Walmer, Deal and Dover

Last week I travelled to Canterbury for the excellent Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain conference. I listened to fascinating papers, met some lovely people and presented my own research on the manuscript tune books of Napoleonic-era fifers and bandsmen. I was also managed to fit in visits to county archives on the way to and from the conference – the Hertfordshire Archives on 2 July, exploring the voluminous records of the Hitchin Volunteers and Midland Hertford Local Militia, and the Kent History Centre on 6 July, looking at a variety of documents including letters home from the Peninsula, Lord Castlereagh’s correspondence and papers of Cinque Ports Volunteer officers.

After the conference I spent a day at Walmer and Deal Castles, two artillery forts built by Henry VIII to defend the Downs, a strategically important anchorage off the Kent coast. Walmer was of special interest as it later became the residence of the Lords Warden of the Cinque Ports, a post often held by senior political figures. William Pitt the Younger, the prime minister for much of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, spent a great deal of time at the castle as did Wellington, who died there in September 1852.

Pitt the Younger’s view from the office at Walmer Castle…the Downs and the French coast. Hard to take your mind off the invasion threat here!

In the evening I visited the Western Heights at Dover, a complex of derelict Napoleonic and Victorian defences built to protect the harbour from cross-Channel invasion. Hiking around the Western Heights is not for the faint of heart – visitors are faced with steep inclines, poor signage and overgrown paths, and much of the site is inaccessible – but I found the rather masochistic experience very rewarding. The scale of these fortifications was immense and the views of the surrounding landscape simply breathtaking. Below I’ve posted some photographs of the Drop Redoubt and the ditch connecting it with the (unfortunately fenced-off) Citadel.

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I also managed to visit the famous Grand Shaft – a triple helix staircase sunk 140 feet into the chalky Dover cliffs to give soldiers living in the barracks atop the Western Heights speedy access to the harbour below. An impressive feat of military engineering, the Grand Shaft was constructed between 1806 and 1809.

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