Visit to Fort Burgoyne

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On Thursday 9th August a party of club members together with representatives from the Rotary Club of Sandwich and Inner Wheel Club of Dover were given an in-depth tour of one of Dover’s great defensive structures (and probably the least well known) - Fort Burgoyne at Guston. The summer drought had just ended and much of the day was subject to heavy rain but this did not deter those who had signed up for this particular event and who gathered at the impressive parade ground of the Fort in the early evening as the weather eased. Robert Hough, volunteer with the Land Trust, guided the tour party round the exterior elements of the Fort using the former gun ramps to walk over the Casemates and inspecting substantial former gun emplacements before taking an internal tour of the massive structure viewing the casemated rooms which had been used for a variety of purposes from Officers’ Mess and quarters to barrack rooms and servants’ quarters, storerooms, kitchen, beer and wine cellars and other facilities for the garrison stationed at the Fort. The party was taken down a further floor and via a long illuminated tunnel to the lower level of the centre caponier. The tour was accompanied by an excellent talk by the Robert who explained the history of the Fort and its various features as the tour party proceeded round the structure.

Originally called Castle Hill Fort it was renamed by Queen Victoria after Sir John Fox Burgoyne, Inspector General of Fortifications, who died in 1871. The Fort itself was built between 1861-1868 with a primary function of defending Dover, specifically the castle, as a land front fortification but it also served as barracks for various regiments stationed in Dover from time to time. Designed to prevent enemy occupation of the high ground opposite Dover Castle it was a line of protection for the latter on its landward side and was edged by a deep ditch. Although probably obsolete by the turn of the twentieth century it was provided with large guns during World War Two and other protective measures, such as blast walls, but survived the conflict unscathed and remained in use in varying degrees to the late 1950s since when it has been largely unused. In recent years, released from the military, it forms part of the Land Trust’s property portfolio. The Land Trust is a national land management charity aiming to restore and maintain the site for community use as much as possible. The Trust arranges various opportunities to tour the historic structure, which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument of National Importance, otherwise it is closed to the public.

Organiser of the tour party Peter Sherred, Past President of the Rotary Club of Dover, said “it was an unforgettable opportunity to discover so much of Dover’s rich hidden history. The labyrinth of the tunnels and buildings underground was a real eye-opener and the external fortifications were also a great surprise. So often we take our local surroundings for granted and do not cherish their value as we should. It is only when we visit such an amazing historic military structure as Fort Burgoyne one realises just how blessed we are in Dover with such diverse historical sites. If only we could secure the resources to fully realise their potential!” Thanks were expressed to Chris Valdus, Fort Burgoyne Heritage Project Manager, and Kirsty Lee, White Cliffs Countryside Partnership Ranger, for enabling the visit.