at any time in reasoning about competitions; but if it should be the destiny of the Margate drainage after all to be carried out by the expert councillor in question, certainly there is something in the idea that is scarcely so compatible as we might wish with our ordinary vulgar notions of the survival of the fittest in a fair fight.

The prediction of the un-named town councilor that ‘you will never carry out any of the plans you have before you’ turned out to be true. It took three years for the Town Council to award the two premiums for the competition, a first premium of £200 to Mr. Lewis Angell and a second premium of £100 to Messrs. Gotto and Beesley,56 but none of the plans were followed up. Indeed, in 1881 the Town Council came to the conclusion that, after all, they could live with the existing system:57

The burgesses of Margate, presided over by the mayor, after three evenings of discussion, passed the following resolution, proposed by Mr. Keble, J.P: — "That it is the opinion of this meeting that the present drainage of Margate is not such as can without injury to the town be any longer maintained, but having regard to the exceptionally low death-rate, the insufficient water-supply, and the recent heavy outlays in the borough, the carrying out of so expensive an undertaking should be most carefully reconsidered in all its bearings". The medical officer of the borough, and the medical officer to the union both said the town was so healthy that the only need for sewage works was to satisfy the sentiment of the visitors, and the Local Government Board. Letters were read from the Local Government Board threatening public investigation if something was not done soon. The meeting received the announcement with cheers, feeling that such inquiry would prove the healthiness of the town, and prevent the Government forcing the ratepayers into the unnecessary expenditure of £50,000.

Matters rested again for another ten years but came to a head in 1887. An outbreak of typhoid had led to an inspection of the town by a Local Government Board inspector, Dr. Page, which was reported widely in the national and local press. The editorial in the South Eastern Gazette under the title ‘The Health of Margate’ made bad reading for Margate:58

The reflections made by the inspector of the Local Government Board on the sanitary condition of Margate have very much more than a local interest. There can be no doubt about their gravity.  According to Dr. Page, Margate has 3,067 houses peopled by 18,000 inhabitants, a population which is trebled in August, and the sanitary arrangements for these residents are, the doctor intimates, not over elaborate, while the water supply itself is not above suspicion. Last year, it is stated, the Borough Analyst, in reporting upon some chemical examinations of water supplied to the town, stated that “the results pointed distinctly to sewage percolation and to a considerable admixture of sea water, very objectionable features of a public water supply, and calling for a speedy remedy,” and there are geological and other reasons for believing the water supply in danger of contamination. So much for the water.

In the matter of sanitary arrangements Dr. Page is very dissatisfied. He describes Margate as a cesspool town with some fragmentary sewerage on the sea front. “The large majority of houses of all sorts have no other means of drainage than into cesspools. Disused wells serve their turns frequently for cesspools. There is no pretence at making them water-tight, the object in view being to expose as large a surface as possible of the absorbent chalk, and so promote soakage in every direction in the hope of postponing indefinitely the day when a cesspool may require to be cleansed, a necessity which is only recognised by the choking of house drains or the welling up of its contents upon the surface.” Slaughter-houses lend their assistance to the general discomfort, while diarrhoea, the type of a class of “filth diseases,” has been running riot among the children. What little sewerage there is in the town seems hardly preferable to the cesspit arrangement, for its outfall is within the jetty extension and “the drain becomes choked at times of heavy rainfall at high tide, when flooding of basements and courts in the neighbourhood results.” The outbreak of typhoid, which was one of the causes of Dr. Page’s official inspection, is described as one of “ extraordinary virulence and fatality,” and as solely due to the sanitary defects of the town, which are probably unparalleled in any watering-place of equal size. With respect to the cesspools it was at a previous inspection calculated that the aggregate area of these horrible receptacles amounted to no less than three acres.

This is a very unpleasant picture of a “health resort;” but we must listen to what is said on the other side. The whole of the physicians and surgeons practising in Margate signed a joint note, certifying that there is not a single case of typhoid fever in Margate, and Mr. Treves, the Medical Officer of Health for Margate, states that the visitation of typhoid last year, was only part of an epidemic which affected the district. He adds that Margate is a particularly healthy town.  In a population of at least 18,000 there were only 144 deaths during the first half of this year, giving a death rate of sixteen per thousand. “If, however, fifteen deaths which occurred in hospitals from scrofulous diseases and ten deaths among the visitors are deducted, we have a death-rate of only 13.2 per 1,000. In the matter of zymotic diseases there was not a single death from these causes during the last quarter. In the first quarter of the year there were two deaths from diarrhoea, and one from croupous laryngitis. This gives a zymotic death-rate of .3 per 1,000 per annum.” Again, in the matter of water the Council, says Mr. Treves, “are already pumping a new and absolutely pure supply of water, and intend, as soon as more adits are cut, to abandon entirely the use of the old well.”

