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.