Dover Castle – Part 2: Going deeper undergroud

Dover Castle – Part 2: Going deeper underground

In part one I explored the life of Dover Castle under siege in the Medieval period and how through the attacks made upon it the Castle was developed into a great fortress which would survive the ages. In part two I will be jumping forward to the late 1700s when the siege engines of medieval warfare had ceased to be of use. There were new technological threats to face and Dover would transform once again to defend its country and continue to be the Key to England.

In the late 1700 and early 1800s, Dover Castle was under threat of invasion from France. A man named William Twiss who was a British Royal Engineer was tasked with developing the Castle to withstand these new threats and be a base for the soldiers to go and fight across the Channel. Twiss would add anti-aircraft guns, observation posts, earthworks, outworks, battlements, and gun placements to Dover.

He had the task to home up to 1000 men in the Castle, no easy feat. His response to this was to dig tunnels in the cliffs. These tunnels would become the barracks and were some of the most extraordinary barracks ever built in Britain. Four tunnels or Subterraneous bombproofs as they were known would consist of two floors, the upper being made of timber. A year later in 1798 three additional tunnels were dug and made larger and were to house the officers. All the tunnels would be linked near the cliff edge by a communication tunnel, which would also link o the well and the latrine. Another entrance would be added at the rear of the tunnels just above the main gate.

Born around 1744 Twiss worked at the ordnance office at the Tower of London. He received his commission in the army in 1763 where he would work on the defences at Portsmouth Dockyard and some defensive positions in Canada. In the mid-1780s, he would work on several defences in England including a chain of Martello Towers along the Kent and Sussex coast. He died in 1827 and buried in the church of All Saints, Bingley.

Twiss’ tunnels were space-saving, imperious to any artillery bombardments and were located too high up to be impacted by any gunfire from enemy warships. The barracks could house from 8-30 men who would live, sleep and eat in these spaces with their comrades. The conditions were hardly the best for the soldiers, the tunnels were dimly lit with little warmth, there would be condensation dripping from the walls, and constant smells of the men and stale food. Evidence of the soldiers can still be seen today by graffiti engraved into some of the walls of the tunnels.

After the battle of Waterloo and the defeat of Napoleon, activity at Dover would decrease. Some of the tunnels would be used to store gunpowder magazines. During the years, 1818 – 22 they would house soldiers who were involved in the blockade to defeat the smugglers of Kent. By the end of the 19th Century the tunnels were abandoned.

With war looming, Dover Castle would undergo defensive upgrades again in 1941 with an additional two levels being added to the tunnels, these would be for a secure base and an emergency dorm accommodation for the army. A few years before in 1939, the tunnels were already being equipped to be the hub of defence operations for the army along with the partition of some of the tunnels to create offices and meeting rooms. Lighting and ventilation were added to improve conditions along with improvements to radio communications

Dover and the Tunnels below would be the site of Operation Dynamo the organisation of the evacuation of Dunkirk (see blog post ….) Bertram Ramsey would be the man in charge, no easy feat. In a letter to his wife, he described life in the tunnels as being round the clockwork, organised chaos and night and day being the same.

Why the name? The name comes from a room in the tunnels, which once held a dynamo, which was a device, which produced electricity. On the first day, only 8,000 men were rescued but by the end, 338,226 soldiers had managed to get to safety. This successful Operation led to the ‘Dunkirk spirit’ and a united nation working together to defeat Hitler.

IN FOCUS – Bertram Ramsay: Ramsay was a British Admiral who at the time was known for his modern and determined views. At the time of the Second World War, he was in the process of being retired. However, with the outbreak of war, imminent Dover command was reactivated and Ramsey was given the post, which would lead to him being involved in some of the most significant events of the Second World War including Operation Dynamo.

A perfect choice for the operation he had an attention to detail and kept his cool in complex and constantly changing situations like the operation would be. He trusted those under his control, did not need to micro-manage, and allowed those close to the action to make decisions. He received the KCB for his work in the evacuation. After the operation, he remained at Dover for another two years. Returning in 1943 to help plan for the invasion of Europe and Operation Overlord.

‘had it not been for his organising genius … in his command… The evacuation might never have achieved its …

Ramsey died 2 January 1945 in an air crash. He is considered one of the most successful British military leaders of the entire war.

Operation Dynamo enabled 338,000 troops to be rescued from Dunkirk when it was only hoped, 45,000 men.

