Page Updated:- Monday, 12 September, 2022.


Earliest 1840

Shakespeare Head

Exploded 1846

Round Down

Near Shakespeare Cliff


Above picture shows the aftermath of the blasting that occurred in 1843 to remove part of Round Down Cliffs for the railway.

At the eastern end of this length of cliffs was the artificial failure of January 26, 1843, caused by the blasting of Round Down. This measure was chosen as a cheaper alternative to tunnelling for the construction of this part of the railway. The charges, totalling 8390 kg of finest sporting gunpowder, were placed in three short tunnels just above the planned rail level and fired at 2:26 p.m. A coastwise length of 150m of cliff was involved, so the active charge was 56 kg/m. The fall of the cliff was described as gradual, being accomplished in two minutes. It appears to have broken down less than a natural chalk fall, especially in its rearward parts.

Approximately 300 X 103m3 of in situ chalk was removed. The average height of the cliff above mean sea level was 119m. The shape of the debris lobe was not surveyed below high-tide level. It is reported as covering an area of 63 x 103m3 to depths varying from 4.6 to 7.6m and to have had a seaward reach of 305 to 366m. The operation was described by Hutchinson (1843). The L/H ratio is estimated to have been 3.85. The debris from this fall provided the platform from which the Shakespeare Colliery shafts were sunk from 1896 onward. A further smaller volume of cliff (50 x 103m3) was blasted down at 4:30 p.m. on March 2. 1843. Earlier heavy falls affecting Rownd Down in February 1840, and in 1840-1842 were also reported by Hutchinson (1843). The area is now occupied by the spoil from the Channel Tunnel and associated surface structures.


Round Down Cliff

Above picture shows Round Down Cliff and the wreck of the Tigress which happened on 3rd February 1849.

On Sunday night week, the East Indiaman the Tigress, went on shore to the westward of the Shakespeare Cliff, Dover; in a few days she became a total wreck, and portions of her cargo strewed the beach as far as the South Foreland. The prospect of booty attracted hundreds of the lower orders, men, women, and children, to the shore, eager to possess themselves of floating pieces of the wrecked ship, spices, cocoa-nuts, or anything else that came in their way, to make lawful prize; and, unfortunately, in one or two instances, despite the vigilance of the officers of customs and coast-guard boatmen, casks or puncheons of rum, which had been washed ashore, were stove in, and the contents carried off in the crows of hats, in boots, or any available article at hand; and a disgusting scene of drunkenness ensued — men, women, and children lying on the beach, huddled together in the worst state of intoxication so that many of them were nearly drowned by the rising of the tide, whilst others were rendered so insensible through the drink, that they were removed on shutters.


Recent research has found the following reference to a pub at a place called Round Down, near Shakespeare Cliff, and I am going to assume it is this house. If not this establishment, then it's the "Mulberry Tree."


From the Dover Telegraph and Cinque Ports General Advertiser, Saturday 15 August, 1840.


Sale of valuable building ground and premises.


Respectfully announces that he has received the transaction to


On Monday, the 17th day of August inst. at the "Shakespeare Hotel," in Dover, at two for three o'clock in the afternoon precisely, the undermentioned valuable property.


LOT 2. All that BUILDING recently erected on Round Down, near Shakespeare Cliff, and used as a Beer-House, where an extensive Business has been, and now is, carried on with the Persons employed on the S. E. Railway.

The above Lots present a sure investment, either for a Brewer or an industrious Man with small Capital wanting Business.

For Particulars and to treat for the Purchase, apply to the Auctioneer, Phoenix Fire Office, 18, Bench Street, Dover.


Around the 1840s Shakespeare tunnel was being excavated for the proposed train line and I have heard mention of another pub at the base of the cliff called the "Mulbury Tree". With so many workmen around at the time, working on construction of the railway, it wouldn't surprise me if a pub was open for the workmen close by and probably near beach level. I am going to make a guess that this was a pub for the workmen and that the parish of Hougham encased part of what is now Ayecliff estate right down to Lydden Spout. If Lydden can have a spout there, why not Hougham?


Kentish Mercury 31 October 1840.

