Great Bullion Robbery – Part II

Shakespeare Beach railway viaduct and Shakespeare Cliff by J Shury 23.02.1844

Shakespeare Beach railway viaduct and Shakespeare Cliff by J Shury 23.02.1844

On 15 May 1855, approximately £15,000 of gold bullion was stolen from the South Eastern Railway Company mail train from London to Dover. Part I of this story recounts the transportation of the gold, the discovery of the robbery and the investigation so far.

A Woman Slighted

It was shortly after dawn in early autumn of 1855 and Fanny Bolam Kay was lying in her bed working out what to do next. Henry Agar had paid the rent on the house in Shepherds Bush up until he was arrested and provided enough for her and Edward to live on for about a month. After he left her for Emily Campbell, she had cleaned the house from top to bottom, not because there was a huge need but out of anger.

Albeit, when it came to the washhouse and spare bedroom they did need a good clean. The spare bedroom grate was black while the wooden floor was covered in burn marks. Fanny had covered these with rugs in anticipation of taking in a lodger. There was also a pile of charcoal sacks to be rid of and other bits and pieces that Fanny failed to understand why Henry and William Pierce needed them.

She was about to get up when suddenly there was a loud banging on her front door followed by an even louder voice, with a Lancashire accent that Fanny hoped never to hear again. ‘Wake up your drunken whore or do I have to kick this door in!’ The banging started again together with Pierce yelling further obscenities waking up young Edward, her son.

Fanny reached the front door before Pierce had kicked it open. He immediately charged past her and went to the washhouse. His wife was behind him and told Fanny to get Edward as they were to go with them. Mrs Pierce said that she had brought a handcart and went through the house putting some of the mother and child’s possessions into a large carpetbag that she had brought with her. Neither of the pair paid any heed to Fanny’s protestations.

On arrival at the Pierce residence, Crown Terrace, Hampstead Road, London, Mrs Pierce showed Fanny into a small room in the attic that she was to share with Edward. Pierce told Fanny that she was to stay with them until the ‘heat’ had died down and to pay her way, she was to look after the Pierce children. Further, she was not to go out, in case the police saw her. Listening to the conversations between her two captors Fanny realised that Henry and Pierce had been involved in a bullion robbery and that the gold had been melted down in the washhouse and the spare room at her home in Shepherds Bush.

It was not until April 1856 that Fanny heard from Henry again. The letter came care of Pierce, dated 2nd of that month and the address was given as Portsea where Henry was held awaiting Transportation. From the letter, Fanny surmised that Henry thought she and Edward were no longer in London and that she was financially well cared for as Henry had given Pierce money for them. Out of this money, Henry asked Fanny to buy a silver cup for Edward and one each for Pierce’s children to remind them of Henry.

Since moving in with the Pierce family, Fanny had been treated as a poorly paid servant and she immediately confronted Pierce with Henry’s letter.  Pierce screwed it up and threw it on the fire. He then grabbed hold of Fanny and pushed her out of the front door and into the street. Edward was still in the house and it was Mrs Pierce who answered her banging on the door.

After collecting Edward, Mrs Pierce seemed genuinely concerned as to where they were going and quietly gave her a small amount of money. A few days later Fanny, believing that Pierce had left the house, called for their belongings. Pierce had, however, returned by the back door and on seeing Fanny he attacked her and badly beat her up.

 South Eastern Railway Logo

South Eastern Railway Logo

Distressed and heavily bruised, Fanny went to see Superintendent Weatherhead at London Bridge Station. There she recounted what had happened and her belief that Agar and Pierce were involved in the Great Bullion Robbery. Soon after Mr Rees, the solicitor of South Eastern Railway Company (SER) and one of the four key investigators into robbery, came to see Fanny.

Rees took the young mother and her son to a place of safety paid for by SER and gave her some money. Along with the other three investigators, Sergeant Smith, Sergeant Thornton and Detective F Williams, Rees went to see Agar. They presented him with Fanny’s statement and eventually Agar agreed to turn Queen’s Evidence on one condition. If, on conviction of the others involved in the robbery he was allowed to go to a country of his own choosing and never to return to Great Britain again. Agar was then transferred to Pentonville prison, London.

Turning Queen’s Evidence

Agar told the investigators that some years before, while Pierce was working for SER, they had carried out a robbery at London Bridge railway station. On that occasion they had stolen £800 from an iron safe kept in the basement after making a duplicate key. Agar was uncomfortable carrying out the robbery preferring to create counterfeit cheques and have them cashed, which required more skill. Following Agar’s last trip to America, Pierce had suggested that they should consider robbing a gold consignment going to France. Agar was not convinced but up for a challenge he agreed to go with Pierce to Folkestone to see if it was possible.

In the second week of May 1854 they rented rooms in Folkestone, near the station for a couple of weeks. At the quay side railway station they saw that the chest, in which the bullion was carried, was only transported on the mail train and that the chest had two locks. Over the next few days Agar noted that the clerks used just two keys and that the same two keys fitted all the chests. The problem was that the keys were kept separately and he could not see anyway of getting hold of them to make copies.

Folkestone - mid 19th Century. Dover Museum

Folkestone – mid 19th Century. Dover Museum

While they were in Folkestone Pierce recognised Inspector Hazel who had arrested him over the tickets fraud back in 1850. Following this they made out that they were not together but not long after Agar returned to London telling Pierce that the robbery was impossible.

On Pierce’s return to London he told Agar that he had spoken to William Tester, whom they both knew. Tester was the senior clerk in the London Bridge superintendent’s office and had access to one of the keys but only briefly. This was when loading or unloading a consignment from the mail train, for the rest of the time the key was locked in the Superintendent’s drawer.

A couple of weeks later Tester told them that at least one of the chests was going to be returned to Chubbs, the lock smiths, during the summer as a lock had seized up. When it was came back he would have one, if not both, of the keys for more than just a few minutes. In fact, Tester authorised for two chests to be sent to Chubbs but as it was the same lock that had seized up on both, only one key was needed. The chests and the key were returned in early October 1853 and Pierce arranged with Tester for Agar to make an impression. Agar made four impressions in wax.

The second key proved more problematic to get hold of. So Agar, who still had well over £3,000 from his American trip arranged for £200, in gold sovereigns, to be sent from London to Folkestone. The package was addressed it to: C E Archer c/o Mr Ledger or Mr Chapman, Senior Clerks, Folkestone Harbour station.  Agar then went to Folkestone to see how his consignment was dealt with and to see if he could work out a way of getting an impression of the second key.

Agar arranged for his consignment to arrive at Folkestone three days after he did. During that time he observed that before a ship from Boulogne moored up the clerk left his office, closing the door but not locking it. He also went into the office every day to enquire about his package, choosing a time when the clerk, Charles Chapman, did not have any other customers and was busy cashing up. On the third day, when his consignment was due, Agar bound two fingers of his right hand with a black silk finger-stall.

He again inquired about his package at a time Chapman was cashing up but this time the clerk assured Agar that it had. He then put the cash into a drawer from which he took two keys. With one of the keys he opened a cupboard in which there was the second key – the one Agar wanted an impression of. Using both keys Chapman opened the chest and took out Agar’s consignment. Agar, drawing attention to his bound hand asked Chapman would sign for the consignment on his behalf. Agar made a cross and Chapman added a note saying that ‘Mr Archer had hurt his hand.’

Rose Inn,  Cannon Street. Dover. Dover Museum

Rose Inn, Cannon Street. Dover. Dover Museum

A few days later, with Pierce wearing a specially made black wig and whiskers, Agar booked into the Rose Inn, Biggin Street, Dover using false names. They had arranged to meet James Burgess, a senior guard with SER. Burgess said that he was not keen on taking part in the robbery but Pierce talked him round. The following morning the Agar and Pierce walked across Western Heights, through Capel to Folkestone.

Shortly after arriving, they watched a ship come in from Boulogne and pandemonium then reigned. Although both Chapman and Ledger, the second senior clerk at Folkestone, were on duty, both left the office without locking the door. Pierce sneaked in and following Agar’s instructions took the key from the cupboard. Agar made several impressions and Pierce put it back before either of the two clerks returned.

Agar made several copies of the two keys but to ensure that they worked he travelled on the mail train when Tester had scheduled Burgess as the guard. While Agar was in Burgess’ van he sat on the floor so that he would not be seen by engine driver or the fireman would see him. Tester also made a point of scheduling John Kennedy as the under guard for although he was not part of the conspiracy, it was important as Burgess had to establish a routine that was slightly out of the ordinary.

At each station Burgess alighted, as always, but dealt with the third class passengers immediately behind the brake van. This was something that Kennedy would normally be expected to do but it was important to stop Kennedy coming to the front of the train. It took six to eight journeys before Agar was satisfied that he could open both locks with the counterfeit keys and he told the investigators that of the four chests only two required the second key. The locks on the other two were still seized up.

Folkestone Harbour- 19th Century - Courtesy of Folkestone Library

Folkestone Harbour- 19th Century – Courtesy of Folkestone Library

Back in London, Agar and Pierce bought about 2cwt of lead shot from different outlets. This they carried in carpetbags to Agar’s home in Shepherds Bush and kept it in a locked trunk. There they made small bags that held about 4lb-8lb of shot and packed them into two large carpetbags. The filled the spaces up with hay to stop the shot rattling. The two men also bought four large leather courier (shoulder) bags that they packed into a carpetbag.

For the robbery, the plan was for Tester to tell Burgess when there was a consignment of gold worthwhile stealing. So every evening for a couple of weeks Agar and Pierce went to the station prepared. Burgess was to give the signal by taking his hat off and wiping his face with a large handkerchief. On the evening of 15 May, Burgess made the signal.

On that evening Agar and Pierce bought two first class tickets to Dover and a porter took the two largest carpetbags and put them in Burgess’ van. Both men were wearing caped short coats and Pierce had on his black wig under a broad rimmed hat. Pierce got into a first class carriage and when no one was looking Agar climbed into Burgess’s van. Tester had already boarded the train, getting into a third class carriage and pulling the blinds down.

The train left at 20.30hrs and Burgess put a cape over the windows of his van so that the engine driver and fireman could not see into it. There were two iron chests and as soon as the train started to move, Agar, using number one key, opened the first. It did not require the second key. Inside were two wooden boxes one smaller than the other. Both had iron hoops around them. The larger box contained Messrs Abell consignment and the smaller, Messrs Spielmann’s.

