the explorers walk2 : an historians walk with Andy Rayner

The Explorers

13 explorers met at the Guardroom of the Grand Shaft in Snargate Street for WALK2  of the Explorers Sunday morning walks ‘An Historians Walk’ led by Andy Rayner and Charles Holland on March 3rd 2019. There was an opportunity to take shelter inside the Grand Shaft and climb up one or more of  the three intertwined staircases from the base of the cliffs at sea level to the Western Heights and the former barracks that untill the 1960’s sat along the cliff edge above Snargate street. The barracks was set fire to in the 1965 BBC film ‘the war game’.

Then it was braving a blustery and rainy day with Andy telling the story of the part-time Volunteer soldiers in Dover during the Victorian years, the Rifle Volunteers and the Yeomanry Cavalry, pointing out the various buildings that they were associated with and some of the houses where they lived. We heard stories of some of the most notorious including Captain Churchward. These men were self-selected officers and their volunteer soldiering was self financed; you needed money to afford the lavish uniforms and extravagant lifestyle and you needed time for the activities. We saw the remains of  Northampton Street where the former Drill Hall had stood on what is now the car park by De Bradlei’s Warf.

Walking from the Market Square, where the Royal Antwerp Hotel had stood, used to billet members of the Royal East Kent Mounted Rifles (REKMR) and up Castle Street. We passed Castle Hill House where Edward Wollaston Nadir Knocker, captain of the East Kent Rifle Volunteer Corps and later Commanding Officer East Kent Rifle Volunteer regiment, died in 1907. We passed Victoria Park, home to many military families and the mews stables for the domestic horses that would have been owned by the infantry and artillery officers residing in Victoria Park.

As we approached Fort Burgoyne, the stories of the Rifle Volunteers and the Yeomanry Cavalry converged. During the late 1860s, vast military festivals of up to 20,000 people were organised where the volunteer forces would march up the hill to the fort, where they would stage elaborate mock battles. The Eastern heights would become home to large military encampments, a temporary city. These festivals came to an end in 1870 with the Bank Holiday Act and the arrival of a different kind of tourist to Dover. The number of non-military travellers making trips to the seaside by train meant that the numbers involved in the festivals was no longer possible.

At Fort Burgoyne, Andy showed us maps of the mock battles and paintings of the encampments and also explained the thinking behind the Fort and the West Wing Battery which were constructed to defend Dover from inland invasion. As the main Fort was not part of a series of interconnected forts (as elsewhere), the east and west wing batteries were built to offer it covering fire and protection. Following this we walked to the West Wing itself, discussing its future role and relationship to Dover.

‘The images of the mock battles at the fort, the camps and the map showing the movement of the troops were extremely interesting. These battles were fictitious and – according to Andy – fairly nonsensical in military terms. Charles Holland

Just a big thank you  for the fascinating walk on Sunday. Such a lot of information and so interesting that we could forget the weather!

The purpose of the Explorers walks is to collect ideas for a community use for the West Wing Battery from the wide range of people participating in the 4 Explorers walks. Each Explorer is given a small weather proof note book in which to note their ideas.

All photos by Joanna Jones unless otherwise credited

The Explorers programme is part of Pioneering Places East Kent: Dover developed by Dover Arts Development and Charles Holland Architects to support the conservation and opening up of the West Wing Battery of Fort Burgoyne through art led community engagement

Pioneering Places is part of the national Great Place Scheme, an ambitious project that will make East Kent an even better place to live, work and visit by exploring heritage, developing civic pride and connecting artists and communities. Four projects in Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone and Ramsgate are being led by cultural organisations to encourage local people to get involved and shape the place where they live. Supported through Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, with Historic England and Artswork, the South East Bridge.