On Monday last an inquest was held before T.T. DeLasaux Esq., Coroner for East Kent, at the "Shakespeare's Head" beerhouse. On the body of George Joiner, who is supposed to have come by his death on Saturday evening last, by falling down the cliff near the sea wall between Dover and Folkestone while in a state of intoxication.

It did not appear that any person had seen the deceased since he left the "Jolly Sailor," public house near the turnpike-gate at the top of Folkestone hill and, as he was very much given to drink, it is supposed that he was intoxicated at the time. He was not, however, discovered till Monday morning, when William Page, a labourer, happening to take a stroll along the edge of the cliff, discovered the body lying in the bushes about halfway down the cliff. Several men working on the railroad close at hand then conveyed the body to the house where the inquest was held.

It was pretty evident that the deceased had not been dealt with unfairly for the sake of the money he had about him, as his tobacco box, containing some tobacco and 3s. was found under his body when he was picked up.

The Coroner said that three shillings was a very small sum for a man to take home from the pay table, and enquired how often the men were paid. Someone present said once a fortnight, but it was no uncommon thing for the men to receive no more than two or three shillings when the day of reckoning came, because the contractors had several “Tommy shops” on the line for the men to go to for their provisions and beer. This led the men to spend the whole of their money in drink. That they did not want for food, because the contractors discharged those in their employ who did not spend the whole, or nearly the whole, of their money at these “Tommy shops”.

The Coroner considered that the contractors were highly censurable for such conduct, as it tended in a very great degree to the increase of crime.

Verdict: “Accidental Death”.


Dover Telegraph and Cinque Ports General Advertiser, 31 October 1840.


On Monday an inquest was held at the "Shakspeare's Head," beer shop, before T. T. Delasaux, Esq. coroner for East Kent, over the bodies of Thomas Bailey and Samuel Shellitoe, who came by their death under the following circumstances.

Elgar William Hall, mariner, residing in St James's-street, deposed, that on Saturday last, the deceived, with himself, and a lad named Cooper, were employed in conveying bricks for the railway, from the harbour, in a ship's long-boat. They arrived opposite to Jenkins’s pond about half-past one o'clock, but finding that the tide was too low to venture among the rocks for the purpose of unloading their cargo, they cast anchor, and lay there about four or five hours, waiting for the next tide. At about half-past seven, Bailey, the captain of the boat, thinking that the tide was risen sufficiently to enable them to land in safety, ordered the men to pull up the anchor, and to proceed towards the shore. They had not gone far, however, before the boat struck against a rock, which unshipped the rudder; but they continued to row on for a short time longer, when she struck against a rock which immediately sunk her, in a depth of about four feet water. Witness immediately jumped out of the boat, and taking the lad, Cooper, on his shoulders, swam ashore. Bailey, also, endeavoured to make for land, but he had not proceeded but a few paces before he slipped into a hole beside one of the rocks, and was drowned. Shellitoe got upon a rock, and witness called to him from the shore, told him to hold fast for a few minutes, until a punt could he put off to his assistance. Some coast-guardsmen being near the spot hastened to launch a boat with all possible speed, and witness went with them in quest of Shellitoe. They went round the rock where deceased was supposed to be, but they could not find him. They called several times; but there was no answer given, and he was supposed to have fallen a victim to the devouring element. It was very dark at the time, and had deceased remained on the rock he could not have been seen from the shore, although it was but a few yards thence. Witness said he had heard Bailey say, that he had been cautioned not to Land with bricks after dark, on account of the dangerous state of the shore. On the following morning John Nicholson, coast-guardsman, stationed at Lydden Spout, found the deceased, Bailey, jammed in amongst the rocks, but a few yards from the spot where the boat had sunk; but the body of Shellitoe had floated nearly three-quarters of a mile from thence, and was found lying at high water mark.

Verdict, "accidental death," with a nominal deodand of 1s. on the boat.