Agar levered off the hoops using a mallet and chisel but carefully drawing the nails out and putting them to one side. Inside the larger box were gold bullion bars some of which he put into a black bag. By this time, the train had reached Redhill and Pierce came to the van. Agar passed him the bag and he passed it to Tester. Pierce then joined Agar in Burgess’ van just as the latter was blowing his whistle and Tester crossed the line to the opposite side of the tracks.

Folkestone Harbour - 19th Century - Courtesy of Folkestone Library

Folkestone Harbour – 19th Century – Courtesy of Folkestone Library

Together Agar and Pierce emptied the remaining gold bars from the large box and the small box, in which there was a considerable amount of foreign gold coins. They then filled both boxes with shot, replaced the iron hoops and put the nails back. Using a taper provided by Burgess, they waxed on new seals that had been purchased by Pierce for the purpose.

They then opened the second chest that required both keys. This contained Messrs Bolt’s package in which there was a large quantity of different coloured gold bars. These, Agar assumed, was Californian gold not only because of the colour but because the bars were much smaller. They took out as many as they estimated the weight of the amount shot that they had left. They then sealed the consignment and locked the chest.

The bullion  was put into the shoulder bags and these along with the spare carpetbags into the two large carpetbags. When completed, the three men tidied up and swept the van. Agar and Pierce alighted at station before reaching Folkestone, at first getting into a third class carriage. On reaching Folkestone, where there was a lot of bustle, they moved to a first class carriage. As they walked down the platform, they saw that the chests containing the shot were removed while their carpetbags, full of gold, stayed on board.

Dover Castle Hotel, 6 Clarence Place. Dover Museum

Dover Castle Hotel, 6 Clarence Place. Dover Museum

At Dover Town station, the two men collected the two carpetbags and went to the Dover Castle Hotel where they had a drink and left to catch the 02.00hrs train back to London. For this, they had two first class tickets from Ostend. These they showed  to the porter who had insisted on carrying Agar’s bag. Agar, told the investigators that he thought he had appeased the porter (Joseph Witherden) when he gave him a tip but after what happened outside Mansion House lock up, he knew that it had not worked!

On the way back to London they travelled in a first class carriage and emptied the two carpetbags throwing the hay out of the windows. It was still dark so no one saw it and as they were in the first class, they were far enough away from the engine for it not to catch fire. They put the carpetbags into one and Pierce left that in the waiting room of one of the stations that the train stopped. Hiding the very heavy shoulder bags under their caped coats, on arrival in London they caught a cab from the station alighting not far from Pierce’s house.

Later they met up with Tester who gave them the part of the consignment he had taken off the train at Redhill. They then exchanged one Californian gold bar for £203 6s and the gold coins for £213 10s. Pierce was in serious financial trouble at the time so Agar gave him most of this. The remaining gold bars were taken to Agar’s house where the two men created a furnace, first in the backyard washhouse, but they were concerned that the noise would arouse suspicion. Following Pierce sacking the maid, (Charlotte Painter), they moved into her room where they melted the gold to make bars weighing between 100 and 200 ounces each.

It was agreed that they would sell the gold in small batches and Agar sold two bars weighing about 200 ounces each to James Seward of Walworth Common. For this they received £3 2s 6d an ounce in gold sovereigns. Agar later sold a further four bars to Seward for the same price. When they had £2500 in sovereigns Pierce changed it for notes.

Over this, the two men had disagreed, Agar saying that the notes were traceable but Pierce argued that carrying around a lot sovereigns would bring unwanted attention. Pierce had said that he would ensure that the notes could not be traced by telling the bank cashier that he was acting on behalf of a company that the railway used. Much to Agar’s surprise, the bank accepted this and did nothing, but the investigators knew otherwise.

The four men, Agar, Pierce, Burgess and Tester met at the end of May with Pierce, Tester and Agar receiving £600 each and Burgess £700. The differences were to be made up at the subsequent share-outs. On Agar’s conviction, he received word that Pierce had moved the remaining gold and Agar’s own money from Shepherds Bush to his property. He had been assured that Pierce had given Fanny Kay £3,000 of Agar’s own money and that she and their son were living comfortably at Greenwich.

 Trial and Sentencing

Agar signed the confession and was taken to Millbank Prison, London. While at work on the evening of 5 November 1856, Burgess was arrested. Pierce had moved house but the police soon traced him and he was arrested later that same evening. Underneath his pantry steps, a hole was found in which the remaining gold bullion was stashed. The four investigators then went to Agar’s former home in Shepherds Bush. There they found traces of gold adhering to the firebricks in the washhouse and in the spare room. In the latter, they also found burns on the floor that glittered when a light was shone on them.  Tester, who was in Stockholm, was ordered to return to London.

William Henry Bodkin, Dover Recorder (1834-1874) and chief prosecutor in the Great Train Robbery trials.  Dover Museum

William Henry Bodkin, Dover Recorder (1834-1874) and chief prosecutor in the Great Train Robbery trials. Dover Museum

Burgess and Pierce were brought before Alderman Humphrey, at the Mansion House, London on 6 November 1856 with Tester joining them when he returned to the capital. The prosecution was conducted by William Henry Bodkin (1791-1874) the Recorder of Dover (1834-1874). The evidence presented rested heavily on Agar’s confession augmented by Fanny’s and Witherden’s testimonies. On 24 December, having pleaded not guilty, the three men were sent for trail at the Old Bailey. From when they were arrested they had been incarcerated in Newgate prison with no special privileges allowed. James Townsend Saward alias The Barrister alias Jim the Penman, was brought before Alderman Humphrey in early January 1857, and charged with having being involved in a ‘great number of forgeries upon London Bankers.’

The trial of Burgess, Pierce and Tester opened at the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, London on 11 January 1857 before Mr Baron Martin and Mr Justice Willes, they were accompanied on the bench by Alderman Humphrey, Sir F G Moon, Mr Sheriff Machi, Mr Under Sheriff Crossley and Mr Under Sheriff Anderton. Throughout the trial, the three prisoners kept constant communication with their legal teams and were charged with:

  • Stealing 200lb weight of gold valued £12,000
  • Stealing a number of gold bars and some gold coins
  • Stealing the same property in the dwelling house of South Eastern Railway Company
  • Feloniously receiving property knowing it to be stolen.

All three prisoners entered a plea of ‘not guilty.’

William Bodkin headed the prosecution and among the defence team was Henry Bodkin Poland, the nephew of William Bodkin and his successor as Recorder of Dover (1874-1901). Poland was representing Pierce. It was recognised by all concerned that Agar was the brains behind the robbery and the basis of the prosecution was Agar’s testimony. However, unlike the earlier hearing, there was a stream of witnesses most of whom had given statements prior to Agar’s confession (Great Bullion Robbery Part I).

The defence centred on negating Agar’s account saying that he was a ‘scoundrel that, by his own admission, had only done 3 years honest work in his life.’ As for the other witnesses, the defence argued that little weight should be attached to their evidence as it was purely circumstantial. That was, with the exception of Fanny Kay. Her evidence, they argued, was based on malicious jealousy over a supposed £3,000 that Agar had supposedly given to Pierce for her and her bastard child. In reality, they argued, Pierce ‘had taken in the destitute woman and her offspring and given her a job when Agar had abandoned her.

Baron Martin summed up the case but before making a number of observations he emphasised: ‘That for the purpose of convicting anyone on the evidence of an approver (Agar), it was necessary that it should be corroborated by an other witness or witnesses whom the approver cannot have had communication with or control.’

The learned Judge then went on to say that Agar was arrested on 15 August 1855 and convicted in October so had no way of communicating with any of the witnesses. That he had remained loyal to all three until he heard of Pierce’s despicable behaviour towards Fanny Kay and the child. Agar, said the judge, had no animosity towards either Burgess or Tester nor shown any other than how they featured in the story. He then went through the corroborating evidence (Great Bullion Robbery Part I).

The Jury was dismissed at 17.00hrs and returned ten minutes later. Both Burgess and Tester were found guilty of larceny by a servant and were sentenced to 14 years transportation. Pierce was found guilty of larceny and sentenced to hard labour for two years during which, for three months – the 1st 12th and 24th – he was to be kept in solitary confinement. The Judge said that it was the maximum sentence he could give reflecting the difference between simple larceny and larceny by a servant. The latter, in consequence to the abuse of confidence, was treated under the law, as the graver offence.

Post Script: Kay-v-Pierce

Following the judgement the three men’s money was confiscated to the amount stolen minus the amount found hidden underneath Pierce’s the pantry steps. Of Agar’s money, the Court of Chancery ruled that £3,000 belonged to Fanny Kay and her son Edward, as she had played no part in the robbery. A trust was set up on 3 February 1857 for Edward, until he was of age, and this was held by the Commissioner of Police, then Sir Richard Mayne.

In the meantime, Fanny was given more than enough money for her to live as a gentlewoman with Edward. However, Fanny was ill and Mrs Pierce, following her husband’s conviction, had been kindly towards Fanny and Edward. Therefore, Mrs Pierce was asked to take care of Edward for which Fanny gave her  £500 in trust while she went to the coast in the hope of recuperating. Fanny died of tuberculosis at High Wickham – a part of Hastings, Sussex  – on 27 February 1858 age 27. By that time, concern was being expressed that Mrs Pierce was neglecting Edward so Sir Richard moved him into the care of Mr and Mrs William Cranston in Tottenham.

In July 1875, when Edward was twenty, he brought a case against Mrs Pierce for the return of the £500 that his mother had given in trust to look after him. It was heard by the vice-chancellor of the Court of Chancery Sir James Bacon (1798-1895). Mrs Pierce contended that the money was given to her personally, not in trust, but the ruling went against her and Edward received his full entitlement.

It would seem that Edward became a carpenter and in 1888, he married Jane Emma Lane. Edward had at least three children, Beatrice Fanny born 1885, Edward Robert born 1888 and Laura Ada born 1890 and lived in South Grove, Walthamstow, Essex. At the time William Morris is claimed to have complained that Walthamstow was becoming spoilt and ‘Cockneyfied!’ Edward’s three children were christened in 1895 at St Mary’s Church, Walthamstow but the year before, in January 1887, Edward had died of a stroke brought on by alcoholism.

