Thursday, 29 December 2011

The sea defence diaries 28/12/11

Work on the sea defence works has stopped for obvious reasons due the Christmas period and the mild weather has had very little impact on shape of the main sands where the demolition of the old boating pool by the clock tower has has taken place. All that remains of the boating pool is one wall that is built around the pipe that drains Tivoli Brookes.

I was fortunate that the tide had gone out far enough to allow me to have a good root around the end of the square head of the stone pier and take a few photographs. From the photograph the underpinning of the square head is well underway and is a continuation of the work that that took place after the storm of February 1953 when the sea ward side of the square head was underpinned to strengthen the foundation of the newly reconstructed lighthouse .

On this occasion my interest was centered of the spoil heap that remained from the digging and pile driving that can be clearly seen in the photograph. Even though the site looks a mess there are plenty of good finds to be made and data to collect.

The entrance to the harbour like any other harbour is where most of the main activity of harbour life took place and there was plenty of evidence to prove that. The spoil heap was a mixture of historical layers all mixed into one, as this area is well known for badly worn copper coins from the William III to the George IV period I was hoping to find some. On this occasion I did not find any, but I had a good mix of everything else ranging from clay pipe stems and bowls, shards and glass. As mentioned many times previously I found cannal coal from the thriving coal trade the harbour once had supplying the King Street gas works. On the modern side of life I found copper and brass boat fittings and pieces of stainless steel.

Like a magpie I pick up everything , store it in my back garden and then sort through it at my own leisure like in the photograph above.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Margate beach coins

To date I haven't found much as a result of the Margate sea defence works , but then it is early days and there will be plenty of opportunity this Christmas holiday to find something and this opportunity will continue well into 2012 and beyond. To give some idea what to expect I have scanned a few coins that I have found over the years around the Margate Harbour and Jetty area. As you can see the condition is not great and they are typical beach finds from old Margate when deep digging takes place. This is evident when clay from the old creek and deep black sand mixed with shingle and shards start appearing as a result of the digging. In fact the more smelly the sand is the better chance of an old find.
Somehow this dark black sand has an effect on coins. Copper and bronze coins do seem to do well and retain this distinctive colour that can be seen on three of the coins. Silver on the other hand suffers badly and most of silver coins I have found in the Margate Harbour basin around the Georgian period are so badly pitted and are wafer thin due to the reaction of the sand. Overall almost every beach coin will have no value except historically as each coin has been found in Margate and are a representation of old Margate.
The coin on the top left is a George III halfpenny found where the entrance to the Jetty was before the breakwater was built, the coin to the right of it was found near the square head of the stone pier where digging is taking place at present and is a William III halfpenny, the large coin is a 1797 cartwheel penny found many years ago where the north wall works will commence later in 2012 , the coin to the right of the cartwheel penny was found in the cut. The cut for those who do not know is where the original Jarvis Jetty of 1824 was built through a clearing in the rocks and then followed by Margate Jetty. Today a landing stage can still be seen at low water.
After the storm of January 1978 that completely destroyed the jetty. The cut was completely scoured out of sand and many coins from the George IV period where found just laying on the chalk including the one pictured.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Sea defence diaries 14/12/11 part 2

I took this photograph to give some idea of what lays underneath the layers of sand just inside the entrance of Margate harbour. As you can see it is a mixture clay and shingle from the bed of the old creek and it is probably many decades since there has been any digging to such a depth that has taken place in that part of the harbour. In fact, the enrance of the harbour does have a history of dredging and it is a well known fact that steamers and coasters would turn their props while at berth to loosen the silt to keep a channel clear. Therefore the layers of history will be mixed with old tiling, mixed shards, Victorian glass, clay pipe stems and modern brick appearing side by side. Even though I found two Victorian pennies it is still nothing to get excited about as Victorian coins were still circulating in the 1950's and 60's. So at present I think it will take time before anything in the way of artifact from the 1690's to 1808 when the previous pier was destroyed in a storm comes to light.
On the other hand now that the north wall of the boating pool is no longer with us, I expect once the rubble is cleared there will be enough current running through that will bring up some Victorian shards.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The sea defence diaries 14/12/11

