1770 Town Square
Cecil Square, Margate
Cecil Square was developed in the late eighteenth century as the new town centre of a Georgian expansion of the Tudor fishing village of Margate.
Cecil Square provided a grand civic heart for the town, alongside the urban forms of Marine Gardens, The High Street and Hawley Square. Marine Gardens embraced the beach and the sea, the High Street was the focus of commerce, and Hawley Square had grand homes laid around a garden. Together, these inter-connected areas provided the core of the new town, designed for Londoners to holiday by the sea.
Cecil Square as a centre of activity and civic pride has declined so far, that we tend to think of it only for its bus stops, expensive car park, slow traffic lights and exhaust fumes. In environmental terms, the Square is a 'heat island', unnecessarily heating the buildings around it (including the Council offices) through excessive tarmac and lack of green shade.
We've developed this proposal, with key stakeholders in the Square through 2022/23, voluntarily and independently, to raise ambition and stoke a desire for significant improvement. At the Margate Town Deal exhibition at Turner Contemporary in February 2022, Sam met Nicolas Contentin, a traffic modeller for Modelling Group, who also offered his time, free of charge, to work up and test models to ensure the traffic flow was improved.
Our work follows a long list of previous studies and reports into the quality of the Square. The most significant being Tibbalds' report of 2004, and English Heritage & The Centre for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) from 2009. The latter put the problem and the solution quite succinctly:
3.2: “The Georgian town built on the hill fields beyond the High Street put Margate at the forefront of English seaside development for a while and, had Cecil Square and the Assembly Rooms survived intact, the image of the town might well be different today.
What is left is poignant proof that good intentions can lead to disappointing outcomes. [TDC] Staff were keen to point out that Cecil Square remains a viable municipal centre with many of the facilities the town needs still available there. This is true and important, but a high price has been paid to achieve it.
Within the governance and local politics of Thanet, it is great for Margate that the civic offices are located in Cecil Square along with the library, Post Office and so on. However, the building that houses them is so out of scale and overbearing as to drive the image of the rest of the square from the mind. What is more, the square has suffered as badly as almost any from the non-negotiable demands of the highway engineer.
The Panel’s comments on this can be found at (7.1) below, but it will be no surprise that the repair of the public realm here is strongly recommended. Hawley Square, with a good green space and the elegant Theatre Royal, along with Trinity Square with its sadly much expanded but still well managed green space, are examples of the value which Georgian planning brings to today’s town and Cecil Square should rejoin them.”
7.1: [...] Members felt that the re-creation of Cecil Square as a pedestrian dominated space of quality would offer a far better return for residents and visitors alike. Engineer-led schemes of the sort defacing the square are often up for renewal for engineering reasons and now would be the time to ensure that the preparation work has all been done, the vision of another Georgian square of quality being returned to the public has been promulgated and political drive is behind a great transformation.”
English Heritage / CABE 2009.
In light of the advice above, our proposal has two main aims:
1) Improve the quality of the environment;
2) Improve the flow of vehicle traffic.
We believe that this proposal achieves these aims and responds well to the concerns highlighted by English Heritage and CABE.
Photographs and plans by Studio Sam Causer
Map images from Google Maps
Historic images from Margate Local History.