Friday, August 29, 2014

White Cliffs of Dover

Known throughout the world, the iconic White Cliffs are internationally recognised - so much so they were voted Britain’s most popular stretch of coastline! They have witnessed action and invasions throughout centuries - the historic Dunkirk evacuation was even planned from within them. Today they provide a welcome sight to the millions of visitors who visit White Cliffs Country.

The cliff face reaches up to 300 feet. The cliffs stretch for about 16 miles – about 8 miles (12km) each side of Dover. They are composed of soft, white chalk. Chalk is made up of a large number of tiny skeletons of plants (coccoliths) that floated in warm seas 130-65 million years ago. They sunk to the sea bed and over a long period of time were compacted to form chalk rock.

Railways at the White Cliffs (1898-1914)
Many of the paths that the visitor can see criss-crossing the cliff tops today, follow earlier routes. However, it wasn’t sightseers or ramblers who created these walks – during the 20th century railways moved building materials and weapons across the cliffs. In 1898 S. Pearson and Son built the Martin Mill railway. They were to build the new harbour walls and needed to be able to transport shingle and ballast to the harbour. In 1925 a tramway was built over North Fall Meadow. The War Office was extending the barracks near Dover Castle and, to save money, reused the bricks from the demolished prison blocks. During World War II super heavy guns capable of firing across the channel were installed on the cliff tops. One part of the Martin Mill tracks was extended for transporting the mobile guns as well as ammunition for the heavy guns by using it as a military railway.

The Aerial Ropeway (1929-1954)

The coal mine opened in 1906 and usually lost money. In 1926 it was sold to Tilden Smith and its luck changed when a rich seam of coal was hit. Although just seven miles away, it took over 24 hours and considerable expense to move the coal by rail to Dover. To save money, Tilden Smith planned an aerial ropeway that would move 3000 tons of coal each day directly to the dock side. Work was finished and on Valentine’s Day, 1930, the ‘Corminster’ was loaded with coal. Sadly, Tilden Smith never saw his dream realised, dying before the first ship was loaded. Coal exports through Dover never took off and the ropeway fell into disuse. In 1954 it was broken up and sold for scrap.  

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