For centuries, the area where Camden Crescent now stands was part of the foreshore. Here herrings were hung to dry and there was a ropewalk nearby. To make rope, locals used hemp and sometimes other materials including nettles. These were twisted into long lengths then most was wound into a ball. The remaining lengths would be stretched and twisted between two fixed points of the ropewalk. Walkers, usually women, each with a ball of the twisted hemp would wind it round the anchored hemp until they reached the end. Then they would turn round and carry on until a rope was formed of sufficient the thickness. Often these ropes, using the same method, were also twisted around a centre rope to form a thicker rope.
During the American War of Independence (1776-1783) France supported the colonials and Britain, fearing an invasion, strengthened the national defences. Due to the proximity of Dover to France, the town’s defences were put in charge of Captain Thomas Hyde Page (1746-1821). He organised the building of four batteries along the seafront one of which was North’s Battery, opposite where Granville Gardens are today. Following the opening of New Bridge in 1800, the area behind became a Military Parade ground for the remainder of the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815).
Following the Wars, the town’s surveyor, Richard Elsam, at the behest of the Town Clerk, John Shipdem, an unusual turreted roundhouse with a Moorish theme and bow windows on part of the Military ground. The Round House, as it was called, was technically on Townwall Street with the turret facing the sea – it can be made out on the map above at the the eastern end of Camden Crescent. John Shipdem was a solicitor, Town Clerk 1761-1826 and Register of Dover Harbour Commission from 1806 to1840. It was said that the turret was round so the devil couldn’t catch him in a corner! Occasionally, there would be travelling shows on the Military ground but in the late 1830s, so the story goes, a Polar bear belonging to Wombwell’s menagerie was rendered restless by the smell of the sea and the shows moved inland!
The creation of Camden Crescent was the inspiration of Dr William Sankey a local doctor who had been mentioned in despatches by Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) when he was attached to the Rifle Brigade during the Peninsula Wars (1807-1814). As the land was reclaimed under the Harbour Commission Charter of 1606, it belonged to them but the Duke of Wellington, the Lord Warden (1829-1852), gave Dr Sankey’s scheme his blessing.
Named after the John Jeffreys Pratt, 1st Marquess Camden (1759–1840), Lord Lieutenant of the Kent 1808-1840 and a member of the Harbour Board Commission. Work started in 1840 on the terrace of ten tall and imposing residences. Dr Sankey and his family moved into 1 on completion and the other residences were quickly snapped up mainly by the local elite. Following Dr Sankey’s death in 1866, his wife sold 1 Camden Crescent to the National Provincial Bank, the owners of New Bridge House, for use as the manager’s residence.
As a former officer of the Rifle Brigade, Dr Sankey was instrumental in ensuring that the Rifles Monument was sited where we see it today. It was erected by the Officers of the 1st Battalion of the 60th Rifles – King’s Royal Rifle Corps, to their comrades who fell in the Indian Mutiny of 1857-9. The obelisk was unveiled, with great pomp, in August 1861 but within days, orders came from central government to dismantle it because the political agenda had changed. Instead, the council erected iron railings around it and posted a guard!
These days the houses in Camden Crescent are now numbered 1 then 7, 8 and 9. At the original number 7, Cuthbert John Ottaway (1850-1878), England’s first football captain lived with his parents. On 30 November 1872, he captained the first England squad against Scotland in a match at West Scotland Cricket Club, Partick. It was played before a crowd of 4,000 and throughout England dominated but the game ended in a one-all draw. Cuthbert died on 2 April 1878 and buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, West London.
For three months in 1852, Charles Dickens (1812-1870) stayed at 10 Camden Crescent, whilst writing Bleak House. Like number 7, the original house fell victim to enemy action during World War II (1939-1945) so the Dover Society plaque is on the last house in the block. In April 1848, the Admiralty Pier was started but caused flooding along the seafront and a defensive seawall had to be built from the front of Waterloo around the Bay to the Boundary Groyne. Protecting the open space behind North’s Battery, in the summer bands of the different regiments quartered in the town perform on this open space.
Eventually Dover Harbour Board laid gardens on this site and these opened on 3 August 1878. They were named in honour of George Leveson Gower, Earl Granville (1815-1891), Lord Warden (1866-1891) and Chairman of the Dover Harbour Board (DHB). Local military bands, paid for by public subscription, provided entertainment most weekends and the Gardens became very popular. When Edward Hills’ coachworks on Castle Street were destroyed by fire in 1887, which also housed the Dover Proprietary Library, temporary accommodation for the library was erected on the Gardens.
Wellesley Terrace, a handsome block similar to nearby Cambridge Terrace, was erected in 1846, overlooked the Gardens from the east. Four of these houses were later converted into the Grand Hotel that opened on 29 April 1893. A month later, the council took over the Gardens from DHB and immediately erected a bandstand. The former temporary library building was converted into a glass-roofed conservatory cafe, called Granville Bars. Crowds flocked to the venue at weekends throughout the summer.
