Gunpowder Room Magazine, North Centre Bastion, Western Heights, Dover, Kent, UK

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Comments (8)

John Latter on April 3, 2007

(Also see: Satellite view of the North Center Bastion annotated with tunnel system locations, surface features, drawbridges, etc.)

The gunpowder/ammunition store on the ground floor at the rear of the North Center Bastion's single Caponnier.

The holes in the brickwork allow the room to be kept dry and ventilated via a surrounding undressed 'tunnel' about 6 feet high and 12 to 15 inches wide. Both ends of this 'tunnel' are blocked while those surrounding the gunpowder/ammunition stores of the Drop Redoubt's Caponniers are open-ended.

No known stray photon of natural light has entered this room. From the age of about 6 years onwards, I and my friends (esteemed personages such as Leslie Simpson, Derek Allen, Robert Coulson, Stuart Simpson, Paul Robson and others) used most of the Napoleonic defenses on the Western Heights as the world's largest adventure playground.

The North Center Bastion was known to us as "Dead Man's Island", and in those days the drawbridges were whole and intact, as was the 'balcony' on the Caponnier's second level. We came to no harm.

When playing 'chase' or 'hide-and-seek', this room was a favourite bolt-hole of mine because of its impenetrable darkness: A 'chaser' or 'seeker' would enter the room very tentatively, usually with a hand on one wall with the intention of doing a complete sweep. I remember the delight I felt when it first occurred to me to use the ventilation holes to climb up the walls so that my nemesis would pass below - still makes me smile :)

Of course, the secret soon became known. Even so, and depending on how the game developed outside of this room, it still could give a reasonable chance of escaping detection.

Another enduring memory I have is the occasion when I was a 'pursuer' and cheated by striking a match. As it flared, my first impression was that the room had become inhabited by four or five large black spiders clinging to the walls. Got the lot :)

(Alt: North Centre Bastion)

John Latter on April 26, 2007

The holes in the brickwork allow the room to be kept dry and ventilated via a surrounding undressed 'tunnel' about 6 feet high and 12 to 15 inches wide.

Click to see the entrance to the gunpowder room/ammunition store showing the two entrances to the undressed tunnel (image taken on the 'Second Expedition' of April 18th, 2007).

rickymallory on December 15, 2007

Did you used to just run around in the Dark?

I wont realy go near to the western heights without someone with me, there is something about it that gives me the creepys lol. ive never been in most of the things up there, only in Drop Redoubt on the open day, now seeing all your ghstie images ill doubt if ill ever go in them even with an someone else and a torch lol, there is a sense of evil there and i can feel that sense whenever i go up there even with someone else.

John Latter on December 18, 2007

rickymallory said:

Did you used to just run around in the Dark?

We did, Ricky, but not quite with 'wild abandon'! We used to climb into the North Centre Bastion via one of the windows in the 'large room' or caponier.

This photo of one half of the caponnier shows how large and dark it is but it also shows the small slits in the windows on both levels. Once we were in the room we would just wait until our eyes were fully accustomed to the dark and then take it from there.

And there was far less damage in those (far off) days. For example, the slate balcony on the second level and its iron railings were completely intact - as were 'drawbridge 1' and 'drawbridge 2' (they worked, too!).

Completely dark areas, such as the room in the photo at the top of this page, weren't so bad either. First, the lack of air flow would indicate it was a closed space and this could be further confirmed by shouting into it and listening to the result. Also, throwing stones helped, too :)

Exploring a dark area was achieved by entering it with one hand on a wall and tentatively moving forward. As long as you are able to turn around and see some light at the point of entry then that would give enough reassurance there was a way out should things somehow 'go wrong'.

Once a place had been 'mapped' in this way then we would run around to a degree appropriate to any obstacles there were in it.

Of course, we would hide and jump out on one another making 'ghostie noises' but ghosts weren't something we took seriously - the reality of the place could be scary enough without them!

