White Cliffs of Dover

White Cliffs of Dover

The White Cliffs of Dover is the region of English coastline facing the Strait of Dover and France. The cliff face, which reaches a height of 350 feet (110 m), owes its striking appearance to its composition of chalk accented by streaks of black flint, deposited during the Late Cretaceous. The cliffs, on both sides of the town of Dover in Kent, stretch for eight miles (13 km). The White Cliffs of Dover form part of the North Downs. A section of coastline encompassing the cliffs was purchased by the National Trust in 2016.

The cliffs are part of the Dover to Kingsdown Cliffs Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation. The point where Great Britain is closest to continental Europe, on a clear day the cliffs are visible from France (approximately 20 miles (32 km) away). A celebrated UK landmark, the cliffs have featured on commemorative postage stamps issued by the Royal Mail, including in their British coastline ser...Read more

The White Cliffs of Dover is the region of English coastline facing the Strait of Dover and France. The cliff face, which reaches a height of 350 feet (110 m), owes its striking appearance to its composition of chalk accented by streaks of black flint, deposited during the Late Cretaceous. The cliffs, on both sides of the town of Dover in Kent, stretch for eight miles (13 km). The White Cliffs of Dover form part of the North Downs. A section of coastline encompassing the cliffs was purchased by the National Trust in 2016.

The cliffs are part of the Dover to Kingsdown Cliffs Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation. The point where Great Britain is closest to continental Europe, on a clear day the cliffs are visible from France (approximately 20 miles (32 km) away). A celebrated UK landmark, the cliffs have featured on commemorative postage stamps issued by the Royal Mail, including in their British coastline series in 2002 and UK A-Z series in 2012.

 
The Roman lighthouse at Dover Castle.

A possible Iron Age hillfort has been discovered at Dover, on the site of the later castle.[1] The area was also inhabited during the Roman period, when Dover was used as a port. A lighthouse survives from this era, one of a pair at Dover which helped shipping navigate the port. It is likely the area around the surviving lighthouse was inhabited in the early medieval period as archaeologists have found a Saxon cemetery here, and the church of St Mary in Castro was built next to the lighthouse in the 10th or 11th century.[2]

It is thought that the Old English name for Britain, Albion, was derived from the Latin albus (meaning 'white') as an allusion to the white cliffs.[3]

Dover Castle
 
Dover Castle with the cliffs in the foreground — circa 1890 to 1900

Dover Castle, the largest castle in England,[4] was founded in the 11th century. It has been described as the "Key to England" owing to its defensive significance throughout history.[5][6] The castle was founded by William the Conqueror in 1066 and rebuilt for Henry II, King John, and Henry III. This expanded the castle to its current size, taking its curtain walls to the edge of the cliffs. During the First Barons' War the castle was held by King John's soldiers and besieged by the French between May 1216 and May 1217. The castle was also besieged in 1265 during the Second Barons' War. In the 16th century, cannons were installed at the castle, but it became less important militarily as Henry VIII had built artillery forts along the coast. Dover Castle was captured in 1642 during the Civil War when the townspeople climbed the cliffs and surprised the royalist garrison, giving a symbolic victory against royal control. Towards the end of the war many castles were slighted, but Dover was spared.[7]

The castle had renewed importance from the 1740s as the development of heavy artillery made capturing ports an important part of warfare. During the Napoleonic Wars, in particular, the defences were remodelled and a series of tunnels were dug into the cliff to act as barracks, adding space for an extra 2,000 soldiers. The tunnels mostly lay abandoned until the Second World War.[8]

South Foreland Lighthouse
 
South Foreland lighthouse

South Foreland Lighthouse is a Victorian-era lighthouse on the South Foreland in St. Margaret's Bay, which was once used to warn ships approaching the nearby Goodwin Sands.[9] Goodwin Sands is a 10-mile-long (16 km) sandbank at the southern end of the North Sea lying six miles (10 km) off the Deal coast.[9] The area consists of a layer of fine sand approximately 82 ft (25 m) deep resting on a chalk platform belonging to the same geological feature that incorporates the White Cliffs of Dover. More than 2,000 ships are believed to have been wrecked on the Goodwin Sands because they lie close to the major shipping lanes through the Straits of Dover. It went out of service in 1988 and is now owned by the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty.

Second World War
 
White Cliffs of Dover, seen from France

The cliffs have great symbolic value in Britain because they face towards continental Europe across the narrowest part of the English Channel (approximately 20 miles (32 km) between coasts), where invasions have historically threatened and against which the cliffs form a symbolic guard. The National Trust calls the cliffs "an icon of Britain", with "the white chalk face a symbol of home and wartime defence."[10] Because crossing at Dover was the primary route to the continent before the advent of air travel, the white line of cliffs also formed the first or last sight of Britain for travellers. During the Second World War, thousands of allied troops on the little ships in the Dunkirk evacuation saw the welcoming sight of the cliffs.[11] In the summer of 1940, reporters gathered at Shakespeare Cliff to watch aerial dogfights between German and British aircraft during the Battle of Britain.[12]

Vera Lynn, known as "The Forces' Sweetheart" for her 1942 wartime classic "(There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover" celebrated her 100th birthday in 2017. That year she led a campaign for donations to buy 170 acres (0.7 km2) of land atop Dover's cliffs when it was feared that they might be sold to developers; the campaign met its target after only three weeks. The National Trust, which owns the surrounding areas, plans to return the land to a natural state of chalk grassland and preserve existing military structures from the Second World War.[13] In June 2021, a wildflower meadow on White Cliffs of Dover was named in honour of Dame Vera Lynn.[14]

^ "EN3775 Dover Castle, Kent". Atlas of Hillforts. 29 April 2018. ^ Coad (2007), pp. 40–41 ^ Anon, Oxford Living Dictionaries, Oxford University Press, archived from the original on 1 May 2018, retrieved 30 April 2018 ^ Cathcart King (1983), p. 230 ^ Kerr (1984), p. 44 ^ Broughton (1988), p. 102 ^ Coad (2007), pp. 42–47 ^ Coad (2007), pp. 48–50 ^ a b "South Foreland Lighthouse: The History of the Lighthouse". National Trust. Retrieved 24 February 2019. ^ "The White Cliffs of Dover". The National Trust. 1 November 2016. ^ Wijs-Reed, Jocelyn (2012). I've Walked My Own Talk. Partridge Publishing. p. 212. ^ Sperber (1998), p. 161 ^ "Dame Vera Lynn white cliffs of Dover campaign hits £1m". BBC News. Retrieved 9 November 2007. ^ "Wildflower meadow on White Cliffs of Dover named in honour of Dame Vera Lynn". ITV News. 17 June 2021. Retrieved 18 June 2021.
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