A look inside the Margate Caves as it takes next steps to reopening

An examination of the Caves Photo Frank Leppard

Margate Caves in Northdown Road was opened up on Wednesday (August 1) to allow a conservator to examine the paintings on the walls and carry out trials.

Rob Smith joined members of The Margate Caves Community Education Trust (TMCCET) in the next step of work towards re-opening the site in 2019.

Mr Smith (pictured below) has wide experience of working on historic buildings. His previous projects have included conserving paintings at Blenheim Palace and restoring the Crystal Grotto at Painshill Park in Surrey. He will now write a conservation management plan so that, in discussion with the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Trust can work out the best way to look after the paintings.

Photo Frank Leppard

TMCCET trustee Jan Leandro said: “Today was an opportunity for us to really interrogate the Caves, examine more closely the wall paintings and explore the spatial qualities. Whilst down there our volunteer photographer, Frank Leppard, was able to capture some amazing images of the Caves in their current condition for our archive.”

Photo Frank Leppard

Rebecca Welby (above), Learning and Outreach Officer for TMCCET, was also on site. She said:  “I was there with instructions from the Caves volunteer archivist, Chris Pearson.

“Chris had sent me with a list of features to examine and search for to assist with his research into the history of the Caves. I was also thinking about how educational visits would work in the space once we’re open.”

Photo Frank Leppard

Rebecca has been busy visiting schools across Thanet and beyond to take make presentations about the Caves in assemblies. These have included: Hartsdown Academy; St Gregory’s Catholic Primary School; St Lawrence College, infants and juniors; Worth Primary School; Palm Bay Primary School; Drapers Mills Primary Academy and Northdown Primary School.

Photo Frank Leppard

She said: “The response from pupils and staff has been amazing; everyone seems very excited about the Caves reopening and have been keen to share their thoughts on what they would like offered.” Rebecca has used the visits to ask children what they would like included in the Caves Explorer Packs.

She said: “I’ve had some great suggestions from pupils – night vision goggles, comfy areas where you can sit and admire the cave; audio information; a stamp collecting book; metal detector; compass and a request for lots of things to be interactive.”

Photo Frank Leppard

Rebecca’s programme of free school visits continues, so if you would like her to visit your school in the new term do email her at [email protected]

The Caves journey

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Following a six-year campaign, The Margate Caves Community Education Trust secured funding to create a landmark building that includes community facilities such as a cafe, alongside a visitor centre that will provide access to the restored Caves, which were closed in 2004.

In November 2013 The Margate Caves Community Education Trust (TMCCET) was formed and registered with the Charity Commission.

The building, designed by award-winning architects Kaner Olette, received planning permission in 2015.

Thanet District Council granted the Margate Caves Community Education Trust a long lease for the historic Northdown Road site last September.

The lease meant the Trust could access a £1m grant  gained from the Heritage Lottery Fund last year alongside the £420,000 granted by the Big Lottery Fund in 2016 for work to get the Caves open.

Excavation at the site took place in February. On the last day of the dig there was an exciting find – an Iron Age skeleton.

The Caves Trust now have to decide how best to preserve the 2,000 year old Northdown Road resident.

Currently Breem, of Aylesham, are the main contractors on site. They are  preparing the site for the works; filling in the archaeology pits and making it accessible for vehicles. This should take a couple of weeks and then they will move onto the next stage.