'Desirable Residences, All Mod Cons. and Close to the Harbour’.

Featured in the March 2009 handbook.

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With all of the seemingly endless talk and hype about the impending regeneration of Margate over the last decade, we have become accustomed to seeing even some very indifferent properties in the Old Town area changing hands for exorbitant sums of money, with equally exorbitant amounts being lavished on refurbishing them (many from state of near dereliction following years of disguise after the collapse of the holiday trade), and if the above advertisement had appeared in the local press a year ago, before the reality of the ‘credit crunch’ struck home and the property market also suffered its own serious collapse, the possibility impending start to the long-awaited construction of the Turner Centre would have generated a lively flurry of interest in such buildings as described. But my words are tongue-in-cheek and the period in question here was 157 years ago, when the town was a busy and popular resort.

Before Port Road was widened for its whole length from King Street to Fort Hill into proper thoroughfare in the middle of the 19th century, its bottom end consisted of little more than a narrow alleyway, a southwards-running dog-leg extension and continuation of what was then known as Pump Lane, but which is now the grandly named Mansion Street (after the old Mansion House which stood there until the beginning of the 19th century), near to where the ‘Northern Belle’ pub is sited.

In February, 1851, we find in the archives the following minute regarding the demolition of property to facilitate the new road, and not before time, judging its content!

“The Committee appointed to ascertain if the property in Pump Lane required to be pulled down to form the new road from Broad Street to the Fort could be purchased for £1,000:- Pump Lane consists of eight houses, and being a thoroughfare there is neither area or yard, and the privies are of necessity placed in the basement room. These houses are amongst the most ancient in the town, for centuries occupied by Fisherman and Labourers, whose families have no other means of disposing of their refuse and drainage than by either throwing it into the thoroughfare in front or

down the cesspool beneath the rooms they occupy. The foundations, which are chiefly of chalk, are positively saturated with the matter they have absorbed from the overflowing of the basement floor. Chill and damp as this portion always is, the living rooms are in a worse condition; here through very defective floors, the lighter gases are constantly rising and it would probably be difficult to render there old habitations thoroughly wholesome fit for families to occupy”.

It is beyond comprehension that these awful and totally unsanitary buildings could have been ever remotely considered as being worth anywhere near the £1,000 mentioned when they were patently unfit for folk to live in, and the fact that with all of their inherent problems and potential for the spreading of disease they were located so close to the main haunts of the holidaymaker is quite frightening, but those were very different times and the rights and interest of the tenants (or visitors, come to that!) were not protected as they are today. The graveyard records tell us that

diseases such as Cholera were all too obvious in Margate at that period, and with the condition of the hovels just described that is very understandable as they will not have been unique by any means, and their occupants would have been prime candidates for contracting such illnesses.

Anyway, out on their ears the occupants went and down came their hovels - although judging by the large amounts of rubbish routinely thrown out into our streets today the descendants of those occupying those buildings might well still live amongst us!

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