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Port of Dover Police
Floor 4. Terminal Control Building,
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CT16 1JA

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 History & Development

The Port of Dover is Europe's busiest ferry port, handling £119 billion of trade or 17% of the UKs trade in goods. Its history is vast and the Port is continually developing to ensure its future. Find out about its fascinating history, its importance during times of war, its pioneering of the cross-Channel rail link and how it is developing for the future.

The History of the Port of Dover

The Port of Dover, situated on the South East tip of England and in close proximity to the Continent, has always been of importance to cross-Channel traffic and the history and origins of the Port can be traced right back to Roman times. The deep cleft in the hills formed in prehistoric times by the River Dour, has always given protection to the small ships plying across the Strait.

The Commentaries of Julius Caesar mention the "Haven between the Hills" and evidence that the Romans used the port exists to-day in the form of the "Pharos", or lighthouse, on the cliffs on the East side of the valley.

Throughout history Royalty has taken a keen interest in the Port of Dover. Richard Coeur de Lion departed from Dover on the Third Crusade and, in 1422, Henry V was brought back through Dover after his death in France. Following his departure from Dover to meet the French King at the "Field of the Cloth of Gold", King Henry VIII became interested in improving the Harbour and ordered that the promontory be extended to form a pier. The work however, was never fully completed, as the still water in the lee of the pier caused a deposit of shingle across the front of the bay.

During the 300 years that followed, many schemes were put forward in an endeavour to prevent or cure this problem.

Royal Charter

Royal Charter

King James I gave Dover Harbour Board its Royal Charter in 1606 placing the Lord Warden and his "Board" in charge of running the Port and since then the constitution of the Board has been changed on a number of occasions by Acts of Parliament to its present status of eight, a Chairman, and four other members appointed by the Secretary of State, two ex officio members and an eighth member appointed by the other seven.

The present Board was created and incorporated by statute and is, therefore, a statutory body and has no shareholders to whom it is answerable.

At the beginning of the 19th Century, it was proposed that a haven of refuge for the fleet should be constructed in Dover Bay and, in 1847, the Government commenced the construction of the Admiralty Pier, which was envisaged as the Western Arm of this proposed haven. This effectively stopped the silting of the harbour mouth, as it cut off the easterly drift of shingle from the direction of Folkestone.

The construction of the harbour of refuge was taken a step further in 1897, when construction commenced on the Eastern Arm, the Southern Breakwater and the extension to the Admiralty Pier.

This work, which is generally acknowledged to be one of the greatest feats in port construction of its time, was completed in 1909. The walls and piers were built of large blocks weighing from 30 to 40 tons. These blocks were made of concrete, with a granite facing to those that were to be placed on the outside faces of the walls above water level.

The gradual development of the port throughout the centuries has produced the vast artificial harbour of to-day, with depths of water up to 10.5 metres and accommodation for shipping up to 300 metres in length. The total area, owned by the Dover Harbour Board, is approximately 1050 acres, of which 700 is water.



Defending the Harbour

With the increasing importance of Dover Harbour there had been some form of fortification proposed and included in many of the early pier designs from the 1850s onwards.

The present Gun Turret section of the Admiralty Pier has been changed and amended in size and function throughout its life culminating in the Ancient Monument structure now seen complete with its pair of 80 ton 16” rifled muzzle loading guns housed within a nine hundred ton steam powered revolving iron turret.

More modern 6” breech loading guns were provided in concrete emplacements to the top of the fort between 1907 and 1909. While the emplacements are still visible, these guns were removed after the Second World War.


The Weather

Throughout their construction and life, the pier structures have been severely tested at intervals by the weather, sometimes withstanding the assault undamaged (the storm of 7th October 1850) and sometimes suffering defeat and damage (the storm of New Year’s Day 1877) after which changes and strengthening works took place to secure the structure for the future.


The Marine Station Buildings

The need for improvements to station facilities on the Admiralty Pier which led to the Marine Station building were driven by increased passenger numbers that had swamped the capacity of the earlier structures built on the Pier from 1859 onwards.

