White Cliffs of Dover Castle from the Roman Empire to the Cold War, Kent, UK

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John Latter on June 17, 2011

This panorama view of the White Cliffs of Dover at East Cliff, at the southern limit of the grounds of Dover Castle, was taken from 1500 yards away by the Lighthouse and Cafe on the end of the Prince of Wales Pier, Sunday, 9th of January, 2011. Click to see a larger size.

Casemates Balcony (1)

At bottom-left, Casemates Balcony, 50 feet or so below the cliff-top and entrance to the Secret Wartime Tunnels, is where Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Field Marshall Jan Smuts (alt. Field Marshal) (2) were photographed during the Second World War.

The cliff tunnels the balcony gives access to are much older, of course, and were begun in 1797 by Colonel William Twiss, the Commanding Engineer of the Southern District, as part of his brief to improve the town's defences during the Napoleonic Wars with France.

The first troops were accommodated in 1803, and at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, the tunnels housed more than 2,000 men: to date they are the only underground barracks ever built in Britain.

At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the tunnels were partly converted and used by the Coast Blockade Service (see Last Public Execution in Dover caption) to combat smuggling. This was a short term endeavour though and in 1826 the headquarters were moved closer to shore. The tunnels then remained abandoned for more than a century.

The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 saw the tunnels converted first into an air-raid shelter and then later into a military command centre and underground hospital. In May 1940, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey directed the Dunkirk evacuation of French and British soldiers, code-named Operation Dynamo, from his headquarters in the cliff tunnels.

Later the tunnels, by now over 3 miles in length, were to be used as a shelter for the Regional Seats of Government in the event of a nuclear attack during the Cold War (1947 - 1991).

Tunnel levels are denoted as A - Annexe, B - Bastion, C - Casemate, D - DUMPY ("Deep Underground Military Position Yellow"), and E - Esplanade.

Dover Castle appears in the video, "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.

Admiralty Lookout and Port War Signal Station

On the cliff-top to the right of the Casemates Balcony is a concrete oblong in front of which is a greenish-coloured Statue of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey.

Further along the cliff-top - towards the right-hand edge of the photo - is the overhanging flat roof of the Admiralty Lookout and Port War Signal Station and a white signal mast/flag pole.

The obsolete Hospital Battery of 1874 (contemporary with St Martin`s Battery on the Western Heights) was converted in 1905 to a Fire Command Post. Admiralty installations were added on top in 1914 (World War I) and the concrete roof in the photo was added in 1941 (World War II).

An information board inside the main building states:

GROUND FLOOR: Two rooms of the Fire Command Post are furnished with reproduction equipment to provide an impression of its appearance in 1918, during the First World War. In the observation room, a watch was kept around the clock for enemy warships or unidentified ships approaching the port. In the chart room, the Fire Commander gathered this and other information from several outposts under his command tn the Dover area.

FIRST FLOOR: In the Port War Signal Station, a display explores how Royal Navy staff kept watch for enemy ship movements, and used visual signalling and wireless to communicate with their own warships at sea. You can spot ships yourself using binoculars, see how enemy aircraft and ships were identified, talk to a friend through a speaking tube, and identify messages sent in code.

ROOF PLATFORM: By climbing the steps to the roof you can stand where naval signalers sent and received messages to and from ships in Dover Harbour. From there you can appreciate the position of Admiralty Lookout on the edge of the famous White Cliffs, and enjoy spectacular views over Dover, along the coast, and across the English Channel to France.

Ramsay had served in the Dover Patrol during the First World War and by September 1939, after being a Vice Admiral on the retired list, he was back in Dover. '"My flag is flying today for the first time over the Signal Station at Dover Castle, so I am once again an authority" he wrote to his wife.

Another famous person who served in the Dover Patrol was Charles Lightoller, second mate (second officer) on board the RMS Titanic, and the most senior officer to survive the 1912 iceberg disaster. The house where Charles Lightoller lived in Dover during the Great War still survives at the bottom of the chalk cliffs below the Admiralty Lookout and Port War Signal Station.

See all Dover Navy photos.

East Roman Pharos (3)

The stand-alone tower at top-left on top of a huge rampart called "Harold's Earthwork" is a Roman lighthouse, one of a pair constructed during the reign of Emperor Claudius in AD 46 on the headland flanking either side of the major Roman port of Dubris.