It is over a week since my last posting and even through the gale force weather the work has been continuing at a cracking pace.
I suppose the first piece of nostalgia to go in the way of progress is the boating pool and the north wall of the pool has been demolished. The pool was constructed in 1910 and during its lifetime has gone through many repairs and modifications, like many local people who have fond memories as a child of the pool it is still sad to see it go.
Over by the harbour the shuttering was being pile driven and there was evidence of a lot of mechanical digging with clay from the old creek present on the surface. As work was in progress I kept my activities to around the inside of the square head of the stone pier where digging had taken place and the tide was coming in. There I found the ground beneath my feet had a strong smell and consisted of soft black sand, clay and shingle. It was impossible to metal detect, but then I knew that because I didn't bring my metal detector with me. So I relied entirely on picking up what I could on the surface.
Finds were very much as I expected with shards, clay pipe stems and old glass. I found two coins both Victorian and both pennies dated 1874 and 1892. Both having this very distinct pink colour as a result of laying in the black sand for many years. The shards and glass were very average but I did find a base of a Victorian gin bottle.

Shortly afterwards I went into the Margate Museum to have a look at the 1827 Christmas exhibition and to be honest it is perhaps the best display I have ever seen at the Museum. They even have a portrait of Turner one of four in existence in the country. The Margate Museum is going from strength to strength and judging by the quality of some of the loan items on display the Museum is now gaining influence with other museums and collectors. Something I put down to the influence of the Tuner Center, a strong volunteer base and TDC support.

My next thought being how can this be repeated in Ramsgate ?

Monday, 5 December 2011

The sea defence diaries. 05/12/11

Following all the publicity the construction of the Margate sea defence has finally started. So as from today I have started logging finds from the harbour area found as a result of the activity from the construction works, plus I am keeping keeping a photographic archive. As you can see from the photograph the steel piling has begun which is not having much of an effect in the revetment area in the way of digging at the moment. However, some digging activity is happening around the square head of the stone pier. This has resulted in lumps of clay from the old creek appearing in the small spoil heaps. They have also been driving piling around the entrance to the harbour. Today's finds were limited mainly due to the tide and the fact I didn't want to get run over by a mechanical digger. Today's find were a few shards with one piece unidentifiable to "The new palace steamers limited" and I found a old metal spoon.

This photograph gives some idea how far out from the North Wall the piling is taking place. As you can see from the photograph are undertaking the work.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Square Head.

Fifteen years ago we had a series of storms during January and February that certainly gave the local papers plenty to report, like the loss of the Tongue Fort, remains of the decaying Margate Jetty coming ashore and remains of a wooden shipwreck on the tide line at Foreness Point. This was no typical winter as the wind direction was almost permanently North East over a four week period battering into the stone pier (harbour arm) day after day.
Just by watching as each wave hits the wall of the stone pier it is easy to work out the wave action as it ran the full length of the wall until it reached the square head and producing this huge wash as it levels out into the shelter of the harbour. Continuous wave action like this picks up shingle and other debris and over a period of time a shingle bank is formed in the entrance of the harbour. At the same time the foundations of the stone pier are also washed out leaving ideal conditions for a dig.
One particular morning I picked a suitable low water and set about to dig a trench about a meter out from the base of the wall of the square head and worked in, with the intention to see what I could find. In theory it all sounds easy , but I was digging in a gale and the chill factor was around minus sixteen. The shingle was impacted where the fishing boats had rested on it and as I dug I was releasing this terrible smell as I dug deeper into this black mass. As I dug I soon found some copper coins, the unfortunate thing was that they were completely worn and they were more like copper discs. As I dug even deeper I started to find lumps of lead which instead of being grey were black due to the effects of ground they were laying in. Eventually I reached stonework of the remains of the square head from the 1953 storm which was from the original 1815 structure. As I dug closer to the wall I came across a piece of timber riddled with worm, the unusual thing was that the timber went under the stone pier and I had came across a piece of the timber piling of which the stone pier was originally built on. It was this timber piling that collapsed in the 1953 storm causing the lighthouse and square head to collapse.
Once I reached these timbers I stopped digging and decided to walk around the rest of the square head where more stone work had been exposed by the tide to see what else I could find. It was amongst this stone work I found this crude block of lead about the size of a small car battery which was very heavy which I believe is had something to do with the original stonework.
I didn't find any artefact's but then I didn't expect to. However, on this occasion I learnt more about the construction of square head and the storm of 1953. Plus I made a bit on the lump of lead at the local scrapyard.

