During the late 1960’s beachcombing hit a new dimension along the Thanet coastline with the introduction of the metal detector. Even though the early machines were pretty basic they proved to be very effective in areas of shallow sand over the chalk bed rock and in the soft sand on the main beaches. However, when the improved induction balance metal detectors become available in the early 1970’s the sky was the limit with many square miles of undetected open beaches up for grabs. Some areas without doubt had a history of over one hundred years of sea side tourism were now open to the new craze of Treasure hunting. For the more experienced beachcomber this proved to be a bonanza as it also gave access to more historical finds that tell the story of sea side tourism and events that took place on coastline in the past two hundred years.
My experience from that era to the present day came from the area from the groyne between the then Sundeck and the Nayland Rock to Foreness point. It may seem strange but I hardly ever went over the Westbrook side of the groyne except in exceptionally bitter cold weather. During the period from 1976 to 1996 I reckon that I must have metal detected every available square foot of sand at Margate and Cliftonville using only four different detectors and a mountain of batteries in that time. Furthermore I reckon I must have dug up well over 10,000 items that have a story to tell and considering I am not the only one to use a metal detector it is a indicator of the scales of the finds that have been found on the Thanet coast in recent years.
Today the metal detectors are very sophisticated and there are many areas where metal items can no longer be found. Even though the lost and found cycle of each tourist season brings in results of modern finds, Historical finds are now getting harder to find. However, some of that is not all down to constant metal detecting but the fact that along the coast some areas are silting up. Margate main sands are a fine example and the gradual burial of the boating pool by the clock tower proves my point.
The silting up of Margate main sands began in 1926 with the construction of the Groyne by the Nayland Rock, the Bathing Pavilion later known as the Sundeck and the Tidal Pool opposite the Arlington House. Considering nature has had a 40 year start before the arrival of the first metal detectors there are still many items buried beneath the main sands. If my memory serves me correct in the early years of the metal detector there were not many pre Second World War items dug up from the main sands except in exceptional circumstances. So what are these exceptional circumstances?
The exceptional circumstances were the result and aftermath of the storm of January 1978 and like the storms of 1897 and 1953 change the coast forever. For few a brief periods the aftermath of the 1978 storm did cause coastal erosion. The loss of the Jetty or Pier as some people like to call it did have some impact along the coast. The back of the Nayland rock was swept clean of sand and the remains of the Whitley mark V bomber that ditched on 3rd September 1940 were exposed. The old Tivoli brooks drainage pipe was exposed for the first time providing a bonanza of Victorian and Edwardian dated finds for metal detector users. On one exceptionally low tide, where the sand had been washed away the wheel marks from the Victorian bathing machines could be clearly seen and this to, resulted in many finds. When the Jetty head was finally demolished in 1998 there were ceramic and glass items found on the low tide line relating the paddle steamers and the Jetty. As in previous posting I have mentioned the many finds that have come from the Harbour in other exceptional circumstances.
Today, the gradual silting is returning to the main sands and the whole of the main sands is becoming a sealed time capsule of sea side history. I do still have a few remnants of some of my early digs from my patch from the early days plus recent natural history finds with I have loaned to the Marine Studios in Albert Terrace for display.