Aulus Plautius had led the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD and was the first governor of the new province (serving from 43 to 47 AD) when the lighthouses/watchtowers were built.

The lighthouse comprises an octagonal stepped tower approximately 19 metres and four storeys high. The fourth storey was reconstructed between 1415 and 1437 when the lighthouse had been adapted for use as a belfry to the church of St Mary-Sub-Castro (St Mary-in-Castro).

The original design of the top of the Pharos has been destroyed by these alterations, making its functionality unclear. It is thought that both lighthouses were used during fine weather as sea-marks in guiding vessels into the harbour. At night this role would have augmented by fire-lit braziers situated at the top of the lighthouse. The lighthouse may have also been used as a smoke beacon during certain weather and visibility conditions. Another possible role is as a signal tower.

Medieval and later alterations within the immediate locality of the lighthouse have removed any possible evidence of structures associated with the running of the lighthouse. Changes to the lighthouse took place in 1582 when it was converted into a gunpowder magazine.

The replica remains of the West Roman Pharos is known as the Bredenstone and is located in the Napoleonic Drop Redoubt on the Western Heights.

For more historical background, see the caption to the The 1st Century East Roman Pharos, Dover Castle photo.

St Mary-in-Castro (4)

Alternative names: Church of St Mary, St Mary-sub-Castro, King Lucius Church.

To the right of the Pharos: late Saxon church situated within the defences of Dover Castle. A minster was founded at St Mary-in-Castro by 640 AD but in 696 was transferred to St Martin`s Church (St Martin-le-Grand) in the town.

The church is thought to be was built before 1020 and reuses Roman building material within its fabric and at some point used the Roman lighthouse as its belfry. The church was extensively repaired in 1582 but was in little use from the end of the 16th century. By 1724 its bells had been removed and the building was in ruins.

It was used as a Fives Court in the early 1790s and a garrison coal store during the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815). During the modernising of the castle in mid 19th century the church was restored. This was carried out by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1862. An additional restoration was undertaken by William Butterfield in 1888.

For more historical background, see the caption to the Roman Pharos and Saxon church of St Mary-in-Castro, Dover Castle photo.

Officers New Barracks

To the right of Harold's Earthwork: The 120 yard-wide Victorian Army Officers' Mess, also called the Officers Quarters, overlooks Dover Harbour and English Channel beyond.

The building was constructed between 1856 and 1858 and the civilian architect involved, the eminent Anthony Salvin, was subsequently asked to appear before a military committee in February of 1862. The committee questioned the costs of the project in general, and the reasons for dampness in the West Wing (on the left) in particular. A transcript of Salvin's cross-examination has been attached to the The West Wing Controversy, Officers New Barracks, Dover Castle photo.

The transcript also refers to how some field officers objected to the cost of furnishing such large quarters - described as 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".

Another view of the facade can be seen in the wide-angle The Victorian Officers Mess, Queen Elizabeth Road, Dover Castle photo.

Queen Elizabeth Road runs in front of the Officers' Mess and then turns into Godwin Road to the right. The other end of Queen Elizabeth Road joins Knights Road by the Former Regimental Institute. Today, this building houses the Naafi Restaurant, Queen Elizabeth`s Pocket Pistol, and a World War Two prototype "Bouncing Bomb" (invented by Barnes Wallis).

According to a Heritage Statement (5), the more correct name for the Victorian Officers Mess is "Officers’ New Barracks":

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.

Dover Castle, the Pharos, St Mary-in-Castro, and the Officers New Barracks are Dover Listed Buildings; the Castle is a Dover English Heritage site.

(1) Abridged extracts from Dover Castle; click to see all Castle photos.

(2) Click to see a photo of Winston Churchill and Field Marshall Jan Smuts on the Casemates Balcony.

(3) English Heritage Pastscape entry (Abridged)

(4) English Heritage Pastscape entry (Abridged)

(5) Heritage Statement

A Dover history photo spanning the Roman, Saxon (Middle Ages), Norman (Medieval), Norman, Victorian, and Modern periods: nearly 2,000 years of military activity.

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 August 13, 2011
John Latter on August 21, 2011

"Casemates Balcony" refers to the Cliff Casemates level of Dover Castle's Secret Wartime Tunnels.

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on March 23, 2011
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2011/01/09 10:58:02
    • Exposure: 0.006s (1/160)
    • Focal Length: 0.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/11.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash