"The Eliza of Liverpool came ashore
to feed the hungry and clothe the poor"
I am not sure the origins of this Cornish rhyme but it could easily have come from any coastal community during the 18th and 19th century. It is very much a fact of life that throughout that period in the British Isles, coastal communities were able to get through the harshness of winter as a result of a ship being wrecked at sea. In some cases local economies benefited from shipwrecks, either from the salvage operation or just the flotsam and jetsam coming ashore. Thanet is no exception with the Goodwins, North Foreland and Margate offshore sandbanks accounting for many shipwrecks on our doorstep. In the case of large vessels going down or those owned by companies like the English East India Company, agents were appointed to manage the salvage operation and the full force of the law applied. Examples being the "Active" owned by the British West India Company being driven ashore on the Nayland Rock in January 1803 and the salvage operation was coordinated by a agent operating from India House. The same applied to the "Hindostan" lost in the same month in the same year. The "Hindostan" was owned by the English East India Company and was outward bound to Madras. The "Hindostan" broke its back on a offshore sandbank off Birchington after its pumps become clogged with sand, this resulted in the cargo being lost and washed ashore on the North Thanet foreshore. As this was a high profile wreck most of the cargo was officially recovered and sold at auction.
In the case where a ship has been "beat to pieces" and there is no salvage operation or the wreck is unknown, then flotsam and jetsam washed ashore then became fair game for the impoverished local community. There are very local few records as such a bounty was almost as secretive as smuggling, an example being in November 1854 where there is a entry in the coastguard return which reads as follows "A portion of the hull with the name BORE, Gelfe on it washed onshore at Epple Bay. The Coastguard Officer reports that nothing more is known, but supposes the vessel to have been lost on Margate Sands in the late gale." It can be assumed anything else that came ashore would have been utilised by the locals.
When the "Northern Belle" was wrecked of Kingsgate in January 1857 the timber from the wreck was used to refurbish the Watermans Arms which was renamed the Northern Belle". This was a common practise in all coastal communities to salvage wood for house repairs and refurbishment. In some coastal towns where old buildings still exist evidence of salvaging ships timbers for house refurbishment can be found in roofs and under the flooring of old buildings. One example in the 1970's was when I came across a raised floor in a fisherman's store in Fort Mount, Margate. The floor had been raised using salvaged ships timbers that had been covered in pitch.
In most case however, wood from the foreshore was generally used as fuel. I also mentioned in the previous posting dead animals were hacked to bits and stripped of their hides on the foreshore. Another practise was to burn the copper nails , fittings and any other metal from timber. Evidence of this was found in the early 1980's when metal detecting on the foreshore coming across areas of melted metal. One example was below the promenade where the Turner Center is today, this happened after a storm in November 1993 when I found a area where there had been a fire and recovered partially melted hand made ships fittings that had been in a fire.
Today we live in a different type of society plus shipwrecks are a rare occurrence. However, today there are still many people who search the foreshore for wood or anything they can lay their hands out of necessity or leisure which does make our coastline interesting.