Rural Rides

Extract from William Cobbett’s Rural Rides

Dover, Wednesday September 4 1823

'I went to see, with my own eyes, something with the sort of means that had been made use of to squander away countless millions of money. Here is a hill containing, probably, a couple of square miles or more, hollowed like a honeycomb. Here are line upon line, trench upon trench, cavern upon cavern, bomb-proof upon bomb-proof; in short the very sight of the thing convinces you that either madness the most humiliating, or profligacy the most scandalous must have been at work here for years. The question that every man of sense asks is: What reason had you to suppose that the French would ever come to this hill to attack it, while the rest of the country was so much more easy to assail ?

However, let any man of good plain understanding go and look at the works that have here been performed and that are now all tumbling into ruin. Let him ask what this cavern was for; what that ditch was for; what this tank was for; and why all these horrible holes and hiding-places at an expense of millions upon millions ? Let this scene be brought and placed under the eyes of the people of England, and let them be told that Pitt and Dundas and Perceval had these things done to prevent the country from being conquered; with voice unanimous the nation would instantly exclaim: Let the French or let the devil take us, rather than let us resort to means of defence like these.

This is, perhaps, the only set of fortifications in the world ever framed for mere hiding.

There is no appearance of any intention to annoy an enemy. It is a parcel of holes made in a hill, to hide Englishmen from Frenchmen. Just as if the Frenchmen would come to this hill ! Just as if they would not go (if they came at all) and land in Romney Marsh, or on Pevensey Level, or anywhere else, rather than come to this hill; Rather than come to crawl up Shakespeare’s Cliff. All the way along the coast, from this very hill to Portsmouth; or pretty nearly all the way, is a flat. What the devil should they come to this hill for, then ?

And when you ask this question, they tell you that it is to have an army here behind the French, after they had marched into the country ! And for a purpose like this; for a purpose so stupid, so senseless, so mad as this, and withal, so scandalously disgraceful, more brick and stone have been buried in this hill than would go to build a neat new cottage for every labouring man in the counties of Kent and of Sussex.'