12th May 2017:

The iconic White Cliffs of Dover in Kent are seemingly timeless and unchanging symbols of Britain, but are in fact subject to geological processes that sooner or later will dramatically change the shape of the cliffs, potentially carrying away various heritage features along the coastline

Earlier this year, Costain Group PLC installed geotechnical equipment designed to monitor the stability of the East Cliffs at Folkestone Warren (a few hundred metres from the west end of the White Cliffs of Dover). Oxford Archaeology was commissioned to watch the installation on the clifftop.

The main point of archaeological interest was a middle Bronze Age bowl barrow located immediately east of the monitoring site. However, the archaeology encountered during the watching brief was decidedly more modern. The team found a 1.4m deep vertical-sided cut, which was filled with a modern rubble backfill and finds that included fragments of two white glazed mugs with makers’ marks, one dated 1941, the other 1944.


Monitoring the excavation of a trench at Folkestone Warren


The feature appears to be the infilled remains of a Second World War trench, most likely associated with an anti-aircraft battery or observation post, which we know from aerial photographs stood close to the site. Cylindrical whiteware mugs and smaller teacups with distinctive solid bracket-like handles (derived from the Art Deco-style) are typical of government wartime issue ‘canteen ware’. Made by various Staffordshire based pottery firms, they have been found in many Second World War contexts up and down the country, such as air-raid shelters and military bases.

The White Cliffs were on the front line of the aerial battles of First and Second World Wars and have a rich legacy of defence features associated with those conflicts and the interwar years. During the First World War, the area was used as a Royal Naval Air Service airship base (RNAS Capel) on which at least four airship hangars and ancillary buildings were once situated, and in 1928 an acoustic mirror and associated building platform and antenna was constructed on the clifftop here. Acoustic mirrors were an early attempt at creating an early warning system to detect aircraft approaching the south coast of England, and were soon rendered obsolete by the development of faster aircraft and radar.