Initial layouts of the station and associated berths for the South Eastern and Chatham Railway were published in May 1906 and, as the momentum for building the structure increased, these were subject to continuing amendment and development to arrive close to the solution seen today. These showed four tracks arranged around two island platforms within the building along with a pedestrian bridge connecting the station to the road network close to Lord Warden House by means of the Stair Tower for access. The covered walkway and stair tower were divided internally to separate station use from that of access to the Admiralty Pier Walkway.

The Marine Station Building was constructed between 1912 and 1914 on land reclaimed between 1907 and 1913 from the harbour by the Dover Harbour Board inside the line of the Admiralty Pier.

(Percy Tempest's design for the station frontage 1912 - DHB)

By 1911, works on the land reclamation were sufficiently progressed for the station building itself to commence with piling for the foundations being almost complete by December 2012.

Work on erecting the superstructure began in 1913 and was completed by December 1914; however the outbreak of the First World War had disrupted continental travel and the station would not formally open to the public until 1919.

The Admiralty Pier and new station were given over to the War Office in November 1914 and were of great military importance during the First World War, dispatching troops (5 million men passed through) and equipment to France and receiving the wounded (1.5 million).

After the war the station returned to public use and was “opened” in January 1919. The war memorial on the North Platform was unveiled in 1922.

The station was again called into military service in the Second World War, played an important part in the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 and was badly damaged by shellfire in September 1944. The wider environs of the Fort, the Admiralty Pier and its approaches were armed and fortified, these being gradually removed post-war up to 1958.

The station remained in use (with ongoing adjustments and alterations) until 26th September 1994 when (with the opening of the Channel Tunnel) it was closed to passengers, remaining in use for other goods for a short time thereafter.

In 1996, part of the building was converted by Port of Dover for use as a cruise terminal with the tracks and railway equipment removed and the interior used for car parking and the platform buildings by local businesses. These valuable community uses continue to the present day.


Recent History

Since the Second World War, considerable development has taken place at the port to keep pace with the demands from passengers, tourist cars, and roll-on roll-off freight.

Within a few years of the opening of drive-on, drive-off facilities, it quickly became apparent that the dramatic increase in car and coach traffic through Dover would soon swamp available land space. In the mid 1960s land was reclaimed at the Eastern Docks seawards of the original customs hall and terminal buildings and a new berth was constructed. The berth, No.4, was a new generation double-deck, single-width type which allowed for two lanes of vehicles to be loaded or discharged simultaneously. It was opened in 1965 but is now occasionally utilised as a berth for small cruise/cargo vessels.

By the late 1960s it became increasingly obvious that further increases in traffic, especially as ro-ro freight had arrived on the scene, Dover Harbour Board would have to provide additionally ferry berths. Work on No. 3 Berth, another double-deck, single-width, linkspan was begun. Roll-on, roll-off freight came to Dover in 1965, replacing the previous tedious and often expensive procedure of loading a vehicle at the factory, off-loading into the hold of a ship and repeating the process at the foreign port of call. In the first year the Port of Dover handled a few hundred lorries.

In 1953, Dover's first two drive-on drive-off ferry berths were opened at the Eastern Docks. Until then cars and even coaches had been craned on and off ferries. In the first year it was anticipated that we would handle about 10,000 vehicles per year. In fact 10 times that amount materialised.

During the 1970s a new method of crossing the Channel was introduced and in the summer of 1978 a £12m Hoverport was opened at the Western Docks following the reclamation of 15 acres of land. However, it is ferries that have been the mainstay of cross-Channel transport and with the introduction of double-deck berths and further redevelopment of the ferry terminal leading to the opening of Dover's most recent ferry berths in 2005 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Port has experienced amazing transformation and growth. Furthermore, with the incredible increase in freight traffic, the Port is now a true major international transport hub for the movement of people and goods and is an essential piece of national infrastructure supporting the UK's economy. Today the Port of Dover handles around five million vehicles and 13 million passengers annually.

Whilst Dover's evolution has been impressive, there was a time during the construction of the Channel Tunnel when the Port's future as a ferry port looked uncertain, and it is within that period that we looked to diversify with the introduction of a cruise terminal and a marina.  The Port of Dover is now one of the UK's busiest cruise port and our marina achieves the highest ratings in the industry for service and quality.  However, the ferry traffic never left and in fact grew even more following the opening of the Channel Tunnel. In fact, the Port has delivered further development as part of an £85 million capital plan to ensure it can handle future volumes of traffic.



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