The Stone Pier was another of my favourite stamping grounds. It was really the commercial side of the harbour, and provided shelter and a safe mooring for fishing boats, pleasure craft, and as an unloading quay for a few small coasters, usually carrying coal or timber. I loved the large cast iron cranes that rolled along embedded rails at the edge of the quay. They were very rarely used, and were covered in rust, but I found them fascinating.
One of the high spots about a visit to the stone pier was the model railway that ran on the upper level of the pier from Droit House, known as the clock tower, and down to the lighthouse. A live-steam ‘Flying Scotsman’ type locomotive was used to haul the train. It used to run during the summer months.
After the 1953 storm had wrecked the pier Margate, Pier & Harbour Co Ltd moved the railway onto the Iron Jetty and it was run there for about 10 years with a new D1000 Western Independence diesel locomotive built by David Curwen. The railway was sold in 1975 and bought by a Cliftonville man called Arthur Pay. For some years he ran it in his garden near Northdown Park, and I went on it at one of the Open Days he used to hold. Today, the locomotive and rolling stock operates on the Royal Victoria Railway, Netley near Southampton where it has been since 2003.
Shore fishermen lined up along the raised section of the stone pier, trying to catch cod during the winter. I did my own share of fishing on the end of the Pier, but nowhere near so successfully. I used to sit at the foot of a set of stone steps that led down to the water just beneath the lighthouse, so I could drop my hook straight into the sea. My fishing tackle consisted of a small rectangular wooden frame, around which the fishing line was wound. On the end of that was a single hook, and a fishing weight that was made of lead, and resembled a grey coloured, oversize knobbly Polo mint! I used bits of squid, mussels and worms for bait, but all I ever caught were crabs.
The lighthouse at the end of the stone pier at Margate was completely destroyed in the Great Storm of 1953. An unfortunate combination of the storm, a northerly wind, spring tides, and a low pressure over the North Sea combined to wreak havoc along the North Kent coast. In fact although we didn’t know it then the storm was Europe wide, with over 500 people being killed in England and over a 1,000 in Holland. I remember going down to Margate on the morning after the storm.
The whole of the Old Town was flooded with several feet of seawater and it reached right up to the Elizabethan houses in King Street. Policemen were teamed up with harbour boatmen and punting along the flooded roads rescuing people. Down on the sea front the whole coastline was littered with planks and debris from the pier and hundreds of shattered beach huts.
This meant a major change to Margate. Up until this point there were so many ways for the trippers to come down to Thanet. Special trains would run constantly down from London and even down from the north. Coaches, or more correctly Charabancs would flood in by road along with lots of chartered red London buses. There was also a big increase in the number of motorcars on the road and of course a great many motorcycles. The Jetty however brought in hundreds of day-trippers and especially at the weekends, the ships would arrive with crowded decks. The hordes of people would troop off down the jetty to join the multitudes of people flooding down the road from the railway station and coach park, all heading for Dreamland, the amusements, and to try to find a place on very crowded sands. After the storm however this means of access was gone forever, and of course the attraction of walking the along the Jetty and the ‘End of the Pier Show’ was destroyed overnight.
In the early evening of a day in November 1964, fire swept the end of the jetty, destroying the pavilion, it was never rebuilt. The jetty was finally destroyed in a storm in 1978.
The picture was of the harbour the day after the storm. The lighthouse is missing and the planks came from the sun-deck and the iron jetty. I think it was me on the left.