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Margate

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Margate
OS Grid Reference:Template:Gbmappingsmall
Administration
District:Thanet
County:Kent
Region:South East England
Nation:England
Other
Ceremonial County:Kent
Traditional County:Kent
Post Office and Telephone
Postal County:Kent
Postcode:CT9
Dialling Code:01843

Template:GBdot Margate was known as Meregate (in 1254) or Margate (in 1293) is on the Isle of Thanet in Kent, England. Its meaning may be translated as "a pool gate or gap in a cliff where pools of water are found". The cliffs of the Isle of Thanet are composed of London Clay, a fossil-bearing rock.

Contents

History

Cinque Ports

Margate was a "limb" of Dover in the ancient confederation of the Cinque ports. It was added to the ports in the 15th century.

Margate and the Sea

Between 1890-1939 about 30 pleasure boats operated from Margate beach. The main builder of Thanet wherries was Brockman of Margate, who turned them out in large numbers before the Great War. They developed two distinct types of these Thanet beach boats, the wherry, with its high sides, and the wherry punt, with low sides. The hulls were traditionally varnished, a practice employed by boatmen from Thanet to Devon. Some boatmen would construct a wider beam into the design to assist fishing.

Although employing a clinker-built hull, the shape was similar to the Deal galley and the Thames waterman's skiff. The last wherry in service at Margate was operated by a Dusty Miller of Westgate, and built by an apprentice of Brockman's of Margate in 1939. "She was only about 12 ft long and being small was sometimes called a skiff."

The town's history is tied closely to the sea and it has a proud maritime tradition. The record of the vessel, Friend to all Nations, and the Margate Surfboat disaster of 1897 are noteworthy events in Margate's past.

Margate as a Seaside Resort

Steamboats

It is now a seaside resort which, like its neighbour Ramsgate, has been a traditional holiday destination for Londoners drawn to its sandy beaches.

Edward Hasted, writing in the 18th century, had once described Margate as a "poor fishing town", but in 1810, when describing the shore, said:

  • ... [it] was so well adapted adapted to bathing, being an entire level and covered with the finest sand, which extends for several miles on either side of the harbour... [near which] there are several commodious bathing rooms, out of which the bathers are driven in the machines, any depth along the sands into the sea; at the back of the machine is a door, through which the bathers descend a few steps into the water, and an umbrella of canvas dropping over conceals them from the public view. Upwards of 40 of these machines are frequently employed...

About 1816 The Times reported that the introduction of steamboats had given the whole coast of Kent (and) the Isle of Thanet in particular, "a prodigious lift". Sir Rowland Hill (founder of the 1840 Penny Post), while in Thanet during 1815 however, remarked: "It is surprising to see how most people are prejudiced against this packet." So popular were the steam boat excursions that in 1841 there were six different companies competing for the Margate passenger traffic. It remains a remarkable tribute to the popularity of this pioneering service that even with the advent of the railway in 1846 the steamboats continued in service until their final demise in 1967.

In 1820 it was said that "the inhabitants of Margate ought to eulogise the name of Watt, as the founder of their good fortune; and steam vessels as the harbingers of their prosperity". It is curious, however, to find that a popular reluctance was to be found apparent in passengers in travelling beyond Margate, for fear of coming to grief upon the dangerous North Foreland shoreline.

Railways

The railway came to Margate via two separate railway companies. The South Eastern Railway (SER) were first to reach the town, when its branch line from the main line at Ashford, having opened to Ramsgate on April 13 1846, was continued to a station called Margate Sands on 1 December of the same year. It was not direct however: trains had to reverse from the terminus at Ramsgate to reach Margate. In spite of that, crowds of people added to the already high numbers coming by sea. The SER had the rail monopoly for 17 years.

That was to end when, on October 5 1863 the London Chatham and Dover Railway completed its North Kent coast line and built a station at Margate West. Once the Southern Railway had been formed, there was a major rationalisation of the Isle of Thanet railways: the old route from Ramsgate was closed completely, and a new railway connection, looping round the Isle of Thanet, meant that trains could pass through the town from either direction. Margate West (renamed simply Margate) station became the only railway station in the town.

Tourism

In recent times it has had higher unemployment rates than much of south-east England, as tourists travel further afield. Like Brighton it was infamous for gang violence between mods and rockers in the 1960s.

Margate faces major structural redevelopments. Its Dreamland Amusement Park (featured in the Only Fools and Horses television series) is threatened with imminent closure, and in 2003 saw a huge fire destroy much of its seafront frontage. This blaze occurred during plans to close the park, owned by the same company that has similar redevelopment plans for the Folkestone Rotunda Amusement Park. In 2004 it was announced that Dreamland (although somewhat reduced in its amusements) would re-open for three months of the summer; a pressure group has been formed to keep it in being.

The group is anxious that the UK's oldest wooden roller coaster, The Scenic Railway, a Grade II Listed structure is retained. Dreamland has some need for protection, its big wheel, once a landmark visible for miles around, having been sold to a park in Mexico. Other attractions that flourished in the 1960s and 1970s such as the River Caves ride and the Miniature railway, closed in the 1980s and 1990s.

A controversial Turner gallery has been proposed, as an alternative to Margate's traditional tourist trade, and if built would form part of the harbour itself. Some critics, however, questioned the prudence of placing part of Britain's national art treasure in a spot that is exposed to the full fury of the North Sea. Nevertheless, the scheme is to go ahead and the planned opening is for 2007.

Margate during the Second World War

It was on September 3, 1940, that pilot officer Richard Hillary was shot down during combat against three Messerschmitts into the sea near the North Foreland, but had the good fortune to be rescued by Margate lifeboat. His Spitfire had burst into flames and he was badly burnt, but later wrote the book The Last Enemy. Hillary, the grandson of the founder of the lifeboat service (Sir William Hillary, d. 1852), recovered from his ordeal, but was killed in a training flight accident in 1943, aged 24.

Howard Primrose Knight, coxwain of the Ramsgate lifeboat Prudential, and Edward Drake Parker, coxwain of the Margate lifeboat Lord Southborough were both awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in recognition of their gallantry and determination when ferrying troops from the beaches of Dunkirk during the evacuation of 1940.

The lifeboats had assisted in retrieving at least 2,800 men, by towing eight wherries, during a continuous service lasting 40 hours. Following this achievement the Margate boat returned to Dunkirk to rescue between 500-600 French soldiers from the beach.

In a letter to the RNLI, the Commander of HMS Icarus stated: "The manner in which the Margate lifeboat crew brought off load after load of soldiers under continuous shelling, bombing and aerial machinegun fire, will be an inspiration to us all as long as we live."

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