The RNLI is the UK charity that saves lives at sea

Margate up to the 1950's

Reminiscing about the era ...


UK-political from Google maps

Hope you enjoy it from here on....

Here is a map, courtesy "Google", of the United Kingdom, what used to be called a "Political" map.

Most maps in a printed atlas look like this.

Click here and an enlarged image will open in a new window.

Google maps have also produced an identical set of maps of the whole earth from satellite photography

These are not "Political" but are called "Physical" maps,

Here you can see the very shallow "Continental shelf" around the main areas of the UK and continental Europe. One can see mountainous areas (rocks and underwater shoals and canyons and other features).

UK-physical from Google mapsEspecially important are the shallows of the "Continental Shelf", because they often produce enormous waves when the effects of tide and wind add to each other, and when coupled with inevitable poor visibility in fog and driving rain, and high volumes of traffic make for frequent potential disasters.

Click here and an enlarged image will open in a new window.

A not very well known fact about the almost unbelievable density of the maritime traffic is that in the turn of the millenium in 2000 - 2001, the traffic round Lands End, from the English Channel into the Irish Sea, one vessel passes every ten minutes - which is more frequent than the O-Bahn bus service timetable on the route from Tea Tree Plaza Interchange hub in the North-eastern suburbs of Adelaide to and from the city. We are talking consistent traffic density, round the clock, as we say these days, "twentyfour-seven"

Statistically there is no location in the British Isles which is more that 75 miles from the sea, and in most cases it is less. Perhaps for this reason most Brits are more aware of the sea and its potential to destroy. And aware of the existence of the Royal National Life-Boat Institution, and the need for its existence. Larger countries like Australia would not be so aware "automatically" - which is not a criticism but an observation.

When Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the mid 1500s of this era, took on the onerous task of translating the entire Book of Common Prayer from the Latin - spoken and understood by not just the clergy, but educated men (and women) like doctors and lawyers, and scholars - into English, it is interesting to note that in the prayer for those at sea, he petitions "Preserve us from the Dangers of the sea" and then goes on, almost as an after-thought after a comma "and the violence of the enemy", drawing attention to the very much lesser danger faced by sailors from the activities of other humans from other nations with gunpowder and cannon-balls.

Worth pondering, perhaps, is that sailors are all mostly either superstitious, or God-fearing men, or both. Few have no beliefs.

Margate harbour in 1897


Let me walk you through the seaside town of Margate.

A city because it has a cathedral, not because it has a population over 20 thousand as is the Australian method of classification...

Click here and an enlarged image will open in a new window.

As it is on the Thames estuary, almost at the most easterly end of the southern shore, means much of the life is centred around the harbour and many of the people had employment in the developing tourist industry..

Margate iron jetty in 1904 Before the end of the previous century, a very long steel jetty was built to accomodate paddle-steamers like the original "Royal Sovereign" which plied down the river and coast from London, which augmented the much faster electric train service from the nation's capital. So the jetty must have been completed before the date of the photograph (1897) as people can be seen walking along it in the photo above.

The "old" Royal Sovereign was replaced after World War II by a faster vessel, also named the "Royal Sovereign" which shows a remarkable similarity to the railway steamers which plied between Portsmouth Harbour railway station and the Isle of Wight in the late 1940's and early 1950's.

From memory, they were named the "Sandown" and the "Shanklin" but I'm not entirely sure of the names and suspect that the latter may have been an older paddle-steamer.

However, neither she, nor any other vessel would be ever again be able to dock at Margate after January 1979, because of the immense storm damage sustained to the pier and access to the life boat house, which is shown on another page on this site.

Three quarters of the way up the jetty was the location of the life-boat station of that time. There was no boathouse to contain the boat, and I located an interesting flash video of the boat of the day - a sailing and pulling life-boat, class unknown, and I have put a link below to play the video...

a sequence of several early film clips of unknown date showing a demonstration launch on service of an undefined life-boat during that era at Margate

The three clips assembled here appear to have been put together in the reverse order, and the film had no soundtrack - it is a "silent movie". Please click on thumbnail to play it

Clip 3 appears to be the noticing of a capsized boat in distress and the firing of a "Very pistol" by a civilian, rather than a maroon by the Coastguard. The difference of detail might be accounted for by the cinephotographer's "licence" in making a publicity film, perhaps. This should lead through a splice to the next clip which shows the very large crew of a "sailing and pulling life-boat" running past the crowd of sightseers - and one little dog - all of whom were getting in the way!

The second clip appears to follow on with the manning and the launching of the life-boat, and the first clip appears to be the return of the life-boat alongside the slipway which at that time seemed to have landing facilities for rescued people. The photo of the "Lord Southborough" further down this page shows they had been removed by 1925.

Clip 1 also shows the boat on her storage base, which appears to be hinged to line up with the slipway for launching and recovery, and horizontal for storage. This would make for less static strain on the winch cable and bow chains that were used on conventional life-boats of the 1930's through to the 1970's.

Some recent colour footage of the "new breed" of lifeboats and their stations (in the 21st Century) appear to have returned to a similar design of boat storage on the top end of the slipways inside their boathouses

It also looks as though the "helpers on shore" wore typical sailors' uniforms of the time, the "square rig" jersey and bellbottoms with large square blue collars with white piping... unless this was staged by the film-makers.

My first wife and I, together with our son Michael, moved to Margate a year or so after my leaving the Royal Air Force on completion of of my two years' National Service liability in 1955, after which I was working for a company in the north London suburb of Stanmore which was engaged in the design of of a military version of the airborne radar known as DME (Distance Measuring Equipment), to be known as "Rebecca" (Mk.8)..

