Mote Bulwark and Sea Planes

Mote Bulwark specified as 'Battery' in the above 1890 map with Guilford battery in front.

Mote Bulwark specified as ‘Battery’ in the above 1890 map with Guilford battery in front.

For England, in 1534, Henry VIII’s (1509-1547) split with Rome brought about the possibility of invasion from Catholic France and Spain. This galvanised the King into undertaking a massive defensive programme around the east and south coasts of England and included the building of Castles at Deal, Walmer and Sandown. In Dover, to defend the harbour, three bulwarks were begun in March 1539. The first, on the western side of the bay, was a small platform cut into the cliff with caves for the magazine but it had disappeared by 1568. The second battery eventually became Archcliffe Fort and both batteries were aimed at protecting the recently created harbour on the west side of the bay. The third battery, known as Mote Bulwark from Motte and Bailey – a defensive structure enclosed by a wall or palisade – was below the Castle facing the sea. These days the later Mote Bulwark, built nearby, can be seen from Townwall Street just before East Cliff going east.

The ruins of Mote Bulwark today from Townwall Street. Alan Sencicle

The ruins of Mote Bulwark today from Townwall Street     Alan Sencicle

Up until a short time before the original Mote Bulwark was built, the sea at high tide covered the area. Due to the Eastward Drift, a natural phenomenon that deposits shingle around Dover bay, the sea was starting to recede leaving the Castle vulnerable. It was for this reason that Mote Battery was built. Completed by midsummer 1540, the original Mote Bulwark was an earth and wooden structure with a roughly circular front containing six loops for mounted guns. Behind was a long wooden building and the whole was connected to the Castle by a tunnelled stairway. The total cost of building the three bulwarks was £1,496 and to pay for these the King appropriated lands from Dover Corporation!

Following the crisis, Mote Bulwark remained occupied by the military and at the time of  Henry VIII’s death in 1547, the battery had five pieces of ordnance of mixed calibre. The Bulwark was again put on alert during the Spanish Armada of 1588 and a defensive extension was built along the shore to the Three Gun Battery, at the top Snargate Street. The Three-Gun Battery was dismantled in 1764 but the defensive structure had gone long before.

Almost from the moment the harbour on the western side of the bay had been built, it suffered from the effects of the Eastward Drift causing the harbour entrance to silt up. During the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603) a national tax on shipping was instituted to pay for new harbour works and these were completed by 1595. The new development, which utilised aspects of the effects of the Eastward Drift, consisted of three docks, the Pent, Little Paradise and the Great Paradise (see Granville Dock). These form the the basis of today’s Western Docks.

In 1607-8, an Assessment of Ordnance in Kent states that a Captain, two soldiers, one porter and two gunners manned Mote Bulwark. War with Spain again threatened in 1623 and a survey was undertaken of Dover’s military strength. This showed that the Castle, Archcliffe Fort and Mote Bulwark were in a sound condition following repairs. The cost of the repairs came to £1,048 17shillings and the Bulwark was mounted with 6 guns. Strife was never far away and national internal strife eventually led to the Civil Wars (1642-51). In 1648, the Bulwark played a pivotal role in one of the major uprisings.

At the time, Kent was under Parliamentary rule. The year before the government decreed that Christmas festivities were illegal. Canterbury townsfolk refused to obey and their disobedience culminated with a rampage through the city, the crowd shouting, ‘For God, King Charles and Kent!’ The rioters took control of the City until a force of some 3,000 Parliamentarians recaptured it. A special court was convened with a carefully selected jury designed to return a verdict of guilty. However, the jury used the opportunity to organise a petition, which angered the Parliamentarians and led directly to a countywide uprising.

Dover Castle

Dover Castle

This took place in May 1649 when Walmer, Deal and Sandown Castles were captured from the Parliamentarians. The fleet, lying in the Downs, took the rebels side. This meant that only Dover Castle was in the hands of the Parliamentarians. One of the rebel leaders, Sir Richard Hardres, together with local Royalist, Arnold Braemes, marshalled some 2,000 men to mount an offensive. They seized the Mote Bulwark, which was full of ammunition, and attacked the Castle towers and corners. Although they fired some 500 balls, these were ‘without doing any material injury’. On 30 May, Parliamentarian Colonel Birkhamstead relieved the Castle.