South Eastern Railway line looking towards Folkestone from Dover 1846 - Dover Museum

South Eastern Railway line looking towards Folkestone from Dover 1846 – Dover Museum

  • Presented:
  • 11 May 2014
Posted in Courts, Crime & Punishment, Great Bullion Robbery - Part II, Great Bullion Robbery - Part II, Railways | Comments Off on Great Bullion Robbery – Part II

Great Bullion Robbery – Part I

Schematic drawing giving dates of the laying of East Kent Railway Lines

Schematic drawing giving dates of the laying of East Kent Railway Lines

On 27 January 1844, the South Eastern Railway Company’s (SER) line from London, via Folkestone, to Dover was completed and the 2-2-2 steam locomotive number 36 Shakespeare, made a trial run. At 16.00hours on Tuesday 6 February, a shrill was heard from the Shakespeare engine pulling four carriages. On board was the chairman of SER, Joseph Baxendale 1785-1872), along with the directors and they came into the Town Station in the maritime Pier District of Dover. A multitude including dignitaries was there to great them, for this was the first train ever to come to Dover. The next day the railway opened to public traffic and according to the Railway Times of 24 February, six trains a day were provided in each direction.

Given Royal Assent on 21 June 1836, the Act to build the line required that SER and the Brighton Railway Company used the same line from London Bridge to Redhill. From Redhill through Tonbridge to Ashford the line was almost, and still is, straight. From Ashford to Folkestone it is relatively straight but from Folkestone to Dover there are the cliffs on one side and the sea on the other. As dealing with these problems was going to be costly the company decided to abandon the idea and buy and refurbish Folkestone harbour as their terminal for cross-Channel ferries to France. They took the line across a viaduct at Folkestone, which can still be seen today, to the harbour where they built a station.

 Train running alongside Shakespeare Beach

Train running alongside Shakespeare Beach

The Dover Corporation and Harbour Commissioners put pressure on the railway company to with the Act and the line was carried through to the town. Tunnels were excavated through the cliffs and Round Down Cliff was demolished. For the journey from Shakespeare tunnel to Archcliffe tunnel the track went along a platform of earth that was laid alongside Shakespeare beach. Town Station was close to Dover’s harbour, which at that time was on the western side of the bay. On 2 April 1848 the foundation stone was laid for the Admiralty Pier, jutting out to sea on the west side of the harbour and even while it was being built it became the main quay for cross-Channel ships to Dover.

Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (1808-1873), who had been elected President of the French Republic, staged a coup d’état on 2 December 1851, and became the country’s sole ruler. A year later, he declared himself Emperor Napoleon III and introduced a number of reforms one of which was modernising the French banking system. This made France financially attractive and gold started to flow from London to Paris. Thus, besides carrying passengers and goods SER was increasingly carrying gold.

The Robbery

On the evening of 15 May 1855, three boxes of gold were delivered to London Bridge Station by John Chaplin of Messrs Chaplin & Co. – security conveyance. One of the boxes contained gold belonging to Messrs Abell & Co., a second to Messrs Spielman & Co. and the third Messrs Bult. All the boxes were sealed, weighed and entered on the manifest at Chaplins before being transported to the station – Abell’s was the largest and weighed 2,125½ ounces.

Chests similar to the ones that the gold was carried on trains c1860

Chests similar to the ones that the gold was carried on trains c1860

On reaching the station, they were unloaded and with the help of bullion porter James Sellings, John Chaplin took them into the stationmaster’s office. Edgar Cox, the clerk there, weighed and signed for the bullion. Cox, Sellings and porter John Bailey carried the three heavy packages into Superintendent Weatherhead’s office where senior clerk, William Tester put the bullion into two iron chests. The company had four of these chests, each had two Chubb locks with two keys fitted all four. At London Bridge, one of these keys was kept in Superintendent Weatherhead’s office and this Tester used to lock both chests. The other key was kept in the stationmaster’s office and this Cox had brought with him for the other locks. The two chests were then wheeled into the strong room.

A few minutes before the mail train was due to leave, at 20.30hrs, the chests were wheeled out by Tester and with the help of train’s senior guard, James Burgess, they were put into the brake van. This was behind the engine of the train where, except at each station, the senior guard remained. Bullion was only carried on the mail trains and the brake van was designed with this in mind. Trains did not have corridors in those days and the design of each carriage was based on a coach.

The under guard was in the rear coach and it was his duty to help passengers on and off the train, check doors were closed, check that the red lights at the back of the train were lit and wave his flag to the senior guard when all was done. At the stations the senior guard stayed close to the brake van and when under guard waved his flag, the senior guard who blew his whistle to tell the driver he could carry on. The under guard that evening was John Kennedy.

South Eastern Railway line looking towards Folkestone 1846 - Dover Museum

South Eastern Railway line looking towards Folkestone 1846 – Dover Museum

It was SER Company policy that the senior guard was not allowed to have anyone in his van. Along with the gold consignment, there would be other goods, packages and cases belonging to passengers travelling on the train or sending their goods by train. The guards worked to rosters that were compiled by the deputy superintendent or a senior clerk in the superintendent’s office. At the time of the robbery this was Tester’s job. The guards were only allowed to work on the mail train, at the most, once every three months and the senior and under guards were not allowed to work regularly together on the mail train.

At Folkestone, the iron chests were unloaded but only unlocked if anything was to be taken out for collection or put in at the port. If not, the chest would remain locked and at least one member of staff was designated to stay with the chest until the cross-Channel ship berthed. As there were two chests on the night of 15 May, watchman Spicer and telegraph clerk, Robert Mackay were given the task with porter Richard Hart as relief. Police Constable James Knight relieved them on the morning of 16 May.

Lord Warden - Paddle Steamer 1890 built by Laird Bros in 1847. Dover Museum

Lord Warden – Paddle Steamer 1890 built by Laird Bros in 1847. Dover Museum

That morning four seamen took the two chests on board the Lord Warden steamer, built by Laird Bros in 1847, where they were left in charge of Captain James Golder. On arrival in Boulogne, the Captain unlocked the chests and Jaques Feran, porter at the customs office took the three packages out of the chests carrying each separately into the customs office at the French port. On picking them up, he commented to the ship’s Captain that none of the packages appeared secure. The Captain inspected them and noted this in his log.

James Major of the Messageries Imperiales at Boulogne took charge of the three packages and they were weighed in the custom house. The weights did not correspond to the manifest – the one belonging to Abell’s was found to weigh 40lb lighter, Bult’s was slightly heavier and Spielman’s was much heavier.

First reported news of the Great Bullion Robery. Times 21.05.1855

First reported news of the Great Bullion Robery. Times 21.05.1855

Major took them into his own office and again weighed them but the weight was the same as at the custom house. The packages were loaded into similar chests as in England and again locked but Major decided to travel with them to Paris. The first package, from Messrs Abell & Co., was delivered to M. Everard of Everard and Co. and when opened was found to contain lead shot. The other two packages also contained lead shot although the smaller one, Bult’s, did contain some gold.

After leaving Folkestone, the train carried on to Dover where it terminated at the Town Station. That evening there were two members of staff on duty, porter and booking clerk Henry Williams and porter Joseph Witherden. The latter was young, clumsy and according to Williams, lazy. Williams had sent Witherden off to help passengers with their luggage from the Ostend boat and should have returned by the time the mail train came in but he was nowhere to be seen.

Town Station, Dover 1890

Town Station, Dover 1890

In fact, he did not return to Town Station until the last passengers from the mail train were leaving. He told Williams that he had been waiting in the customs shed for passengers to come off the boat but there were none. Angry, Williams gave Witherden a dirty menial task to do while he, along with the two train guards, Burgess and Kennedy, enjoyed a pipe and a cup of tea in the booking office.

There were two passengers booked onto the mail train’s return journey to London. This was due to leave at 02.00hrs but about twenty minutes before two men came into the station. One was shorter than the other with fair hair and clean shaven. The second, older man was taller with black hair and whiskers. Both were carrying heavy carpetbags and wore short caped coats. They walked through the barrier towards the stationary train and Williams was about to leave his office and tackle them over their tickets when Witherden appeared. He asked to carry the shorter man’s bag, checking if Williams was watching him doing his duty.

The shorter man refused to let his bag go and this surprised Witherden, who already had hold of the handle. The ‘gent’ was then rude to Witherden who did let go but demanded to see their tickets. The dark haired man produced two blue first class tickets from Ostend to London. Looking at these Witherden said that there had been no luggage passed through the custom house that evening from Ostend to which the fair-haired man replied ‘No, we came yesterday.’ and gave Witherden a shilling!

The Investigation

On receipt of the telegraphic news from Paris announcing the robbery, two police officers, Sergeant Smith and Sergeant Thornton, from Scotland Yard London, were despatched to France. There they saw James Major of the Messageries Imperiales at Boulogne and the three bullion dealers for who the gold was intended. The lead shot was identified having been made in England and this together with the discrepancies in the weights on the manifests convinced them that the robbery had taken place between London and Boulogne.

South Eastern Railway Logo

South Eastern Railway Logo

On returning to London the officers inform the directors of SER but they were of the opinion that the robbery had taken place after the gold had left their jurisdiction. This had been told to Abell’s who immediately started legal action against the French railway company. With the fear of legal action, SER arranged for their solicitor, Mr Rees, to be co-opted onto the core investigation team. The fourth member of the team was Metropolitan detective F Williams.

On looking at the evidence brought from France even Rees had to admit that the robbery had taken place between London and Boulogne. Within a week of the robbery, a man named Seal drunkenly boasted that he had executed the robbery when the gold was being transported to London Bridge Station. He was arrested but it was found that Seal, who ran a betting office, was given to such boasting and was subsequently released.

The four investigators called a meeting that included representatives from the SER, Metropolitan, Folkestone and Dover police forces. They told them that it was believed by the directors of the SER that the robbery had taken place in France. However, to have the full picture of the transhipment they wanted everyone who was in anyway connected with the gold, the train, all the railway stations the train stopped at – including Dover – and the ship to be interviewed. Following the meeting, as the investigators were given the names of all those directly connected with the shipment, they had them put under the surveillance of officers from Scotland Yard.

Dover Castle Hotel, 6 Clarence Place c1850. Dover Museum

Dover Castle Hotel, 6 Clarence Place c1850. Dover Museum

At Dover, Police Superintendent Coram was the senior police officer. He had been a sergeant in the Metropolitan police and knew the core-investigating police officers. Coram personally took charge of the investigation within the town including interviewing Henry Williams and Joseph Witherden. He flagged up Witherden’s statement about the two men who arrived twenty minutes before the 02.00hrs train carrying heavy bags. With this in mind, he gave out the description provided by Witherden and sent his men to every pub, hotel and guesthouse near to the station to see if anyone recognised them.

Robert Clark, waiter at the Dover Castle Hotel, 6 Clarence Place, said that the two men answering the description came to the hotel about midnight on 15 May, carrying heavy bags. They ordered brandy-and-water to be served in a soda water bottle, which he thought was odd. Widow, Mrs Elizabeth Divers, the owner of the hotel, found such a bottle and took a look at the two men before going to her bed. Clerk took a further order for drinks, which the men drank before leaving at about 01.30hrs.

