The Salvin West Wing Controversy, Officers New Barracks, Dover Castle, Kent, UK

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John Latter on April 20, 2010

The Officers New Barracks was constructed between 1856 and 1858 to designs by Anthony Salvin (an English architect) and George Arnold, a clerk in the (British Army's) Royal Engineers. While Arnold was responsible for the plan and general arrangement of the barracks, its outward appearance and the decoration and detailing of its principal public rooms was the work of Salvin, who also designed the fireplaces and window shutters used throughout the building. (1)

Salvin subsequently appeared before a Military Committee; before reading the transcript of the architect's cross-examination, here are a few general comments on the above photo and the location:

The Officers’ New Barracks is also known as the Victorian Army Officers Mess (2), or the Victorian Officers Mess. It is located at the southern end of the grounds of Dover Castle and overlooks the harbour with the English Channel beyond.

In the centre foreground of the photo are the top of the Main Entrance Steps. The building has a frontage of 120 yards and a better appreciation of its true scale can be gained by looking at The Victorian Officers Mess, Queen Elizabeth Road photo. Both of the preceding links contain further background information.

Issue 3 of the Friends of Dover Castle magazine has an article on the Officers Mess which states:

On the same site (as the Mess), between the Roman Oval fortifications and the edge of the cliff, civilian inhabitants of Dover in Roman and Saxon times are reported to have had their dwellings.

Dover Castle is an English Heritage site.

On Friday, February 14th, 1862, Anthony Salvin appeared in front of a Military Committee appointed by Sir George Cornewall Lewis, 2nd Baronet (Secretary of State for War 1861 - 1863) to:

Consider and report as to the Measures that should be adopted in order to simplify and improve the System under which all Works and Buildings (other than Fortifications) connected with the War Department are constructed, repaired, and maintained, in order to give a more direct Responsibility to the Persons employed on those Duties.

Committee Members:

Colonel Hon. P. E. Herbert, C.B. (Chairman)

Colonel E. C. Frome, R.E.

Captain D. Galton, R.E., F.R.S.

Major Buckley.

W. Brown, Esq., Accountant General.

H. A. Hunt, Esq.

(Not present: Sir S. M. Peto, Bart., M.P.)

The following is an extract from the subsequent Report of a Committee, which together with Minutes of Evidence and Appendix, was "Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty (Queen Victoria)":

-- Start of transcript --

4183: (Chairman.) You are an architect?


4184: In the course of the inquiry which has been conducted by this Committee, some reference has been made to your employment at Dover Castle, and perhaps you will be good enough to state to the Committee under what circumstances and in what way you were employed by the Government?

I was employed by the Government in this way : I was shown plans in this office, which plans were to be a guide to me for the number and dimensions of the rooms that were required. My attention was principally directed to the elevations. I was to improve them, and I did so. Those plans were sent down to Dover repeatedly, returned to ine, submitted here, and finally adopted. Those designs consisted of the plans and elevations, and sections and detail of ornament for the exterior. I made no specification except a very short one with regard to the ornament, of which I have a copy with me. I was not engaged to superintend the erection of the buildings, and I only saw them when they were almost finished.

4185: (Mr. Hunt.) In point of fact you did no more than alter the design so as to make the elevation more architectural and more effective?

That was what I did.

4186: You did not alter the size of the rooms to any material extent?

No, because I received an instruction from Dover that in any alteration I might make there was to be no diminution of the accommodation, or some words to that effect.

4187: Did you suggest that the building should be faced with Kentish rag?

I did.

4188: Are you well acquainted with the quality of Kentish rag?

Yes, I have used a good deal of it.

4189: Have you had great experience in the use of that material?

Yes, I have used it a great deal in churches.

4190: It has been your practice to use it?


4191: And to prohibit the pointing of the joints of the Kentish rag?

Yes, I always do that. I always prohibit the pointing.

4192: You think it is better to do so?

I prefer that the surplus mortar from the beds of the joints should be squeezed out and scraped off with the edge of a trowel.