Mote Bulwark, back in the hands of the Parliamentarians, was put on alert in September 1652, when the country was at war with the Netherlands. Admiral Robert Blake (1598-1657), commanding the English fleet, defeated the Dutch and following this, the Dutch were ordered to dip their flag when passing through the Downs. Forty-four ships of the Dutch fleet under the command of Admiral Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp (1598- 1653) refused and the fierce Battle of Dover began. During the Battle, the Mote Bulwark’s guns were used but it was reported that they lacked insufficient range. Nonetheless, the battle was won. Following the Restoration in 1660 the Castle garrison was severely reduced.

On 4 August 1661, William Shellink, who kept a diary of his travels in England between 1661-1663, reported that he and his party visited Commander Sir Wadeward, at Mote Bulwark. Apparently, they were ‘hospitably entertained by him with claret wine.’ During the visit, the Ambassador representing the Elector of Brandenburg embarked on a ship to Calais. He had been in England to discuss the guardianship and education of the ten-year old orphaned Prince William of Orange (1650-1702), whose late mother, Mary the Princess Royal (1631-1660) was the sister of Charles II (1649-1685).

Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Prince William became William III, who along with his wife Mary II, the daughter of Charles II, ruled from 1689 to1702. By that time, the Castle was in a ruinous and unarmed state and the remaining military contingency had moved into the Mote Bulwark. Fearing an invasion from France, in support of the deposed James II (1685-1688), in 1691, 45 guns were installed in the Castle and 11 at Mote Bulwark.

Mote Bulwark detail of the gate from which the stairs led up to the Castle also part of the 18th cent gun platform. Alan Sencicle

Mote Bulwark – Detail of the gate from which the stairs led up to the Castle, also part of the 18th century gun platform.           Alan Sencicle

Sometime before 1737, the Mote Bulwark was rebuilt of stone, below and to the west of the older battery. Possibly due to the raising international tensions leading to the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), involving the ancient foes of England and France. The new battery was semicircular and had places for eight guns.

As part of an extensive programme of defensive works at the Castle, the semi-circular battery at Mote Bulwark was enlarged in 1755-6. The works was in order to address the potential of the Castle for artillery defence. Other works included the building of a number of Castle batteries, improving the defence of landward approaches from the north and east, and lowering the towers of Fitzwilliam Gate and Avranches Tower to give the guns a field of fire.

A description of Mote Bulwark about 1772 states that it consisted of a gate with rooms above and on both sides, a house for the gunner and an angled flight of brick steps connecting the different levels. The entrance to the Bulwark was from the east by a gradual ascent.

The American War of Independence (1775-1783) again led to hostilities between England and France. Mote Bulwark defences were updated and four forts around the Bay were built by Thomas Hyde Page. Three of these were North’s Battery in front of New Bridge – present day Granville Gardens, Amherst Battery opposite the tidal harbour on the west side of the bay, and Townsend Battery where the old Marine Station, now Cruise terminal 1, stands.

Guilford Battery with Mote Bulwark behind 1821. Dover Museum

Guilford Battery with Mote Bulwark behind – 1821              Dover Museum

Some years before, in 1753, Dover’s harbour, at the west of the bay, was suffering from the perennial problem of the Eastward Drift. In order to combat this, Harbour Commissioners built a wooden pier below the Castle and named it Castle Jetty. This slowed the eastward movement of the shingle but a broad strip of beach gradually accumulated. It was on this strip of shingle that the fourth, Guilford battery, was built. It was armed with four 32-powder guns and a number of carronades. The Castle guard at Mote Bulwark was in charge of the four batteries manned by Volunteers of the Dover  Association formed by Thomas Hyde Page.