I have attached an article by Mick Twyman on the subject of the 1953 storm and the collapse of the lighthouse.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The proposed Margate marina bore holes

Following on from yesterdays posting, there is only one other occasion I can remember when deep digging took place within the Margate harbour area. That took place sometime in the 1980’s, I am not sure of the exact date, however I do remember the event well.

During the 1980’s there was a proposal to construct a marina at Margate Harbour only to reach no further than the drawing board. A number of surveys did take place resulting in a number of bore holes in the harbour. Once the data had been collected and the equipment moved all that remained after the survey were small dark mounds of dark sand dotted around the harbour. Like the Parade dig the makeup of the freshly dug mounds of sand was a dark smelly mixture of coarse sand and clay.

Using a metal detector I only found one metal item and that was a small lead round disc with the number seven hand cut in the old style. Other non metal finds were typical of the sort of finds you expect to find on the banks of the river Thames such as shards of salt glaze pottery, broken clay pipe bowls, stems and pieces of broken smooth glass of different thickness. There was only one significant find and that was a shard of a Bellarmine flagon bearing part of the face of the effigy. I did show this find to a number of people who were familiar with Bellarmine flagons and it was agreed that the shard had been deliberately shaped and the piece probably dated from the 1690’s. Bellarmine flagons were often used in witchcraft rituals but it was impossible to tell if the shard had been fashioned for that purpose. I did keep it for a number of years and eventually I gave the shard to Sarah at the Grotto for their collection.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The big Margate dig - Margate mudlarks ? a new project ?

Nothing has been set in stone yet but the friends of Margate Museum are looking into covering the Margate sea defence works with a new project. Based on the same principles as the London Mudlark projects, the objective is to collect, display and record all items found during and after the sea defence works. This exhibition will also include other historical items previously found along the coast with special interest dedicated to any expected finds from the harbour and main sands area found as a result of the sea defence works and the work done on the stone pier. Which from my experience will have and effect on the entire area.
The museum is hoping to acquire two cabinets for display backed up with all the information, prints etc., for the exhibition manned by the ever growing army of volunteers. It is hoped that anyone who finds anything around the Margate area on the foreshore during the winter months will bring it into the museum so it can be recorded and with with the finders permission, displayed.
This project is not just for historians but for everyone aged from two to ninety two and older. The name Margate Mudlarks has been banded about and I would like to think that anyone who finds anything over 100 years old from this area of Margate and records or donates it to the Margate Museum can be called a Margate Mudlark. Or even better join the volunteer Friends of the Margate Museum group.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Margate sea defence works - research and theories

