I first started metal detecting the Margate coastline in 1976 and at the time it was the equivalent to giving a folk guitarist an electric guitar as it did become a case of lets Rock ‘n’ Roll. Thirty five years later, half a lifetime in some cases, I am able to reflect on all the finds that have be made and from experience and research, and I am able to map out what to expect in the future.
Metal detecting Margate falls into three categories. First there are the Clintonville Bays taking in the Lido, Newgate Gap, Walpole Bay and Palm Bay. Then there is the second area I call old Margate from Fort Point groyne near the Winter Gardens, along to where the Turner Centre is, round to the outside of the Harbour Wall, inside the Harbour along the Parade, across the main sands through to the back of the Nayland Rock Hotel and ending behind the Sea Bathing. Finally there is the third area of the West Bays, namely Westbrook, St Mildred’s and Westgate Bay‘s.
Most of my finds and experiences have been the Cliftonville Bays and Old Margate. At their peak the finds at the Cliftonville bays were amazing as the area was perfect for metal detecting with the shallow sand covering over a solid chalk base. Overall the finds did not come into hundreds but thousands upon thousands of individual items. Almost every item was 20th century and was either war debris like bullets, bullet cases or shrapnel or items lost by visitors like personal items like coins and jewellery. At the time as everything found was still in living memory very little was recorded or collected as most items were mass produced or unrelated to an event or had no provenance and barely anything was older than the 1860’s. However, out of the many items found there were still some very interesting finds that should not be disregarded. Eventually after twenty years of constant metal detecting and the construction of groynes and sea defences that have created silting, today as it stands there is very little to be found at the Cliftonville Bays except in a few cases where the sand is deep.
Old Margate there is a different picture because I know that most of the items lost in the mid 1960’s going right back though to the 1800’s, 1600’s and beyond have never been recovered. This is because over the centuries Margate has suffered from silting since the final construction in 1815 of the harbour wall, this in turn has led to layers of history being time locked by continuous silting
Margate during the summer months is constantly metal detected with metal detectors users chasing items lost by visitors. However, in the past thirty odd years there has be very little found on the upper surfaces of the sands that can be regarded as historical except when we get these windows of opportunity. These are caused by nature or by manmade excavations. In each case whenever there been a case over two to three meters of sand being removed from the wet sand in the harbour area there has been evidence of finds dating back to the pre 1860 period and in some cases items from the late 1600’s. There has also been some natural occurrences when for some unexplained reason there will be a small area of the beach that will erode unearthing shards dating back to the late 1790’s plus some old coins. In most cases I have been in on the act.
The finds from repair works and natural occurances during the 1970’s and 1980’s have not been vast running to about less than two hundred but they do point to greater things to come if they are regarded as samples taken from such a small area where work has taken place. Finds have included leads tokens, shards of bellarmine flagon, clay pipes, fragments of onion bottles, Nuremburg tokens, Cartwheel pennies, George III coinage, early Victorian Coinage to name a few.
In the coming months the Margate sea defence works will begin and I am absolutely sure there are going to be some very interesting finds based on all the sampling I have come across. This summer was also very interesting as we had some erosion on the beach that unearthed evidence of Victorian sea side activity which is unique. So on the back of this , Margate this winter is going to experience something very special.