Rose Inn,  Cannon Street. Dover Museum

Rose Inn, Cannon Street. Dover Museum

A couple of day’s later Werter Clark, the keeper of the Rose Inn, Cannon Street, called at the police station to see Superintendent Coram. Having heard of the investigation, he said that back in October 1854, two men answering the description of those the police were interested, stayed over night. They gave their names as Adams and Peckham. During the evening, they were joined by a third man, who was known to Werter Clark as Burgess – a railway guard – who frequented the Rose. The next morning Adams and Peckham left after breakfast inquiring the way to Folkestone saying that they would walk. Clark pointed the way over Western Heights.

In London, SER Directors were proving a constant constraint, not only did they firmly believe that the robbery had taken place in France, they had great confidence in the train guard, James Burgess. Only with great deal reluctance did they allow him to be interviewed. Burgess was in his early thirties, lived in London near the station and had ‘remarkable self possession.’ He denied all knowledge of the robbery but did admit that sometime he allowed ‘gents‘ to ride with him in the brake van. He was emphatic that on the night of the robbery he was on his own throughout the journey. Further, he pointed out to the investigating officers that the driver and fireman could see into his van from the engine.

As the interview was about to finish, Burgess raised the possibility that the chests could have been broken into while waiting on the quayside for the ship to take them to France. he had seen the telegraph clerk, Robert Mackay, chalk the time of the ship on the side. Although those assigned to look after the chests, said Burgess, may have been vigilant, they could have fallen asleep and when the robbers saw their chance, they took it. The four investigators had already decided that it was not an opportunist robbery but told Burgess that they would bear in mind his observations. One of the police officers assigned to watch Burgess noted that he was frequently in the company of William Tester, the senior clerk in the Superintendents office.

William George Tester was in his mid-twenties, well educated and was always smartly dressed. He wore a distinguished trimmed moustache, bushy black whiskers and had a military bearing. Tester had started as a clerk with SER at Folkestone before being promoted to stationmaster at Margate. There he met Elizabeth Page and they had married in early spring 1855, a few weeks before the robbery. He had been promoted to London Bridge in 1853 and the couple lived in Lewisham. Tester was also highly thought of by the directors of SER and while the investigations were on going they gave him an exemplary reference for a more senior position. This was in Stockholm with the Swedish Railway Company and he took up the position in September 1855.

Besides dealing with bullion and other valuables following their arrival at the station, part of Tester’s duties was to arrange the roster for the railway guards. He was given this job after returning from his honeymoon as the deputy superintendent, Mr Finnegan, had left. Company policy was that guards only travelled on the mail train once every alternate month and the senior and under guards were not to work the same trains on a regular basis.

Folkestone Harbour 19th Century - Courtesy of Folkestone Library

Folkestone Harbour 19th Century – Courtesy of Folkestone Library

Albeit, it was noted by the investigating officers that Burgess had worked the mail train almost every evening for the two months prior to the robbery and John Kennedy was frequently the under guard. John Kennedy’s journey book confirmed the officers’ observations and when interviewed he said that on the night of the robbery the only odd thing he noticed was at Reigate. There, Kennedy said that he thought, because it was dark but the oil lamps were lit,  that he saw Tester leaving the train. If it was Tester he was carrying a dark bag but it may not have been him as Tester lived in Lewisham so had no reason to be on the train.

Police Officer W Dickinson was on duty at London Bridge on the night of the robbery and described the various passengers that came in on the Dover mail train. This included two men carrying what appeared to be heavy shoulder bags. He was adamant that they did not have carpetbags and it was their behaviour at the cab rank that caught his attention. The fair one, PC Dickinson said, was younger and shorter than his dark haired companion was and he offered to get them a cab.

They declined instead they walked down the rank and appeared to be walking away from the station. However, when they seemed assured that the police officer had disappeared into the station they returned and took the first cab in line. PC Dickinson noted the cab number and on its return the cab driver told him that he had taken his fare to Hampstead Road, London.

After hearing of the robbery Mr Chubb, the locksmith, contacted SER. Interviewed by Mr Rees, the solicitor on the investigating team, he said that in June 1854 his company had been asked to change the locks on two of the chests as they had seized up. The letters were written in William Tester’s handwriting and signed by the then Superintendent a Mr Brown.

Others that came forward included a Mr Bailey from the Bank of England. He told the team that on 28 May 1855 a tall, fair-haired man with a northern accent brought 600 sovereigns into the bank and asked for them to be exchanged for six £100 notes. The man said that Messrs Edginton  of the tarpaulin manufacturers of Duke Street, had sent him.

The company were frequently employed by SER but the senior teller was none too happy about the transaction. He therefore made a note of the numbers of the £100 notes – 45,420 to 45,425 inclusive – and all were printed on 9 January 1855. After the man left, Mr Bailey contacted Edginton’s who knew nothing of the transaction. Hence, he issued an order stating that when the notes came back to the Bank a note was made as to who endorsed them.

One of the notes, 45,422, was presented for exchange for 10x£10 notes on 10 September 1855 , it was brought in by William Tester’s father. George Raffin paid in the note numbered 45,425 on 21 November. Raffin was a fruitier who told the investigators that he had changed the note for a William Pierce. He went on to say that at about the same time, he exchanged a further 200 sovereigns for £200 in notes with the Bank of England on behalf of Pierce. James Burgess endorsed the notes numbered 45,421, 45,423 and 45,424. The remaining note was endorsed by publican J Stearn who later endorsed a further £500 of notes. Stearn was questioned and said that he had made the exchange on behalf of Pierce.

Folkestone Pier where the Boulogne ship tied up - mid 19th Century. Dover Museum

Folkestone Pier where the Boulogne ship tied up – mid 19th Century. Dover Museum

Inspector George Hazel, the senior police officer with SER at Folkestone interrogated all those involved in the transportation of the bullion at Folkestone. This included Charles James Chapman who kept one of the keys to the chests in his office and Thomas Ledger, who was responsible for the other. The Inspector also went through the police note books from the previous year and was reminded of an incident a year before the robbery.

In May 1854, Hazel saw William Pierce with another man on the Pier at Folkestone near where the Boulogne ship tied up. Up until 1850, Pierce had been employed by SER as a ticket printer near London Bridge station. One day a letter addressed to Mr Pierce arrived at the superintendent’s office where another William Pierce worked as a clerk. The clerk opened the letter and was surprised to read that it was a request for fraudulent tickets. Hazel, then a police sergeant at London Bridge, was informed and Pierce – the printer – was questioned by him. Pierce was sacked but SER directors decided not to prosecute.

Folkestone Harbour 19th Century - Courtesy of Folkestone Library

Folkestone Harbour 19th Century – Courtesy of Folkestone Library

Hazel saw the two men several times and put PC Thomas Sherman to watch them and report back. Hazel described Pierce as in his late thirties originally from Lancashire and retained the accent. He was about 5foot 8inches, thin, fair and imperfectly educated. The other man, was about 5foot 6inches had fairish hair was in his middle to late twenties and could easily pass as a ‘gent’.

PC Thomas Sherman reported that at first the two men arrived at the port and left together and were on friendly terms but after a few days they arrived at different times from different directions and left separately. During that time, neither men spoke to each other. Sherman had noted that the younger man seemed particularly interested in the transportation of bullion to France.

Folkestone harbour circa 1900. Dover Museum

Folkestone harbour circa 1900. Dover Museum

Following Sherman’s report the previous May, Hazel contacted Superintendent James Speer of Folkestone police. He told Hazel that he knew one of the other railway guards, Stephen Jones, who had told him that a man was not only attentive to the departure of boats but also the station booking and masters offices. Jones had given a description of the man and Speer set a plain-clothes police officer to watch. The man’s description fitted that of Pierce. Speer’s police officer reported that the man was staying at Mrs Hooker’s boarding house, 27 Victoria Terrace, Folkestone and had registered using the name Peckham. Another man, who fitted the description of Hazel’s second man, was sharing rooms and had given his name as Archer.

In October 1854, Hazel saw Archer coming out of the Folkestone booking office where Chapman was the clerk on duty. Instead of going on his way, Archer stopped and appeared to be watching what Chapman was doing. When he eventually moved on Hazel asked Chapman what Archer was about and what the clerk was doing after he had left the office. Chapman replied that Archer had been enquiring about a money parcel he was expecting but had not arrived. The job Chapman was doing was making up the money taken that day.

The following day Archer again enquired about the parcel at the Folkestone booking office, which still had not arrived. On third day, it had but Chapman had to sign for it as Archer said that he had hurt his hand, which was bandaged.

Folkestone Pavilion Hotel 19th cent - Courtesy of Folkestone Museum

Folkestone Pavilion Hotel 19th cent – Courtesy of Folkestone Museum

The consignment was addressed to C E Archer c/o Mr Ledger or Mr Chapman, Senior Clerks, Folkestone Harbour station.  Ledger was on his honeymoon at the time. Hazel again assigned PC Sharman to follow Archer who reported that he had seen him on the Pier with another man, who was not Pecham/Pierce.  They appeared to be on friendly terms and left together walking towards the Pavilion Hotel. Hazel had already told Speer of Archer’s return and the latter had organised a tail. The two senior police officers went to the Pavilion Hotel where Archer was with the other man whom Hazel identified as Tester, whom he knew as an employee of SER.

The Arrest for Forgery

Fanny Bolam Kay was working as an attendant in the refreshment room at Tonbridge railway station when senior railway guard James Burgess, introduced her to Henry Agar. She was in her early twenties and was totally besotted by Henry’s worldliness, wit and erudition. Eventually she moved in with him and on 11 June 1853, gave birth to their son Edward Robert Kay – they had not married. Not long after, Henry left for a business trip to United States that turned out to be very successful. On his return, they moved to Harleyford Road, Vauxhall and hired a maid, Charlotte Painter.

William Pierce, who frequently did jobs for Henry, increasingly monopolised Henry’s time and in May 1854, he spent a couple of weeks with Pierce on the south coast. All through that summer and autumn, the two men went off on similar jaunts over which Fanny and Edward were not included. Further, although Fanny was perfectly happy with their home, when Pierce suggested that the family should move, Henry complied without any reference to Fanny. She was angry but reluctantly moved to Cambridge Villas, Shepherd’s Bush, and Charlotte moved with them. The new home consisted of two rooms and a kitchen on the ground floor and three rooms upstairs. There was a separate washhouse in the yard that was  accessed through the kitchen.