My sister-in-law Marcia was the landlord of the "Britannia Hotel" in Margate. Her husband Leo suddenly died, leaving her with two boys at school as well as the hotel to run, Family rallied around to serve in the bar, wait at table, and so on, so we made a hurried move, notwithstanding the"Isle of Thanet" being classed as a "depressed area" with little permanant work, very slowly recovering from the war which ended in mid-1945.

I was reminded around the time I wrote this page, that the "Brit" had the responsibility of victualling and providing beds for shipwrecked mariners and passengers that the life-boat rescued.

Percival Prentice T1The R.A.F. had pensioned me off after my basic pilot training because cash-strapped Britain was quite seriously creating an emergency pool of half- trained pilots to prevent "another 1939", so I completed my two years conscription learning to repair airborne radar equipment, which was invaluable training for the rest of my working life.

Click here and an enlarged image (Wikipedia Commons) will open in a new window.

On an earlier visit to my sister-in-law's pub, I had met and made friends with the proprietor of a radio and TV shop (Henrys' Radio) in the High Street, so we moved from Chandlers' Cross near Rickmansworth, north-west of London, after he offered me ongoing work with no guarantees because of the economic climate.

Dennis Henry Poupard was a yachtsman and I was working for him when the lifeboat was called out one Saturday to rescue the crew of a dismasted small boat called "Rabbit" - a name which sounded appropriate to me, a blasť 20-year-old!

Talking about it that evening across the bar (I was pulling the pumps) with a local tour boat skipper, I realised that I had never actually seen a life-boat, apart from the Cromer boat in Norfolk launch while staying with school friends when I was about 12. So the customer at the bar invited me to go and look.

R.N.L.B. Morth Foreland (Civil Service No.11) built 1951 J. Samuel White, Cowes I.O.W.  O.N. 898

The "North Foreland", provided a few years previously by funds from the Civil Service Life-Boat Fund (their eleventh boat so provided) was a vessel of great beauty, 46 feet 9 inches long, 12 feet 6 inches in beam, displacing 22 and a half tons of which two and a half were in her keel (partly as ballast for stability). She had a top speed of nine knots and was the latest development of the Watson Class, named after the Institution's consulting naval architect of the previous century.

Click here and an enlarged image will open in a new window.

Click here and an enlarged image will open of very high resolution (suitable for printing 20 inches wide by 16 inches high in a Kodak or HP-powered kiosk) in, for example, a K-Mart variety store.

My sister-in-law's hotel was the white 2-storey building top left of the photo, with a large empty space to the right which was used as a car park for many years. A new police station now occupies that spot, and the church building was Holy Trinity, both it and the carpark being casualties of the war. Holy Trinity was boarded up as it was very dangerous to enter, and was eventually demolished. History here.

The crew met regularly in a waterfront pub called the "Northern Belle" - named after a ship of yester-year, an American transatlantic ship which ran aground nearby on January 5, 1857. No lives were lost, thanks to heroic rescue efforts, in blizzard conditions.

R.N.L.B. The Lord Southborough (Civil Service No.1) at her christening in 1925 with Lord Southborough in person on extreme right

Sir Francis Hopwood, K.C.B., later Lord Southborough. Permanent Under-Secretary of State for the Colonial Office at the time. Photo dated 1909. An appropriate place to meet, I would suggest, and it was there I met with Dennis Price - the Cox'n at that time - who had taken over from Ted Parker whose employment as the harbour pilot made it difficult to go out on call, in what these days is called a "shout".

The station has a history of gallantry; In 1942 in the early days of World War II, the lifeboat was the "Lord Southborough", named after a very senior government departmental head, who also headed up the Civil Service Life-boat fund.

In the first photo to the left, we can see the "real" Lord Southborough standing to the right of the boathouse doors, waving his hat at the christening of "the Southborough", and the photo to the right shows him outside a government building in Whitehall, about 15 years before.

The "Lord Southborough" was provided under the "Civil Service Life-boat Fund", and was officially named R.N.L.B Lord Southborough (Civil Service No1 in recognition of her benefactor. These days lifeboats are no longer named on the bow as in the past but carry a large ID number which feels rather impersonal to me..

The Lord Southborough, 'dressed overall', returning from DunquerqueSo, when in 1942, the Margate Naval Officer In Charge (N.O.I.C.) requested, Ted Parker called his crew together and asked them all if they were prepared join the number of life-boats and private vessels around the south-east of Britain which made up what became known as the "Flotilla of Little Ships" which were towed across the bottom corner of the North Sea to Dunkerque in Belgium to evacuate the allied troops off the beaches.

There was one Cox'n on the south coast who said that while he would not endanger the lifeboat on his station, he would provide his own boat, which he did, and she was crewed by his life-boat crew. They made it home safely having helped pull off a joint operation in a remarkable manner.

Ted and the crew were decorated for their bravery in the mission as they were civilians who were repeatedly shot up by Hitler's Luftwaffe while doing this service, and here is a photo of the return of "the Southborough" decorated with bunting, on their return from Dunkerque.

Somehow, the Southborough's crew managed to avoid injury.

a slide show from the Flotilla of Little Ships with a comentary by Ted Parker, Margate Cox'n, from a BBC radio interview of unknown dateHere is an amusing radio interview from the BBC, accompanied by slides from the time, downloaded from the internet.

Please click here to play it

If you would like to read on, a link will open up if you click here





this is
email to:
last updated 21st November 2013