The Bridges Over Newgate Gap
Featured in the February 2011 handbook.
For many years one of our ‘leading’ historians told everybody that Newgate Gap was originally spanned by a wooden bridge, erected by wealthy local Victorian resident Captain Hodges. Well, no it wasn’t! Yes Captain Hodges did construct a bridge over this yawning 60 feet deep chasm, known locally as the Devil’s Gap, yet despite its rustic appearance when seen from a distance it was built of iron, and most definitely not timber. Let’s take a look at what the Kentish Gazette had to say about this bridge in it’s issue of the 22nd of April, 1856:- “A new iron bridge is in course of construction to connect the Freehold Land Society’s property with the opposite side of the gateway leading down to the sea. It will be an iron footbridge of 42 feet span at an elevation of nearly 60 feet, and will be a great ornament to that part of the town. We regret that so little progress is made in building on the estate, the sea views from this place are almost unequalled on this part of the coast.”
The bridge’s funder, Captain Hodges, was as eccentric as they came, and flitted from one hare-brained scheme to another. And he could afford to, as being heir to a London Gin distillery made him extremely wealthy. As a result his new bridge was constructed piecemeal, and it was not until 1861 that it was finally finished and opened to the public. There is a very nice watercolour in the local collection at Margate Library, showing the completed bridge with a large banner draped over the balustrade rail on the landward side, this bearing the logo ‘Pro Bono Publico’. The reason for the largesse of Hodges was not entirely as philanthropic as his banner might suggest, but was for the purpose of getting cliff top promenader's out to his Flagstaff and cannons at Palm Bay, where there was money to be made from the sale of refreshments.
But There was a second gapway to bar access before the Flagstaff was reached. Then known as Jesus Gap, this name was a relic from the days when Jesus Hospital had owned The farmland. Over this gap Hodges did indeed throw a wooden bridge, and that is why the gapway still bears his name today. This bridge was replaced by an iron one in 1907. By 1880 the iron bridge over Newgate was showing the effects of it’s protracted construction just a couple of
decades previously, when the salt-laden air had got to it’s unprotected ironwork, and the
subsequent neglect by Hodges. Despite it still being in his hands, the Borough Surveyor
recommended the expenditure of £65 of public money to replace rotten timber decking and strip down and paint the very rusty ironwork with lead oxide paint. In 1907 a decision was made to replace this with a new bridge to mark Margate's 50 years as a Borough.
The new bridge was of steel girders cased in breeze concrete, faced with decorative Doulton tiles, but 80 years water penetration caused expanding rust to slowly blow the bridge deck apart. When pieces began falling into the gap a net was fixed below to catch them, but the worsening situation eventually brought about the decision to close it to the public. For far to long nothing was done, and it remained fenced off until the Council belatedly decided a few years ago to erect the replacement of today. It is a sad fact that despite . promises to save the decorative features of the old bridge, many perished at the hands of vandals, sadly always with us.