Dover was also designated to be a location to be defended to the last should the Germans had been successful in their invasion. It was provisioned as such and was believed to have been able to withstand a 6-week siege should it happen. The final stage was to blow it up to prevent it from falling into enemy hands and explosives were played at key points in the castle to be donated should the need arise.

In 1943, it was decided that a combined headquarters of the army, Navy and Air force, would be based at Dover. These were to built in the chalk cliffs and be 15m below the casemate level. Some 30,000 sq ft was required (and that does not include the passages). The tunnels were dug using mainly hand tools and completed by … active from 1943 and like the Napoleonic tunnels there were minimal comforts and basic facilities for those who lived and worked there. Long hours, damp working conditions, limited daylight, and constant noise from the forced ventilation made it no easy workplace but the spirit of those who kept the fight going was never demolished.

An underground medical station was added above the casemate levels, which consisted of an annexe grid system with a large communication tunnel and small tunnels coming off t right angles to be used as wards and operation theatres. The Dumpy level was the headquarters for the Castle, was 1.5 metres below the casemate level, and linked by two staircases. This was completed in May 1943.

After the end of the War in 1945, the Headquarters were closed. There would still be soldiers, the military based at the Castle, and the Hospital in the tunnel was continually used until the military left in 1958.

A final note of Dover Castles underground history came during the Cold War conflict in the 1960s. The government worried about a military strike began to loom for 12 seats of Government in the country. These seats would be secure and safe locations for the surviving government and emergency services personal to be based should a nuclear attack happen. The Tunnels at Dover were chosen to be one of these seats and work began in … Modernisation of the tunnels, especially on the Dumpy level were made. This included better equipment, new air filtration systems and securing the entrances and exits from radioactive contamination. A lift shaft and lift were also added. It was planned to house 300 government and military chiefs. Fortunately, it was not needed and the Home Office would leave Dover Castle n the 1980s where it was handed over to English heritage who were already managing other parts of the site above ground and continue to do so today.

Tours of the underground hospital and the Wartime tunnels are included in the admission price at the Castle and are necessary see. Both tours are guided and run at certain times throughout the day. Each includes both interactive storytelling and letting the tunnels and how they are set up speak for themselves.

Admission to the Castle starts from £20.90 per adult, free for English Heritage members. For more information head to their website


Brindle, S (2012) Dover Castle London: English Heritage

Coad, J (2011) Dover Castle: A Frontline Fortress and its Wartime Tunnels. London: English Heritage

Anon (nd) Operation Dynamo – things you need to know. Available from: [Accessed 9.02.2019]

Rickard, J (2008), Sir Bertram Home Ramsay (1883–1945), Available from [Accessed 10.02.19]

Anon (2016) William Twiss. Available from: [Accessed 10.2.19]


Hidden in plain sight – All Hallows by the Tower

“It having only burned the dyall of Barking Church, and part of the porch, and was there quenched. I up to the top of Barking steeple, and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw; every where great fires, oyle-cellars, and brimstone, and other things burning. I became afeard to stay there long, and therefore down again as fast as I could…”

Samuel Pepys

Originally dedicated to St Mary – All Hallows by the Tower is the oldest church in the City of London. It has witnessed many events in its time including the Great Fire of London in 1666 where Samuel Pepys climbed its steeple to watch the flames engulf London. Its proximity to the Tower meant that those executed on Tower Hill would usually be brought to the church post death before being moved for burial. Although rebuilt many times in its history, the foundations remain and the thousands of tourist and commuters in the City overlook its history.

Founded by the Abbey of Barking in 675AD under the Bishop of London, Erconwold, the first church was 24ft by 70 with no isles. Unfortunately, the only part of the church for this period to survive is an arch.

In the crypt, during excavations in the 1920s a mosaic floor was uncovered indication that the site was in use during the Roman period. The floor is still in situ and can be seen today. In other parts of the church recycled roman tiles and brickwork has been used, indicating that a Roman house may have once stood there. The church was re built in the late 11th century, about 10 years after the tower.

During 1309-10, the some of the Knights Templar’s would be questioned within the church during the suppression of their order. Most of the inquisitions carried out in London would have taken place in Holy Trinity Priory but a few happened at All Hallows. In November 1309, four Knights were questions at the church and denied all charges placed before them bar one. Another three knights had the same treatment in the January and a few more a few days later. All would declare them delves innocent and obedient servants to their faith. The prisoners were re questioned again later, this time after being submitted to torture and three of their number would admit to their charges and made a public confession. They would eventually be absolved of their crimes and sent to do penance among their enemies, stripped of all belongings.

