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Bradshaw’s Guide

The Cliffs, Dover, England. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress


This much frequented point of continental embarkation has of late years occupied a prominent position among the watering-places of our island. The line of continuous terraces of noble-looking mansions spreading along the margin of its coast, the pureness of its atmosphere, the bold and rocky headlands that distinguish its marine scenery, all contribute to it an important position among the recently created destinations of our sea-loving’ citizens. The associations, too, that cling to the white cliffs of Albion — not, as of yore, frowning defiance to our Gallic neighbours, but with a better spirit illuminating their weather-beaten features with sunny smiles of welcome — all tend to draw every year crowds of fleeting visitors to a spot so renowned in song and story. It has been well said that scarcely any great man, from King Arthur to Prince Albert, has failed, at some period or other, to visit Dover, and all history confirms the assertion.

Divided from the French coast by a passage of only twenty miles across the British Channel, Dover 13 advantageously situated on the margin of a picturesque bay, sheltered by the promontory of the South Foreland, and screened by its lofty cliffs from the piercing northerly winds.

At the entrance to the town from the London-road was the Hospital of St. Mary, commonly called the Maison Dieu, and now the guildhall and gaol. It was erected in the reign of King John, by Hubert de Burgh (afterwards Earl of Kent), and intended for the accommodation of pilgrims passing through Dover on their way to or from the Continent. After many changes and alterations„as well as being fortified during the civil war, it was purchased from Government by the corporation in 1534, and converted the following year into a guildhall, sessions chamber, and gaol. The old priory gate, half monastery, half farm, is still remaining, at the beginning of the carriage road towards Folkestone.

Over the butter market in the London-road was the old Town Hall, erected in the reign of James I., on the site of an ancient cross. It is now the Dover Museum, and may be inspected daily from ten till five by the public. The collection comprises various specimens of birds, reptiles, fishes, insects, minerals, fossils, weapons, dresses, coins, and other articles illustrative of the manners and customs of different nations.

Under the museum, the butter market presents, on a Saturday, a busy and lively scene, and the commodities that then pour in from every part of the surrounding country are both plentiful and excellent. Ancient as Dover is as a town and port, it is, as we have said, comparatively modern as a watering-place. In 1817, houses were commenced on the Marine Parade, and, about the same period, Liverpool Terrace, and the contiguous lawns, Guildford and Clarence, were projected, followed, in 183S, by the noble mansions of Waterloo Crescent and the Esplanade. These form, in conjunction with others, a continuous range of imposing buildings that extend nearly from the Castle cliff to the north pier. Close to the sea is the Promenade, which, during the summer season, presents a complete galaxy of beauty and fashion, not unfrequently enlivened by the performance of military music. The faculties afforded to bathers merit great commendation, and the clear transparency of the water is not the least of the advantages here derived.

If not the most elegant thoroughfare in Dover, Snargate Street is decidedly the most picturesque. With the towering white cliffs on one side, and a row of excellent shops on the other, it presents a contrast that seems to link agreeably the permanent majesty of the past with the fleeting characteristics of the present. Here is situated the Post Office, nearly opposite to Rigden’s library, the theatre, the Apollonian Hall, in which concerts are frequently given, and a bazaar, which affords a pleasant lounge for those who like to court the smiles of fortune in a raffle. Adjoining the Wesley an Chapel, also in the same street, is the entrance to the grand military shaft leading to the heights and barracks above. The communication is by an arched passage and a vertical excavation, having three spiral flights of 140 steps each. The barracks are sufficiently capacious to contain many thousand troops; and beyond, following the military road, we come to the grand redoubt, occupying the site of an ancient Pharos, the ruins of which are called Bredenstone, or the “Devil’s Drop.” Nowhere will the tourist find more extensive and beautiful views than a promenade at sunset on these heights will afford. Westward is the town of Boulogne, with its lofty column to commemorate an invasion which never took place; eastward, rising as it were from the ocean, is the white tower of the Hotel de Ville, and the revolving phare of the town of Calais. Turn which way we will there is something to admire. On one side is the magnificent Castle, still rearing its stately battlements in majestic grandeur, after braving the blasts of a thousand winters, and bringing back to the eye of the imaginative beholder the by-past glories of the days of chivalry; on the other, the noble cliff, an object sufficiently striking from its own native sublimity, but rendered doubly attractive and interesting to every spectator by its association with the greatest work of our greatest bard. Perhaps in the whole circuit of the kingdom there is not another spot so calculated to awaken in the bosom of an Englishman feelings of pride and exultation, as the objects around call up in succession reminiscences of those martial and intellectual achievements by which the inviolate island of the sage and free has attained her present unquestioned supremacy amongst the nations of the world. An evening stroll on these picturesque heights will amply repay the trouble of the ascent. Shakspeare’s Cliff is about one mile west of the pier, and is exactly 313 feet above high-water mark, being somewhat less than it was in the days of our great dramatist. The descriptive passage that has stood sponsor to it has been so often quoted that we may be well spared its repetition here. A steady foot and a cool head will enable a visitor himself to learn from experience “how fearful and dizzy ‘tis to cast one’s eyes so low.”

