MARGATE’S SEAFRONT DOLPHIN LAMP COLUMNS - AND A FISHY TALE
Featured in the October 2009 handbook.
In 1878 construction got underway on the new sea wall and road of Marine Drive, an expensive scheme for the Borough but one which finally linked the Marine Parade and Marine Terrace for vehicular traffic. To add a touch of class to the design, the ornamental cast iron railings had at intervals in their line stone plinths decorated with the arm of the Borough, and these were surmounted by cast iron lamp columns, the lower sections of which at plinth level comprise of two semi - immersed Dolphins with their tails curled around the vertical shaft. After I had published a description of these columns in an article on the new road, describing how they had been shown to Margatonians in a model during 1879 pending their installation, and told the Embankment in London, I was very sad to see an article on our Dolphin columns emanating from the Civic Society. This supposedly authoritative information stated that they are very similar to those on the Thames Embankment (they are); that there are 24 of them (there are not!); and that, contrary to the belief of many (and I am one of those) the fish depicted are in fact Sturgeons and not Dolphins. Now, I don’t just believe that that our fish are dolphins, I know full well that they are.
The Dolphin and the Sturgeon are two very different creatures in appearance, the Sturgeon having a very long almost cylindrical body with its mouth set well back from its long tapering snout on account of it being a bottom feeder. Its tail is what is termed as Heterocercal - that is composed of two sections of unequal size with the spinal cord running through the smaller top section. The Dolphin has a Homocercal tail - that is one which is divided into two equal sections. Take a look at our lamp columns and at a glance you will see the dainty little Homocercal tails and both sections of the beak on display. These are not Sturgeons but stylised Dolphins drawn from a long lineage of such heraldic depictions of this creature.
Now to the ‘24’ columns. Following the restoration and alternation works of recent years there are in fact now a grand total of 34, and the figure includes the 8 reproduction examples which flank the central island at The Parade . Of the ‘originals’ ( and care should also have been taken here by those who had obviously not looked too closely! ), from the Harbour Slipway to where the Marine Drive wall meets the original wall of Marine Terrace there are indeed 24 columns, but you see there are also another pair which flanked the entrance to the now demolished Sun Deck, and they were unfortunately missed by whoever it was to have claimed counting them. I might also add here that there were originally 25 between the Harbour and Marine Terrace, but one that was sited at the King’s Stairs was destroyed when the bowsprit of a sailing barge collided with it during a gale.
So there we have it - 26 columns on the sea side of the road and 8 reproduction examples at The Parade. Today, 13 examples bear the name of the original supply contractor - ‘D. & W. Bentley & Son, 95 & 97 High Street, Margate;, a further 8 carry no name ( just like the modern ones at The Parade), whilst the final 5 bear the inscription ‘Gateway Foundry, 114, Snargate Street, Dover,
1980-81’. These 5 are replacement castings made from a mould taken in 1980 for units which had suffered badly from corrosion by the salt air due to lack of maintenance, and the writer recalls watching whilst that mould was taken.
My research colleague Alf Beeching and myself looked very deeply into this subject and can confirm that the design of the Embankment Dolphins was by Charles H. Mabey, and the Margate examples, although very similar and described as ‘Dolphins in the local press at the time , were designed by local architect Mr. Latham , with the modelling work for the casting mould executed by Ronaldo Guintini, an Italian émigré who had come to these shores to set up his workshop at Walworth. So there you have it - Sturgeons they are not . and Dolphins they are!