A lady chapel was built in the churchyard in the 13th, which under Edward VI was placed as a royal chantry to pray for his family, and his own soul once departed. Unfortunately, all trace of the chapel no longer remains as it was demolished in 1547.

In 1650, an explosion occurred near the churchyard of All Hallows. Some gunpowder barrels caught alight and destroyed at least 50 house nearby and killing around 67 people and destroying the tower. Repairs were made and parts of the structure rebuilt in 1658, making All Hallows the only Church to have work carried out on it during the Commonwealth.

The luck, which seemed to have saved All Hallows in the Great Fire of London in 1666, would run out in the blitz. On 29th 1940, a firestorm would hit the church destroying all above ground bar the tower and one of the external walls. The rebuilding would start years later with the Queens mother laying the foundation storm to commence the re build. It was re dedicated in 1957 and was designed by Seely and Paget.

IN FOCUS – Seely and Paget:

John Seely and Paul Paget were partners in an architectural firm in the interwar years, which Seely set up for them both in 1922 (Paget was not an architect but became the ‘face’ of the company). They had met while studying at Trinity College, Cambridge and from there the two became inseparable, referring to themselves as ‘partners’ – in both life and work.

‘It was just the marriage of two minds … we became virtually one person’. – Paget.

Their masterpiece would be the transformation of Eltham Palace (see

All Hallows is about 3,569 miles from Pennsylvania in America yet it has close links with its founder and one of Americas Presidents. William Penn, who would be the founder of Pennsylvania was baptised in the church and educated in the school room before growing up and emigrating to the new world. John Quincy Adams the 6th America president was married within the church walls in 1797 before he too would leave England. Their entries in the books can be seen in the crypt museum today.

The records were only discovered purely by chance in 1923. A carved lead-lined cistern was found and opened and inside were a number of documents including those listed above. It is believed that one of All Hallows Vicars may have felt it better to preserve the records in something that was fireproof and placed it within the tower where it would eventually sit untouched for over 200 years.

Today the church is a grade I listed building which is still in regular use. It is open to the public and has the museum in the undercroft, which one can usually get to oneself, as it is not very busy. Along with the Roman Mosaics still in situ, you can see a model showing London when it was known as Londinium, a barrel used as a crow’s nest by Shakelton on his last arctic voyage and Saxon crosses discovered on the site.

The Museum is open on … For more information please visit their site


Hibbert, C (1988) London’s Churches. MacDonald Queen Anne’s Press: London

Anon (nd) All Hallows by the Tower – A History. Available from: [Accessed 18.6.19]

English Heritage (nd) Seely and Paget at Eltham Palace. Available from: [Accessed 30.6.19]

Historic England (nd) Church of All Hallows by the Tower.

Lilian J Redstone, ‘The architecture of All Hallows’, in Survey of London: Volume 12, the Parish of All Hallows Barking, Part I: the Church of All Hallows (London, 1929), pp. 54-66. British History Online

Paterson, M (2012) All Hallows by the Tower. Available from: [Accessed 30.6.19]

Ross, D (nd) All Hallows by the Tower, London. [Accessed 30.6.19]

A small town with explosive history – Shoebury Garrison

As a kid, I would go to a place called Gunners Park. It was a green open space with a duck pond, some wooded areas and a nature reserve. I loved exploring it; especially looking through the fencing of a private area where there was a hill, which my sister and I would joke was Watership Down.

As an adult that place still exists with half of it being incorporated into a housing estate called the Garrison and the rest a Nature reserve. What was once private MOD land was now accessible to the public including the various military defences built in a time when we were under threat from invasion.

Within the Garrison estate, there exists a listed piece of land, which dates back to the Iron Age. Evidence shows that there was a  settlement, which would have formed a semi-circle. Within this settlement, there would have been roundhouses, ditches and possibly some kind of fortified wall. It is believed that it was this settlement, which the Vikings retreated to after the Battle of Benfleet (see my article)

Not much else really happened of note on this area of land for hundreds of years. Our narrative jumps forward to the 1840s at the Royal Artillery ranges in Woolwich. It was beginning to be more and more difficult to use the ranges due to the proximity of the shipping route, which was getting busier and busier as time went on.

Because of this, a search began to find a more suitable location and Shoeburyness was put forward. In 1856, the Secretary of State would give the authorisation to establish Shoeburyness as a place for experimental practice and the Shoebury ranges were officially in existence. The land would be purchased from local landowner Dale Knapping.