Just before the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars (1793 to 1815), Mote Bulwark was repaired and the Guilford Shaft was excavated to link Mote Bulwark with the Castle on the cliffs above. A few months later, the Casement barracks were begun. Designed by Lt Col William Twiss they too were excavated in the chalk cliff and provided accommodation for soldiers. Initially there were four parallel tunnels extending approximately 100-feet into the cliff with vertical ventilation shafts and reached by a terrace that extended from just above Canons Gate.

Mote Bulwark Stairs from the Castle to Cliff Casemates built 1870 - LS 2013

Mote Bulwark Stairs from the Castle to Cliff Casemates built 1870 – LS 2013

Three larger tunnels with ventilation shafts and a communicating tunnel, were excavated in 1798 to provide officers quarters. Later another communicating tunnel was built along with another entrance out onto the cliff face. The tunnels and the cliff face were finished with bricks – the windows, casemates, verandas and brickwork can still be seen  above Mote Bulwark. It was said that in the barracks, one room could accommodate 200 men. These rooms were lit by oil lamps and heated using fireplaces. The chimneys took the smoke out through the top of the cliffs. The men slept on iron bedsteads.

Napoleonic prisoners of war were held at the Castle and the caves that had formed in the cliffs at sea level, were also used to house them. To while away their time the prisoners in the caves carved the walls and, it is said, some of these works are spectacular. In 1894, a Captain Lang gave the Cesar, a Man o’ War model made of bones to Dover Museum, where it can still be seen. It was said to have been made by a French prisoner out of bones left over from their food rations. The caves are now in the care of English Heritage as part of its Dover Castle property.

The broad strip of shingle created by the Eastward Drift continued to widen and in the late 18th century, Captain John Smith owned the newly created land east of Mote Bulwark. He had built what became known as Smith’s Folly and by 1816, a windmill stood below the cliffs at the east end. Sir Sidney Smith, the son of Captain Smith sold the land to Wilson Gates a builder who was responsible for the development of East Cliff and the adjacent Athol Terrace that we see today. This took place between 1817 and 1840.

East Cliff, the villas that restricted the firing range of Guilford Battery guns. LS

East Cliff, the villas that restricted the firing range of the Guilford Battery guns. LS

Following major disturbances on the Continent, in 1853-6, it was reported that at Mote Bulwark, three 18-pounders were installed but the newly created East Cliff residences restricted their field of fire. To deal with the problem, Guilford Battery parapets were raised and 42-pounder guns installed on traversing platforms.

By May 1886, the Guilford Battery was armed with six 8-inch, 65 cwt smooth bore guns and it was recommended that they be removed. In fact they remained but for ornamentation only. By that time, Fort Burgoyne, north of the Castle, and batteries with heavy guns on the cliffs above Mote Bulwark formed the real line of defence on the east side of the Bay. Together with similar armaments on Western Heights, the whole Bay was protected. By this time, only Guilford Battery remained out of the three forts that had been built c1775-1783, the other three having been demolished to make way for various developments. Although Guilford Battery remained, it had been disarmed and eventually the building became the Headquarters, South East Military District. A drill hall was built for the Territorial Army.

In order to construct the Admiralty Harbour from 1898, the cliffs at the east end of the Bay were cut back. The Eastern Arm, 2,800-feet (approx. 854 metres) in length and with depths between 26-32 feet (7.93-9.8 metres), was started in January 1901 and completed by 1904. The Admiralty Harbour was officially opened on 15 October 1909 and Sir William Crundall, chairman of Dover Harbour Board (DHB), laid the last copingstone on the widened part of Admiralty Pier on 2 April 1913. A month later work started on building the Marine Station at the landward end of Admiralty Pier with the foundations having been created by 1 million cubic yards of chalk from the eastern cliffs (see Dover, St Margaret’s and Martin Mill Railway Line part I). To enable the chalk to be transported across the bay Castle Jetty was extended and used for the purpose.

Skating rink on the site of the grounds of the guilford battery. Hollingsbee Collection Dover Museum

Skating rink on the site of the grounds of the Guilford battery. Hollingsbee Collection Dover Museum

Prior to World War I (1914-1918) Mote Bulwark came under the care of the Ancient Monuments Branch of the Ministry of Works and no longer played a part in defence. Part of the old Guilford Battery grounds were rented out and a popular County roller-skating rink opened. The rink doubled as a dance hall that was equally, if not more, popular. From September 1911, the remaining part of the grounds was used as an open-air theatre and cinema.