On the same day, another inquest was held before T. T. Delasaux, Esq. at the above-named house, on the body of George Joiner, a labourer on the railway, who is supposed to have fallen over the cliff, near the sea-wall, on Saturday evening, while in a state of intoxication. No evidence could be adduced that any one had seen the deceased, since he left the "Jolly Sailor," public-house, at the top of Folkestone hill, on Saturday night, when, it is supposed, that instead of going home to Capel, he intended to come along the cliff, en route to Dover, and that getting too near the edge, being in an inebriated state, fell over. It is evident that he had not been robbed, because his tobacco-box, containing 3s. (the result of his labours for the last fortnight, after his beer, &c. had been paid for at the tommy shop, as it is termed,) was found under him when picked up. The deceased, however, was not discovered till Monday morning, when William Page taking a stroll along the cliff, saw him lying amongst some bushes, which had prevented him rolling to the bottom. Page could not get near the body, but he called to some men working on the railroad below, who picked him up and conveyed him to the place where the inquest was held. The Coroner, in remarking his surprise that the deceased had no more than 3s. for his fortnight’s earnings, was informed that the contractors on the railroads have erected tommy shops along the line, and that although the men were not compelled to spend their money at these places, the contractors soon dismissed them from their service, when they ascertained they did not. This led to a considerable degree of drunkenness, and it was no uncommon thing for the men to spend the whole of their fortnight’s earnings, to within two or three shillings. And some men even found themselves as much as 7s. or 8s. in debt at the termination of their fortnight's labours. The coroner said such contractors were highly censurable.

Verdict, "Accidental death."


From the Dover Telegraph, 1 November 1840.


On Monday last an inquisition was holden at the "Shakespeare Head," parish of Hougham, before Mr. De Lassaux, the County Coroner, on view of the bodies of Samuel Shilletto and Thomas Bayley, two old men, mariners of Dover, who were drowned on the previous Friday evening while carrying bricks from Dover harbour to the South-Eastern Railway works near Lydden Spout. From the evidence of Elgar William Hall, mariner, aged about 18, it appeared that witness, the 2 deceased, and a boy named George Cooper, somewhat younger than the witness, had proceeded from the aforesaid harbour about 1 or 2 o'clock in the afternoon on Friday, in a ship's long-boat, heavily laden with bricks; that, when they came nearby opposite Jenkin's Pond, where their cargo was to be landed, the tide not being sufficiently high to float them in shore over the rocks, they cast anchor to await its flow. They lay at anchor till about half-past 7, when Bayley, who was captain of the boat, ordered the anchor to be got in, which was done, and they made for shore. The night was very dark. Not having any watch to tell the time, the anchor was got too soon. They got it at half-past 7; but the tide should have flowed till 8 o'clock before they attempted to land. They had not proceeded far when the boat struck on a rock, and the rudder was inconsequence unshipped. They still pulled in shore till again the boat struck on the rocks and immediately sank in about four feet of water. On the instant, witness, Bayley, and Cooper, left the boat to wade on shore; but they had only proceeded a yard or two when Bayley fell into a hole and was drowned. Witness swam across the hole with the boy Cooper on his back and gained the shore. When he had got on shore he called to Shilletto, who had not left the boat, to hold on a few minutes till he (witness) procured assistance; and Shilletto answered the call. Witness then ran to fetch the Coast Guard men, who were near, but when he again reached the beach, and called to Shilletto six time, he received no answer. The galley belonging to the Preventive Station at Lydden Spout was readily launched , manned by witness, Cooper, and four Coast Guard men. They proceeded to the spot where the accident occurred; but though they reached it only a few minutes after, and made every possible search with boat-hooks, &c., no trace of either of the unfortunate men could be found. William Cooper, the other boy who was in the boat, corroborated the foregoing evidence. John Nicholson, commission boatman, deposed to finding the bodies on Saturday morning. That of Bayley was found between two rocks close to the place where the boat sunk; the other was found about three quarters of a mile apart, at high water marks. The witness Hall, on being recalled, stated that he had heard Bayley say that both he and the captain of another boat similarly engaged, had been cautioned by the railway people not to endanger their lives and their cargo by bringing their boats overnight. Every exertion was being used by the Coast Guard men to save the lives of the unfortunate men. The night was very dark. Search was persisted for a considerable time round the rocks without effect.

Verdict.- Accidental Death, with a deodade of 1s. in each case on the boat.


From the Dover Telegraph, 28 August, 1841.