Buildings still in existence from this period include the Commandants House, the Officers Mess, Garrison Hospital, a single storey Sergeant’s quarters and two powder magazines. The hospital would be the most modern barrack hospital of its day; the drawings in the archives are the oldest (dated 26th June 1856). Florence Nightingale would reference the hospital in a later to a friend in October 1868 highlighting her awareness of its existence and recommended the Lord Mayor to go and visit it (he already had by this point). It is possible that she will have even visited it herself. It contained Fever, Casualty and four general wards and a surgery. At the rear, there would be the ‘itch’ (isolation) ward and the Mortuary. George Smith and his sons who would go on to work on other buildings in the village itself built the hospital. Their names were later given to George, Smith, and John Street.

With the outbreak of the Crimean War came the realisation for a need for a dedicated school which was focused on Gunnery for the Royal Artillery. This new school would be founded at Shoebury in 1859. The creation of this school would lead to further land purchase and more building construction. Some of the buildings built in this period included Horseshoe Barracks, a Sergeant’s mess, a parade ground, the Garrison School and an arched gateway and clock tower that still stands proudly today.

The last piece of land to be brought for the site was in 1886 and led to the construction of Campfield Road and the creation of the Sergeants Married quarters (given the nickname the Birdcage).

IN FOCUS – The Royal Artillery – They are the artillery arm of the British Army and have been in service since 1716, and therefore involved in every campaign that the army has been involved in since then. Made up of a number of units the RA have always used some form of cannon when in the battlefield.

In 1899, the RA was split into three sections – the royal field Artillery (the largest branch), Royal Horse Artillery, and Royal Garrison Artillery (they would provide the largest guns such as the Howitzers). Merged back into one regiment after the First World War they were instead divided into brigades, which are the time of the Second World War. be over 960 and 1 million men.

One of the roles of the garrison was for experimental testing and use of guns rockets and explosives. Experimental casemates were built in 1872-3. These would be adapted in 1892 to the Light Quick Firing Battery. The Heavy Quick Firing Battery soon followed this, which had also been adapted from a previous structure.

Some of the testing and artillery development at this time included riddled barrels, breach loading, hales war rockets, shrapnel, quick-fire weapons and the replacement of gunpowder with cordite.

With so much experiential testing going on and explosives, an accident was bound to happen. One did occur in 1885, which would be the highest death toll on the garrison in its history. An accidental explosion occurred killing seven personnel. Today there is a memorial on the site of the explosion and through public subscription, the married Soldiers Hospital was built, the Garrison Pub now sits on the site of the hospital.

In 1914, the war would break out across Europe. On the front Lt Col Richardson was with his two dogs, Wolf and Prince who he had trained to pass messages from the trenches to the command posts. The War Office decided to establish a British War Dog School and Richardson was asked to do this in 1917. The eventual location would be Shoeburyness as the guns from the Front could be heard. The dogs would be sourced from rescue centres and eventually, appeals were sent out for people to donate their pets.

In the first month, 30 dogs were successfully sent out who had undergone a similar training method to that of their human counterpart soldiers – repetition. Hundreds of dogs would be sent to the front and the school grew to an extent that it would be relocated to Lyndhurst.

The war would see a major shortage of weapons and heavy artillery. In April 1913, a 9.2-in Howitzer would be built and trails were held at the Garrison in September. It would fire 48 rounds and would be nicknamed ’Mother’. It was sent over to France after the trails were completed.

PHOTO – 6 April 1916: HM King George V visited Old and New Ranges.

In 1917, there would be another fatal accident on the Garrison, which would cause the second highest death toll in its history. It occurred on 30th April when a breach blew out killing five soldiers.

Only a year later a fire would break out on the New Ranges and would grow beyond control. The fire would reach the ammunition dumps causing a number of explosions, which would continue for 24 hours. Only one man perished, many were evacuated to the Kursaal for safety. Once under control, the damage caused was accessed and would be to the value of £3 million.

Further development of the garrison would be carried out because of the outbreak of the Second World War in 1936. New defences were made to assist in the protection of not only the site but also the surrounding area should there be an invasion. New command posts and searchlight emplacements were added at various posts on the garrison along with air raid shelters.

At East Beach, a defence boom was constructed stretching into the estuary. What you can see today was the replacement added during the Cold War. It was built to stop and prevent submarines from entering the Thames estuary. Wooden piles would be sunk into the seabed. When it was completed, it was six miles long and would reach out into the deep water channel. Over in Kent, a similar one was erected at Minster and gates were then added to connect the two structures.

