The Grand Shaft will be open free of charge for the public to visit. It will also be open for an extra weekend in September for the Heritage Weekend, and during the Western Heights Preservation Society’s open weekends.

Grand Shaft Opening Times 2016
Sunday 19th June
Sunday 17th July
Sunday 21st August
Saturday 27th August
Sunday 28th August
Monday 29th August
Saturday 17th September
Sunday 17th September
Sunday 16th October

History on the Grand Shaft

The Grand Shaft is a unique structure in the Western Heights and a very rare example of a triple spiral staircase in fortifications of the same age (early 1800s). When work began in earnest on the Western Heights, it soon became apparent that rapid troop movement from the cliff top to street level was greatly hindered by the distance that the men would have to cover. If an attacking force had tried to make a landing on the harbour or beach at Dover, troops on the Heights would have had to make their way along from the Drop Redoubt or Citadel to the original South Entrance (now the site of the Western Heights Roundabout), along what is now Snargate Street to meet the enemy; a route of almost a mile and a half, when troops were barracked only some 300 feet above sea level! This was hardly an ideal scenario and in 1804 construction started on the Grand Shaft, which had been designed by Lieutenant-Colonel William Twiss. The triple staircase itself is 140ft deep and at the base is a tunnel leading out to a guard room and from there out into the town. At the top is a further single staircase leading up to the parade ground of the Grand Shaft Barracks. This top staircase is inside what is known as the bowl, and was excavated out of the cliff top. The shaft itself was then dug vertically through the cliff and revetted with brick. Windows line the central shaft to allow light into the staircases, approximately every 30 stairs.

As the threat of invasion passed, the Grand Shaft became something of a local attraction, and there are stories of a Mr William Leith of Deal riding his horse up the Grand Shaft for a wager! What is clear is that in the Georgian period, there were no class distinctions attached to the triple staircase. It was simply to ensure rapid troop movement, when men of all ranks would have been deployed down any and all of the staircases in the event of an enemy attack. However, as the Victorian period progressed, class distinction became ever more apparent, and while no definitive documentation exists, the most popular theory states that the staircases were divided into “Officers and their Ladies”, “Sergeants and their Wives” and “Soldiers and their Women”. This has been supported by the fact that the Queen’s Regulations of the time clearly stated that there was to be no off-duty fraternisation between the ranks. As well as carrying troops, the Grand Shaft also had to carry the drainage from the Grand Shaft Barracks above. This had rather unpleasant consequences, and it was noted in a commission of 1858 that each time the privies were flushed, the force of the water would force sewer gas up through traps into the shaft, but also unfortunately into houses! The commission noted that a large tank with a foul air pipe was needed at the bottom of the shaft to counteract such obnoxious fumes! The guard room at the bottom of the shaft was part of a walled compound, which was found by the 1858 to be hopelessly inadequate as it was far too small to serve any function effectively. The original guardroom, coal bunker and ash pit were therefore demolished and a new compound constructed with an Officer’s guard room, two cells and a latrine and a gas meter house, which indicates the time that gas lighting was introduced to the Western Heights. Today only the gas meter house remains; all other structures were demolished.

Grand Shaft Dover

Grand Shaft Dover