Dead Dolphin ashore May 2016

Dead Dolphin ashore May 2016

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Margate Caves , smuggling and a ramble

Margate Caves and its origins is another one of Margate's Historical mysteries, as to who created it and what was its origins and who used it. Recently a group has been formed to save Margate Caves and they have a website campaigning to have the caves reopened which I have posted on my sidebar.

I do not have a in depth knowledge of the caves outside the general facts we all know. However, I do have some snippets of information relating to the time it was rediscovered in 1798. Like most of my sources the information is what I have obtained through years of conversation with Mick Twyman relating to some of the research he and Alf Beeching have come across at the Whitfield archives.

Margate at the time of the discovery of the Margate Caves was fully engaged in smuggling and being no different than anywhere else along the coast the local establishment were suspected of being involved. Obviously there is no direct evidence to prove this but Mick and Alf were researching Cobb documentation when they came across information that Francis Forster the owner of the land where the caves were discovered became a rich man very quickly before the caves were "rediscovered". He was so rich he was able to have Northumberland House built and was able to deposit a strong box at the Margate Bank owned by Francis Cobb II with the strict instruction that only Forster and his wife posses a key and are the only people to view the contents in a private room.

Francis Cobb II at the time was a very powerful man in Margate he was a Cinque Ports deputy , owned the Margate Bank had huge business interests in the town earning the title "King" Cobb by the local population. Smuggling was rife at the time and was only able to operate thanks to large sums of money put up by unknown people which reaped them huge dividends. This proved to be be a successful enterprise which rarely went wrong, yet on one occasion it did.
On September 2nd 1821 a smuggling operation at Marsh Bay (St Mildreds Bay Westgate on Sea) went badly wrong. This resulted in a large gang of smugglers being ambushed by men attached to the coastal blockade resulting in many arrests ( see Marsh Bay incident on google). this resulted in four men being hung and fifteen being transported to Australia. However, the paymaster Stephen "Carver" Lawrence was never bought to book even though there was testimony to say he was involved. Even when he declared to "several persons of the most respectable rank and character at Margate" when testifying to defend a innocent man that he was there. Yet he was allowed to leave town unmolsted even though it became clear he was the leader of the gang and paymaster. In fact according to legend "Carver" Lawrence continued smuggling unmolested. In 1831 Francis Cobb II died and in 1835 Francis Forster died . Then in 1836 after a lifetime career of smuggling "Carver" Lawrence was tried for smuggling and transported to Van Dieman's Island never to return. Margate had a new order.

I do have every reason to believe Francis Forster and the Margate Caves may have been involved in smuggling.


Peter Checksfield said...

Fascinating reading Tony.

Fiona S said...

Great stuff, Tony.

Jaye said...

Margate Caves Thank you for the excellent write up and for your support. So it appears that the "Elite" were up to it in 1798 nothing much has changed really.

Tony2 said...

Brilliant Stuff. This is the sort of thing that needs to be woven into local history and used as a tourist attraction. In Cornwall they have been doing it for years and it has been a good earner. If Thanet is to survive post Turner then it needs to enbrace its history and its coast. We have a lot to offer it just needs to be marketed properly.

Tony Beachcomber said...

A lot of thanks is due to Mick Twyman for a article he and Alf Beeching produced for the Margate Historical society called "The 1821 Battle of Marsh Bay , The North Kent Gang versus the law".

The Cobbs documents and other archive prove that a James Taylor a innocent man was transported to Australia for a crime he did not commit and Francis Cobb II knew this and did very little to prevent this miscarriage of justice. "Carver" Lawrence the smugglers paymaster who by his own addmissions was there was then able able to walk into town and testify as documented then walk out again. Does point to the fact that powerful people were protecting him .

Michael Cates said...

Indeed - Stephen Lawrence, who was a Canterbury man, seems to have enjoyed a strange immunity from prosecution! Unlike the really wealthy money men, Lawrence was a front line smuggler and was named as the leader or organiser of the gang in the depositions of several of the accused in the Marsh Bay trial. He did indeed come forward and confess to be the man in the 'filthy fustian' clothes that the Blockade Man, Cook had identified as James Taylor, the only Margate man charged with involvement in the affair. Why was he allowed to walk free?

Taylor offered an alibi of being engaged in smuggling "in the common way" at the time of the bloody fight at Marsh Bay. That is to say, he was retrieving tubs of spirits deliberately sunk in the harbour over the roof of one of the bathing rooms.

John Boys, a much loathed local lawyer, conducted a ceasless campaign to make Taylor's conviction stick. Campaigners included Mr Jarvis (of landing place fame) who Boys privately accused of being a shareowner in a smuggling vessel. John Powell Powell, of Quex, oversaw the execution of the 4 condemned men, yet sailed his yacht round the convict ship taking Taylor to Tasmania, to check on the welfare of this exile from Margate - another loacal 'trade' connection perhaps?

As the 'trade' was so blatant and large scale - and policing and prevention usually so innefective, it seems odd that smugglers found the need to use elaborate hiding places - such as the caves. However, there is plenty of tradition - and some evidence - to suggest they did, even if everyone knew exacvtly where they were!

Cornwall made an industry out of celebrating its rather feeble smuggling history, whilst Victoria was still on the throne. Kent, which has a much longer tradition never has - other than the fictious Doctor Syn and, of course, the Ingoldsby Legends.

Tony Beachcomber said...

You are so right, I can just imagine what a first class attraction the Margate Caves would have been like if the caves were marketed as smugglers caves with a vistor center at the entrance dedicated to smuggling.

Anonymous said...

Rather less 'exciting' but here is an archaeological accessment of the Caves:

Suzannah Foad said...

Francis Forster came to Margate from Northumberland in the 1700's hence the name of his new house, Northumberland House.
In 1792 he married Margaret Salter at St John's. They had 11 children and after Francis died in 1835, his widow continued to live there until she herself died in 1854.Two of the daughters Fanny and Mary stayed on at the house, splitting it into two. William Caveler lived in one side, architect of Margate who built Holy Trinity schools.
After his death Northumberland House became a Ladies Seminary kept by a Mrs Hank. The School the passed to Misses Evans and Kennard. For a short term Milday Mission had the premises as a Convalescent Home. Then 1901 W S Aucott established St Dunstan's College for Boys. And lastly Holy Trinity Vicarage, first occupied by Rev Walter Senior , then Canon Prior.