Still Pierce monopolised Henry and the rows between Fanny and Henry increased. Then, in the middle of May 1855, following another jaunt to the south coast, Henry and Pierce came home one night. They brought with them several leather shoulder bags and dumped them in the kitchen. Pierce told Fanny that if she touched them he would … and then drew his finger across his throat.

The next day Pierce arrived before breakfast and stayed until 17.00hrs. The two men took the bags into the washhouse and spent most of the day in there. They did come into the kitchen at midday for a meal and were hot and dirty. When Henry was out of the room, Pierce sourly told Fanny to keep her nose out of what they were doing. Later Henry, told Fanny that they were ‘making leather aprons.’ 

Over the next few days the men spent most of the time in the washhouse and when they were not in there, the door was kept locked. Although the windows were whitened so she could not see in, Fanny was aware that they had a charcoal fire going. She could also hear a lot of hammering and knocking, something on which Charlotte had commented.

One day, they left the door unlocked and went out so Fanny told Charlotte to tidy it up and sweep the floor. The young maid was doing this when Pierce returned,  saw the girl and that evening, 20 May, Henry told Charlotte her services were no longer needed. Pierce cleared out Charlotte’s old room, except for the bed, and for the next ten days they worked in there keeping the door closed. Fanny looked into the room once and saw a fire in the grate that was brightly lit – the weather at the time was hot.  When Henry saw her, he quickly closed the door.

In the evenings, after Pierce had left, Henry would go out coming back late. All of which reduced Fanny to tears. In July, she had enough and leaving the toddler with a neighbour went out, met up with some old friends and had a bit too much to drink. The friends brought her home in a wheelbarrow and Henry was furious. Pierce was there and called Fanny a drunken whore. Henry moved in with Emily Campbell, whom they both knew just coming back during the day with Pierce to work in the spare room.

Emily Campbell had had been living with a man known to Fanny as Humphries and he knew that Henry Agar made his money through forgery. Agar, using the names Archer or Adams, would rent a room, set up an office and advertise for young men as clerks. On engaging one, he would send him to a bank with a forged cheque to exchange for Bank of England notes, with an accomplice following – usually Pierce but sometimes Humphries. If the bank was in anyway suspicious the accomplice would return and inform Agar and between them would clear out the ‘office’ and disappear. This rarely happened and Agar amassed a great number of Bank of England notes. However, as they were numbered and therefore easily traceable,  about once a year, Agar went to the US to exchange the ‘hot’ notes for none traceable ones.

In August 1855, a couple of weeks after Agar had moved in with Emily, a young man replied to one of his adverts. Agar employed him and asked to take a cheque for £700 to Messrs Stevenson, Salt & Co. bankers in Lombard Street, for it to be exchanged for cash. The young man did as he was bid and was given a bag of money in exchange for the forged cheque. On this occasion, neither Pierce or Humphries were involved and Agar followed the young man. On realising that the young man had picked up a tail, Agar yelled to him, ‘Sling the stuff over to me and I’ll bolt.’

Agar caught the bag and two police officers, Goddard and Forester, gave chase. Agar was captured and when the bag was opened, it contained 700 farthings. Humphries had tipped off the bank and Scotland Yard was called. Agar was held in Newgate prison and the trial was at the Mansion House, London, in front of the Lord Mayor Sir David Salomons, (1797–1873). Henry Agar stated that was his real name and was found guilty of forgery. He was sentenced to Transportation.

During Agar’s trial, that lasted less than a day, Detective Williams and SER solicitor Mr Rees of the bullion robbery investigative team were joined by Inspector George Hazel and Superintendent James Speer in court. Both the Hazel and Speer identified Agar as Archer. That morning the other two members of the core investigative team, Sergeant Smith and Sergeant Thornton travelled to Dover. There they summoned Witherden to accompany them back to London.

South Eastern Railway track on trestles alongside Shakespeare Beach going to the Town Station. Dover Library

South Eastern Railway track on trestles alongside Shakespeare Beach going to the Town Station. Dover Library

Poor Witherden was in a state of shock as the only information the two policemen gave was that it was to do with the bullion robbery. By the time they arrived at the Mansion House lock up, Witherden was in quite a state and when he saw Agar being led down the steps, his temper blew. He identified Agar as the man who had argued over the bags on Dover station, said that he and his companion had come over on the Ostend boat – which they had not – and then given him a tip on the night of the robbery!

Agar denied any knowledge of Witherden’s accusation and was moved to Portsea to await Transportation. However, at the request of Scotland Yard, he was held at Portsea while they continued their investigations.

  • Presented:
  • 11 May 2014


Posted in Courts, Crime & Punishment, Great Bullion Robbery - Part I, Great Bullion Robbery - Part I, Railways | Comments Off on Great Bullion Robbery – Part I

Mary Horsley plus Transparency

Adrian Street c 1890 from Five Post Lane by Mary Horsley, Dover Museum

Adrian Street c 1890 from Five Post Lane by Mary Horsley, Dover Museum

‘You weren’t born in Dover so you have no right to write about its history!’ I was again in trouble from this particular section of the Dover community and I knew that it was pointless to rebuke. The fact that I have lived in the town for most of my life and my husband and two daughters attended Dover schools was not part of their beliefs. I also knew that if I pointed out that Dover’s excellent museum curator along with the present and past chairmen of the Dover Society were not born in the town but all make major contributions to Dover’s history, it would be pointless.

The bullying did not come about because I am a female per se … there was (and still is) enough of them who are of the same gender as me and it was a woman who had made the accusation! The resentment goes far deeper. On this particular occasion, they were angry because I had questioned the lack of transparency and my concerns had been upheld. Therefore, at the point I was denounced as being ’maliciously jealous’ – their favourite term for people like me – I stopped listening and started to muse!

Mary Horsley - Front cover of Some More Memories of Dover. Courtesy of Mandy Lock

Mary Horsley – Front cover of Some More Memories of Dover. Courtesy of Mandy Lock

The majority of Dover historians from the Reverend John Lyon in the 18th century to the present day are male and most were not born in Dover. Mary Horsley is arguably the most famous female local historian. She wrote loving tomes on Dover’s history, even though she was not born in the town or maybe even in England!

In Dover, it was generally stated that Mary was born in Dunkerque, northern France, about 1847. At the time, her father, John William Horsley, was the Priest-in-Charge of the Anglican congregation in that town. Mary’s mother, Susanna, was from Dover and had married John at St Mary’s Church in 1843. Susanna’s father was William Sankey, a local doctor who was born at Eythorne, outside of Dover, and was active in local affairs. In 1842, Dr Sankey helped Canon Puckle, the Vicar of St Mary’s, to raise £3,000 from public donations towards the restoration of the Church. St Mary’s was virtually gutted and refurbished in the then popular Victorian Gothic style that we see today. Dr Sankey was also instrumental in the building of Camden Crescent. Numbers one and two, which are still standing, were specially built for him. He died in 1866 and Elizabeth, his widow, moved into a smaller house by Guilford Lawn, since demolished.

St Mary's Church and Cannon Street by Mary Horsley December 1892. Dover Museum

St Mary’s Church and Cannon Street by Mary Horsley December 1892. Dover Museum

In 1849, Mary’s father died and his widow, Susanna, eventually returned to England initially settling in Canterbury. Following Elizabeth’s move to Guilford Lawn, Susanna and Mary came to Dover and lived with the elderly lady. Mary took a teaching post at St Mary’s School, then on Queen Street, and helped her mother look after Elizabeth Sankey until she died in 1876.

With their combined savings, Susanna and Mary bought 28 Pencester Road, since demolished, and it was there that the two women appear to have been their happiest. Susanna and Mary took up painting with Mary signing her pictures by linking her two initials together.

It was at this time that Mary started to publish her writings on local history and giving talks on the subject. The town had a flourishing interest in local history with a contingent that included the Town Clerk, Wollaston Knocker of Castle Hill House, whose late father, Edward, became the chairman of the national Antiquarian Society. There was also John Bavington Jones, the editor of the Dover Express, who recognised Mary’s abilities. There were those that took a philistine attitude towards both Mary and her work for bigoted reasons.

In memory of Mary Horsley d 01.02.1920 St Mary's Church - LS

In memory of Mary Horsley d 01.02.1920 St Mary’s Church – LS

Susanna died in 1904 and Mary on 1 February 1920. There is a plaque in west end of St Mary’s Church to Mary’s memory and reads: To the Glory of God and in affectionate memory of Mary Horsley died 1 February 1920. This tablet was erected by her friends as a tribute to her faithful service of more than fifty years for this church and parish. A Mother in Israel Judges v.z.’

Mary’s major legacy, in my opinion, was her two booklets, Some Memories and Some More Memories of Old Dover. These are the recollections of two aged Dover citizens’ of day-to-day happenings in the town during the 19th century. That is, until the day of the ‘kangaroo court’.  Elizabeth Knott’s father had been an auctioneer’s clerk at Flashman’s in the Market Square and had acquired a collect of some 122 painting by Mary, Susanna and also the Reverend Maule of St Mary’s Church. Miss Knott had died at the age of 92 in 2005 and she bequeathed them to Dover Museum. Earlier in the day of the ‘kangaroo court’, I had been to the Museum to look at them.

Mrs Sencicle are you listening?’ Came the thunderous voice! I nearly fell off my chair! Without thinking, I replied, ‘Not really.’ It was not the best thing to say as it provoked yet another stream of diatribe! Then the chairman called order, looking me straight in the eye said that they would draw three lines under what I had done if I apologised. One of the others added that I was to stop researching and publishing articles on local history. No one disagreed instead they finished by one of them emphatically stating that I had to leave such matters to my betters whom had their approval!

My Crime

Early in 2007 a gentleman contacted me writing:

whois registration proving the date that Gareth Moore's website was set up two months earlier than the Town Council's favoured site.

whois registration proving the date that Gareth Moore’s website was set up two months earlier than the Town Council’s favoured site.

I am registered disabled and am housebound. I have built a website and this is now online. I regard this research as an ongoing community project and update the website on a regular basis. The Town Council and other people have been aware of my website since the 29th September 2006, but they all chose to ignore me.

Gareth Moore

At the time the Dover Town Council (a Parish council)  was actively supporting a similar project ran by a close relative of the then Town Clerk. This had gone on line in November 2006 whereas Gareth’s had been up and running some two months before as can be seen from the whois registration on the right. It was during the interim period that the then Town Clerk had been appointed.

Audit Commission's Report on Dover Town Council 26 July 2007 page 1

Audit Commission’s Report on Dover Town Council 26 July 2007 page 1

I brought this to the attention of the Town Council, especially as Gareth actually lived in the town and had not claimed expenses,  whereas the relative of the Town Clerk did not live in the county so was claiming full expenses.  I also queried what appeared to me as the lack of Transparency over the general funding of the Town Council’s favoured project – all of which was came out of council taxpayers’ money, including the purchase of a computer for the Town Clerk’s relative to use.