But the Castle is, after all, the great lion of Dover, and as the first object that strikes conspicuously upon the eye of the traveller as he emerges from the railway terminus, it is sure to woo his footsteps thither as the cynosure of attraction. Starting on his pilgrimage, early enough, if possible, to behold the artistic effect of the grey sombre ruins, magnified by contrast with a skiey background from which the shades of departing night have not altogether fled, we can promise the pedestrian a rare treat. A sunrise scene from the cliffs round the Castle will honestly challenge comparison with a sunset from the Alps. Well aware that this savours of a bold assertion not altogether orthodox, we merely recommend such as would doubt its veracity to ask Boots to call them at two o’clock in the morning, and try it. Rising northward of the town, from a bold and abrupt ascent of more than 300 feet, and poised upon a commanding eminence, which seems to defy alike the ravages of time and war, Dover Castle answers more to our expectations of what a fortress ought to be than any other defensive building in the kingdom. Its early origin is Involved in the mystery of tradition, though there can be little doubt that a British fortification was line nucleus of its future architectural strength. Julius Cassar has had the honour of erecting the present fortress ascribed to him, but recent antiquaries have come to the conclusion that it was raised between the years A.D. 43 and 49, during the reign of Claudius. The three leading characteristics of the ground plans and buildings are Roman, Saxon, and Norman. All that can now be traced of the fortifications of the former is encircled by a deep ditch. The Saxon portion of the structure is presumed to have been commenced by Alfred the Great, and the foundation of the present keep to have originated with the ingenious Gundulph, Bishop of Rochester, about the year 1153. In its present state the Castle occupies about thirty-six acres.

On approaching the entrance to the Castle from the old Deal road the stranger’s notice is first attracted by the faint tinkle of a small bell, moved by a string from the tower of Fitibert de Dover, now used as a debtor’s prison. A grated window fronts the road, at which a prisoner stations himself to solicit alms, aided by a further appeal on a board, which bears the following inscription: — 

Oh ! ye whose hours exempt from sorrow flow.
Behold the seat of pain, and want, and woe !
Think while your hands the entreated alms extend,
That what to us ye give to God ye lend.

It is seldom that an application of so mournful a nature can be neglectfully regarded. With a glance at the curious piece of brass ordnance, cast at Utrecht in 1544, and twenty-four feet in length, known as “Queen Elizabeth’s pocket pistol,” we ascend the road leading to the keep, and pass through the gateway from Peverell’s Tower, so denominated from an illegitimate son of the Conqueror, who had the command of this post. The keep, situated in the centre of the quadrangle, is a large square edifice rising to an altitude of 100 feet from the ground, and 370 feet above the level of the sea, presenting from its summit a view of almost unequalled grandeur. The famous well, 400 feet deep, was once an important feature of the tower, but it is now arched over for the better surity of the public. The old Roman church, and the pharos, or lighthouse, adjoining, are the next objects of interest; its form is that of a cross, with a square tower. On the western side of the church is Cocklecrow or Colton’s Gate.

Some curious excavations have been made in more modern times for the reception of soldiers, about 2,000 of whom can be here conveniently accommodated; light and air are conveyed into the different apartments by circular apertures cut in the chalk, and by other openings carried through to the face of the cliffs. These remarkable subterranean barracks can be seen on Tuesdays and Fridays by an order from the commanding royal engineer, which can be easily obtained on those days between the hours of ten and twelve at the Ordnance Office, Archcliff Fort. Subterranean communications exist in every direction. Blanchard, the celebrated French aeronaut, ascended, in 1785, from the quadrangle of the Castle keep, and, after a voyage of two hours and a half, descended in safety on the continent, at the distance of six miles from Calais. Our modern steam-boat communication with that port has long since out-rivalled the aerial voyager in speed.

By the Castle jetty below there have been lately built some neat houses, under the most precipitous part of the cliffs. The situation is pleasant enough, but the tenants must have strong faith in the durability of chalk. For ourselves, not having nerves of iron, all we can say is, that we should decline a lease of 99 years, even upon the most advantageous terms.

Dover harbour suffers much from the accumulation of shingle, and all expedients to remove it, however ingenious, have been ultimately found futile. The simplest, as usual, has proved the best; by means of flood-gates, which are closed at high-tide, the water which flows into the basin and pent is retained; at low water these sluices are opened, and the shingle driven back again by the force of the current.

The Custom House is a spacious building conveniently contiguous to the quay. The office hours are from 10 to 4.

Hotels and taverns, varying in price and accommodation, are unusually numerous; and even cheap coffee-houses, conducted on what is somewhat indefinitely styled “the London system,” are now to be met with.

The tourist, would do well to visit the pretty little villages of Charlton, Buckland, and River, near to which are the remains of St. Radigund’s Abbey, built in the 12th century. The ivy-mantled ruins occupying a considerable extent of ground, show that it was a place of some importance: part of the walls are curiously chequered with flints and stones. About three miles from this, to the right, through the pretty village of Lydden, is Waldershare Park, the noble seat of the Earl of Guildford. Returning by Waldershare Wood, is West Langdon, having some remains of an abbey founded by Sir William de Auberyille. A short walk from thence Is Ringwold and its church, with some fine old brasses, and the remains of an ancient camp. Proceeding in the direction of Dover, the old church of St. Margaret should be visited, being perhaps one of the finest specimens of Norman architecture in the county West Cliffe is then approached, which is worth a visit, not only for its curious ancient church, which was exchanged by Edward I.’s Queen, Eleanor, for the port of Sandwich, but for the variety of prospects to be had there over land and over sea.

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Places nearby

  • Kent : Canterbury

    The appearance of Canterbury, from whatever part approached, is exquisitely beautiful, and as we enter, symbols of its antiquity stare us in the face everywhere.

  • Kent : Deal

    This town stands close to the sea shore, which is a bold and open beach, being defended from the violence of the waves by an extensive wall of stones and pebbles which the sea has thrown up.

  • Kent : Folkestone

    Folkestone is rapidly becoming a much frequented watering place, as well as a favourite point of embarkation to France; the distance to Boulogne is only twenty-seven miles.