Pier and Jetty, Part One
Featured in the May 2008 handbook.
There has been much discussion in the local media of late as to the correct usage of the terms Pier and Jetty as applied to Margate, where we had the Stone Pier and Iron Jetty, the latter sort of structure elsewhere being known as a Pier. Many definitions have been given by people convinced they have the right answer but, sad to say, they are all wrong. There is no difference at all in their meaning as Jetty is derived from the French Jetee, their for word Pier. A Pier or Jetty, whether made of steel, iron, timber, stone or concrete is defined simply as an arm which stretches out into water from land, and it can be utilised as a storm protection or for commercial purposes or, as in the case of the Stone Pier at Margate, a combination of both. real Margatonians were brought up to recognise the correct, if idiosyncratic, usage of Pier and Jetty here, but it was logical.
It is not known exactly when the town built its first Pier, but it was probably in the early part of the 14th century. stand on the cliffs today when the tide is out and imagine the exposed rocks as once being cliffs too. Their line at low water represents roughly 2,000 years of cliff lost to relentless tidal erosion, and if the town had been approached by the sea in Roman times the vista would have been at the high cliffs to the east and low ones to the west, punctuated by the mouth of the deep inlet which is now the sandy floor of the bay. this ran right back inland to Tivoli and the Shottendane Valley, and branching off this to the east there was another deep and navigable channel in the valley which is now King Street, in the form of the heltered haven known historically as the Creek. As the low cliffs to the west eroded, a small pier to protect the mouth of the Creek became vital. We know from the documents in the State Papers that although the Creek had begun to become choked with beach stone and sand, that it was still functioning as a port at the end of the 15th century.
The original Pier would have been a simple one in the form of a timber box packed with chalk, soil, flint nodules and sand - in fact anything available. Why timber? Well the dearth of useful
local building stone would have dictated that, but building something is one thing and any structure put into the harshly hostile environment of the sea needs regular maintenance, and that
meant the collecting of levies by Pier Wardens authorised to do so and put in hand any necessary work required. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? but the history of the Pier is a catalogue of storm damage and botched repairs with the structure seemingly just surviving in a tumbledown condition. So bad was it during the 16th century that one historian, John Leland, picturesquely described the fact that “Margate hath a Peere, but sore decayed”.
Somehow the Pier struggled on and it had to, for it was the focus of the town’s trade and life blood, and it also served the increasing numbers of visitors here for the Mid-18th century craze
for Sea Bathing, but the biggest spur to improving the facilities and protection offered by the Pier was the Great Storm of December 2nd, 1763, when it was all but destroyed. No money for it’s repair was forthcoming from Government, and Margate had to do what it could with it’s own resources. It was not until 1787 that an Act of Parliament authorising rebuilding at the expense of the town was passed, and the closing decade of the Century saw much stone shipped here from Portland. With the remains of the old Pier handsomely clad with stone, things looked bright, but on the night of 14th-15th January, 1808, tragedy struck when another terrible storm completely destroyed it.