I was invited to a meeting following which it quickly became evident that the proverbial hatchets were out for Gareth and me. With the help of my husband, Alan, we collected and collated a great deal of hard evidence showing the lack of transparency over the funding of the Council’s favoured project. I presented this to the Council but our findings were rubbished. I therefore took our concerns to the Audit Commission and after investigating, they upheld the complaint – as can be seen.

Audit Commission's Report on Dover Town Council 26 July 2007 page 2

Audit Commission’s Report on Dover Town Council 26 July 2007 page 2

The Local Government Finance Act 1982 established the Audit Commission for Local Authorities in England and Wales on 21 January 1983. The organisation began work as a public corporation on 1 April 1983. In August 2010, the Department for Communities and Local Government announced plans to put in place new arrangements for auditing England’s local public bodies. Legislation to abolish the Commission was included in the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 with a planned closure date of 1 April 2015.

As for stopping researching and writing on local history, as I had been ordered at the kangaroo court, I ignored the demand and carried on. The editor of the Dover Mercury, Graham Smith,  continued to publish my work and the above article was published in the Dover Mercury on 3 December 2009.

Post Script

At that time the Audit Commission’s report was not in the public domain instead the Dover Town Council had issued a watered down statement that was accepted by both councillors and the local press. In 2011, I publicly referred to the original Report and was subsequently threatened with legal action. It was evident that the plaintiff did not realise that I had a copy of the actual report – when they did the legal action was dropped.

Audit Commission's Report on Dover Town Council 26 July 2007 page 3

Audit Commission’s Report on Dover Town Council 26 July 2007 page 3

Since that time council-taxpayers money has been spent on hiring an investigator to dig up the dirt on me – I found this out when he inadvertently addressed an e-mail to me that was meant for the present Town Clerk!

Nonetheless, shortly after I received an ‘invitation’ to attend another kangaroo court. On legal advice I declined and the result and the attendant publicity held no surprises. My web site came on line in May 2013 and in the autumn, a third party, working with Dover Town Council, sent an e-mail out to numerous people in Dover calling for me to be blacklisted.


Dover Express 29.08.2013

Dover Express 29.08.2013

Shortly after hateful remarks were reported in a local paper supported by a statement from a councillor saying that they did not go far enough (see cutting dated 29.08.2013).  I was then ordered to remove a map of Dover from my website – for which permission had previously been given.

Earlier this year (2014) the Information Commissioner’s Office upheld a complaint I had made over a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act. The Town Clerk, instead of sending me the information I asked for passed my request onto a third party – one of those mentioned in the article on the right!

When Mary Horsley was researching and writing at the end of the 19th century, Dover was one of the top ten wealthiest towns in the country. The town was also in the forefront of enlightenment – see Women Suffrage. Now, the town is at the other end of the spectrum and the way Gareth Moore was treated and the way I am, is a symptom of this lack of enlightenment. Of note, Gareth did not receive any grants, payments or donations for researching and running his web site and I am not paid or receive any form of grants for my work …








Posted in Local Government, Mary Horsley plus Transparency, People, Transparency plus Mary Horsley | Comments Off on Mary Horsley plus Transparency

Bench Street and the Crypt Tragedy

Bench Street showing the location of the Shakespeare Hotel. 1844

Bench Street showing the location of the Shakespeare Hotel. 1844

In ancient times, the thoroughfare from the seafront to Biggin Gate, near St Mary’s Church, was known as King Street. At that time, this area was the centre of commercial trade and at the sea end, in the town wall, was Butchery Gate that straddled the River Dour. It was here that the King’s Custom was set up, known as the ‘Bench’ that eventually gave its name to that part of the Street.

Over time, the ‘Bench’ was used for other monetary transactions such as the settlement of debts and early forms of banking. The market was originally nearby but by 1479, it had moved to what is now the Market Square. The ‘Bench‘ remained and became the place where religious dissenters preached and poor refugees congregated along with destitute seamen – for this reason, the area became known as ‘Penniless Bench’!

St Nicholas Tower (left) and Alms Houses (right) 1836 painted by Rev J Maule. Dover Museum

St Nicholas Tower (left) and Alms Houses (right) 1836 painted by Rev J Maule. Dover Museum

At the beginning of the 19th century, Bench Street was described as a lane so narrow that when the coaches turned at the top end from Snargate Street the horse had to put their heads into the window of the house at the corner of Townwall Street! The main obstacle was the large St Nicholas Tower, probably a defensive structure that was 40-foot (12 metres) high with walls on each side that were 4-feet (1.2 metres) thick and about 22-feet (6.7 metres) long.

On the west side of the Tower was a portcullis once guarded the main entrance in which there were two rooms, one above the other. By the 19th century, there was a well-worn spiral stone staircase that went to the top of the Tower connecting the rooms. The building had, at various times, been used for purposes ranging from a prison to residential use and its name was changed accordingly. 1608, the Tower was listed as the residence of Mayor Robert Garret and for a long time after was called Garret’s Tower. Later it was inhabited by Huguenots, religious refugees from France and afterwards as a gaol for French prisoners of war.

The Crypt under Bench Street 1836 by Rev J Maule. Dover Museum

The Crypt under Bench Street 1836 by Rev J Maule. Dover Museum

After much deliberation it was decided to widen Bench Street and on 1 August 1836 the Tower was blown-up using gunpowder. This, however, only made the situation worse for where the Tower had stood, a large crypt was revealed. This extended 102-feet (31 metres) north from the Tower and about 50-feet (15 metres) south. William Batcheller reported that, ‘the arches were supported by a central pillar and 5-feet in height, the groins of the arches being a foot and a half higher in the centre than at the spring, and about 13-feet over from spring to spring. This tower and crypt were situated 86-feet from the corner of Townwall Street, in advance of the present line of houses.’

At the time, it was believed that the crypt was the undercroft of St Nicholas church but since then the notion that the Tower was part of a church has been discounted. It is now accepted that the Tower and the undercroft were originally the seaward entrance of the monastery of St Martin-le-Grand that had once stood on the west side of Market Square. St Martin-le-Grand had three apsidal chapels, one in the centre, and the others respectively facing the north-east and south-east. These chapels were dedicated to St Martin, St Nicholas and St John, which is where the notion of St Nicholas Church had come from.

What was once called Pages' corner on Bench Street - Snargate Street, the upper rooms became part of the Shakespeare hotel. LS 2010

What was once called Pages’ corner on Bench Street – Snargate Street, the upper rooms became part of the Shakespeare hotel. LS 2010

In 1836, at the time the undercroft was discovered, Mr Page of 5 Bench Street purchased the corner of Bench Street and Snargate Street and four years later, he built the block that we see today. Next door was the Shakespeare Hotel, so called, as it was believed that the Bard and his players once stayed at a hostelry in the vicinity. Over the years that followed the Shakespeare Hotel acquired some of the upper rooms of Mr Page’s building.

Later that century, Lukey’s the wine merchants owned the Shakespeare Hotel and in 1922 it again was in the hands of the Lukey family. By this time the Hotel had been extended to incorporate adjacent buildings along the west side of Bench Street and John Lukey divided the complex into a bar, restaurant, shop and flats. The following the year planning permission was given to, ‘preserve portions of the Old St Nicholas Church, discovered during building operations,’ as a restaurant /bar. Restored by R J Barwick to designs by architect Vernon Shone it subsequently became the Crypt Restaurant.

Interior of the Crypt Restaurant, Bench Street circa1960s. Dover Library

Interior of the Crypt Restaurant, Bench Street circa1960s. Dover Library

During World War II (1939-1945) the Shakespeare Hotel and Crypt were popular with service personnel and the press corps. Indeed, it was even said that if anyone forgot the password to re-enter Dover Castle, it could always be got from the barmaid at the Crypt! In 1947, the first floor was converted into a restaurant and bar by which time the premises passed out of the hands of the Lukey’s. In 1951 John Lukey repurchased the building with adjoining premises that included an amusement arcade, eight self-contained flats and a dance studio. Shortly afterwards the amusement arcade was converted into a lounge and restaurant with cocktail bar. The wooden floor of the dining room was the pre-war skating rink from Granville Gardens!

After changing hands several times, in December 1971 the complex was purchased by Rabb Inns. By this time, due to extensions and alterations, the building facing Bench Street was four storeys plus the Crypt basement. At the back, facing York Street it was three storeys plus a semi basement plus a range of single and two storeys annexes. Inside was a rabbit warren of corridors and staircases. The lower levels were occupied by bars and restaurants and the upper, residential accommodation.

Tragedy struck in the early morning of 27 March 1977. At 02.49hrs Peter Waters, who was walking his dog, called the fire brigade as he had seen smoke coming from the Crypt restaurant. The first fire appliance arrived at 02.55 and back up was requested – the building was alight. People leaning out of windows on the upper floors were rescued and nine people were carried out of the burning building, two of them dead.

Crypt following the fire. Times 28.03.1977

Crypt following the fire. Times 28.03.1977

Passers by, including Barry and Ann Collins and Alec Gledhill, helped to comfort children rescued from the flames. However, there were reports that people were still in the building so as some of the fire-fighters dealing with the blaze others went into the burning building to confirm that all residents were accounted for. While checking, part of the central section collapsed burying three of the firemen. Two of the trapped firemen were released within twenty minutes but it took another twenty minutes to rescue Leading Fireman John Sharp. All three were taken to hospital along with six other firemen some of who had received serious injuries. Leading Fireman Sharp was certified dead on arrival.

Six others who died because of the fire were 32-year-old Marion, wife of licensee Colin Clay, and two of their five children, Shane (6) and Charlotte (18 months). Anita Lee (19), who worked behind the Shakespeare bars, Janusia Ashton (5) from Acton and Phyllis Conlon (43), grandmother of Janusia, who died in Buckland Hospital three days after the blaze.

The inquest, conducted by Wilfred Mowll, and the cause given was ‘a mains switch to a friar being left on leading to overheating of fractured wiring.’ The fire officer had died from asphyxia and the others from carbon monoxide poisoning. Mr Mowll, in recording a verdict of Accidental death on Leading Fireman Sharp, paid tribute to the gallantry and devotion to duty shown by the members of the Fire Brigade who took part. Over 600 fire service personnel from all parts of the UK and France lined the route to St Stephen’s Church Canterbury, where Leading Fireman Sharp’s funeral took place.

