The Grand Shaft, Dover

The Grand Shaft was built to provide a shortcut for the soldiers garrisoned in the forts and barracks situated at Western Heights; it was constructed at a time when there was a great fear of invasion from the Napoleonic forces amassing at Boulogne.  The entire defensive network throughout Dover consisted of two detached forts conected by four miles of dry ditches and barracks.

The shaft was first proposed by Brigadier General Twiss in 1804, who stated that the construction of a triple staircase would provide a quicker and safer means for the soldiers to reach the seafront.  The previous route had been a number of worn chalk tracks down the cliff front, which became slippery when wet.  Construction started in 1806, which proved to be difficult because of poor weather and instability in the chalk and clay that was being dug.  The shaft took three years to complete and came in at a total of £3,200; £700 less than the original estimate.

Within three years the shaft had become a tourist attraction for both civilian and soldiers.  It is reported that a horse was ridden up the shaft as a bet.  There were also a number of cells at the base of the shaft, they were there to accommodate soldiers who had drunk to much and were unable to navigate the stairs.  These have been removed.  As the fear of invasion declined, the purpose of the stairs changed; instead of allowing the maximum number of troops to descend, the three separate stair cases corresponded to the ranks of the soldiers.  Officers, Sergeants and soldiers.

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Modified: 29th Aug 2012