By Beverley Wilkins
The crocodile’s teeth have been brushed, Linda’s famous cakes are being freshly-baked and the soldiers are standing to attention to welcome a fresh wave of underground explorers to the Margate Caves’ mysterious underground caverns this Summer.
Cunningly concealed beneath an ordinary road in Margate and accessed via a twisty 15m tunnel, the Margate Caves open up to reveal a magical subterranean cavern, filled with colourful cave paintings and murals dating back to Georgian times.
Enthusiastic volunteers are on hand to highlight the fascinating stories and geological quirks of this enchanting site, which over the years has been used as a gentleman’s den, air raid shelter and Victorian tourist attraction.
Above the ground there is a welcoming café and sunny café garden offering a range of sweet and savoury treats, a gift shop and an exhibition displaying the extraordinary history of the Caves, showing how it is entwined with Margate’s rich social and cultural past and weaving stories of drunken gentlemen, ancient Kings, shameless smugglers and enterprising vicars.
For visiting primary schools there is a new range of creative learning materials which link to areas of the national curriculum including art and design, the natural world and geology, and the light and airy community spaces are available for groups to book conferences and workshops.
“The Margate Caves are one of the town’s many hidden gems and we are very excited to be welcoming back explorers for the summer season,” says centre manager Kayleigh McMahon. “There is so much history for people of all ages to discover and unlike some attractions it’s a visit the British weather can’t spoil, providing welcome cover from the rain and a cool respite from the heat!”
The Margate Caves reopen from Wednesday, May 19. Prior booking is essential. For more information and to book your visit go to https://www.margatecaves.co.uk
The Margate Caves are located at 1 Northdown Road, with a bus stop right outside serving a number of routes. Parking is available at Trinity Square Car Park next door to the visitor centre.
THE MARGATE CAVES – TEN INTERESTING FACTS
- The Margate Caves were originally built as a chalk mine in the 18th Century to support the development of Margate into a desirable place to live and holiday
- The Caves are accessed by a 49ft tunnel which descends 43ft on its way to the cave floor, where it opens up to reveal the Caves’ cathedral like proportions
- The Margate Caves retain a steady temperature of 11c. This may feel nice and cool in the summer months but can also feel warm in the depths of winter
- The property sited above the Caves is integral to the site’s history. In various guises, the building has been occupied since 1797 by an ahead-of-her time female teacher, a rich gentleman with a love of entertaining, a local postman with a flair for sales and an enterprising vicar
- Many of the paintings were commissioned by wealthy gentleman Francis Foster who rediscovered the Caves in the early 19th Century and used them as an ice well, wine cellar and space to impress his friends
- It is known that a large ammonite measuring 2-3m was found at the site. This has now disappeared without trace
- One of the paintings in the Caves is of an imposing giant. This depicts the Thanet Giant – a local man called Richard Joy who stood over 7ft tall and weighed 159kg. A farm labourer and smuggler, Joy died in 1742 after allegedly drowning on a smuggling run
- In another smuggling link, local rumours abound that there is a tunnel linking the Caves with Cliftonville Baths on the coast. Legend has it that smugglers would bring contraband through the tunnel and hide it in the caves. There is no evidence to suggest this was the case
- One of the many theories about how the Caves were rediscovered is that Francis Foster found them when investigating why rabbits kept disappearing from his garden. News reports of this appeared in the press in 1863, the same year that Lewis Carroll wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland!
- When the Margate Caves reopened its doors in August 2019 after a period of disuse, it was visited by 5,000 visitors in the first two weeks. We are delighted to be welcoming back visitors to be intrigued once more by the venue’s colourful history