4193: From your experience in the use of Kentish rag in such a situation as that referred to, should you consider it likely, if the work had been executed in a proper and substantial manner, that the walls of the rooms would be so damp as to cause the paper to come off, or to make it necessary to cement the external face of the building in order to exclude the damp?

I should not have expected the insides of the walls to be damp at all.

4194: But suppose they are found to be so, how would you, as an architect, account for their being damp?

Possibly they might not have employed the best description of Kentish rag.

4195: Are there two descriptions of Kentish rag?

Yes ; the stone taken from the top of the quarry is an inferior stone.

4196: That is porous, is it not?

There are fissures in it; I never used that.

4197: Can you state to the Committee what additional cost was occasioned by the alterations which you made, and the suggestions which you submitted to the Secretary of State?

I should say that it was merely in the superficial part ; a little more decoration about the windows and in the centre.

4198: What would be the additional cost of the building by adopting your recommendations?

Supposing that both the plans, the one that was submitted to me and this which I made, were to be built of the same good materials, I should think under 1,000 pounds*.

(*I've assumed throughout the transcript that monetary values were expressed in pounds, rather than guineas).

4199: You had, I believe, no hand whatever in superintending the execution of the works, and never saw them until they were finished, and then only as a visitor?

That was so.

4200: (Chairman.) You did not prepare this specification (pointing to the same)?

I did not.

4201: Was it referred to you?

It was read over to me at Dover.

4202: You were at Dover?

Yes ; 1 went down to Dover.

4203: That was previously to the work being done?

Yes ; I was down at Dover several times.

4204: Did you suggest any alterations in the specifications?

No, I did not. I added what 1 thought was necessary for the exterior.

4205: You did not suggest any alterations or any additions to the specification?

Only as it concerned the stone to be used.

4206: Did you give any particulars with respect to the mortar and other things?

Yes ; as to the way in which the mortar should be made.

4207: You had, I believe, a communication with Captain Martindale?

Yes, I went down there at his request.

4208: I believe this is a copy of a note from you (the same being handed to the witness)?

Yes, I believe it is.

4209: You gave some instructions as to how the sand and lime were to be thrown under the wheel, as it revolves, in a dry state, and when pulverized the water to be added?


4210: You made some suggestions as to the stone to be used for the dressed work ; for example, Kentish rag for the facings of the walls, the joint not to be smoothed or pointed, but the surplus mortar from the beds of the joints to be scraped off with the edge of a trowel?


4211: That is a copy of the instructions, is it not (the same being handed to the witness)?

I think it is. I have the original in my pocket. There were two lists of drawings enclosed with it. (ocr errors)

A letter dated 3rd of April 1856 from Captain Laffan to A. Salvin, Esq., and two lists of drawings were handed in :

I am directed by the Secretary of State for War to inform you that his Lordship accepts the terms proposed by you in conversation with the Deputy Inspector-General of Fortifications this morning; namely, that you should furnish the whole of the plans, sections, elevation and working drawings, as well as other information requested from you by the Commanding Royal Engineer at Dover; and that the remuneration for your services in preparing these and other drawings already furnished, and for advising the Commanding Royal Engineer upon all points connected with the execution of the work, should be 500 pounds instead of 313 pounds, as originally arranged. I am to request that you will proceed as rapidly as possible in the preparation of the drawings, etc., and that in all the designs for internal fittings, etc, you will make every detail as simple and inexpensive as the style of architecture will admit. The enclosed list of drawings, etc, required by the Commanding Royal Engineer is transmitted for your information.

List of drawings

4212: May I ask you what is the usual rate of remuneration for furnishing plans, sections, elevations, and working drawings for a building in private life, (for) these services, that is, without superintendence?

Two and a half per cent.

4213: With superintendence I believe it is five ner cent.?


4214: Was the remuneration for calculated upon a percentage?


4215: It was merely a sum of money named?


