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Dover Harbour

The Later Development of Dover Harbour

The French Threat 1793-1836

The outbreak of war with France in 1793 focused attention on coastal defence and upon the strategic importance of Dover Harbour.

Before the war Dover had been a thriving port with over thirty vessels employed in the channel passage and had been known for its thriving shipbuilding business. Despite this, the problem of shingle blocking the harbour entrance had not been solved.

Radical plans to improve the harbour were submitted by the military engineer Thomas Hyde Page and by civil engineers Rennie and Walker. These were rejected in favour of a series of works by James Moon, the resident engineer and harbour master, and Sir Henry Oxenden, a harbour commissioner.

The improvements begun by Moon and Oxenden involved over eighteen years work and saw the building of wet and dry docks in the tidal harbour and a new cross wall with clock and compass towers. The stone quays of the Pent were begun and North and South Piers rebuilt. This was to have a significant effect on the Port's future.

The widening of South Pier included the installation of water jets in its head supplied by pipes in from the wet dock. These were intended to clear the harbour mouth of shingle.

Despite all this work, shingle remained a problem. A further problem during this period was the  and  building of the wet and dry docks in the tidal harbour unfortunately made the harbour far too small for the number of ships which used it.

Parliament Wades In 1834-46

In 1834 Thomas Telford, the famous engineer, submitted plans to improve the sluices and the jets in the south pier.

Telford believed that thorugh increasing the volume of water available with a tunnel between the Basin and the wet dock and by increasing the diameter of the pipe supplying the jets, the harbour mouth could be cleared of shingle. After Telford's death, his plans were continued by James Walker. These improvements, completed in 1838, went a long way towards solving the problem of shingle in the harbour mouth.

In the meantime the townspeople had become tired of the delays and pressed the Harbour Board for action, which in fact the Harbour Board had already begun. In 1836 the Board were refused further financial powers by Parliament and a parliamentary enquiry established.

This enquiry and the Royal Commission of 1840 laid the ground for the modern harbour with the recommendation in 1846 that Dover become a harbour of refuge 'capable of receiving any class of vessels under all circumstances of the wind and tide'.

Whilst the Royal Commission deliberated, work went on in Dover and the tidal harbour doubled in size in 1844 with the demolition of Amherst's Battery and the excavation of the land on which it stood. At the same time, construction of a new bridge and gate to the Pent and new quays within it were undertaken.

Admiralty Pier 1847-93

In 1847 work began on the western arm of the Harbour of Refuge. The Harbour had been designed by James Walker and was commissioned by the Admiralty. By 1851 the pier had reached a sufficient length to solve the problem of shingle in the harbour mouth and cross channel steamers were able to berth alongside.

The South Eastern Railway reached Dover via Folkestone in 1844 and the plans for the pier were altered to also provide a station which could deliver passengers and goods directly to the gang-planks of the channel boats. Traffic increased with the arrival of the London, Chatham & Dover Railway line in 1861 which was connected to the pier in 1864.

The first phase of the pier was completed in 1854, and the second in 1864, but the third phase was delayed by discussion as to how it should finish at the seaward end. It was finally decided that a fort with two powerful 80 ton guns should be placed there. It was not until 1880 that the first structure was complete and 1885 before the guns were first fired. It became known as the Admiralty Pier Gun Turret.

The eastern arm of the Harbour of Refuge was never begun and to meet the demand of cross channel trade plans were made to build a smaller commercial harbour. The eastern arm of this was the Prince of Wales Pier and was not begun until 1893.

Refuge at Last 1894-1914

It was not until 1897 that the contract for Dover's Harbour of Refuge, first considered in 1836, was finally let. Work had already begun on Dover Harbour Board's commercial harbour scheme with the construction of Prince of Wales Pier and the plans for this were therefore amended.

The plans for the harbour included a 2,000 feet extension of Admiralty Pier, an Eastern Arm of 2,900 feet and a breakwater of 4,200 feet. This entirely enclosed the bay leaving an Admiralty harbour of 610 acres and a commercial harbour of 68 acres. The plans for Admiralty Pier were amended in 1906 to allow the building of a station for the South Eastern and Chatham Railway.

Despite problems with currents caused by the initial building of Prince of Wales Pier beyond the length of the incomplete Admiralty Pier, Dover flourished and in 1904 transatlantic liners began to use the port. This proved very short lived with the Hamburg Amerika Line moving to Southampton in 1906 after a series of collisions in the harbour mouth and with the other liner companies following suit over the next two years.

The problems with the entrance were solved when the piers and breakwaters were finished. Unfortunately this was too late to save the liner traffic, however since 1996 the Port of Dover has seen  liners return with the opening of a new cruise terminal.

The completed harbour was opened on 14 October 1909 by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, the future King George V.




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