Pier and Jetty, Part Two

Featured in the April 2008 handbook.

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So awful was the Great Storm of 1808 hat the low part of the town was flooded and many buildings on the waterfront destroyed, but had it not been for a the protection given by the town’s new Pier, a structure in which the people had faith that it would last well into the future, but instead found itself completely submerged and torn apart, Margate would have suffered even worse damage. The cost of the structure had been £14,000not much by today’s standards but huge sum then, and while work had been underway on construction the Pier had operated at a deficit of a further £6,000. So there they were, £20,000 out of pocket and all for nothing, as that old enemy Father Neptune had casually destroyed in a single night what had taken nearly 20 years of hard work to build, and all he left the town was a pile of stone blocks scattered on the shore. But as heartbreaking as it must have been the town folk could not sit back and do nothing, so an attempt was made to try and patch together some kind of Pier from the debris of the old one. Over the next couple of months they toiled away at their task, desperately trying to plug the huge gaps left by the December storm, but Father Neptune was not at all kind as on the 12th of February, 1809, he sent another servers gale which finished off the remains of the Pier and put paid to any hopes of restoration. It was obvious that a drastic solution to protect the town and offer a base for shipping had to be found, and soon!

That solution was the approach of the Harbour Commissioners to none other than the eminent engineer John Rennie, his task being to design a new stone Pier that would defy the worst

Father Neptune could throw at it. The bed of the Bay poses serious problems in engineering terms, for as well as some 16 feet of potentially unstable sub-strata in the form of sand and

clite (a mixture of sand and clay) in the bed of the old Creek, there are freshwater springs which bubble to the surface when ground water levels in town are high, and these springs have the ability to turn seemingly hard clite to quicksand. Given that the old Pier curved into the Bay over the bed of the Creek, it can seem that timber piling driven into it would have been necessary to support the structure, and the new design by Rennie, longer, wider and much heavier, faced the same problem. When you look at the stone Pier it seems solid enough, but the fact is that apart from some of the work on the seaward side near the Droit House, the whole thing sits on a wooden platform supported by timber piles driven down through the sand and clint into the chalk reef below.

Rennie’s design was a bold one. but right from the outset he fell foul of local muddled thinking. He reckoned that the outer face should be canted back in towards the top at a consistent

angle, but the locals wanted it battered back in a series of steps. He reckoned that to deflect and reduce the impact of waves, the outside wall should be built in a series of angled cants,

the locals wanted a continuous curve. Rennie pointed out that to build as locals wanted was to repeat the mistakes of the past, and in any case, his design would save the town hugely in the

cost of stone. He eventually got his way, but recorded in his notes that it had been his lot to differ greatly with the seafaring men of Margate, and he had been glad to escape from one

meeting when tempers amongst the locals flared and they turned to fighting each other violently. It is a testament to his huge engineering skill that the stone Pier, now almost two centuries old, has survived so well despite long years of neglect.


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