It is only fair to admit that these figures show that the present condition of Margate is not inordinately alarming. Ramsgate, which has spent £20,000 on its drainage works, reports for the last six months a gross death-rate of 14.3, the rate in the cases of zymotic diseases being, as at Margate, .3 per thousand. But the facts with respect to Margate must of necessity make some visitors, and not a few inhabitants, a little nervous. The Council have been appealed to before by the Local Government Board, and in 1877 went so far as to have plans prepared and to obtain sanction to borrow £42,000 for the purpose of improving its drainage. But the Council apparently was not very enthusiastic about the matter, for now, ten years later, we find the Officer of Health excusing the inaction of the local authorities by intimating that the tubular system of drainage has rendered many other towns liable to many evils and dangers :  “The evils arising from street ventilators and gratings, and the facilities afforded by tubular drainage for the spread of typhoid and other zymotic diseases, have made the Council pause before following the advice of the Local Government Board, and perhaps by this means increasing their mortality.” This sentence could scarcely have been written by anyone who had a profound knowledge of sanitary science; but if it be granted that “the tubular system of drainage” has drawbacks, it has still to be asked what the alternative of the Margate authorities is? Any system is better than none, and at the present time by far the greater part of Margate is not drained at all. It may be admitted that Margate would be wise to adopt some system which should save its foreshore from pollution, but the present half-and-half arrangement has a double disadvantage, for it imperils the shore while not freeing the air of the great majority of the houses. At Rochester the Local Government Board is also bringing pressure to bear on the authorities to get rid of the primitive cesspool system, and it is satisfactory to note that efforts are being made to secure the cooperation of Chatham and Gillingham in some effective scheme, one of the conditions being that there shall be no further pollution of the Medway. If the reports of the Local Government Board, albeit they may seem a little sensational, secure immediate attention to evils which, whatever their present extent, are necessarily growing  evils, much good will have been done. In the case of such places as Margate the question is a vital one, for health and pleasure resorts should be not only superior to danger, but quite above suspicion in these respects. Margate has a beautiful air, pleasant sands, a variety of landscape and resources, and a refreshing freedom from pretentiousness. Anything which affected its popularity or led to its decadence would be something like a public calamity, and certainly a loss to many. We trust the Council will see the matter in that light; that it will prepare to deal energetically with the difficulty, and that it will, in the meantime, offer to visitors some guarantee that the best has been done with even the existing primitive arrangements.

Finally things started to change. The British Architect reported in November 1887:59

The Margate people seem to be wakening up to the importance of doing something or other to avert a repetition of last summer's scare respecting the drainage of the borough and the existence of typhoid fever. A public meeting of the burgesses has declared itself in favour of the appointment of a sanitary inspector who should devote the whole of his time to the duties of his office, whilst the medical men of the town have memorialised the corporation in favour of a complete drainage system being carried out, steps to be taken in the meantime to abolish all open privies. After the decided feeling thus expressed by the medical pro­fession, we are not surprised to hear that Dr. Treves has resigned his appointment of medical officer of health. It is to be hoped the corporation will no longer delay taking measures which shall place Margate above suspicion in regard to its sanitation. Unless they do something really to the purpose, they need not expect visitors to think the opinions of Local Government inspectors are all moonshine.

At last, in 1889, the national papers could report some good news about Margate. The Daily News in October, 1889 reported:60

The question of the disposal of the sewage of Margate, which agitated the public mind in that town for so long a time, was settled, it may be remembered,  by the adoption of a scheme by which the sewage is to be carried out to sea. This was not decided upon without considerable opposition, some of the inhabitants being indisposed to adopt any plan which had been propounded, and others favouring the idea of a sewage farm. A strong objection to the latter method was founded on  the fact that the land behind the town was needed for the purpose of water supply, and that owing to the porousness of the chalk the deposition of sewage upon the land would be likely, or indeed certainly, injuriously to effect the water. The plan ultimately fixed upon was that of Mr. Baldwin Latham, M. Inst. C. E.,  who proposed to carry away the sewage of five-sixths of the area by gravitation, that of the remaining sixth being lifted by hydraulic pumps. The sewage will be con­veyed through a tunnel to a considerable distance from the town, when it will enter the sea. The place of  discharge, Foreness Point, two miles east of Margate, is a spot which to an engineer would seem to have been intended by nature for such a purpose, since from it the usual currents, both of the flood and ebb tides,  set towards the North Sea.