In June 1913, as a preparation for War, Guilford Battery and the surrounding grounds were requisitioned for the Royal Naval Seaplane Patrol. A hanger for seaplanes was built on the part previously used for an open-air theatre/cinema. The skating rink was converted into workshops and training school. The whole was under the command of Sheerness Naval District and officially named the Hydro Aeroplane Station. The seaplane service worked closely with the Dover Patrol.

 Seaplane (right) c1914. Dover Harbour Board archives

Seaplane (left) c1914. Dover Harbour Board archives

Guilford Battery was demolished in 1915 to make room for seaplane sheds and the seaplane station came under the Nore Command. It was equipped with Short 830 and Sopwith Baby seaplanes along with a White and Thompson No3 flying boat. Next to each hanger was a motor-powered winch for hauling the planes from the sea and a concrete slipway was laid from which seaplanes were launched and winched back. This was next to the Boundary Groyne.

The flying boat was lifted and lowered by steam cranes kept on the Eastern Arm until the larger flying boats came into service when a ramp was used for launching. The engineers at Dover made modifications to the seaplanes and these were incorporated into later, upgraded craft. Towards the end of the War, two-seater planes replaced the seaplanes. The Boundary Groyne was adapted to catapult these planes into the air – and sometimes into the sea! The only time the hangers were damaged by enemy action was in October 1917 when a Gotha bomber dropped its load along the seafront.

Flying boat post World War I. Dover Harbour Board archives.

Flying boat post World War I. Dover Harbour Board archives.

After the War, the seaplane establishment was run down and on 26 March 1919, it was officially closed. All but one of the hangers was removed and the slipways were buried. A few ground crew remained to refuel the occasional Royal Air Force seaplanes and flying boats. In the early 1920s, DHB designated a seaplane anchorage east of the Prince of Wales Pier with landing runs of 1,000, 1,200, 1,600 and 1,800 yards. This was used by the Channel Air Express, part of the Compagnie Aérienne Francaise – later absorbed by Air France. The firm offered a flying boat taxi-service to Calais.

By the early 1930s, there was a hydroplane service to France with regular crossing during the day – depending on customers. The journey took 20-minutes to Calais but passengers boarding the plane from the Pier were virtually guaranteed a thorough wetting! About this time Leslie Harrington, a junior with Southern Railway, produced a report in which he put forward the idea of the Company running a seaplane service out of Dover. Although the proposition was not taken up, Harrington eventually became the British Railways General Manager of the Shipping & International Services Division. He retired in 1969 and lived on Marine Parade.

Territorial Army Drill Hall Townwall Street 1912. Dover Museum

Territorial Army Drill Hall Townwall Street 1912               Dover Museum

Following the war, the Territorial Army moved back into their former quarters on the former Guilford battery site and the old skating rink became the Territorial Army Drill Hall and the Garrison Library. Other WWI seaplane buildings were converted into married quarters. The remaining hanger was used as a military riding school until refurbished as a second Drill Hall. In 1933, it was suggested that a lift from street level to the Castle should be built from the site. The lift was estimated to cost £9,788 but as the military still occupied the land, access was awkward so the scheme was put on hold.

Admiral Bertram Ramsay on Dynamo Terrace, Casemates above Mote Bulwark, Dover Castle. Doyle Collection

Admiral Bertram Ramsay on Dynamo Terrace, Casemates above Mote Bulwark, Dover Castle. Doyle Collection

During World War II (1939-1945), the Castle Casemates above the Mote Bulwark took on an important role. From 24 August 1939, they became the HQ of Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay, who had served in the Dover Patrol, 1915-1918. It was from these rooms that he planned and co-ordinated the Dunkirk Evacuation, called Operation Dynamo, (26 May to 04 June 1940). The photograph shows Ramsay taking a break on the balcony, which can be seen from Townwall Street. Some 100 Royal Navy Officers and 1000 WRNS worked in the Casemates, helping to bring 338,680 British and Allied servicemen from the French coast in the face of invading Germans.

