Rule by the Margate Local Board of Health 1851 - 1858

Anthony Lee

7. The First Election.

So ended the first stage of the battle, with victory going to the pro-reformers. In June the joint committee met at the Town Hall to be told by J. E. Wright that ‘the draft provisional order had passed the General Board, and received the signatures of Lord Ashley, Mr. Chadwick, and Dr. Southwood Smith’ and would now be presented to Parliament.143 Wright reported that ‘the General Board had shown the greatest disposition to adopt every suggestion that had been made by the committee on behalf of the inhabitants.’ The Provisional Order was duly passed by Parliament on 7 August 1851,8 and the date of the first election for members of the Local Board was set for 15 September, the election to be run by F. W. Cobb. 

The Improvement Commission which had for so long run Margate under its Cobb chairmen would cease to function, and its role would be taken over by the Margate Local Board of Health. The thirty members of the Board would be elected by the rate payers, on a scale weighted by property value. There was also a property qualification for election onto the Board; candidates for election had to have a personal wealth of greater than £500 or to be rated at an annual value of greater than £20.144  To put this into context, of the 1,970 houses in Margate, only 350 were rated above £20.15 The high qualification demanded of the candidates for election, combined with the weighted scale of voting, biased the whole system very heavily in favour of the middle classes. Despite these limitations, the election of the Local Board was ‘the first election of a popular character occurring in this town’ as the Kent Herald put it.145 ‘The plan of popular election’ the Kent Herald went on, ‘is highly approved of, and those who were strenuously opposed to it, are advocating its application in a mild and reasonable tone. The self-elected (peace be to their names) do not die without a struggle, their emissaries are at work, busily employed poisoning the public mind in reference to the magnitude of the rates; they know they  are putting the worst features of the bill most prominent, and its best point under a bushel. But the march of intellect has gone forth, the mind of man is enquiring, and information is obtained, that it is quite conclusive that a great necessity does exist for better drainage, improved sewerage, and a good supply of pure soft water. The inhabitants know, the visitors know, and all civilized society know also that cesspools in dwelling houses are injurious to health, and the only objection to their immediate abolition is the secondary question of expense. And by whom is this outcry raised? Why, by the landlord class, the interested "self-elected," the persons who receive a good sum from the poor man, and give nothing for it in return but a dilapidated, ill drained, badly ventilated dwelling. This state of things is past, the condition of the poor will be improved, the value of property will be increased, and the character of Margate as a healthy salubrious watering place will be further enhanced when the fact is generally known that the public health act exists in Margate.’

Despite these high sounding words, dissention continued to thrive.145 Frederick Chambers issued a poster claiming for himself ‘the principal merit of introducing the new measure’, and Joshua Waddington, despite his declaration of just a few months earlier, produced a poster repeating his attacks on the Pier Directors, saying that ‘the rate-payers must be mad to elect Pier Directors’ on to the Board.145 Indeed, the Kent Herald reported ‘Mr. Waddington has shown prodigious activity, reprinting his remarks upon the Pier Directors and issuing a great number of addresses to the electors, endeavouring to persuade them "to avoid voting for a Pier Director," and as much as possible for any of the "Old Commissioners". Retirement from public life appears to have abated nothing of Mr. Waddington's zeal for publishing the opinions he held when moving in the little but tumultuous world of local politics.’ 146   Posters were also produced by Frederick Boyce, a tailor in Hawley Street, whose principal aim was to limit any increase in the rates.147 It is necessary, he said, ‘that you should nominate and elect men in whom you can place confidence; men who will think and act, and not be led away by others; men who will take as much care of the public purse as they do of their own; men who will investigate and ascertain the utility and working of the new system of sewerage in those towns where it may have been completed, before they consent to expend large sums of money on the construction of works, the failure of which would be ruinous.’  His solution was not to rush into things: ‘by delay . . . we have all to gain and nothing to lose’. The plan should be to ‘wait patiently for the completion of those works which are being constructed in other towns, and after they have been in full operation a few years, there will be some opportunity of knowing whether they will answer their intended purpose. . . . Should the system after trial be found to answer, we shall have the advantage of all the improvements, which time and experience bring to all new systems; should it prove a failure, you can avoid the enormous expense it would incur.’ He also thought that there would be no need to appoint any new officials: ‘a medical officer of health is not required for this district, and what little there would be for an inspector of nuisances may easily be done by some of the present well paid officers (who have but little to do) without any additional pay.’ He ended by explaining that ‘The election papers will be brought to your own homes, Sept. 15th, where you can fill them up according to the directions, voting for those whom you think best, without the trouble of going out of doors; therefore you need not be afraid of offending anyone by voting. Now is the time to act, and not to complain afterwards. The Commissioners' yearly meeting will be held at the Town hall, for the last time, on Tuesday, the 16th of September next, at eleven or twelve o'clock, at which it is desirable you should attend.’ The call to delay did not fall on deaf ears; it took more than forty years before a satisfactory sewerage system was actually provided for the town.

