'Captain' Hodges and His Steam Pleasure Carriage

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In Fond Memory of MICK TWYMAN.

Captain Frederick Hodges is part of Margate folklore, wrongly credited in the past with founding the town’s Fire Brigade. A very rich man with a fortune inherited from a family gin distillery, he lived for some time in Bramfield house, Albert Terrace. He was, to put it mildly, a bit of a nut-case. Whilst that in itself was no huge problem, the fact that he had unlimited access to enormous amounts of cash made him a force to be reckoned with, as well as being a pain in the rear end for most people. He was at times a generous benefactor to the town, but I don’t think he would have gained much applause in its streets with his antics in his steam carriage.

It had originally been build by Garrett, Marshall & Co., of Leeds, for George Salt, of Saltaire, and was exhibited at the Leeds Royal Show of 1891 and at the London exhibition of 1862. Of tricycle design it could seat 9 persons, weighed 5 tons loaded and its designed speed was 15 m.p.h. In ‘Engineering’ magazine of June, 1866, it was described as ‘probably the most remarkable locomotive ever made’ - and then Hodges bought it!

It arrived around noon on September the 2nd, 1864. As he rounded the corner at Beuns Ayres he commenced, in his usual bombastic manner, to continuously sound the whistle. The machine, named ‘Fly by Night’,’ thundered along Marine Terrace, belching smoke and steam with whistle screeching and predictably, all of the horses on the hackney carriage stand at the Kent Hotel panicked and bolted ! Hodges was reported to the Magistrates by the Police, but in deference to his wealth and influence the matter was smoothed over by the Superintendent of Police who got Hodges to promise to be a ‘good boy’ in future - fat chance of that! Hodges was like Toad from ‘Wind in the Willows,’ tearing about everywhere and totally oblivious to the mayhem left in his wake.

The morning after its arrival ‘Fly by Night’ was in steam and ready for another jaunt. Whilst jockeying in the vehicle in the tight corner by Andrew’s Passage, the great man nearly managed to put it through the railings and over the wall onto the sands, Marine Drive then being unbuilt. His engine staff, being at the back with the boiler and much closer to the impending disaster, displayed their total lack of faith in the ability of Hodges by abandoning ship, self-preservation clearly in mind. Doubtless confident of master and smoking steed plunging to their doom, they were probably more than a little incredulous to see the vehicle pulled up and saved by the stone gulley at the end of the precipice. You can almost here Hodges berating his crew for their cowardice and ordering them back onboard before thundering off, no doubt feeling very superior.

His promise to be a ‘good boy’ forgotten. Hodges tore along the seafront towards the sharp corner by Buenos Ayres, and as he turned it came face to face with a cart drawn by a fine grey, and driven by a local famer Mr. Wilson. Terrified, the horse bolted towards the cliff edge, smashing the cart in the process and causing considerable damage. The horse, a fine and valuable animal, was so traumatised by its experience that it was subsequently deemed worthless, and as for Mr. Wilson he was considered most fortunate to have avoided serious injury. As if this was not enough havoc to wreak on the town for one day, the unrepentant Hodges decided to round off events by letting off fireworks and firing artillery pieces, this spectacle commencing at 9 p.m. - what a nice neighbour to have!

Hodges was never one to do things half-heartedly and with any kind of restraint, and we learn that during a period of just six weeks he was summoned no less than six times for misdemeanours with his ‘Fly by Night,’ once for doing 30 m.p.h., and it must have been a relief to all when it was converted into a fire engine!

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