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Dover Western Docks Revival reveals the past whilst planning for the next exciting chapter

The first few months of excavation for the new Wellington Dock Navigation Channel for Port of Dover’s flagship Dover Western Docks Revival (DWDR) have uncovered some exciting new features relating to the origins of the historic Western Docks.

As the impacts on the historic environment are hugely important, the DWDR scheme was designed to minimise the loss of historic character, which includes the retention of the Wellington Dock with a new navigable channel to/from the new marina.

Specialist heritage experts, Archaeology South-East (ASE), were brought on board to oversee the excavation, which began in March this year to ensure the requisite investigations were conducted in a controlled environment.

Kristina Krawiec, Senior Archaeologist, ASE said: “The excavation of such a large channel provides a unique opportunity to uncover and record deeply buried archaeological remains and the sediments associated with them.”

The first discovery included the old basements of the Victorian houses that once occupied the promenade which were built c.1830 and demolished c.1945 following WWII, during which they suffered severe shelling rendering them beyond a state of economic repair.

Further discoveries included the remains of the foundations of ‘The Pent’ proposed and overseen by Thomas Digges c.1570, under the approval of Elizabeth I. This was the first successful endeavour, following many previously failed attempts, at making use of a natural shingle bar that often blocked the entrance of ships into Dover. 

Josie Sinden, DWDR Conservation Officer, Port of Dover said: “The installation of these foundations would have been a scheme of national scale, and as a result caused an increase on the price of tax on beer and grain at the time, in order to cover costs.

“The inspiration for this style of defence was taken from work carried out on the Romney Marshes and included packing the shingle with layers of mud, silts and chalk – materials all in abundance in and around the Dover area.

 “DWDR undertook extensive heritage investigations and it was discovered that the technique used to the construct ‘The Pent’ was used extensively in the Benelux (or Low Countries).”

At a much lower level below the shingle, a small wooden ‘fence’ was uncovered. This consisted of very delicate upright timbers with a woven wattle component. The purpose of the structure has not yet been determined; however, it has been mooted to be associated with fishing, an early attempt at a sea defence or an attempt to control the shingle bar.

Kristina Krawiec, Senior Archaeologist ASE said: “The only reason the timbers survived was due to their position in the water table. The original size of the structure has been very difficult to determine as it had deteriorated significantly.”

Approximately 250 timbers were also uncovered on the beach side of excavation and would have formed a seawall with the timbers acting as fenders for the ships to moor alongside. The structure was recorded using laser scanning, and will be removed and stored for analysis prior to re-incorporation into the development.

A Heritage Steering Group (HSG) was formed in the early stages, in order to meet the design delivery of the project’s heritage requirements. This group comprised of a mixture of project staff and external archaeological organisations and is supported by a full-time dedicated conservation officer.

Dave Herrod, DWDR Programme Director, Port of Dover, said: “The Port’s commitment to heritage goes over and beyond its statutory requirement.

“Recently the DWDR team worked with the Dutch Culture Association and Historic England, to facilitate scanning of concretions found adjacent to the Dutch vessel, Rooswijk, which was recently excavated off the Kent coast.

“Celebrating our heritage structures is a key priority of DWDR, and this is just another story of how the Port has developed and becomes sustainable for future uses.”


Notes to editors

  1. Port of Dover

The Dover Western Docks Revival (DWDR) is a one-off opportunity for the regeneration of Dover, bringing new investment into the area.  With UK Government planning approval and supported by a mix of private finance and European Union grant funding, DWDR will deliver:

  • A transformed waterfront to ultimately attract a host of shops, bars, cafes and restaurants with Dover’s unique backdrop of the harbour, cliffs and castle;
  • Relocation and further development of the cargo business with a new cargo terminal and distribution centre;
  • Creation of greater space within the Eastern Docks for ferry traffic; and
  • Much needed quality employment opportunities for local people.

DWDR is the single biggest investment ever undertaken by the Port of Dover with c. £250m committed for its delivery.

DWDR scored ‘Excellent’ for the CEEQUAL Interim Client and Outline Design Award – the evidence-based sustainability assessment, rating and awards scheme that promotes the achievement of high environmental and social performance in civil engineering, infrastructure, landscaping and public realm projects.

  1. ASE

Archaeology South-East (ASE) operates as an independent cost-centre within the Centre for Applied Archaeology of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London.

  1. Photos

a.)   The Esplanade circa 1905, with the Prince of Wales Pier and the Esplanade Terrace houses adjacent to the Wellington Dock;

b.)   The possible weir, of wattle construction;

c.)   The timbers removed from the pent foundation;

d.)   Rows of timbers being exposed within Phase 2 of the navigation cut;

e.)   Provided curtesy of Paul Wells and shows the tops of the timbers that will be excavated for use in the development;

f.)    Visual representation of DWDR’s Wellington Navigation Channel on completion; 

g.)   Timbers exposed during excavation; and

h.)   Basements found during excavation.

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