During this time, many soldiers would pass through the site for training or on their way to Europe. One such soldier was a man name Francis Howered who was a Gunner. While based at the Garrison he would find a captive audience to watch his comedic act, which would launch him into stardom. He would organise weekly concerts and work his nervousness to his advantage. It was while touring Southend on Sea with his group the co-oddments that he was billed as Frankie Howerd. He would eventually be posted to German and after the war; he would continue his stand up routine and become a famous comedian.

The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill would visit the Garrison a number of times during the Second World War. In January 1941, he would witness the AA ‘Z’  Rocket firings and in June the same year, he would watch some weapon demonstrations. One of the weapons that Churchill himself would test was the Swedish Light Machine gun, which resembled the American Tommy Gun. A photo of Churchill holding this gun was released to the press and would even make it to German press with the caption; Churchill the Gangster

The garrison would be disbanded in 1976 and was closed off to the public. New life was breathed into it in 2000 however, when permission was granted for a large housing development to be built on the site, including the development of many of the listed properties to be converted into homes. The Garrison’s military heritage is now nationally recognised and protected. Many of its surviving buildings are listed buildings.

In 2000, a survey was taken on the garrison titled the World War II Defences Survey. It states that ‘… many of the guns, pivots, and racers which dot the area have a 19th or early 20th-century provenance. Some, with particularly good survival, are thought to be very rare….’

Today it is open to the public to look around and explore. Some of the surviving military structures include –

•    The Experimental Casement, which has sealed with shutters to help preserve the structure.

•    The heavy quick fire battery (1898). Mounted on top of this would have been anti-shipping guns and searchlights.

•    Gunpits, which have now been filled in and grassed over, but one can see some evidence of them.

•    Ground Level pillbox

•    The drill shed (which hopefully if plans are put into action will become a heritage and Information Centre).

•    Nine air raid shelters, it is thought that there may have been up to 50 within the garrison.

•    Gogs Berth – where two barges names Gog and Magog would carry the Woolwich Infant Cannons from Woolwich Arsenal to be tested at the Garrison.

•    Barge Pier – or garrison pier. It would have been 380 ft in length and would have been served with a railway. Although it is not known what the pier was exactly used for.

There is a Heritage and Wildlife Day event at Gunners Park on 11th August from 10.30. Head over to the following link for more information –


Hill, T. (1999) Guns and Gunners at Shoeburyness. Bron: Buckingham

Longdon, P. M, (1990) Shoebury Garrison Conservation Guide. Southend on Sea Borough Council: Essex

Southend Council (2004) Shoebury garrison conservation area character appraisal October 2004. Available from: [Accessed 15/6/19]

Anon (2014) Shoeburyness, Essex: Training Dogs for War. Available from: [Accessed 15.6.19]

Hill, T (nd) MOD Shoeburyness Timeline and Historic Images. Available from: [accessed 17.6.19]

Historic England (nd) Defended prehistoric settlement at Shoeburyness, known as the Danish Camp. Available from: [Accessed 15.6.19

Houghton, I (ND) SOUTHEND ON SEA DURING THE GREAT WAR. Available from: [Accessed 15.6.19]

National Army Museum (nd) The Royal Artillery. Available from: [Accessed 14/6/19]

Skinner, N (nd) 1918. Available from: [Accessed 16.5.29]

Skinner, N (nd) The Old Ranges. Available from: [Accessed 16.5.19]

Skinner N (nd) WW2 Defence Boom. Available from: [Accessed 16.5.19]

Southend Council (2019) Shoebury Garrison Heritage Centre. Available from: [Accessed 15.6.19]

Midweek Mini – Blenkinsopp Castle

This week’s midweek mini takes us up north towards the borderlands of England and Scotland and to a Castle called Blenkinsopp. Situated near Greenhead, Northumberland, most of the castle is now in ruins.

The origins of the castle lie with the family whose name will live as long as the castle – the Blenkinsopp’s. Known for their feuds and for being “a right ancient and generous family” (Mark Antony Lowe). They built a tower house on the site of today’s castle. In 1399, they were given permission to crennelate making the tower house into a castle, which was the seat of the family for many centuries to come. It appears in the list of border Castles of 1416. The family’s motto was Dieu defende le droit (God defends the right).

What is in a name – it is not entirely clear what is behind the Blenkinsopp name. It could be from the medieval cumbric language “blaen” – ‘top’ and “kein” – ‘back or ridge’ mixed with the Old English “hop”- valley.

The Blenkinsopp family would cease to live in the castle around the 14th century when a survey reported that the roof was in bad decay and was in need of repair. The family moved and relocated to Blenkinsopp Hall, which is now a private home.