The final meeting of the Improvement Commissioners took place on the morning of 16 September.146 J. E. Wright, the clerk to the Commissioners, presented a bill for £247 14s. 4d for his costs in obtaining the Provisional Order, which was thought by the commissioners to be ‘fair and reasonable’. Just after midday ‘the balance sheet was read by the clerk to the inhabitants, who were in considerable number present. Several inhabitants, Messrs. F. Boyce, J. Brady, and others, expressed their satisfaction at the manner in which Mr. Wright had conducted the carrying of the provisional order, and the Margate commission expired apparently "in peace with all mankind."’

Attention now shifted to the election to the Local Board, to be held on 17 September. The way that the election had to be run was set out in sections 24 and 25 of the Public Health Act.6,8 Anyone entitled to vote at the election was also entitled to nominate one or more candidates for election, with the limit that the total number of candidates they nominated could not exceed the total number of candidates to be elected; the candidates nominated had all to meet the criterion for election already described. It was allowed to nominate yourself. The nominations had to be in writing, signed by the person making the nomination, and had to include the names and residences of those nominated, together with the ‘calling or quality of the persons nominated.’  What was meant by ‘calling or quality’ was a person’s profession, such as solicitor, schoolmaster, surgeon, baker, butcher and so on; someone who did not have to work for a living was referred to as a ‘gentleman’. The nominations were to be given to F.W. Cobb, who was running the election, and he had then to arrange for the production of the voting papers. The Act included an appendix showing the form to be taken by the voting papers.

Voting Paper form from ACt Appendix
A voting paper as defined in the Public Health Act

The voting paper was to contain the list of candidates, written in the order in which Cobb had received them, giving the address and ‘calling or quality’ of each candidate, together with the name and address of their nominator; in the case of a candidate who received more than one nomination, the name and address of the nominator on the first nomination received by Cobb would be used. A voting paper would be delivered to the house of each voter three days before the election. The voter then had to sign the voting paper and write his initials against each candidate he wished to vote for, up to a maximum equal to the number of vacancies to be filled on the Board; in the case of the Margate election the Local Board was to consist of 30 members, so each voter could vote for up to 30 candidates. Each candidate a voter voted for would receive the number of votes that the voter had been assigned. For example, a voter living in a house that he did not own, rated between £100 and £149, had two votes and so all of the up to 30 candidates he voted for would receive two votes from him. Unmarried women who were rate payers could vote in the election, but married women could not, as the rate payer would always be assumed to be the husband. 

Seventy four men were nominated for the Board but twenty five of these refused to stand before the voting papers went out, included a number of prominent former Commissioners such as F. W. Cobb, G. Y. Hunter, and Joshua Waddington: a complete list is given in Appendix II.148 The voting papers therefore included the names of 49 candidates. On the day of the election, the voting papers were collected, and the numbers of votes for each candidate were added up to determine who had been elected. The results of the election showed that the numbers of votes received by each candidate varied between 750 and 133, the highest number being for John B. Flint, a former Commissioner, described as a ‘gentleman’, and the lowest for James Kendall, another ‘gentleman’. Of the thirty candidates elected, fifteen were former Commissioners, and five of these former Commissioners were also Pier Directors; Waddington’s attempts to influence the electorate against the Pier Directors and former Commissioners had clearly failed.

