During the later part of this winter I started collecting some of the small pieces sea coal that can be found on the Thanet Coastline.
The sea coal maybe nowhere near the quantities found on the north east coast, but it is always present in small quantities somewhere in every Thanet bay. The coal is generally worn smooth and has a dull grey silvery appearance about it , in the majority of cases sea coal has a nice weathered smooth warm feel like a small pebble but lighter . However, from the photograph I have attached it is obvious the appearance and texture of the coal that I have found is not consistent , which is an indication of the different types that is coming ashore. Further examination of some of the pieces, especially from the Margate and Ramsgate Harbour areas, was to find that some pieces were much harder and could easily take a polish which easily enhances the appearance. My first thought was maybe I could have found pieces of Jet, after all we do find Baltic amber on the Thanet coast, so why not Jet from Whitby. So I started circulating a few emails and then started searching on google.
It did not take long to realise that what I had been finding was not Jet but in fact Cannel coal. Before the discovery of North Sea gas and modernisation , Cannel coal was shipped into Margate and Ramsgate harbours as it was used to produce coal gas at the local gas works. The pieces of coal I have been finding are those pieces that actually ended up in the sea during the unloading.
In Margate the story is different as some of the coal was unloaded or jettisoned when the coasters carrying the coal ran aground in the bay or the harbour entrance. The coal then had to be unloaded in a hurry to allow the coaster to re float by the next tide. This also probably explains as to why I have been finding larger pieces at Margate.
The name Cannel coal originates from the name Candle coal because the coal ignites very easily and can burn with a bright flame and can held like a candle. Also when mined Cannel coal doea has fossilized fish present. In the days when there was little knowledge of the geological formation of the earth. The assumption was that this coal originated from the canal. So I suppose a corruption of the word candle spelt candel with the word canal , has through time led to the word Cannel.
Further identification is nicely put in this definition I found on the Internet."Cannel Coal is a hard dull black coal which breaks with a conchoidal fracture and does not soil the fingers when handled. In some respects it resembles jet. It is easily cut, and will take a high polish. It contains a large proportion of volatile constituents making it suitable for gas manufacture"
A Conchoidal fracture is how flint breaks when it shattered.
Below is a photograph of some of the pieces of Cannel coal I have found along which a miner carved from cannel coal. The larger piece of coal came from Margate and the smaller pieces from the Western Undercliff where I have been carrying out my coastal warden surveys in recent months.