Margate’s time ball is working again

Margate time ball

Margate’s time ball on the town’s clock tower is working again, thanks to the efforts of Margate Civic Society and others including the Hollywood director and graphic designer Arnold Schwartzman.

Click on the thumbnail above to see a FaceBook video clip of it operating. I hope the chap who made it won’t mind…

Originally designed to enable seafarers to set their chronometers, the Margate Time Ball operated for the first time in over 90 years on Saturday 24th May at 1pm, and from now on will drop at 1pm each day.

There’s a nice article by Mr Schwartzman in this copy of the Civic Society’s newsletter from which we learn that the director grew up in the town, and that for many years he has for many years treasured a set of crested china Margate Clock Towersfor many years

Originally designed to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, the Margate Clock Tower at the junction
of Marine Drive and Marine Terrace was not in fact  completed and brought into action .

Built by public subscription at the cost of £1,300, the 80ft Portland Stone tower is in the elaborate ‘French Renaissance’ style. The ball mechanism has not operated since the mid-1890s, when local residents complained about the noise it made.

The idea of the time ball was first proposed by Captain Robert Wauchope of the Royal Navy- a Royal Navy and were first introduced in 1829, when the Admiralty set up the world’s first time-ball at Portsmouth Harbour. In 1833 it was followed by another at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich.

Ramsgate’s Clock Tower was an obvious site for a time ball, not least because it would have been visible to many of the ships passing from the Channel to the Thames Estuary on their way to the great ports of London.

In his article, Mr Schwartzman reports that of the 150 public time balls installed around the world, notably those in Mauritius, St Helena, Cape of Good Hope, Madras, Western Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Bombay and Washington DC, more than 60 survive, including one at Deal, Kent that was first set up in 1855.

The Deal ball was the first to be operated by a direct signal via the South Eastern Railway: atAt 12:57 GMT, the ball was lifted to the top were it was held, then at 13:00 GMT an electrical impulse, sent down the railway’s wires from Greenwich released the catches so that the ball dropped.

Radio time-signals introduced in the 1920s made the time-balls obsolete.

PS There’s some smile-inducing British Pathé-style shenanigans involving young sailorsand young women on Margate beach here.

An extraordinary launch at Lyme for Gail McGarva’s lerret Littlesea

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Launch day for Gail McGarva’s lerret Littlesea. Those Boat Building Academy folks certainly know how to organise a party!

Gail McGarva’s lerret named Littlesea was launched at Lyme with all due ceremony on the 31st July, during the town’s Lifeboat Fortnight. Vera, the last seaworthy original lerret built in 1923 and the model for the new boat, was in attendance, along with two local racing gigs and what from the photos looks like half the town.

The lerret is a boat wholly native to Lyme Bay going back to 1682, and is a beautiful beamy double-ended clinker vessel of 17ft, built in elm on oak. Designed to be launched and landed from the area’s steeply-shelving stony beaches, lerrets have remained virtually unchanged from their beginning.

Although primarily used for mackerel fishing, lerrets also earned such respect for their seaworthiness that in the early 19th century the newly formed RNLI adopted two for service as lifeboats. Archive material recounting their stories of saving lives at sea is said to be extensive and quite remarkable, and Littlesea was launched during Lifeboat Fortnight in order to celebrate the connection.

As an earlier post about the project explained, Gail was awarded a scholarship to build a lerret from the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, funded by the Royal Warrant Holders Association.

Gail built this boat by eye – that is, without designer drawings – under the mentorship of Roy Gollop,one of the last remaining boatbuilders in Dorset with this particular skill.

Littlesea is to be actively used as a training boat to enable young people to gain confidence at sea,develop their rowing skills and work together as team.

The new lerret and procession, complete with an oar salute from Lyme Regis Gig Club, journeyed from the Boat Building Academy,which  housed the building of the boat, to the harbour slipway. The boat bearers and rowers were dressed in Sunday best of white shirts and waistcoats in a deliberate echo of boatyard launches of the past, and were accompanied by a brass band.

Gail gave a speech and presented Roy with a traditional yard foreman’s bowler hat in appreciation of his guidance and support, and the new lerret was named by Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust president William Gunn. The boat was blessed, a local songwriter performed a song for the occasion, and the boat was then carried through an archway of Cornish pilot gig oars, scattered with sea salt for safe passage at sea and launched behind the protective arm of the harbour’s sea wall, known as the Cobb.

Littlesea was then guided out to sea by the RNLI lifeboat The Pearl of Dorset, accompanied by Vera and escorted by Lyme’s two Cornish pilot gigs,which were also build by Gail in 2008 and 2009.

Littlesea is the local name for the Fleet behind Chesil Beach, as Gail learned from 90-year old Majorie Ireland. Marjorie’s family worked the lerrets along Dorset’s shores.

There are many references to lerrets in Basil Greenhill’s Working boats of Britain: their shape and purpose and also a nice description, a drawing and photos in his Chatham directory of inshore craft.

Alan Stancombe makes a nice job of his Cinderella open canoe Marie Rose

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Alan Stancombe’s Cinderella

Congratulations to Alan Stancombe on completing his good looking open canoe Marie Rose, built to my Cinderella design. I particularly like the small bouyancy boxes, and the carrying handle/beam strap/whatever it’s called.

Here’s what he has to say about it:

‘Hi Gavin:

‘I thought you might like to see the end product. You can see that I fitted the buoyancy tanks, which look quite nice. My only real problem was with the fillets. I taped them while the epoxy was too soft and consequently they are very lumpy. Also where I dot and dabbed between ties they were too big. Because there was no rebate and the joints were just butt joints I did not want to sand them down too much. Next time I will let them set before adding tape. The problem with this is that you get air bubbles in the joins.

‘Anyway it doesn’t look too bad for a first go built not from a kit. My varnishing skills are improving; I compromised on the paint/varnish and used International Interdeck inside as a non-slip medium.

‘Thanks for your help and great design.


Plans for building Cinderella are included  in my book Ultrasimple Boatbuilding, and are also available from the free boat plans page.

PS Have you used the little logos below yet? They allow you to share this post via Twitter or Facebook, save the link in Google or your own web browser, and finally you can email the link to a friend. Handy, I’d say…