Thursday, 16 February 2012

The sea defence diaries - Mudlarking

It has been a very difficult week, not because of the weather but more to do with my shifts and the tides clashing. So it has meant seven days not being able to dig. However, the time has not been wasted as I have been going through my finds, researching and mapping out a plan of the entire area.
The internet has been a great research tool, especially you tube and the videos of the London Mudlarks . As I have said all along the silted area inside of Margate Harbour is so similar to some areas of the Thames even down to the smell. The unfortunate thing is that the finds are not prolific as the Thames going by the Mudlark videos. I would say that a one day worth of finds on the Thames would equal a month worth of finds at Margate, plus the chances of finding items at Margate older than the early 1800's is very very challenging.
One thing I like about the London Mudlarks is their code which means that everything they find is offered to a Museum first and everything the Museum does not need they keep for their own collections. In a way I have established myself as a Margate Mudlark and if the Mudlark code is to offer everything found to a Museum then I will do exactly the same and offer everything I find to the Margate Museum.
In my mapping out I have noticed an imaginary line from the square head of the stone pier to the shore. This has been defined by the conditions of the shards that I have found. On the main sands side of my line the shards are clean and in many cases worn smooth and there are more of them to be found. On the harbour side of my line the shards are darkened and have been permeated by the silt of the harbour. They also have the smell that has made Margate Harbour famous in the past which makes them genuine I suppose.
I suspect that most finds in the harbour have remained in the vicinity where they were originally lost whereas the finds outside the harbour have moved with the tide. An example being shards from the Margate Jetty refreshments pavilion often found.
Recently inside the harbour I came across a damaged ginger beer bottle and it was full of harbour silt and photographed above. Something I am sure in comparison to elsewhere is a very common find. As this is a 100% genuine Margate find and working on the assumption that the silt in the bottle got in there when the bottle was thrown over the side, then the contents would be an indicator of what the sea bed inside the harbour would have been like when the bottle was lost, probably in the 1890's as the bottle is a corked top and not a screw top. Well the answer is that the bottle was full of coal dust and fragments of coal plus there was a lot of it. So on this eveidence I would say this bottle is a relic of the coal trade that passed through Margate Harbour and the sea bed at the time was heavily silted in coal dust.
The coal trade that passed through Margate Harbour is well documented in the Margate Historical society archives thanks to many years of research by Mick Twyman and Alf Beeching. The Margate museum also has photographs and records of the coal trade that is mostly the work of Mick Twyman .
There are still many features on the stone pier or the harbour arm as it is known today that still can be seen, like the tracking that is still visible where the harbour crane ran on to unload the coasters that came from the North East.
So far I have found many lumps of coal about the size of small coconuts in the mud and it is as good as the day it went into the harbour. As mentioned in a previous posting I have found a very well preserved bottle stopper from a Newcastle brewery in the same area as the coal, something I am sure is connected to the coal trade.
In the Thames Mudlarking videos they do seem to find a lot of clay pipes on the banks of the Thames. Something I wish I could say the same about Margate Harbour because when the sea defence work started I was optimistic that I would make some decent finds. This assumption based on past finds. However, this does not seem to be the case as so far I have only picked up mostly pipe stems and broken pipe bowls spread over a wide area. The only consolation I have is that some of the stems can be dated to the 1700's which is my target area as there are very few 1700's items that have come to light that have been found in the Margate area as most of it still lies buried. It will take time but I am confident I can turn up items from the 1700's around the Margate area.