Margate Caves

Vortigern Cave

Useful Information

Image: an old entrance to the cave.
© Mick Crowhurst, with kind permission.
Location: Margate, Kent. Lower end of the Northdown Road, near the Margate War Memorial.
Open: closed due to subsidence.
Fee: closed due to subsidence.
Classification: ExplainRock Mine
Light: electric.
Guided tours: self guided, L=100m.
Bibliography: Harriet Crawford (1979): Subterranean Britain, Aspects of Underground Archaeology, John Baker, London, 201 pp numerous illus., pp 185-187
Address: Margate Caves, 1 Northdown Road, Cliftonville, Margate, Kent CT9 2RN, Tel: +44-1843-220-139, Fax: +44-1843-834-428.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1798 rediscovered by the gardener of Francis Forster.
1914 new entrance from the cellar of the vicarage.
2005 closed due to susidence.
2011 the owner Thanet District Council destroys the entrance.


Image: the main hall.
© Mick Crowhurst, with kind permission.

The Margate Cave had to be closed because of the instability of the soft chalk. There was subsidence which made the visit unsafe. We do not know if there is any chance that they will be reopened, but at the moment there are no activities to reopen them. In January 2011 the current owner Thanet District Council destroyed the entrance to the cave. The council announced, that it could not afford to restore them, and at the same they created a fait accompli by demolishing the entrance building and closing the entrance with concrete. The locals immediately founded a campaign group called Friends of Margate Caves, who want the caves re-opened. They are collecting money and trying to interest English Heritage to take over. The main goal at the moment is to make sure that there is no further destruction which would be irreversible.

Margate Cave is a series of large rooms, artificially hewn out of the soft chalk. It looks like an old chalk quarry. The highlights of the tour are the Smugglers Refuge, the Torture Chambers and Dungeons. All those names are funny, but not very plausible explanations.

The Dungeon is a curious double chambered excavation below the floor of the main cave. It certainly was not a mining operation but the original purpose is not known. The cave is not very usefull for smugglers, as there is no connection to the sea, and the only way to get into the caves originally was down a shaft.

In the 18th century, a man of eccentric habits, named Francis Forster, built a large house in Margate. He named it after the county of his birth Northumberland House. In or about the year 1798 his gardener, digging behind the house, rediscovered the caves. Soon after a personal entrance to the caves was cut.

Very interesting features are definitely several cave paintings, created after the rediscovery. One is called the Thanet Giant. According to folklore, they were painted by a local artist named Brazier. But whoever it was: in order to obtain a surface on which to paint, the painter smoothened the great chalk wall. It is very sad for modern archaeologists, that he destroyed many interesting and valuable tool marks by this action.

In 1914, a new entrance was made from the cellar of the vicarage, which is the entrance used today. The vicarage was part of Northumberland House and was destroyed in World War II.

Image: two soldiers in the uniform of the era of George III.
© Mick Crowhurst, with kind permission.

Rediscovered by accident in 1798, these caves are reputed to be of Saxon origin, consisting of a series of natural passages, which have been artificially enlarged, perhaps for the chalk. They contain some unusual paintings, somewhat faded, of two soldiers in the uniform of the era of George III. They appear to be guarding, one on each side, the entrance to a narrow and gloomy passage.

The caves take their name from King Vortigern, who gave the area around Margate to the Saxons as a reward for helping him fight the Picts and Scots. (The structure was known as Vortigern Caves when Tony wrote this in 1972. the Ed.)

Text from: Tony and Anne Oldham (1972): Discovering Caves - A guide to the Show Caves of Britain. With kind permission by Tony Oldham.

Margate Caves Gallery