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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Dover's 19th Century Fortifications --
Part 2.
by Doug Crellin.

The Drop Redoubt is a detached fort occupying the eastern end of the Western Heights immediately overlooking the town of Dover. It has four caponiers projecting into the surrounding moat. First constructed at the turn of the century, it was considerably reconstructed in the middle of the 19th century when the caponiers were added and barrack buildings were erected just below the surface. On the landward side of the Redoubt are the sites of the battery of guns which were often used for ceremonial purposes. Here also once stood a flagpole from which a flag always flew forming a notable landmark for the town below.

The Redoubt got its name from a mass of masonry and hard mortar which once stood on the summit and was known locally as the Devil's Drop or the Bredenstone. As the Bredenstone it was used for many years as the meeting place at which each new Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports swore his oath of office. The Devil's Drop was all that remained of a western Roman pharos, the twin of the eastern pharos which still stands in the precincts of Dover Castle. When the Drop Redoubt was constructed at the beginning of the 19th century the Devil's Drop disappeared but during the construction of the barracks in 1861 the foundations of the pharos were discovered. The construction necessitated cutting off part of the the foundations and from these portions a substitute Bredenstone was constructed on the surface. The remainder of the original foundations can still be seen as a horizontal band of Roman rubble and mortar in the inner wall of the barracks immediately below.

PHOTO: the North Entrance.

Figure 1. The North Entrance showing the bridge over the outer moat. The rails of the bridge over the inner moat can also be seen.

PHOTO: The North Centre Bastion.

Figure 2. The Single Caponier of the North Centre Bastion and behind it the slits of the sloping gallery along the moat..

PHOTO: The Grand Shaft.

Figure 3. The top of the Grand Shaft as it was about 8 years ago. Since then it has suffered much deterioration.

The North Entrance (Figure 1) is protected by two moats formerly crossed by drawbridges. The entrance itself consists of an S-bend within a tunnel and was closed by stout gates at each end. Inside the tunnel a staircase descends to the Command Post with defensive galleries along the inner moat and housing the mechanism for raising the drawbridge. The tunnel emerges into a walled cutting and behind the left hand wall were three large water storage cisterns now partly demolished by a new road which cuts through the moat near this point.

The North Centre Bastion (Figure 2) is an island strong point with a single caponier at its north western corner. Inside is a sloping gallery from which access to the central area of the bastion is gained by two drawbridges, operated by counterpoise weights, to cross deep cavities. The gallery then leads through a tunnel, partly buried in the moat, to an Inner Bastion with extensive galleries, two wells and two long staircases, now blocked up, which led to the surface inside the defensive system.

The Grand Shaft (Figure 3) is a remarkable structure linking the cliff top with the street below. It consists of two vertical brick shafts, one within the other, giving a light well in the centre and having three spiral staircases in the space between the two brick shafts. From the foot of the shaft a short tunnel leads into Snargate Street. The Grand Shaft was properly lighted and used until a few years ago when it ceased to be military property. Now it is deteriorating rapidly due to vandalism, the unchecked growth of vegetation and general decay. Its only hope of preservation seems to be in proposed housing development on the cliff top and the repair of the shaft as a means of access. If this hope is long deferred the shaft will be beyond repair.

Contemporary with the defences were the Grand Shaft Barracks, the South Front Barracks, a military hospital and the South Front Battery, all now demolished. The garrison chapel and the guard rooms for the Grand Shaft have also been demolished. A second vehicular entrance to the defences was through the Archcliffe Gate, a mock medieval archway approached from Archcliffe Road by the South Military Road. This, too, was demolished in recent years for the sake of road widening.

PHOTO: The west side of the North West Bastion.

Figure 4. The west side of the North West Bastion showing the main outer moat and the two inner moats. The North West Bastion is within the security system of the Borstal Institution.

The Drop Redoubt, the North Entrance and the North Centre Bastion (including the Inner Bastion) are now in the custody of the Department of the Environment and have been enclosed. A small team from the Department of the Environment is patiently and sympathetically restoring the Drop Redoubt but it is clear that unless much more effort and money can be devoted to the work it will be very many years before the area can be opened to the public.

The Citadel, the Western Outworks, the Outer Bastion (Figure 4) and the associated moats are either occupied by HM Borstal Institution or are so close to its security fence as to make research difficult. The moats have been partly filled in, gallery walls have been demolished and the appearance of the hill spoiled by new structures standing up on the skyline.

What a pity it is that the entire elaborate complex of fortifications on a hill whose whole landward face and summit have been artificially shaped for defensive purposes, cannot be restored and opened to the public as an exciting contrast to the Castle on the opposite hill.

I am much indebted to Mr J R Peverley for introducing me to the Western Heights in person and in his article in the Architectural Review.

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