Location: Kent, England. Margate is a seaside resort town, located near the southeast corner of England about 66 miles from London,where the North Sea meets the English Channel. Margate has a current population of about 50,000 people.
Appeared in Adventure(s): The Adventure of the Second Stain (SECO), and The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger (VEIL).
In VEIL, a circus performer, Eugenia Rodner, conspired with her lover, the strong man and acrobat Leonardo, to kill her beastly husband and pin the blame on the lion, Sahara King. The weapon used was a spiked club, intended to create wounds that looked like they were made by the lion. The plot succeeded, but things went terribly wrong. The lion attacked Eugenia and bit her in the face, grotesquely disfiguring her. Her lover then left her, but she did not turn against him.
Years later, she learned that Leonardo had drowned while bathing near Margate.
Her behavior raised concerns by her landlady, who consulted Holmes. Holmes realized the Eugenia was contemplating suicide, and talked her out of it.
In SECO, an important government document went missing. The Premier and the European Secretary consulted Holmes, who eventually recovered the document. In the course of interviewing the people involved, Holmes and Watson talked to the Secretary’s wife. Holmes observed that she positioned herself to sit with her back to the light, as if she might be hiding something. Holmes did not know quite what to make of this, and said to Watson after the lady departed in a frou-frou of skirts, “Now, Watson, the fair sex is your department. What was the fair lady’s game? What did she really want? Hum! Think of her appearance, Watson – her manner, her suppressed excitement, her restlessness, her tenacity in asking questions. Remember that she comes of a caste who do not lightly show emotion.”
“She was certainly much moved.”
“Remember also the curious earnestness with which she assured us that it was best for her husband that she should know all. What did she mean by that? And you must have observed, Watson, how she manoeuvred to have the light at her back. She did not wish us to read her expression.”
“Yes; she chose the one chair in the room,” noted Watson.
“And yet the motives of women are so inscrutable. You remember the woman at Margate whom I suspected for the same reason. No powder on her nose – that proved to be the correct solution. How can you build on such a quicksand? Their most trivial action may mean volumes, or their most extraordinary conduct may depend upon a hairpin or a curling-tong.”
Margate has been a seaside resort for over 300 years, but its real heyday began in about 1815 with the arrival of the first steamboat from London. The steamboats operated up into the 1950’s.
Since Margate is not a deep-water port, a very large pier, known as the Margate Jetty, was built in 1887 to facilitate the use of large steamboats. A railroad connecting London to Margate was completed in 1863. The availablilty of reliable and fast transport from London was responsible for the rapid growth and popularity of the area. The Margate Jetty was closed for safety reasons in 1974 and then destroyed by a storm in 1978.
Large ships still find shelter in the relatively calm waters off Margate during storms further out in the North Sea or the English Channel.
One interesting oddity from the Holmes era was the “Bathing Machine”. Going to the beach in immodest attire and splashing around in the water was simply not done. In fact, going into the water was considered somewhat adventurous, maybe even dangerous or slightly immoral, and was often believed to be medicinal. As some shifts in this attitude began to emerge, “bathing” gained popularity. In early Victorian times men and women were not supposed to see each other in even their cover-up attire, so a device known as the “bathing machine” was devised. It was basically a changing room on wheels with a wooden or canvas structure for privacy, and could be backed into the water from the beach. Bathers would discretely enter the water from the rear of the machine, sometimes with elaborate canvas extensions to screen them. Men’s and women’s bathing machines were kept at a distance from each other. Obviously, these attitudes did not survive more than a few decades, nor did the bathing machines.
In 1920, a large roller coaster and amusement park known as “Dreamland” was built at Margate. The owner of the property had visited Coney Island in New York and was inspired by it to develop the English version. Over the years he did just that, including roller rinks, restaurants, other rides, a Big (Ferris) Wheel, a large movie theater, and similar features. The family-owned business was sold in 1968, and then, like many other such attractions, held on but was in decline, with a series of different owners and plans. The Big Wheel was dismantled and moved to Mexico. Dreamland finally closed to the public in 2005 and plans were announced to convert the site to retail and commercial use. The government, however, assigned it a status of Grade II (particularly significant buildings of more than local interest), meant to inspire preservation. Plans are currently underway to do just that, and in 2009 the Dreamland Trust was awarded a grant by the UK Department for Culture, Media, and Sport. So, like the Lone Ranger, Margate and Dreamland may someday “ride again”.
With its miles of excellent sandy beaches, and location an easy day trip from London, Margate is recovering from the delcine that resulted from changing times. While some neighborhoods, hotels, and so on have gone downhill, others have been repaired and modernized, so Margate remains a popular destination, and its future is probably bright. The location can’t be beat.
One other Margate feature is not undeserving of mention. It is the mysterious Shell Grotto. In 1835 a man digging a duck pond discovered a hole in the ground, which led to a series of remarkable caves and tunnels, and a domed chamber with a small circular opening above ground. The entire complex is lined with sea shells of all kinds, 4.6 million of them, arranged in artistic and geometric patterns. There is no record of the construction of the Shell Grotto, which is on private property and open to the public as a tourist attraction. There are many competing theories which explain its origins, but it remains a mystery. Carbon dating the shells was attempted, but was fouled by soot from the lanterns used for illumination in the Victorian era.
Coming attraction: A potentially “more scenic” location, Donnithorpe, just to the north of Langmere in the country of the Broads.