Kent Archaeological Review extract

Dover's 19th century Fortifications --
Part 1.
by Doug Crellin.

Dover's Norman Castle on the heights to the east of the town is justly renowned, but the vast complex of Napoleonic and later fortifications on the Western Heights is virtually unknown. The Castle is a charming story book representation of what a castle should be, but the more sinister Napoleonic defences have the potential to provide an even greater public attraction. The Castle stands up proudly on its hilltop but the Western Heights defences are more secretive. They are gouged and tunnelled into the ridge and are almost invisible until one is upon them.

DRAWING: A plan of the Western Heights, Dover.

A plan of the Western Heights, Dover.

The Western Heights defences were designed to prevent an enemy from capturing Dover for use as a bridgehead. The harbour was already defended by a series of batteries facing seawards while the Western Heights, together with the Castle and more recent eastern defences, defended the town against an attack from the northern (landward) side. Field works existed on the Western Heights before 1780, but towards the end of the 18th century work commenced on permanent defences, and the Grand Shaft and the Drop Redoubt were completed early in the 19th century. Work continued on the Citadel, the strong point on the highest part of the ridge and on the outlying bastions and "lines" (or dry moats) until 1814 when the armistice was signed with France and all work ceased.

PHOTO: The Western Heights seen from East to West.

Aeromarine (Fotos) Ltd, Manston Airport.
The Western Heights seen from East to West. In the foreground is the Drop Redoubt with the "lines" running westwards to the North entrance, the North Centre Bastion and the Outer Bastion. The Citadel is in the top centre with the Western Outworks partly out of sight beyond it. The Grand Shaft is hidden by bushes near the cliff edge at bottom left.

It was in this unfinished condition that, in 1823, William Cobbett saw the defences and castigated the builders in his "Rural Rides." "Here is a hill ... hollowed like a honeycomb. Here are line upon line, trench upon trench, cavern upon cavern, bomb-proof upon bomb-proof; in short ... profligacy the most scandalous must have been at work here for years." Later he comments that "more brick and stone have been buried in this hill than would go to build a neat new cottage for every labouring man in the counties of Kent and of Sussex. Dreadful is the scourge of such ministers." With the renewal of the threat from France in the middle of the 19th century construction was resumed and the whole system of defences was completed.

It will be seen from the plan (Figure 1) that the defensive system was based upon a central strong point, the Citadel, on the highest point of the ridge, protected by "lines" and approached by a drawbridge leading to an arched gateway. At the eastern end of the ridge is the Drop Redoubt, surrounded by "lines" and approached originally by a swing bridge across them.

The aerial photograph (Figure 2) shows the "lines" running westwards from the Drop Redoubt along the northern face of the ridge to the North Entrance, the North Centre Bastion, the Outer (or, North West) Bastion and the Western Outworks. At the eastern and western ends of the system the "lines" are extended to the cliffs on the southern (seaward) side of the ridge and a similar "line" protected the Archcliff Gate.

The "lines" or dry moats vary from 30-50 feet in depth and are about 30 feet wide. The walls are strongly built of brick or of flint with brick courses. The moats are defended by strategically sited galleries built into the moat walls, and by projecting caponniers or fortlets to give flanking fire along the moats. The main, approach from the town was up the steep North Military Road over two moats crossed by drawbridges to the North Entrance. A second vehicular entrance climbed the South Military Road from Archcliff Road to the Archcliff Gate.

From the top of Cowgate Hill, in the old part of the town, the 64 steps led to a moat crossing near the edge of the cliff below the Drop Redoubt, from which two tunnels provided a short cut for pedestrians to the Grand Shaft Barracks. A similar staircase in a tunnel led to the Dragon entrance at the foot of the "lines" below Archcliff Gate and to a footpath to Archcliff.

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