The castle would pass by marriage to the Coulsons of Jesmond in 1727. In 1832, John Dobson built a mining agent’s house alongside the castle. Then in 1877, William Blenkinsopp Coulson would develop the site into a large mansion house. Soon after all the Blenkinsopp estate under the Coulson ownership would be sold to Edward Joicey, He would turn the mansion into a functioning hotel, which was open to the public until a fire, which caused much damage in 1954. As a result, large parts of the manor were demolished for safety and what exists today is all that remains of both the manor and castle.

Back to the present, those who wish to see it can visit the castle today. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The house was listed in 1952 as grade II and is privately owned. It has four bedrooms, two reception rooms and a Pele Tower. Much of what would have been the families land is now a residential caravan park. When visiting the castle in 2018 I had a great lunch at the Blenkinsopp Castle Inn, which was once the stable block of the castle. The owners are very friendly along with the rustic decor and great homemade food it is a place I highly recommend visiting.

On a final note, it may be best not to go at night, as there is a spooky tale which goes with this castle that of the Ghost of the White Lady. The story goes that Bryan de Blenkinsopp, Lord of the Manor in … wanted a wife who would bring with her a lot of wealth, a chest of gold to be exact. He soon found his bride and chest of gold while fighting in the holy wars. His wife was said to be dusky skinned and the servants of the castle believe she may have been a ‘child of darkness’. The couple were not well matched and arguments ensured. The story continues that she ordered her own servants to bury the chest of gold in the castle and not to tell her husband driving him to anger and frustration. Eventually both man and wife would disappear in mysterious circumstances with the chest never being discovered.

The woman in white apparently haunts the castle to this day offering her hoard to those who want it if they would go with her. Will the truth to this tale ever been uncovered or will the woman in white haunt the castle for the rest of her days? I leave that for you to decide.


Historic England (nd) Blenkinsopp Castle. Available from: [Accessed 8.6.19]

 Crossley, L (2015) The castle that costs less than a London semi. Available from: Accessed

Anon (2012) The White Lady of Blenkinsopp Castle. Available from: [accessed 16/6/2019]

House of Names (nd) Blenkinsopp Family Crest. Available from: [Accessed 10/5/2019]

The Prittlewell Princely Burial Gallery – a Review

Southend Central Museum has had a little revamp – its archaeology section has been updated with a more refreshed look and interpretation, with some new additions. Yes, ‘Southends King of Bling’, the Prittlewell Prince burial has returned home. Many of the archaeological artefacts uncovered during the original dig are now back home and on display where they belong.

To find out more about the Prittlewell Prince head over to my blog post ( The artefacts have been in London with MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) who conserved, catalogue and researched the items. Although originally on display in Southend when first discovered they needed to be looked at. This discovery held elaborate grave goods, which arguably could be said to be one of the richest Anglo Saxon burials discovered in the UK. 

They are now back in their hometown in a visually pleasing display. From the gold crosses, vases and other artefacts. The display was designed by Storm Creative. Photography is permitted (with no flash) and the staff and volunteers are very informative and enthusiastic about the display. Why should they not be? They are clearly proud to be able to show what could be described as the biggest discovery since Sutton Hoo.

There is a small pamphlet available to read while looking around along with a few postcards and a book written by the Museum of London, available in the gift shop. The rest of the archaeology display complements the Saxon king. There is still currently The London Shipwreck: A sunken story exhibition on until 20th July and upstairs at weekends there is the Planetarium.

For a free exhibition, (donations are very welcome) I urge people to go and see this beautiful display even if you are not a native to Southend. People have travelled from far and wide to see the display, which gives some indication of its significance and importance. And on a final note, they have Roman helmets to try on, what is the saying when in Rome…

The wreck in Thorpe Bay – the Mulberry Harbours of the D-Day landings.

About one mile out in the Thorpe Bay is a structure that sticks out of the water, like two triangles. As a always wondered what this was and what was it doing out there. Was it a shipwreck?

Well not quite. The structure is called a caisson and it was one of many which would build up and become Mulberry Harbour (as it is now known) and is a Scheduled Monument. A Mulberry was a portable temporary developed by the British in World War II to facilitate of cargo onto the beaches during the Allied invasion of Normandy. They were part of Operation Overlord and Winston Churchill said that they were ‘a principle part of the great plan’.