The Autumn changes of the wind and tide are now starting to have an impact on the eastern part on Margate sands with some noticeable changes. Which is enough to prompt me to walk the areas I have designated in preparation for the forthcoming sea Margate defence works. My objective to pick up anything that is over 100 years.
So far I have found pieces of mineral water bottle and shards of pottery dating no older than the 1880's. Which is hardly surprising because finding anything older than that around the Margate Harbour area both inside and outside the harbour basin is rare, simply because anything of interest dating back beyond the mid Victorian ear is buried deep beneath the sand. In fact over the past 30 years the incidences where items can be found beyond that era due to excavation can be counted on one hand and on each occasion I have managed to be there.
My experiences do lead me to believe that there is going to be some good finds when work starts, so what do we know on the research side ?
Shortly before he died last year local historian Mick Twyman produced an article on Hazard Row in great detail. Written by an historian for historians it does run into pages, however I have been able to break it down into lesser detail for those interested in the forthcoming sea defence works and potential finds.
Hazardous row spanned from the Imperial at the bottom of the High Street to St Andrews Place which is Henry's alley to us local's. Before the construction of Marine Drive in the 1880's the rear buildings at the at the lower High Street fronted the sea and access to the sea could be made from these buildings by wooden steps to the sea and this can be clearly seen in old prints.
In 1623 the area where the Imperial stands was known as Horn corner and from Horn corner to where Mannings stall is today was the entrance to the creek. To cut a long story short there were wooden Jetty revetments constructed around the creek entrance and Hazardous row from there Maritime trade took place during the 1600's.
With the popularity of sea bathing in the 1700's the lower high street became bathing rooms and access to the sea was by steps from a wooden Jetty at the rear of the buildings. From here the likes of Benjamin Beale operated the bathing machine. However, Hazardous row suffered in heavy storms and there are many recorded accounts throughout the 18th Century of loss and damage with the years 1755, 1763, 1767 and 1779 suffering the most damage. In fact the storm of 1767 caused so much damage it almost bankrupted Benjamin Beale at the loss of his bathing station.
After the storm of 1797 a stone construction was built from Horn Corner to the Harbour in 1803 to protect the old town this was was known as the Parade, leaving an arched opening opposite where King Street is today to act as a town drain.
On 15th January 1808 Margate was hit by a fierce North Westerly gale , the predecessor to the current stone Pier was almost destroyed and Hazardous Row was almost completely washed away with many buildings disappearing into the sea.
Following the 1808 storm the current Stone Pier was constructed and a sea wall constructed from where the Clock tower is today to the Nayland. Years later in the 1880's Marine Drive was constructed protecting Hazardous row forever.
Over the years Margate has silted up burying evidence from bathing machine operations, maritime trade, the town drain, the creek and the effects damage by severe storms and from some of these facts the excavation for the sea defence works does look interesting.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Big Margate Dig

This autumn through to the late spring of 2012 promises to be a year of discovery following the announcement that sea defence works at Margate are to begin. To many it may be a inconvenience and others it will be something to moan about. But for those of us with the knowledge this will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to get a insight into the early history of maritime Margate and early seaside history as the digging for the defence works will cut through layers of anaerobic silt that has built up over centuries.
The area of where the works are to take place around the Marine Drive area is of special importance because this is where the bathing machine first operated in the 1730's from the area known as Hazardous row and also where the bathing rooms from the lower high street entered the sea by steps. It is unfortunate that Marine Drive constructed in the late 1880's has probably sealed in most of this history. However, I am still sure there is still plenty of opportunity to make some interesting discoveries outside the sea wall as some of the silt does date back centuries.
So what is the evidence ?
Well in the past I have known of three cases where diggers have dug up the black silt/mud/clay that I cherish on such digs. One time being when the boating pool was dug out in the seventies, another being repair works to the Kings Steps and repair works to the sea wall side of the Parade. In each case vast quantities of coins and artefact's dating back to the 1700's were found from what is a relatively small area in comparison compared to the new sea defence works. I must stress that at the time many people with metal detectors dug in these areas and hardly any finds were recorded at the time and previous finds are either based on my personal experience and word of mouth.
This time I do hope with internet forums, blogs, and facebook etc., that as many finds as possible will be recorded. I often think wouldn't it be amazing if a Margate dig project could be set up to record all finds from Margate sands and Harbour area from the start of the sea defences work to the late spring 2012 with the intention of forming some sort of a display for the summer. Or is that me being too much of an idealist.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Tip and run - the Margate Sands bomb crater

I have received a reply from John Williams aviation archivist for the Margate Historical Society and he informs me that the prime suspect for the bomb crater could be the raid of 1st June 1943 which was a quick tip and run. Which was Simon's theory when Alisdair said it is a bomb crater and when I questioned what may have been the target.