An inquisition took place at the "Shakespeare Head", in the parish of Hougham, on Saturday last, on the body of a young man, named William Thompson, who had accidentally drowned on the previous day, near Shakespeare Cliff. It appeared from the evidence of a witness that he, with the deceased and another person  was, bathing in the sea, when the tide running very strong, the deceased was carried by the force of it beyond his depth, and being unable to swim, called out to his companions for assistance. They immediately swam towards the spot, and exerted themselves to the utmost to rescue him; but in consequence of the strong tide, their humane endeavours were ineffectual, and the poor fellow sank into a watery grave.

Verdict, "Accidental Death."


South Eastern Gazette 10 March 1846.


The borough coroner completed his adjourned inquest on Wednesday, on the bodies of the men killed by the explosion of gunpowder in a cave in Dover Cliff. Since the adjournment, another man, (Gillham) has died of his wounds, making the thirteenth sufferer by the accident. It appeared from the evidence adduced on Wednesday, that for some time past the cave had been converted into a kind of Beer-Shop, to supply the labourers employed on that particular part of the line, notwithstanding the dangerous nature of the contents, which they were perfectly aware of. The jury found the following verdict:- "That the deceased were killed by the explosion of a certain quantity of gunpowder, not being properly protected from the possibility of an accident; and that the said explosion was caused by a lighted pipe being dropped by one of the deceased on the said gunpowder."

(I am assuming this was the pub. Paul Skelton)

Read report of explosion CLICK HERE.


From the West Kent Guardian, 28 February, 1846.


A very serious accident occurred on Tuesday to some workmen employed near the Shakespeare Tunnel, at Dover. It appears that the men repaired to a cave where some gunpowder was stored, for the purpose of sheltering themselves from the rain while they ate their dinners; after which one of them, having lighted his pipe, threw the burning match carelessly away, and by some means set fire to the gunpowder. An explosion took place, and ten of the men were instantly killed. One other is in a hopeless condition, and two more are severely injured, but they are likely to recover.

The cave in which the gunpowder was stored was carefully locked, but the door was forced open by one of the men who was killed. It is therefore quite evident that no blame can attach to the parties in charge of the powder.


Thirteen men in the employ of Messrs. Grissell and Peto, who were constructing a sea-wall at the Rounddown-cliff, near Dover, for the South Eastern Railway Company, were at dinner on Tuesday between twelve and one o'clock, when a shower of rain came on; and to protect themselves from the wet, one of the men forced open the door of the cave in the Chalk-cliff, which had been kept locked, having been used as a store for gunpowder.

One of the men after lighting his pipe threw down the match, when, shocking to relate, the gunpowder exploded, and left but two survivors to tell the tale. Most of the bodies of the men were blown over the railway works, some on to the cliff, and some into the sea, and the bodies of two on to the line of railway.

It is melancholy to reflect that these men had been warned of the contents of the cave so late as on Saturday last by Mr. Fraser, the inspector of the works, who had removed his store of tools from another cave to give the men the full use of it, and that the warning had been unheeded and ineffectual to prevent this awful sacrifice of human life.


On Thursday morning, at 2 o'clock, Mr. G. T. Thompson, coroner for the borough of Dover, held an inquest on the bodies of the sufferers by the late explosion on tbe South-Eastern line, near Dover. The following is a list of those to whom this terrible accident has proved fatal:— William Jordon aged 23; Thomas Hutton, aged 52; James Cook, aged 56; John Russell, and John Pain, aged 39; Israel Hughes, aged 28; John Wilson, aged 25; William Richards, Edward Ruck, John Kendall, aged 24; Joseph Hambrook, aged 24; and Joseph Willis, alias Reader. Of these 10 have left widows, and one of them, Pain, a family of seven children. Shortly after 12 o'clock the jury and coroner went to view the bodies and the scene of the disaster. The remains of these unfortunate men have been so horribly mutilated and disfigured that the spectacle they presented was appalling to the last degree. Their heads had been charred and shattered to such an extent that several of them could with difficulty be identified, and their scorched bodies and broken limbs made every spectator, who had the courage to look at them, shudder with horror.

After the whole of the evidence had been heard, the coroner adjourned the inquest till Wednesday next, at one o'clock.




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