The more immediate need was to drain the lower or Marine-terrace part of the town, and this work was completed last spring, the sewage being provided with a temporary outfall. The effect of this relief was very beneficial and the inhabitants, who attribute the excellent season which this town has enjoyed during the summer to the knowledge on the part of visitors that that portion of Margate was for the first time properly drained, see in that improvement a happy augury of a good time coming when the whole scheme shall have been carried out. The remainder of the work is in active progress, and is to be completed by June next. An important stage was commenced yesterday, when the Mayor, Mr. William Leach Lewis, laid the foundation stone of the central pumping sta­tion at Tivoli. From this point the power is to be transmitted to the other pumping stations by a hydraulic main. The sewage tunnel, seventy feet deep, in the chalk rock, runs from the Cliftonville end of Margate by the eastern esplanade, and the works provide for a continuous flow of sewage from the town, though there are about two hours at each tide when there will not be an actual discharge into the sea. As the sewage will only be delivered when the tide is flowing away from Margate, there can be no ground for apprehension that it will be returned upon the shore. The point of discharge is about a third of a mile seawards from the Point — that is to say, at the extreme end of the rocks known as Long Nose Spit. The scheme of drainage comprises the dealing with storm water, so as to prevent the flooding of certain streets by a heavy rainfall. At a luncheon which was given after the ceremony of yesterday, general satisfaction was expressed by mem­bers of the Town Council with Mr. Latham's scheme, and the Mayor stated that by next season Margate would be one of the best drained towns in the country, and that in consequence it must become highly pros­perous. Mr. Baldwin Latham is the engineer, and the contract has been undertaken by Messrs. B. Cooke and Co., of Phoenix Wharf, Battersea, at the price of £65,388.

Ticket Sewerage Works 1889
Ticket for the Ceremony of Laying the Foundation Stone of the Hydraulic Pumping Station, Tivoli, October 17 1889

This was the end of Margate as a ‘cesspool’ town. In 1896 it was reported that there were only about 150 ‘pit privies’ remaining, and these were in the outskirts of the Town.61



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. Kent Herald, Ocobert 30 1851.

3. Kent Herald, October 28 1852.

4. South Eastern Gazette, February 22 1853.

5. Canterbury Journal, March 6 1852.

6. South Eastern Gazette, March 1 1853. 

7. Canterbury Journal, April 30 1853.

8. Kent Herald, August 18 1853.

9. South Eastern Gazette, November 1 1853.

10. Kent Herald, February 16 1854.

11. Kent Herald, July 27 1854.

12. Kent Herald, November 23 1854.

13. Kentish Observer, November 16 1854.

14. Kent Herald, December 7 1854.

15. Canterbury Journal, December 2 1854.

16. South Eastern Gazette, December 5 1854.

17. Kent Herald, February 1 1855.

18. Canterbury Journal, January 27 1855.

19. Kent Herald, February 8 1855.

20. Canterbury Journal, April 26 1856.

21. Kent Archives, Minutes of the Margate Local Board of Health, 1851-1858, 22 April 1856.

22. Kent Herald, May 29 1856.

23. Kent Herald, October 30, 1856.

24. South Eastern Gazette, November 4 1856.

25. South Eastern Gazette, November 18 1856.

26. Kent Herald, December 25, 1856.

27. South Eastern Gazette, February 17 1857.

28. Kent Herald, February 12 1857.

29. An Act for better supplying with water the inhabitants of the parishes of Saint John the Baptist (including Margate) and Saint Peter the Apostle (including Broadstairs) in the County of Kent, 20 and 21 Vic. Cap. 70, 1857.

30. South Eastern Gazette, March 10 1857.

31. National Archives MH 13/123 Board of Health Margate 1848-1871, Letter from J. E. Wright to the General Board, March 18 1857.

32. South Eastern Gazette, August 18 1857.

33. Kent Herald, July 30 1857.

34. Kent News and Advertiser, October 29 1857.

35. South Eastern Gazette, February 2 1858.

36. Kentish Gazette, February 22 1859.

37. Kentish Gazette, March 15 1859.

38. Kentish Gazette, April 5 1859.

39. South Eastern Gazette, July 12 1859.

40. South Eastern Gazette, January 17 1860.

41. Kentish Gazette, May 17 1859.

42. Kentish Gazette, June 28 1859.

43. Kentish Gazette, March 27 1860.

44. Kentish Gazette, May 1 1860.

45. South Eastern Gazette, April 3 1860.

46. Kentish Gazette, April 10 1860.

47. Thanet Guardian, October 20 1876.

48. The Times, October 12 1876.

49. Pall Mall Gazette, December 31 1879.

50. The Times, February 11 1902.

51. M. Twyman and A. Beeching,  A look at Margate’s windmills; Part two. The pumper, Bygone Margate, Winter 2007.

52. Pall Mall Gazette, October 3 1865.

53. Architect, October 8 1870.

54. Architect, August 26 1871.

55. Architect, May 2 1874.

56. Sanitary Record, January 20, 1877.

57. British Medical Journal, December 24 1881.

58. South Eastern Gazette, 25 July 1887.

59. British Architect, p. 390, November 1887.

60. Daily News, October 18 1889.

61. Parliamentary Papers, Local Government Board: Supplement to Twenty-fourth Annual Report, in continuation of Report of Medical Officer, 1894-95, on Inland Sanitary Survey, 1893-94, 1896