The Grand Shaft comprises part of the seaport of Dover's Napoleonic defence system. The important seaport of Dover lies fifteen miles south-east of the City of Canterbury on the east coast of Kent. The discovery of a Bronze-Age cargo boat in 1992 dating from 1550 BC indicates that Dover has been a port for at least 3,500 years, and to our knowledge, this is the most ancient sea-going vessel ever discovered. It's on show in Dover Museum.
The Misappropriation of the Grand Shaft
The Grand Shaft links the town of Dover to its barracks on Western Heights and consists of a 140 foot triple staircase, built between 1806 and 1809. The three staircases were spiral and made of red brick. They provided a shortcut for troops to the harbour in case of invasion, and also ensured a speedy retreat for troops from Dover Harbour, in case of attack. The moats, ditches and forts were mainly used during Napoleonic times when the threat of invasion was most feared.
The designated uses of the staircases appears to demonstrate the old class prejudices:
· Officers and their Ladies
· Sergeants and their Wives
· Soldiers and their Women
Work on the Western Heights began in the 1770s and then, with the threat of Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon 1) it became urgent. Later, in the middle of the nineteenth century, Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon III) gave Britain good reason for further improvements.
Although invasion never came, the shaft was put to regular use by the soldiers to reach the rowdy pubs and seedy brothels down below in Snargate Street and the pier district.
· The Port of Dover
· www.dover-kent.co.uk accessed 12 June, 2006
· Dover, Margate and Birchington Libraries