Crypt Restaurant burnt out and left c 1975 eventually demolished in 1985. Dover Museum

Crypt Restaurant burnt out and left c 1975 eventually demolished in 1985. Dover Museum

Following the fire it was found that the Grade II listed medieval undercroft was still relatively intact so it was decided to temporary seal it. In April 1981, Rabb Inns were refused permission to reinstate the damaged building but although permission had been given to demolish the remains they sold it instead. Neglect, lead thieves and the elements created an eyesore that was eventually demolished in 1985. A couple of years later the site became the venue of an occasional market and two years after that weekdays market.

By 1991, Folkestone businessman, Jimmy Godden, owned the site and he wished to erect two advertising hoardings. At the same time, there was a need for a sewer to be laid in connection with the new A20 and it was proposed to demolish part of the undercroft. Mr Godden was given temporary planning permission for the advertisement hoardings but the line of the sewer had to be resited to avoid the undercroft. Shortly after, while clearing the ground for the A20 underpass archaeologists re-opened the undercroft and made a detailed description. It was then resealed.

Crypt Site Bench Street. Alan Sencicle 2009

Crypt Site Bench Street. Alan Sencicle 2009

Mr Godden applied, in 1997, to place an advertising hoarding on part of the site such that the hoarding would face York Street and Townwall Street roundabout so permission was refused. Two years later, in 1999, Dover District Council claimed that the long promised Dover Town Centre Investment Zone would finally begin. This included the use compulsory purchase powers to speed up the development of the Bench Street site, at the time of writing nothing has happened.

  • Published:
  • Dover Mercury: 22 March 2012



Posted in Bench Street, Bench Street and the Crypt, Bench Street and the Crypt Tragedy, Buildings, Crypt and Bench Street, Wanton Destruction | Comments Off on Bench Street and the Crypt Tragedy

Dover’s Art and Technical Schools – Colleges

In the upper room of the Drill Hall, Northampton Street was the first permanent home of Dover School of Science and Art. Dover Museum

In the upper room of the Drill Hall, Northampton Street was the first permanent home of Dover School of Science and Art. Dover Museum

It was in 1868 that Dover’s School of Science and Art opened. It was founded by Sir Henry Cole (1808-1882) in connection with South Kensington School of Art. Looked upon as a pauper’s school, it was first located in Cambridge House that had formerly been an annexe to the famous Ship Inn on Custom House Quay. The place was so named as the Prince George the 2nd Duke of Cambridge (1819-1904) frequently stayed there in a special suite.

The school soon after moved to another temporary home at Marine House, Liverpool Street, on the then corner of Woolcomber Street, where it remained until 1873. It was then transferred to a temporary building in Eastbrook Place but on 3 November 1877, the school was moved into its first permanent home in Dover Harbour Board owned property on Northampton Street. This was in a large upper room above the Drill Hall (now part of De Bradelei Wharf car park) that had previously served as a racquet court.

Students awarded prizes 1876

Students awarded prizes 1876

As anticipated, the students came from poor households with many holding down full time jobs – 60 hours a week – but determined to better themselves. Further, they paid their own fees. That year the school had 171 students but the total income was only £263 and had long since broken its connection with South Kensington. Due to lack of facilities and relying on heavily stretched volunteers, the results were poor. 112 students submitted 2,433 pieces of work for public examination but only 24 pieces passed. Albeit, at the prize giving, so as not to discourage, prizes were given to other students as well.

Although not ideal, the site was permanent and with the move, the governors changed the name to the Municipal School of Science and Art. In 1878 they appointed William East (d 1926), originally from Yorkshire, as a paid Headmaster. The then Lord Warden (1866-1891) and Chairman of the Dover Harbour Board, the Earl of Granville, officially opened the ‘new’ school. One of the guests of honour was Edward John Poynter (1836–1919), whose father, Ambrose, had designed the refurbished Maison Dieu. Edward Poynter designed the stain glass windows in the Stone Hall following which he was knighted and appointed the Director of the National Gallery and President of the Royal Academy. The great artist gave an encouraging speech.

William East was a recognised artist having exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts but it was as a teacher that he was inspirational. East arranged for the school to be reconnected with the Government Department in South Kensington thus ensuring that the school was well supplied with casts and models. The number of students and the exam results, year on year, increased.

In January 1888, the school held an exhibition of the students’ work and Lady Rice a daughter of Edward Royd Rice former Dover Member of Parliament (1835-1847), presented the prizes. It was announced that the 236 students all had passed had presented 2,528 pieces of art and most had received honours. The students who had been entered for public examinations in chemistry, magnetism, electricity, building construction, animal physiology and machine construction, all passed!

William East c 1890s

William East c 1890s

On 21 March 1888 there was a debate on the possibility of technical education being provided at the Working Men’s Institute in Biggin Street for older persons. When this was eventually introduced it was in connection with East‘s school. At the beginning of October 1888, the purpose built Dover High School for Girls was opened in the Paddock off the Maison Dieu Road. By 1892, the Dover Municipal School of Science and Art was considered one of the best of its type outside of London and the Corporation agreed to fund it. William lost no time in persuading them to invest in a purpose built combined Science and Art School.

On Ladywell, between the River Dour and the Maison Dieu, was the premises of the well-known builder and Mayor in 1885 and 1890, William Adcock (1840-1907). Connaught Hall, the then new part of the Town Hall (now Maison Dieu), had been opened in 1883 and in 1889 Adcock agreed to sell the yard to the council for £3000 in order for the area to become a municipal garden. In 1893, East’s school was recognised by the Royal College of Surgeons as a place of instruction for chemistry, physics and practical biology. On 27 June that year the council resolved to erect a new school on the Adcock land. Alderman Adcock had been appointed Lord Lieutenant of a Kent and a County magistrate in gratitude.

The new Art and Science school at the end of Connaught Hall , Ladywell . Alan Sencicle

The new Art and Science school at the end of Connaught Hall , Ladywell . Alan Sencicle

Under the Technical Instruction Act 1889, the council had the power to provide technical instruction for any one year as long as the cost did not exceed the amount they collected in rates. By virtue of this, they were able to borrow £11,000 repayable over 30-years and John Starling Chapple (d1922), the architect who had worked with William Burges (1827-1881), the designer of Connaught Hall was consulted. He presented plans at a full council meeting on 23 October. The design was in the style of the English ‘Arts & Craft’ movement and the council was proud of its distinctive features both inside and out – these subsequently ensured the building’s Listing. With the assurance that East would remain the Principal, Kent County Council (KCC) gave a grant of £12,000 towards furnishings, fittings and equipment. The contract for the building was given to local builder William Bromley.

In June 1894, the wife of Sir William Crundall – Mayor of Dover, opened the new Art and Science school. That year East introduced evening classes in commercial subjects and in 1896-97, he was elected Chairman of the Society of Art Masters. While the Education Bill, which was ratified in 1902, was going through Parliament East put forward the case of providing secondary education for the more academic boys of the town. If passed, Dover College governors had made it clear that they would opt out and remain in the private sector.

Fred Whitehouse Headmaster of what became Dover Boys' County School

Fred Whitehouse Headmaster of what became Dover Boys’ County School

East wanted an equivalent school that would be subsidised by the state. In anticipation, East opened a Municipal School in the basement of the Ladywell premises and when the Education Act came into force, KCC were given a grant of £25,000 a year from central government for the county’s secondary education. However, they declined to give authority for the Municipal school to become a County school even though accredited academic Fred Whitehouse (1874-1939) had been appointed head.

In 1903, five students from the Art and Science school were successful in obtaining scholarships to the Royal College of Art and many others exhibited at national acclaimed salons in both London and Paris. One of the scholarship students was Reginald Goulden (1877–1932) – designer of the Dover’s War Memorial. The Assistants at that time were listed as J Millard, G B West, Miss E Adkins, A Chaplin BA, C J Duthoit, J D Thomas B.Sc., G Pine and Miss G Chapman. The latter went on to become the first headmistress of Dover Grammar School for Girls’.

New legislation in 1907 set a standard curriculum for both sexes attending County schools and required 25% of pupils to be given free places (scholarships) and should come from local elementary schools. East and Whitehouse, with a delegation of local councillors, sort County status for the Municipal school from KCC but were again refused. This led to a tome of acrimonious legal arguments and on 9 February 1909, Dover Corporation purchased the Girls’ High School in the Paddock together with adjacent lands having obtained a loan of £3000. Pressure continued and in 1910, KCC capitulated and County school status was given. That year also saw the opening of an engineering department at Ladywell.

William East was replaced as the principal of the school in 1912 but remained the head of the Art department. The new principal was Herbert Schofield (1883-1963) who had graduated from the Royal College of Science, London, in mechanics and physics. The earliest surviving prospectus dates from this time and cites the ‘Principles of Coalmining’ among the courses offered. In 1915 Herbert Schofield was appointed principal of Loughborough College, a position he held until 1949 during which time he became renowned as a pioneer in technical education. The position of principal of Dover’s Art and Science school was again offered to William East, which he accepted on a temporary basis.

Former Dover Boys' County School now Dover Girls' Grammar School, Frith Road. LS 2013

Former Dover Boys’ County School now Dover Girls’ Grammar School, Frith Road. LS 2013

In October 1916, during World War I (1914-1918), the Boys’ County School moved out of the basement at Ladywell to purpose built premises on Frith Road. In 1926, Herbert Hollings Jacques (1885-1966) was appointed the Assistant Principal of the renamed Dover Technical Institute and the following year he took charge of Further Education for Dover and Deal. The combination was given the title of the Municipal Science Art and Technical Institute and the first part-time day courses were started under the City and Guilds curriculum and included engineering and mining.

There were also safety classes for miners of all ages that were held on Saturday afternoons. The number of pupils increased dramatically and in October 1934 the Drill Hall, owned by Dover Harbour Board and where the school opened under the leadership of William East, was convert for Technical Education. The courses offered ranged from technical drawing to electrical engineering while the facilities available for students included a gymnasium.

The increase in the number of students was due to the introduction of day release of trainees – usually boys – from local businesses. The participating businesses accepted the notion that they would send a ‘batch’ of apprentices each day over a five-day week for academic and theoretical education even though they had to engage one-fifth more apprentices in order to cover the business work. However, the employers complained that the Institute was only open 40 weeks a year, which meant that they had to retain and pay a surfeit of apprentices for the remaining 12 weeks. This galvanised some employers to set up their own training establishments and led to a fall in the number of students attending the Institute.