As well as seven ‘gentlemen’ elected to the board, there were two solicitors, one J. P., one surgeon, two bakers, two butchers, one grocer, three tailors, one bather, two victuallers, one wine merchant, two hotel keepers, one auctioneer, two builders, one school master, and one dairyman. Two candidates, Daniel Gouger and Moses Harrison, both former Commissioners, stood down during the election, although both, in fact, received a number of votes that would have got them elected. Of the remaining seventeen candidates who were not elected, only one (John Sackett Swinford) was a former Commissioner. The list of those not elected included Frederick Chambers and Josiah Towne. The Canterbury Journal commented that ‘it is remarkable that in the above list we do not find the name of Cobb, although in the old Commission, we believe, they mustered six viz. — F. W. Cobb. Esq. (Deputy), Messrs. T. F. Cobb, F. C. Cobb, W. Cobb, J. M. Cobb, and W. Cobb, jun.’. 148 They also pointed out that ‘the two prime movers of the odious new Act — Dr. Chambers and Mr. Josiah Towne — failed in their exertions to become members of the Local Board of Health’.

Josiah Towne felt that his failure to be elected was due to the way the election had been run.149 He had received three nominations, one from Charles Kidman, a baker, ‘without his [Towne’s] knowledge and consent’, one from Captain Scott, of Hawley Street, and one, ‘with his consent’ from Lieut. Colonel Stott, of Lausanne House. Because the first nomination received by F. W. Cobb was that from Charles Kidman, it was Kidman’s name that appeared on the voting paper as Towne’s nominator. Towne thought that ‘he was entitled to have the highly respectable name of Colonel Stott [as his nominator], which would have much assisted him in obtaining his election’, and that he had been ‘much prejudiced by its being withheld’. He threatened to contest the outcome of the election, but decided not to proceed with any complaint since it was clear that Cobb had, in fact, acted strictly according to the requirements of the Act.150

In a letter to the Kent Herald Frederick Chambers attributed his failure to be elected to ingratitude and prejudice:151


Mr. Editor,

In the Kent Herald of Oct. 2, 1851, it is stated that "it is somewhat remarkable that several of those gentlemen who were mainly instrumental in procuring the Health of Towns Act, were unsuccessful at the late election for members of the new Board."

Now as far as regards myself, I do not think so, and those who know the people of Margate, (after my few remarks that will follow), I feel persuaded will quite understand why I had only 162 votes.

I knew the ingratitude and unjust prejudice to be so strong against me, (which, by the by, I was, and am quite able to bear) that the amount of a baker's dozen would have realized my expectations, yet I was bound to stand at the election, as the promoter of the Public Health Act in Margate.

Now follow my imputed works of transgression, (in which I glory), viz., "A Word to the Wise," a paper published in 1846, wherein I state, that the body of Commissioners must be differently constituted — the rate-payers most elect them. A paper to the Town Commissioners upon their self-elections and closed doors in 1847, telling them their days were numbered. A paper upon the Health of Towns Bill in 1847, requesting the town’s people to petition parliament in its favour, in­forming them of their condition, and how much was required to be done in the Town, and of the great probability of the cholera visiting this land again. A paper on Asthenic Fever in1849, applying to the General Board of Health for aid, and their sending that highly respectable and talented surveyor,  Edward Cresy, Esq., and  eventually getting the Public Health Act in operation, besides a paper to the rate-payers on their first election under the new Act in 1851. Then as a result, the old commissioners having to retire, sore against their will, and no longer the existence of ex officio members.

What then? why some of these offended gentlemen at public meetings poured forth the wroth of their displeasure in no small degree, both against the measure, and your humble servant, much in wilful misrepresentation, imputing dishonourable intentions, and by various means, both public and private, alarming the multitude into a belief that they would be ruined by an unbearable taxation produced by my promoting the Health of Towns Act in Margate.

With such a state of things, how can it be remarkable that I was not elected? rather I was astonished to find somany as 162 in the town possessing gratitude, independence, and common sense enough to appreciate my motives, my continued labours, and expensesin endeavouring to raise the town to the standard of reputation it is entitled to possess. I am truly thankful that we are so highly favoured now with the means of getting rid of stinking pigsties and other prevalent and dangerous nuisances, as well as the anticipation of a good system of drainage, and supply of good water, an article so seriously wanted here in general.

F. CHAMBERS, M.D. The Cottage, Margate, Nov. 3 1851.