What is in the estuary is classed as a with the code name of Phoenix. Its role would be to form an outer sea wall for the temporary in Normandy. It would also, once in place, form a breakwater for the many vessels that would come into port and provide a calm sea. To get it into place the would be tugged across the channel and once at their intended on board would make sure it was aligned right and then sunk 33 feet. Although ours would never even make it out of the channel.

There would be 146 Phoenixes all 60 meters long and 18 meters high. In addition, there would also be Bombardons – floating breakwaters, Gooseberries – obsolete merchant vessels whose role to be filled with explosives and sunk in their final location as a against the enemy.

The whole concept and scale of the two would stretch the capacity of the UK’s civil engineering industry. From the summer of 1943, there were at least 300 firms across the country involved that in turn employed around 40,000 people to complete the task. It was not just those from the engineering trade either, due to a shortage of were given crash courses to assist with the project. In total 212 caissons were to be completed with 23 pier heads and 10 miles of floating roadway.

The structures themselves were only meant to last for 100 days and were just built to do their purpose and nothing more. However, along with the one at Shoeburyness another three survive in British waters with 30 of the caissons in the Arromanches wall in Normandy.

There would be two built for the D-day landings. The first was assembled at Arromanches, which was to support the British and Canadian forces, and the second was Omaha to support the American troops. The first was quite successful in doing its job however; the one Omaha was wrecked during a storm within two weeks of being completed.

The one in the Thames estuary on the West Knock sandbank weighs about 2,500 tones. It was originally built in Immingham the River Humber. It was around 2 June when our was being towed that it sprung a leak and was towed into the estuary to see if repairs could be It was moved to try to keep the shipping lanes got stuck across a sandbank unable to move. Part of the caisson hung over the edge of the bank and eventually the section broke it split into two and stuck in the mud, which is where it still, remains today. One of the parts is about 115 feet long and the smaller 85. They are 32 feet in width and up to 20 feet in height

It is a rare surviving example of its kind. “It reflects an extraordinary engineering project designed to facilitate perhaps the most significant event of World War II – the D-Day counter- invasion and liberation of Continental Europe – and it remains a high visible symbol of this critical point in the history of the war.” (Historic England)


Summers, A and Debenhams J (2008) Essex hundred histories. : Southend-on-Sea

Anon (2004) World War II caisson. Available from: [accessed 10/03/2019]

Anon () Cassion (Phoenix) Breakwater Available from: [Accessed 10/3/2019]

Anon () Mulberry . Available from: [Accessed 11/03/2019]

Skinner, N () Mulberry. Available from: Accessed 10/03/2019]

Tags: thames wrecksmulberry harbourpheonixd-day landingssouthend historysouthend at watsouthend heritagecassions

St James Palace and the King that never was

If asked what the most senior Royal Palace in the UK is we may feel the answer is either Buckingham or Windsor but we would be wrong. In fact, the answer would be in London. Although to look at it today it does not really shout out “I am a palace,” it has played a part in the history of our royal family for over 400 years. It is why the area surrounded it is called St James’ and although today only minor royalty live there it was the royal residence for 300 years. It still is the venue for royal weddings and births and has been a prison and for our royalty to lie in state on their way to being buried.

Today not much of the old Palace survives due to building developments and that enemy of historic buildings – fire. However, the basic footprint of the original Palace, built by Henry VIII remains set around its original four courts – Ambassadors Court, Court, Friary Court, and the North Range. Today we can still see glimpses of Tudor St James’ in the Chapel Royal and the gatehouses along with some surviving turrets and fireplaces in the state apartments. When completed it had diapering and stone dressing, parapets, the gatehouse has polygonal corner turrets with archways. It is even said that Henrys footprint is embedded in a wall in the courtyard so that when he dismounted from his horse he would know where to place his foot.

St James’ started life as a medieval hospital and a convent of St James the Less. Then in 1529, Henry VIII, took control of the hospital and the fields around it and ‘there made a fair mansion and a park’. He certainly did not need another royal Palace for himself as he already had Westminster and was developing York Place into Whitehall Palace. No, what he wanted St James for was for others; it was to be a lesser residence. But for whom?

Some claim that it was to be a home for which he hoped would be his one and only mistress, his maîtresse-en-, Anne Boleyn. There are even initials of ‘H’ and ‘A’ in the surviving Tudor gatehouse and the fireplace in the state apartments to back this up. We know that Anne would refuse to be his mistress and became his wife in 1533 and would assist Henry in his planning of Whitehall for them both to live. So what became the purpose of St James Palace?