I wont realy go near to the western heights without someone with me, there is something about it that gives me the creepys lol. ive never been in most of the things up there, only in Drop Redoubt on the open day, now seeing all your ghostie ill doubt if ill ever go in them even with an someone else and a torch lol, there is a sense of evil there and i can feel that sense whenever i go up there even with someone else.

I enjoyed my visit to the Drop Redoubt open day (especially because I wanted a photo of the Bredenstone) but sanitized places where you have to "Go here.. Don't go there.. Look at this!.. Clap now.. Move on.." aren't my scene at all.

A few months ago I read something about the government being concerned that children were being kept in, or only indulging in organized activities, sometimes up to the age of 14 or so. This, in my not always humble opinion, is a sure recipe for producing conformist vegeatables - they may become eminently suitable for the "Get up, go to work, watch television, go to bed" way of life but they're more like cardboard cut-outs rather than natural human beings.

The excitement of exploring the North Centre Bastion, Drop Redoubt, etc., while we were children - and without any adult supervision - meant we learned to face fear rather than to temporarily overcome it.

Even now I would rather wander about the tunnels without a torch than with one. Having said that, however, the primary purpose of my most recent visits has been to take photos within a limited time span so using a torch has been a necessary part of it.

I've said this elsewhere but even at my advanced age, two hours in the North Centre Bastion brings more head-to-toe excitement than a year playing video games or a lifetime of watching soaps can ever do!

tessg907 on April 29, 2009

how can u get to this bit?????

John Latter on April 30, 2009

tessg907 said:

how can u get to this bit?????

This is at the very back of the caponnier marked "C" on the satellite view

It doesn't look much in the photo - just a small room with holes in - but that's because it's been illuminated by the camera flash.

Most of the tunnels are quite dark or very dark, but this place is absolutely pitch black. When we were kids, I can remember we milled about at the entrance wondering what to do when I think I got volunteered to go first by being shoved in the back - I say, "Go first" when what I really meant was, "Go alone": no-one was going to follow me until I re-emerged in one piece.

There was a lot more rubble about on the floors in those days, so I entered the blackness shuffling my feet along with my left hand always in contact with the wall and my right hand held out in front of me. Of course, it was very scary but I figured that I would always know how to get out as long as the wall on my left was continuous - if anything went 'wrong', all I had to do was turn around and run like blazes.

Anyway, it didn't take long to reach the far wall and I thought, "Room, not tunnel", but I had to go around the whole thing to check that it wasn't a tunnel with a turning in it.

When I began coming back along the right-hand wall, I could see my friends hovering around the entrance - it was amazing how much light there now seemed to be there!

As I've said before, explore the fear at the same time as you explore the room and that's it: job done :)

John Latter / Jorolat

Part of the Images of Dover website.

John Latter on November 16, 2010

The English Heritage Pastscape entry for the North Centre Bastion and Detached Bastion reads (1):

TR 3110 4083 North Centre and Detached Bastions

North Centre Bastion was begun in 1804 during the Napoleonic Wars, as part of the Western Heights fortress in Dover. It remained unfinished at the end of the war in 1815 but was completed to a revised design between 1859 and 1867; this resulted in two linked bastions known as North Centre Bastion and Detached Bastion (2).

Both were surveyed and researched by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England between 1998 and 2001 as part of the Dover Western Heights Survey Project (event UID 1316220 and monument UID 467989). See the archive report and plans for full details: Pattison P The Western Heights, Dover, Kent; Report no 5 North Centre and Detached Bastions.

An English Heritage site and Scheduled Monument; the Detached Baastion is also known as "Dead Man's Island".

Photos of the Detached Bastion are included under the North Centre Bastion tag.

(1) Pastscape: North Centre Bastion

(2) The bastions are linked by the South Caponier (see South Caponier interior; South Caponier exterior).

All photos of Dover's 'Forgotten Fortress' can be found under the Western Heights tag which includes the Drop Redoubt, Grand Shaft, North Entrance, Pre-Napoleonic Earthworks, and St Martins Battery.

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on April 3, 2007
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    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX Optio 33LF
    • Taken on 2007/04/01 09:49:49
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