Margate Pier Railway

A prominent feature of today’s seafront at Margate is the harbour arm, which sits to the east of the town’s main stretch of beach. Built from Whitby stone, construction of the pier began in 1810 to the design of one Mr Rennie, at a cost of £60,000 (£4,352,000 at 2020 prices). The building contractor was Mr White of Margate. Midway through the project, an alteration to the original design was made by Mr Jessup, due to a failure during construction, and completion finally came in 1815. The pier was built to a length of 903-feet, 60-feet width, and 26-feet height, and at its seaward end was a lighthouse constructed to a design by one Mr Edmunds.

A railway along the harbour arm was a much later affair. As part of a series of enhancements made at Margate in time for the Whitsun holiday of 1948 (16th to 17th May of that year), a miniature railway was laid along the pier:

Margate's "New Look"

Harbour Happenings

The fashionable "new look" has embraced Margate's 130 years old harbour.

In the shadow of the new droit house — replica of the 1830 bombed building — workmen are laying a track and rails for a miniature railway which will run along the upper promenade on the stone pier to the lighthouse.

A smaller edition of the famous "Queen of Scots”, the miniature railway will come into operation on its ten-and-a-half inch gauge track at the Whitsun holiday. Two foot seats in five gaily coloured coaches will carry 80 kiddies along the pier. [East Kent Times, 24th April 1948]

The newspaper article indicates that the gauge was 10½-inch, although other sources suggest it was 10¼-inch. The extent of the single-track line was approximately 230-yards which, as remarked above, ran upon the Upper Promenade of the pier. At the landward end of the railway, two platforms were in evidence, flanking either side of the single track; at the seaward end, just short of the lighthouse, the line terminated within a curved metal shed. Motive power was in the form of a miniature 4-6-2 "A3" Pacific locomotive.

The steam-hauled pier railway had a fifteen-year existence, 1963 being its last season. From 1964 onwards, it was replaced by a 10¼-inch gauge railway on the 1855-opened iron-built Margate Jetty, situated to the east of the harbour arm. From the outset, the 1964 jetty railway was diesel-hauled, a miniature replica of a "Western" (Class 52) diesel-hydraulic locomotive having been built specially for the tourist line. The replacement line lasted little over a decade; the last season was summer 1974, after which the iron jetty was permanently closed due to the need for expensive repairs. It was reported at the time that The Margate Pier and Harbour Co. had made a loss of £10,000 over the previous five years, through repair of the jetty’s steelwork and piles (ref: East Kent Times and Mail, Friday 10th May 1974).

August 1962

The miniature “A3” Pacific is seen at the platforms located at the landward end of the pier. The legend on the locomotive’s tender read “Margate Pier & H. Co.”, and the sleepers were well-spaced. © David Glasspool Collection

August 1962

Now at the seaward end of the line, the track can be seen disappearing into an Anderson shelter-style shed, where the locomotive was presumably stored when the railway was not in use. There was no run-a-round loop at either end of the line, so the locomotive had to propel the train back to the beginning of the pier. The original lighthouse collapsed into the sea during the East Coast Floods over the night of 31st January / 1st February 1953; its 45-foot-high replacement, seen here, was completed in March 1955 and formally opened on Saturday 28th May of that year. The shadow on the ground is perhaps a clue that the course of the track had been realigned. © David Glasspool Collection