4216: Under the instructions you received you did not consider yourself in any way responsible for the quality of the materials that were used in the construction or for the workmanship?

Certainly not.

4217: You did recommend the employment of certain materials, did you not?

In the instructions I was required to give the commanding officer at Dover the information that he asked for.

4218: And it was under those instructions that you gave that information?


4219: (Mr. Hunt.) You were not responsible for the size of the rooms?

No, that was part of the instructions.

4220: (Chairman.) Can you give any reason why the remuneration was increased from 313 pounds to 500 pounds, as is mentioned in the letter already handed in?

It was because a great many more drawings were required ; my first instructions were to go down to Dover and see the spot, and make a small sketch of the elevation ; then they wanted detailed drawings connected with that elevation, and plans drawn out to a scale, bringing in the plans I had seen, and adapting them to my elevation.

4221: Do you happen to remember the number of drawings, or about the number of drawings that you prepared?

No, I cannot tell you.

4222: (Mr. Hunt.) Can you account for the walls being damp?

I have not examined them, and I cannot give an opinion - there are so many causes - the walls might be damp from the work being bad, or the materials being bad.

4223: You have not inspected them since so as to be able to give an opinion?

No, when I saw them the building was finished, and I think everything was done except the staircase in the centre of the house - the walls were plastered - and at that time the clerk of the works told me that there was damp in the west end, but he did not say from what cause; I looked at them merely as a visitor would have looked at them.

4224: (Captain Gallon.) Are you of opinion that the walls would have been damp if the materials had been of such a quality as you had been accustomed to use, and if the workmanship had been such as you had generally required?

I believe that they would not have been damp.

4225: (Mr. Brown.) It has been stated in evidence that the designs for the officers' quarters at Dover Castle were prepared by a civil architect, was that the fact?

As far as those drawings were concerned, I made them from information furnished to me in a letter of instructions.

4226: Are you of opinion that it is desirable for the public service that designs drawn by a civil architect should be carried out by military officers?

No, I think it is far better that whatever is done by a civil architect should be carried out by him, and whatever is done by an engineer officer should be carried out bv him, and that the two things should not be mixed.

4227: So as to combine efficiency with economy on both sides?


4228: (Major Buckley.) You are not aware whether the porous Kentish rag was used in the building or not from actual inspection?


4229: Should you not be able to discover the nature of the material from the outside?

Yes; but I did not look at the work, so as to be aware of it.

4230: (Mr. Brown.) Do you think that if your designs had been carried out by civilians that there would have been greater economy than was practised in carrying them out by the military?

There would have been no more economy in this case.

4231: No more economy if you had carried them out than if they had been carried out by engineer officers?

No. I could not have carried out those designs, as settled, in a more inexpensive way than they were carried out.

4232: (Captain Gallon.) I suppose they were put up to contract?

I think first of all it was a limited competition, but afterwards, I believe, other tenders were obtained, as the offers under the limited competition were considered excessive.

4233: I suppose that the site upon which these buildings were erected is one upon which any buildings would be very expensive from the necessity of having to drag everything up that steep hill?

Yes ; it is very steep indeed.

4234: (Mr. Hunt) The excavations were done by separate contract, were they not?

Yes, I believe so.

4235: Were they executed by separate contract before you were employed in the matter?

I do not know whether it was a separate thing or not.

4236: Were they done?

The surface was levelled, it had been very uneven ground indeed, and it was levelled. I think some of the basement had been taken out, and it was a very expensive building, because there is a very large basement ; it is an enormous basement. I believe it was to be used by the officers' servants.

4237: That basement was necessary, was it not, in consequence of the uneven surface of the land?

No. First of all it was smoothed out to the general level, then they dug about 10 feet through the whole of it, not only for the building itself, but for a considerable area around it.

4238: How is the basement appropriated?

It is appropriated to the officers' servants only, and a kitchen, etc.

4239: (Captain Galton.) All those arrangements were communicated to you before you furnished the plans?