John's reply is as follows;

"This may well be a left-over from the air-raid of 1st June,1943. The aircraft taking part were Focke-Wulf Fw190fighter-bombers of 11/SKG10. If it had been dropped by a Junkers Ju88 or a Heinkel He111 you would have a stick of bombs,i.e. quite a few craters in a line across the beach and lower town area.The lower part of the High Street received a 500 kg bomb from one of the twelve aircraft taking part (Messrs Tumbersand White Fuller's destroyed). The raid took place at 13.00hrs on Tuesday,1st June,1943. Bombs fell at the following locations;-St.Peter's Road, Thanet Road, Northdown Road, Laleham Road, Dalby Square, St.Mildred Road, St.Pauls Road, Milton Square, Warwick Road, Cornwall Gardens, Approach Road,High Street, Athelstone Road, Dane Park and Lower Fort Promenade. One 500kg bomb failed to explode. One bomb (500kg) destroyed Holy Trinity Church. Total casualties;-sixteen killed, thirteen seriously injured and fifty-seven slightly injured (War Graves Commission lists nine civilians dead.)."

I should also add this very same raid caused the Tudor House to list sligthly and caused the collapse of the north wall in the Grotto alter chamber. However, I am not sure the impact it had on the Margate caves.

It's a bomb crater.

At 19:00 hrs (03/06/11) an hour before low water I carried out a complete search on the site of the ship wreckage and the mysterious hole on Margate main sands. I was soon joined by Simon Moores who recorded the event, Alisdair Bruce local geologist , his partner Kim and Fiona Sherriff who acted as an observer.

My role was to seek out as much historical evidence from the site as possible. Alisdair did a geological survey taking samples and was quick to confirm that the mysterious hole was in fact a bomb crater. Like myself , Alisdair agreed that the wreck was oak and the construction was from the bottom of the vessel , however there was an absence of a Keel that maybe buried. The timbers of the wreckage are in remarkable condition and they are free of worm and I am still content to stick to my 1877 storm theory as mentioned earlier.

Around both the wreckage and the hole the area is littered with shards of china and broken glass which all present started collecting and examining. Considering that metal detector users have already been over the site there was a absence of coins and other non ferrous metals. However, I was lucky enough to find a 1855 penny which I have scanned in. Amongst the broken china and glass was everything I would expect to find associated with Margate's seaside past. There were pieces of Victorian glass from bottles of local mineral water companies, pieces of china from steamer companies that even though there were no motives on the china I knew the company designs like General Steam and Navigation Company. Also I came across pieces of quality china from the Victorian restaurants and caterers from Marine Terrace.

All the finds for that search that I found are are now with the Marine Studios Albert Terrace as they now have first refusal on everything I find in the Margate area plus they now hold all my Margate recent finds. I did find two items associated with Ramsgate which I have at home to accompany my Ramsgate historical research.

Finaly, I have emailed John Williams of the Margate Historical Society on his opinion of the bomb crater which will be informative.

Friday, 3 June 2011

A fresh water spring maybe on Margate Sands ?

Following on from the previous posting about the mysterious clay hole on Margate Sands I also came across water rising up from under the sand about 100 metres east from the clay hole. The water is exceptionally cold and it is drinkable, which does lead me to think maybe it is a fresh water spring. If I am right it could be of some significance as in ancient times human habitation was never far from a source of water supply. About 19:30 hrs (03/06/11) tonight the tide will be out far enough to work on the site, if you are interested I will see you down there.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

More on the Margate Shipwreck

From Tuesday evening onwards the chances are that the wooden (oak) ship wreckage recently exposed this year on the low water mark opposite Godden's Gap Marine Terrace Margate will be seen. This should be around 17:45 depending on the wind holding the tide. However, the evening of Wednesday to Friday should be even better.
I have come across this image on the web at which is a excellent guide to the parts that can be found laying in the sand. Hopefully I should remember to bring my camera this time.
The area around the wreck is a littered with remains of bottles over 100 years old, the Thanet Coast project is now aware of this and so is TDC. Even though the glass is inert and blunted it does not give a good impression for a tourist beach. So if everyone who visits the wreck brings a carrier bag and takes away at least a dozen pieces I sure the area will be clear in time for the warmer weather.
There is every chance that complete Victorian bottles can be found , also some interesting embossed fragments of glass can be picked up. On thing to also look out for is pieces of plate that bear the names of the paddle steamer companies that used the Jetty and the Harbour Arm.

Monday, 23 May 2011

A Margate Shipwreck from 1877 ?