St James would go on to be the home the sons of the King, his heirs. The first to reside in St James would be Henry Fitzroy, Henrys bastard son by Elizabeth would tragically die there at the age of 17. Prince Edward, born in 1537, would also reside on the court, near his father at Whitehall but in a separate official residence. This would set a precedence, which future monarchs would also adopt.

I could not talk about the history of St James without mention Prince Henry Frederick Stuart – the eldest son of James I, and the king who never was. He has gone down in history to some historians as the lost prince. It was a result of his untimely death at 18 years old that would lead to his younger brother Charles to inherit his father’s throne in 1625, and the ill prepared and stuttering shy prince, once king would go on to be ill equipped and ill advised to be a good monarch and this would bring about the English Civil War and his. St James Palace would be where Charles would spend his last few days of his life (see my blog post more information on Charles)

But back to Henry. St James Palace was granted to him in 1604 when he was aged 10 and he would often stay at the Palace when in London. He was loved by many across not only the four countries of by royalty and nobility in Europe also. He was charismatic, vigorous, brave, and cultured and was raised to embody all the virtues that a prince should have.

Henry was not his father’s son in so much as the two have differing personalities and ways to run their separate courts. He decreed that all banquets should be conducted with decency and decorum, and without all rudeness, noise, or disorder. He boxes installed in all of his houses and the processed from these he gave to the poor. It was said that ‘the atmosphere of the Palaces at St James and Richmond was more like that of a puritan monastery than what we reconsider as a Jacobean court.”

More mature than his years, he would surround himself with those older than him who also shared his passions for the arts and military exploits. Henry was also loyal to his also tough and uncompromising. He also enjoyed sports and gambling.

Henry was a great lover and a patron of literacy, art, and dramatics. He would collect various items of art and place them at St James. This collecting on such a scale makes him the first member of the royal family to buy art seriously in England following those in similar positions in Europe of which Henry was also in correspondence with. Especially with the French King Henri IV, whom it could be said Henry hero-worshipped. After his brother, Charles would continue his collection and start the beginning of what we know as the royal collection today. His close friend the Earl of Arundel would also continue this passion for art collection.

In the development of St James Palace during Henry’s residency, the changes made were mostly focused on his education and enjoyment. A riding house was added, the first of its kind in the country. In addition, a little artillery house and a library which was elaborately framed in sundry arches. This library Henry made available to the schools who visited his court. The books were of those which he had brought off John, Lord Lumley in 1609, in addition to over a thousand other volumes.

Henry would die 6 November 1612 most likely of typhoid fever. His whole family was distraught. Even though he and his father were at opposite ends in how they ran their separate courts, his father mourned his son and felt his loss extremely. It is reported that months after his would have of “Henry is dead, Henry is dead.”

His funeral was held at Westminster abbey with his body being laid in state at St James for four weeks. Moreover, although he was only his funeral was more magnificent than that of Elizabeth I. His coffin was carried to Westminster with 2,000 official mourners and the streets lined with grieving members of the public. It was the first time that a state was held for someone other than a ruling monarch or their spouse.

St James Palace would go on to become the private family home of Henrys younger brother, who would become King Gradually over time, the monarchs of England would move away from St James and Whitehall to Hampton Court Palace and then to Buckingham Palace.

Today it is a grade I listed building and is the ceremonial meeting place of the Accession Council and the London residence of minor member of the royal family. It houses a number of official offices, societies, and collections. Its biggest role is that of the announcement of a new monarch of Great Britain when the previous monarch has died.

It is to Queens chapel opposite the Palace is open for those who wish to attend held there. It is also a good place to see the changing of the guard in Friary Court before they march to Buckingham Palace.


Massie, A. 2010) the Royal Stuarts. Jonathan Cape. London.

Dolman, B and Worsley, L (2008) The Royal Palaces of London. London: Merrell Publishers.

Strong, R. (1986) Henry, Prince of Wales and England’s lost Renaissance. Germany: Thames and Hudson.

, S (1993) The Royal Palaces of Tudor England, Yale University press. Singapore.

, Simon (2008) Whitehall Palace. Historic Royal Palaces, in association with Merrell. London.

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Fraser, S (2017) First British Stuart. Available from: [Accessed 15/03/2019]

Walford, E (1878) ‘St James’s Palace’, in Old and New London: Volume 4 Available from: [accessed 3 October 2018].

, C (2012) The Lost Prince –the life and death of Henry Stuart. Available from: [Accessed 15/03/2019]

Tags: St James PalaceHenry StuartRoyal CollectionRoyal PalaceTudor PalaceHistory girlsRoyal StuartsKing James IKing Charles IRoyal Funerals