Art School opened June 1939, Maison Dieu Road. Dover Library

Art School opened June 1939, Maison Dieu Road. Dover Library

For girls, working in an office had became an attractive alternative to the previous careers open to them and a Commercial Department opened in Hillesden House, Godwyne Road. This was under the direction of John Lees Robinson, who was also the headmaster of the Arts and Crafts department. On 29 February 1936 the Girls’ County School moved from the Paddock to what had been the Boys’ County school on Frith Road. The Paddock premises were refurbished and on 23 June 1939, the Lord Warden, Marquess of Willingdon, opened the Dover Art School, which retained its connection with the Technical school in Ladywell.

Ladywell Technical College following shelling. Kent Messenger.

Ladywell Technical College following shelling. Kent Messenger.

On 3 September, World War II (1939-1945) was declared and the Art school was requisitioned as a training centre, the departments at Ladywell and Hillesden House remained. In 1940, all Dover schoolchildren were evacuated to Wales but many returned. The Ladywell premises included classes for older children but on Sunday 3 October 1943 a shell damaged part of the building. The courses were transferred to Canterbury with the mining section staying there permanently. The principal, Herbert Jacques was transferred to head north-west Kent’s technical training.

Following the War, until the Boys Grammar School on Astor Avenue was ready for occupation, the boys were taught at the Paddock site, the bomb damaged school in Ladywell and Hillesden House in Godwyn Road. Under the 1944 Education Act, secondary schools were to be of three types, grammar, technical and secondary modern and there was considerable discussion on various methods of reorganising both primary and secondary schooling to comply with this. However, shortages of building labour, materials and financial difficulties plus the raising of school leaving age to 15 in 1947 meant that Kent County Council’s stance was pragmatic. £750,000 was earmarked for the building and refurbishment of schools in Dover, which was greeted with delight but due to the post-war ‘baby-boom’, many of the strategies had to be rethought to consider this.

 Jack Woolford's Workers Educational Association course advert 19.04.1945

Jack Woolford’s Workers Educational Association course advert 19.04.1945

The Workers Educational Association offered evening courses and in April 1945, a six-week course on International Affairs was available on Wednesday evenings. The tutor was Jack Woolford MA (Oxford) – well known these days as one of the founders and the long-time chairman of the Dover Society! Herbert Jacques returned to Dover and there was talk of a new Technical School but this was put on hold, instead, in 1948, the Ladywell and Paddock sites were reclassified as Colleges of Further Education for boys and named Dover Technical College. A large percentage of the students were ex-servicemen returning to civilian life and courses included electrical installation, plumbing, building and welding.

For girls, Westmount, on Folkestone Road was adapted at a cost of £2,000 in 1950. This great house had been designed by Rowland Rees junior and built by Philip Stiff in 1865 for Joseph Ellis, a Leicestershire colliery owner. Initially called Mount Ellis, a record of the foundation proceedings, written in Hebrew, was placed in a cavity of the foundation stone. In 1870, Westmount was taken over by Robert Chignell for a private boys’ school but unhappy with its layout, he had Castlemount built – since demolished. In the post War era, the courses provided at Westmount were in commercial and domestic subjects.

Herbert Jacques retired in 1951 and George H Tweddell was appointed the principal. For the summer term in 1955, the first full-time course at College was introduced. It was a commercial course for young people about to go into business. At about this time Kent Education Committee (KEC) said that they were considering building a new technical college in Dover estimated to cost £220,000. Nothing happened so Dover Corporation started legal action claiming ownership of the Ladywell and Paddock premises. In court, the judgement ruled in favour of KEC and the proposed new build was put on indefinite hold.

Three years later KEC announced the closure of the college’s building department and transferring the students to Canterbury, Folkestone or Thanet. They also stated that even if a new college were built neither building nor motor engineering would be taught in Dover. In 1960, the Principal, George Tweddell left and KEC took the opportunity to amalgamate the Dover and Folkestone colleges under the principal of Folkestone Technical College, H A Wheeler. In 1966 the college at Dover in amalgamation with Seeboard, started an apprenticeship scheme whereby the students took the City and Guilds examination. In 18 years, 200 students took the course and only one failed the exam. He retook it and passed.

A new college was again proposed but at a reduced cost of £200,000 (especially counting inflation). This, however, was to be in Folkestone in order to attract students from Ashford. Dover Corporation announced that they would fight such a plan ‘tooth and nail.’ They made the point that a 4-acre plot of land, previously a wood yard, had been owned by KCC since 1955 on the premise that it was where the new college would be located. They added that the move to Folkestone would ‘alienate youngsters from Deal and Sandwich.’

John Ullman’s Dover Demolition and Erection Company occupied the site and in 1965, it became the subject of a County Court case and the company was ordered to move. In the interim, KEC rethought their Folkestone proposal and decided that both the Dover and Folkestone colleges would stay where they were. Instead, the colleges were to be reduced to ‘outstations’ of a new build at Ashford. The students from the Art school in the Paddock were to be transferred to Canterbury and it was to be closed.

At the time, there were 1,500 students attending the college and in consequence there was outrage in Dover. The newly formed New Dover Group, the predecessors to the Dover Society, made their voices heard at Maidstone along with councillors led by Robert Newman of Folkestone Road, parents and other interested parties. In September 1963 the cross-Channel ferry – Isle of Thanet ceased operating and was laid up in Dover awaiting a buyer. It was suggested that she should be commandeered as Dover’s technical college. In the event, the ship was sold the following year to Hughes-Bocklow Ltd of Blyth and broken up. Nonetheless, the protest made its mark and it was announced that Dover was to amalgamate with Folkestone and Ashford colleges to form the new South Kent College of Technology (SKC).

SEK College, Paddock, built 1970

SEK College, Paddock, built 1970

Kent County Council promised that the amalgamation would put each college on an equal footing and provision was made for the expenditure of £100,000 on engineering and communal facilities at Dover. The colleges were co-educational and Westmount was given over to Adult Education until this department moved to the Dover Discovery Centre in 2003. Sadly, Westmount was destroyed by fire in September 2007. Finally, in 1968 it was announced that Dover was to have a new build college  in the former wood yard off the Paddock. They said that they would set aside £300,000.

Work started in 1970 and two years later, the new £250,000 technical college building designed to replicate the Keep at Dover Castle opened. Initially it provided facilities for 460 full time students and was mainly used by the engineering department. By the 1980s there were about 900 students attending the college on either a part-time or full-time courses. These ranged from engineering to freight forwarding, business studies to general education ‘O’ levels. The ages of the students ranged from teenagers to the retired with many of the mature students were on day release from their place of work.

There was talk, in 1983, of an Information and Technology Centre to be based at Dover to provide training in electronics, computing, word processing and related skills as part of the government’s Youth Training Scheme (YTS). In 1987, the proposed YTS training scheme was launched with 45 students enrolling. That same year saw a four-storey teaching block and a single storey workshop block built along with car parks for over 100 vehicles, costing £1,100,000.

Former Technical College - from Brook House Car Park - LS 2011

Former Technical College – from Brook House Car Park – LS 2011

The listed former Technical College on Ladywell was offered for sale and one of the bidders was the Dover Operatic and Dramatic Society (DODS). They wanted to buy the building for their new headquarters. However, they were outbid and in 2000, a charitable trust, Superior (Dover) Ltd, sort planning permission to convert the building into six flats and offices. It was reported that John Huggins of the Chunnel Group, Lydden, and Alex Buitron of the Moonflower restaurant ran the trust. With the involvement of the Town Centre Manager, Mike Webb the intention was to help to regenerate Dover. In 2003, the building was sold to property developers Raylion in 2003. They planned to create 15 dockland style flats plus conference facilities, a cafe and a fitness centre on the ground floor. Part of this has eventually been realised.

A new campus, costing £25million in Dover was proposed in 2006 through the government’s Learning and Skills Council (LSC). The publicity stated that it would offer courses ranging from GCSE to degree level, as an outpost of Greenwich University, with part time options for those who work. The proposal included a marine engineering course and followed the formation of the Dover, Deal and Sandwich Collegiate, that co-ordinated all education and training providers in the area. A concept that was introduced at the time was the use of iPod Nanos. Costing £100 each they were given to each student as they enrolled in order for students to listen to lectures in their own time.

SKC, at the time, covered three-campus Dover, Folkestone and Ashford and had 15,000 students. In 2007, ‘superhead‘ Alan Harrison was brought in to turn SKC round following financial crises, staff cutbacks and poor inspection reports. He was the fifth principal in six years and was given one year to do the job. LSC also brought in consultants KPMG and by the time Mr Harrison’s time was up it was decided that SKC would join forces with either West Kent College in Tonbridge or Portsmouth’s South Downs College – then the largest college in Hampshire with an ‘A’ level pass rate of 99%. Kent County Councillor Brian Cope of Dover, the then chairman of the board of governors, was reported as saying that ‘The Board retains the fall-back position that if neither of the two colleges is found to satisfy the needs of the stakeholders then other partnerships will be considered.’

K-College advert on Dover Priory Station 2014

K-College advert on Dover Priory Station 2014

Monica Box was appointed interim Principal and the governors agreed that the college would pursue a merger with West Kent College at Tonbridge, subject to approval from the Secretary of State. At the time, Dover had 464 full-time students and 353 part-time with an age range from 14 to 89. The two colleges merged in April 2010 and were re-launched as K College in November under the former head of the Tonbridge College, Bill Fearon. Following the launch there was talk of maritime courses at Dover being included on the curriculum.


Former Art School renamed Cambia House K College - Paddock - LS 2014

Former Art School renamed Cambia House K College – Paddock – LS 2014

The number of students enrolling for courses significantly increased and the former School of Art in the Paddock was refurbished and renamed Cambia House. It had stood empty for more a long time and had been allowed to fall into disrepair. The total cost of refurbishment was £500,000 with the funding largely coming from the government’s Invest to Save Money scheme. Much of the remainder of the Dover campus was revamped with a nautical theme and approximately £364,000 was spent on technology and communication facilities. It therefore came as a shock when the college was put under special measures by LSC due to a financial deficit of £6.4m. This was blamed on the merger and the fall in the number of students attending the Folkestone campus due to a rival college opening there.

The College from Pencester Road. Alan Sencicle 2009

The College from Pencester Road. Alan Sencicle 2009

In August 2014, the college became part of the Thanet based East Kent College, the principal of which is Graham Razey. This, it is hoped, will remove the uncertainty over the provision of further education for Dover and district students.

  • Presented: 9 May 2014
Posted in Buildings, Dover’s Art and Technical Schools - Colleges, Dover’s Art and Technical Schools - Colleges, Schools and Education | Comments Off on Dover’s Art and Technical Schools – Colleges