At the beginning of the War, the Guilford shaft – the four shafts linked by sloping tunnels – were lined with steel. A considerable amount of further tunnelling took place at that time, including the creation of an underground hospital. The Coastal Artillery occupied the Casemates and concentrated on defending the Dover Strait. Some 50-feet (16-metres) below the Casemates and 144-feet (43.9-metres) above sea level, accommodation blocks excavations were undertaken to create DUMPY – often translated as meaning Deep Underground Military Position Yellow. This was to serve the Channel HQ. It was started in August 1942 and completed by April 1943.

The Drill Halls and quarters below Mote Bulwark were used by the Royal Army Medical Corps to deal with medical emergencies from the ships in the harbour. An anti-aircraft battery was nearby. On Wednesday 28 June 1944 one of the Halls was hit by shells. Three soldiers were killed and thirteen injured. Towards the end of the War, the World War I Seaplane slipways were unearthed, repaired and used as landing stages to train troops in assault landings ready for D-Day, 6 June 1944.

Former Seaplane Shed refurbished for the Territorial Army, Townwall Street. Dover Museum

Former Seaplane Shed refurbished for the Territorial Army, Townwall Street. Dover Museum

Following the War part of the slipways were removed, leaving the concrete foundations. The Drill Halls were repaired and eventually they were refurbished for use by the Territorial Army (TA). The old skating rink became the local headquarters. In 1953, the Eastern Dock opened as Dover’s second major passenger terminal. Aimed at the car driver, the Dock proved very popular and the roads soon became congested. In 1956, the Ministry of Transport announced a proposal to make Townwall Street a trunk road, including Douro Place and parts of Marine Parade and East Cliff.

When built, because of the TA buildings, there was a sharp turn right into Douro Place, between the Gateway Flats and what was then Marine Court, to the Seafront. There, was a sharp turn left to join Marine Parade for the Eastern Dock. In 1980, the TA’s moved to a purpose built HQ on the old Odeon cinema site in London Road, Buckland.

Former Army Recruiting Centre Townwall Street. LS 2012

Former Army Recruiting Centre Townwall Street. LS 2012

The following year, the second Drill Hall and other buildings were demolished to create a bypass of the Douro Place-Marine Parade junction. The former TA-HQ was virtually rebuilt as an Army Recruitment Centre. The Army moved out in the late 1990s and in 2002 the, by then, derelict building along with the site, was sold to a private buyer. Since then, nothing has been done.

In 1958, the Royal Navy moved out of the Casemates and the DUMPY level was taken over by the Home Office. The following year they were both refurbished as the top-secret Regional (South Eastern) Seat of Government in the event of nuclear war. The Complex provided radiation-proof living quarters for 420 people who may have had to remain underground for a considerable length of time. DUMPY closed in the 1970s and in 1988 was abandoned but not declassified until 1992.

The Castle ceased to be an army barracks in 1958 and in February 1963 was handed over to the Ministry of Works, (Ancient Monument Branch), to preserve as an ancient monument. The military retained St Mary-in-Castro as the garrison Church and the Constable’s Tower as the official residence of the local military commander, who is also the Deputy Constable of the Castle. The Castle subsequently came under English Heritage and in 1990 the Dunkirk Operations rooms and the Casemate Level were opened to the public.

  • Presented: 26 October 2014



About Lorraine

I am a local historian, whose love of Dover has lead to decades of research into some of the lesser known tales that this famous and beautiful town has to tell.
This entry was posted in Armed Services, Aviation, Buildings, Mote Bulwark and Sea Planes, Mote Bulwark and Sea Planes. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Mote Bulwark and Sea Planes

  1. Katherine Marcella says:

    Excellent article, Lorraine. Thank you very much! Could you tell me if there is more of the 1890 map shown above available online? I am particularly interested in the area just west of Old St. James Church. Thank you very much.

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