Yes, all. I should not have made such a basement. I believe it was quite unnecessary. There is a great excavation of area as well as of basement.

4240: You do not think that the plan as originally sent to you was the best that could be adopted for the site?

It was an expensive one.

4241: (Chairman.) What would have been your remuneration if you had been employed upon that work to carry it out?

Five per cent.

4242: Do you happen to know the amount that it cost?

I do not.

4243: It has been stated that it cost 40,000 pounds; would that have been the sum upon which you would have received the five per cent.?

Whatever it was. I thought it was 34,000 pounds ; but I do not know.

4244: (Major Buckley.) Will you have the goodness to state your objections to pointing the Kentish rag, because in Chatham I have found it in every instance pointed?

I do not think that the joints are so carefully made ; they are in the habit of putting the stone together without sufficient mortar in the upright joint ; if they are to grout the building they just put a little bit of mortar on the surface to prevent the grout running out, and you do not get so sound a building as if the joints are made by the surplus mortar; the space between the stones must be perfectly filled up before there is any part comes to the outside.

4245: In the instances in which I have observed it, the pointing has taken place some time after the wall has been built?

I do not think it unites thoroughly; I have generally found it to fall off.

4246: (Mr. Hunt.) In preparing your drawings according to the instructions, you did not alter the thickness of the walls which had been determined upon by the engineers who prepared the original drawings?


4247: You attended to them?

I observed the same dimensions in every way.

4248: (Chairman.) Were you bound to do so by your instructions?

No, I do not think I was ; no instructions were given upon that subject, but I concluded that they knew best what was the proper thickness of wall there. I took it as it was given to me.

4249: (Major Buckley.) Do you know the general thickness of the wall?

I do not recollect it now.

4250: Can you state whether the Kentish rag was put immediately against the bricks, or whether a vacant space was left between the bricks and the stone?

I believe it was put directly against the bricks ; but I do not know that.

The witness withdrew.

-- End of transcript --

Elsewhere in the report reference is made to field officers not liking the Officers Quarters at Dover Castle owing to the cost of furnishing them - the accomodation being on a "very liberal scale" - especially, I would imagine, those quartered in the West Wing where it was "so damp as to cause the paper to come off".

(1) Extract from a Hertitage Statement: "In support of an application for listed building consent to introduce disabled access to the building".

(2) Extract from the Wikipedia entry for "Mess":

A mess is the place where military personnel socialise, eat, and (in some cases) live. In some societies this military usage has extended to other disciplined services eateries such as civilian fire fighting and police forces. The root of "mess" is the Old French "mes," portion of food, drawn from the Latin verb "mittere," meaning "to send" or "to put," the original sense being "a course of a meal put on the table." This sense of "mess," which appeared in English in the 13th century, was often used for cooked or liquid dishes in particular, as in the "mess of pottage" (porridge or soup) for which Esau in Genesis traded his birthright. By the 15th century, a group of people who ate together was also known as a "mess," and it is this sense that persists in the "mess halls" of today's military.

Dover Castle appears in "Dover in World War Two: 1942", a ten minute British Ministry of Information film, released by the US Office of War Information, and narrated by the American journalist, Edward R. Murrow.

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

This is the Images of Dover website: click on any red or blue "John Latter" link to access the Entry Page.

John Latter on November 21, 2010

The nearby former Regimental Institute was designed "in a similar style to the nearby Officers' Barracks" (ie the above photo) by Anthony Salvin.

John Latter on December 4, 2010

Click to see the nearby photo of Vice-Admiral Sir Bertram Home Ramsay who organized Operation Dynamo, the Dunkirk Evacuation, during the Second World War.

John Latter on March 24, 2011

The Victorian Officers New Barracks also appears in the White Cliffs of Dover Castle from the Roman Empire to the Cold War photo.

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Photo taken in Dover Castle, Castle Hill, Dover, Kent CT16 1HU, UK

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  • Uploaded on April 20, 2010
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    by John Latter
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