I seem to be developing this very familiar pattern that every time I forget to take my camera I stumble across something of interest and today was no exception.
This morning I dropped into Marine Studios in Albert Terrace to give the studio my collection of items that I picked up last year and this winter including the Mitten crab samples, about twenty pieces of Amber and a collection of clams. As I looked out of the window across the main sands the tide was out. Directly out from Godden gap on Marine Terrace on the low water mark I could see this gully that the Margate metal detector users have been telling me about. From where I was standing I could see a few timbers from the wreck that had exposed this winter in the same gully.
I had heard about the wreck uncovering a few months ago and this was the first opportunity I have had to give it a good look. By closer examination I estimate the wooden wreckage to be about 25 feet long and between 6 to 8 feet wide and scattered around there are a number of ribs from the wreckage. The condition of the timber is excellent and the ribs are laying loose so they can easily be carried off the beach. Around the wreckage are deposits of clay from the Tivoli Brooks and a mixture of shingle and loose chalk. Amongst the layers of chalk and clay there were shards of plate, clay pipe stems, broken bottles, worn beach glass and all the debris associated with the Victorian / Edwardian seaside up until the 1930's. I carried out a quick search of the area and it was quick with the tide coming in. Finds included a complete lamont pattern mineral water bottle circa 1880's and a part of a M J Harlow mineral water bottle minus a neck probably dated around pre First World War. I also came across a large granite block which may have been ballast from the Wreck.
Dating a wreck like this can be difficult and does take a great deal of research, however I do have a theory.
As soon as I saw the wreckage I was amazed at the amount of timber because being so close to Margate as a single wreck would have been completely salvaged as every available piece would have been used by the local population even if it was used for firewood. Therefore I would assume that the wrecking could have happened at a time when more than one vessel was wrecked. The theory being that rich and easy pickings and financial reward would take priority of firewood. This would then point to the storm of 24th November 1877 when the wind changed dramatically from SSE to NNE severe force gale driving all the shipping anchored in the Margate Roads onto the shore. This events surrounding this storm are well documented in the Margate Historical Society archives by Mick Twyman, John Willaims and Chris Sandwell.
In the Margate area alone seven ships were wrecked during that storm and many were driven ashore damaged. On Michael's Thanetonline, Michael published a postcard some time back of a badly damaged Margate Jetty that was damaged by the " Charles Davenport" that had been driven along the coast by this gale and sliced into the Jetty. In the background of this postcard many sailing ships can be seen aground in the bay and on the Nayland which would have occupied all the available local labour from carpenters , seamen and salvagers. Also taking into consideration all the loses on the North Kent coast I am sure the coastline would have been littered with easy pickings for the local population who would have had the luxury of ignoring such a bounty on Margate main sands.

I stress this is only a plausible theory until further research is carried out

Monday, 18 April 2011

The big dig Margate Harbour and the sea defence work

Standing on the end of Margate Harbour arm looking towards the shore there is this massive expanse of sand that has silted over centuries of Margate's history in the harbour area since the 1920's. Deep down the sand is more like a heavy silt which in its anaerobic state has sealed layers of history in a time capsule. In fact if Margate Harbour was to lose over 3 metres of sand and silt the site would look more like the banks of the River Thames in miniature. It is not very often that these historical layers are ever reached except when mechanical digging has taken place. On rare occasions by some quirk of nature in certain areas items some items from 17th and 18th century do make their way to the surface which is exceptionally rare, this in the past has been the only other indicator apart from mechanical digging as to what lies buried beneath the sand.

At the recent AGM of the Margate Historical Society the proposed sea defence work to protect the old town was a discussion item and to be honest I just could not help rubbing my hands with glee if the project goes ahead. As the works will require deep digging in a area where the history of Margate's sea bathing began in the 1730's .

It will be a bonanza for the metal detector users and on other similar occasions in the past so many items will be found that will go unrecorded. In most cases there is no real value attached to the items except historical . However, I think and hope something could be set up in advance for volunteers to record what is found and the data to be added to the records of Margate's seaside history. Perhaps such items could even be displayed.

Above are items found on the Marine Palace site destroyed on the great storm 29th November 1897 close to where the current day Turner Center now stands.