Gill’s Concrete Block Factory, Margate

Reg Worsley’s former dairy, behind the Post Office in Margate. Believed to be the only remaining building constructed of Henry Gill’s concrete building blocks. (D. Tulip photo 2015)

The Mercury of Monday October 18th, 1920 carried an article titled “CONCRETE BUILDING BLOCKS. A MARGATE SYNDICATE’S VENTURE.” Today we take concrete for granted, but then the article began “The age of concrete in building construction seems to have begun, and if it were not for the serious shortage of cement, there is no doubt its use would be much more extensive than it is at present in Tasmania for dwelling houses and buildings of all kinds.” Concrete blocks, made to resemble good stone, were claimed to be the most satisfactory for building houses, and the Margate factory had already turned out several hundred of these, used in a motor shed near the factory and other outbuildings. If it were not for the cement shortage, they could have been producing 300 blocks a day, enough in a week to build a five-roomed house. Being about five times the size of a normal brick (and hollow) these blocks were much quicker to lay, saving a claimed 50% in labour and up to 70% in mortar. A range of face patterns was available, including “sparrow-pecked”!

The syndicate comprised Mr. Henry Gill, manager, and T. J. Hart, N. H. Heath and G. E. Gill (Henry’s older son).  Henry Gill was born in Leeds, England, in 1871. He left London on the SS Ruapehu (New Zealand Shipping Co.) on September 30th, 1910 with his younger son, Wilfred, bound for Hobart. On March 3rd, 1914 he married Ada Worsley at St. George’s, Battery Point; his 2nd marriage, his first wife Bertha having died in 1911. Henry was a joiner by trade. Wilfred joined the AIF and was wounded in action in France, being repatriated in 1917 (see We Will Remember Them, CHAFMA 2015).

The factory was located in what is now Crescent Drive and extended across the current Channel Highway to include the site of the only house on the western side of the highway between the hall and Meredith’s Orchards. The article places it “close to the main road in Margate, and also on the Sandfly tramline.” The tramline brought raw materials from the 4-mile quarry (near present-day Trowenna Rise) and took the finished product to the Margate Coal Jetty (Gemalla Road). Lindsay Whitham’s map of the tramway (see Peter MacFie’s A History of North West Bay and Margate, Map 18) shows the Concrete Block Works close to where it crossed the Channel Highway, on the town side of the dam near Meredith’s fruit & veg. shop. When the tramway closed in 1922 Luke Williams, General Manager of the Catamaran Colliery P/L who had the contract to take up the rails, reported to the Secretary for Public Works that the siding to the factory was 5 chains in length, i.e. 100 metres. They were unable to recover the last 12 feet of track as it was inside a building

This was the last mention of the factory that I have been able to find. Shortly after the main article, The Mercury of November 9th 1920 reported that a deputation comprising the Warden of Kingborough, Councillor B. J. Pearsall, sawmill owner Thomas E. Davis and Henry Gill met the Minister of Lands and Works (Mr. J. B. Hayes) to appeal to him not to close the tramway and pull up the rails (which belonged to the Government, although then leased to the Council). Mr. Gill said that his company was experimenting with making its own cement from local materials, and, if successful, would require the coal mine at Kaoota to be reopened and the full tramway to be retained.

Presumably, the cement-making venture was unsuccessful, as the rails were sold and removed within 2 years. Did the cement block factory survive the loss of the tramway? Did Henry Gill relocate it? Are there any other surviving buildings incorporating Gill’s blocks? Any answers, or corrections, would be welcome. Especially any photographs!

David Tulip