Subterranea Britannica

Champagne Caves, Dover

Limekiln Street, Dover
OS Grid Ref: TR315405
Date of visit: October 2011

[Source: Chris Rayner]

The Champagne Caves, also known as Oil Mills West and Finnis Hill Caves, are of 19th century date and are reputed to have been built by Napoleonic prisoners of war, possibly taking advantage of the earlier lime workings suggested by the road name (lime burning took place to create, ultimately, lime for use in building mortar and plaster).

They comprise five mainly brick-lined tunnels running into the cliff face in two parallel groups (of two and three tunnels apiece) which may reflect different building stages. An upper floor may have been present at some time in the much taller east end caves (the word caves is used for convenience however these are man-made structures) and current access is via upper floor openings

This appears to be the site described below in a fascinating website on Dover breweries and pubs :
“Caves situated in the limestone cliffs of Finnis Hill, Dover, a very good storage place for wine because of the even temperature and humidity, were listed beside Henry's name in the rating book for St Mary's Parish, Dover ('Pier Ward') 1838-9. Valued at £7 10s. with an assessment of 2s. 6d., these caves are still used for storage”

The caves were known as the Limekiln Street Bonded Stores in more recent times and were used to store imported goods on which customs duty had not yet been paid.

During the Second World War, the front end of the caves was used as a public air raid shelter while the Navy retained the rear section. The shelter warden at the Champagne Caves seems to have been less officious than the one at the adjacent Oil Mills shelter and allowed shelterers to bring their dogs with them, a very rare occurrence, however this advantage was offset by the cold and damp. The site may also have seen use as a wartime Temporary Fire Station, the Finnis Hill substation.

Visit by kind permission of the Owners

[Source: Chris Rayner]

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