On Friday 18 February 1910, Dover’s first fatal motor accident happened in Camden Crescent. Visitors, Mrs Alice Von Wieldt and her daughter, were crossing the road at 17.30hrs near the Rifles Monument. At the same time Captain Hickman, Adjutant of the 4th Buffs (Military) was driving his car along Camden Crescent and hooted. Miss Von Wieldt tried to pull her mother back but Mrs Von Wieldt rushed forward to try to cross in front of the car but was knocked down. The wheels passing over her head. Immediately Captain Hickman stopped and picked her up and took mother and daughter to the Royal Victoria Hospital, in the High Street. Mrs Von Wieldt died the following Sunday. Captain Hickman was exonerated from blame but the Coroner, Sydenham Payn, strongly suggested that speed limits should be introduced in towns.
In spring 1911, the Granville Gardens were re-laid at a cost of £1,050 but the building that had been the Granville Restaurant and the Library remained closed. In August 1912, the council put forward the proposal that they would take it over, however, DHB announced that they were going to demolish it. The bandstand remained a popular attraction, until the 19 February 1914 when Captain Palliser, who lived in Camden Crescent, took legal action against DHB and Dover Corporation, to remove it from the Gardens! His argument rested on a covenant dated 1842 which stated that no building was to be higher than 15ft 7inches (4.8metres) between Camden Crescent and the sea. However, because the site belonged to DHB at the time of the covenant but had been taken over by the council without taking the covenant into consideration, the judge decided that the covenant was not strong enough for the success of Captain Palliser’s action and dismissed the case. When it came to costs the judge, however, stated that as DHB and the council had deliberately caused the confusion and so they would have to pay their own costs!
During World War I (1914-1918) the Gardens were used by the military but as Armistice Day approached and was expected to take place in November 1918, it was decided to build a model of Dover on Granville Gardens. This was to show the damage that had been inflicted upon the town during the War. At 11.00 hours on 11 November 1918, a 6inch Howitzer gun, which had arrived in the town by train that morning, was taken to the Town Hall (now the Maison Dieu). The gun became the centrepiece of a procession, headed by Mayor Edwin Farley to Granville Gardens and the model village, where news of the Armistice was formally announced.
Following the War and the removal of the model of Dover town, Granville Gardens, like the rest of the seafront, was in a state of neglect. It was not until 1925 that the dilapidated bandstand and pavilion were replaced and summer military band concerts reintroduced. Dover Corporation were, in 1929, were forced to pay the military bands the same rate as professional civilian bands and the number of performances were cut to three a week and 1,000 people protested!
Although it now appears to be politically expedient to forget that Dover was the original centre of the Kent coalmining industry, it was to Granville Gardens where coalminers from all over the country came, following the 1926 General Strike. At that time there was little work in the national coal mines and Pearson, Dorman Long advertised for experienced miners to work in the Kent coalfield. All they had to do was find their own way to Dover’s seafront, near Granville Gardens and someone from the Union would meet them. Miners from South Yorkshire, Durham, Lancashire, Scotland and Wales came to Dover. Many of them, like this author’s Grandfather, walked. The union man met them and they started work within hours of arriving. My Grandfather was put to work at Snowdown Colliery, north of Dover.
The coal mining industry was nationalised on 1 January 1947 and two years later, the National Coal Board (NCB) opened their South East Division Offices in Waterloo Crescent, at the end nearest to Granville Gardens. In 1969 Chislet Colliery closed, followed by Tilmanstone and Snowdown (both in 1987) and Betteshanger on 28 August 1989. With the demise of the Kent coalfield, it was felt that a lasting reminder, based in the town of its origin, should be erected. Nothing happened until 1997 when the Waiting Miner statue that had been outside Richborough power station was in need of a new home it was placed it in Granville Gardens for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, the statue was moved to a new home in 2010 in an effort to ensure that the town’s relationship with the Kent coal mining industry would be lost.
During the economic depression of the 1930s, most of the houses in Camden Crescent were converted into flats. The formalisation of Dover’s tourist industry took place about this time when the manager of the Granville Gardens Pavillion, G Leslie Buxton, was appointed as the Entertainments and Publicity Manager for the town. Dancing, to amateur bands, were introduced at the Gardens on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and in 1935, a roller skating rink opened with a special floor costing £249 on Monday and Friday evenings. The financial report of that year’s the accounts showed that roller-skating had produced £292, at a cost of £200, where as the bands had produced £1,159 at a cost of £2,240. The number of times military bands played was reduced until eventually the concerts ceased.
At this time, for the affluent and businesses, cars were becoming the norm and there were a number of car manufacturing firms in the town. Concurrently, the calls for regulation and speed restriction were increasing. At the end of 1936 two traffic roundabouts were created, one near the Lord Warden Hotel, in the Pier district and the other incorporated the Rifles Monument.
At the outbreak of World War II (1939-1945), the Grand Hotel basement was designated an air raid shelter accommodating 250 persons and in 1940, a barrage balloon was erected in Granville Gardens. This was an easy target for enemy aircraft and consequently the Gardens suffered serious damage nonetheless the gun battery there, for the most part of the War, was manned by the Home Guard. On Easter Sunday 1941, the balloon following an attacked was on fire when it drifted towards Trevanion Caves, where people were sheltering. Luckily, it only set light to the grass above the caves.
Visiting correspondents, particularly from the US used the Grand Hotel. In the summer of 1940, during the Battle of Britain, the American war correspondent and radio broadcaster Ed Murrow interviewed Crown Prince Bernhardt of the Netherlands.
However, on 9 September, a bomb devastated the Hotel and many Royal Navy and civilian personnel were killed or injured. Robin Harvey age-19, was so deeply buried under the rubble, his body was not freed for ten days. At the same time as the Grand Hotel was devastated, 7, 8, 9 and 10 Camden Crescent were destroyed. Over the next three years, the Hotel and Crescent were hit on numerous occasions by shells.
After the war the owners of the Grand wanted to rebuild but their application was refused and the council bought the leasehold, without the liquor licence, for £26,200. This payment was offset by a government war-damage payment of £25,000. DHB paid £4,000 for the freehold reversion out of which the council purchase the liquor licence for 300 guineas (£315) that they sold on later. The roller-skating rink floor was sold to John Lukey of the Shakespeare hotel, in Bench Street, where it became the dining room floor. Contractor, Frank Luck Ltd paid £1000 to demolish the building with the right of salvage. Demolition began in April 1951 and was completed by November. The council were very pleased with the deals!
Buoyed by this and using Compulsory Purchase Orders, the council took over the remaining houses in Camden Crescent in April 1949. They leased two to Messrs Autotels Ltd as an annex to the White Cliffs Hotel and another to the Automobile Association for offices. The site where the houses had been badly damaged was cleared and put on the market in 1951. As an incentive to would be buyers, the former Grand liquor licence was part of the deal. In January 1956, the building of a coachotel on the site was started and opened as the iconic Dover Stage in May 1957.
At the same time, Camden Crescent was re-aligned and Granville Gardens were re-laid as public gardens complete with illuminated fountain. However, Edinburgh Road, the opening between Granville Gardens and Waterloo Crescent where the National Coal Board had their offices, was closed and made into a car park. Townsend Ferry Company moved their offices to 1 Camden Crescent and eventually took over the entire Crescent. The company moved into the purpose built Enterprise House, in Channel View Road, in 1983 retaining Camden Crescent as a passenger travel centre.
In June 1984 Dover District Council (DDC) put the terrace properties on the market in order to raise capital and engaged the services of both local and London estate agents. Townsend’s, having bought the former Automobile Association offices in Russell Street for public access, moved out. On 30 June 1988, Dover District Council (DDC) Planning Committee granted approval for Dover Stage to be demolished and in November that year it was bulldozed into oblivion. The following January the site became a car park.
Following the removal of the Waiting Miner statue the plinth remained empty. Various ideas were put forward but nothing has materialised. However, in September 2015, three feet under one of the flower gardens, a time capsule was ceremoniously buried. Contained in an old ammunition box, inside are World War II medals and cap badges along with mementoes of Dover and a scroll carrying the names of all of Dover Councillors at that time. The idea is that of local Augusta Pearson who believes that future generations should know of the sacrifices of those who died during the War. It was buried by Frank Thompson – a former Staffordshire regiment soldier, assisted by Dover Sea Cadets’ Petty Officer Oliver Worsell and Cadet Jake Joliffe. The time capsule is to be opened in 30years time and the ceremony coincided with Queen Elizabeth II becoming the longest serving British monarch on 9 September 2015.
When Granville Gardens were re-laid, the public were invited to purchase seats for dedication. At the time of writing, these dedicated seats include:
H R Armstrong – Royal Hippodrome Theatre 1936-1944. H Roberts Armstrong was the proprietor of the Royal Hippodrome Theatre in Snargate Street during the years stated. World War II brought a great number of servicemen and women to Dover and although the Hippodrome was in the front line of the constant attack on the town, the twice-nightly shows played to packed houses. Many internationally famous entertainers performed there ignoring the sirens and devastation going on around. Although the theatre had been hit before, on 25 September 1944, it was heavily shelled. The next day the shelling of Dover ceased, but the wrecked building never re-opened and was demolished in January 1951. There was once a plaque to the theatre in Snargate Street but after it was stolen it was never replaced. The seat to HR, as he was known, is the only reminder of that once extremely popular theatre.
Other seats are dedicated to the Crothall Family, Hugh Thomson, William Chidwick, Ted Joseph Edwin Adams and Rose Adams of Snargate Street, Oliver H Teulon – Chief Engineer P.W.D. Burma; George Skaife – Superintendent Borough Engineers Department 1953-1963; Edward G Saunders seat presented by his wife Ida Saunders. There is also a seat dedicated to Audrey Scott – Hon Sec Channel Swimming Association 1971-1993 who died on 7 April.1993 and Norman Edward Lawrence of the Dover Sea Angling Association, who died in 2005.
Egerton John Quested was born 25 September 1947 and was a member of the Catering Staff that died on board the Herald of Free Enterprise Disaster on 6 March 1987. This is one of the many tributes in Dover to the 193 people who tragically lost their lives that day. The day, it is generally felt, that Dover died.
- 18 October 2013