Dover: freight, mail and mackerel

Dover Castle illustrated in ‘Yacht Voyage Round England’, by W.H.G. Kingston

Daniel Defoe is not complimentary towards the port of Dover, its castle, pier or its harbour in his ‘Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain’, published between 1724 and 1727. He provides a brief summary of commercial traffic and fishing boats plying the east coast of England south and north of the Thames Estuary and crossing the Channel to France and Belgium. Dover is one of the ‘Cinque Ports’, along with Sandwich, Romney, Hythe and Hastings originally formed as a confederation by Edward the Confessor to provide ships and men for the Crown.

Neither Dover nor its castle has any thing of note to be said of them, but what is in common with their neighbours; the castle is old, useless, decay’d, and serves for little; but to give the title and honour of government to men of quality, with a salary, and sometimes to those that want one.

The town is one of the Cinque Ports, sends members to Parliament, who are call’d barons, and has it self an ill repaired, dangerous, and good for little harbour and peir, very chargeable and little worth: The packets for France go off here, as also those for Nieuport, with the mails for Flanders, and all those ships which carry freights from New-York to Holland, and from Virginia to Holland, come generally hither, and unlade their goods, enter them with, and show them to the custom-house officers, pay the duties, and then enter them again by certificate, reload them, and draw back the duty by debenture, and so they go away for Holland.

In the time of the late war with France, here was a large victualling-office kept for the use of the navy, and a commissioner appointed to manage it, as there was also at Chatham, Portsmouth, and other places; but this is now unemploy’d: The Duke of Queensberry in Scotland, who was lord commissioner to the Parliament there, at the time of making the Union, was after the said Union created Duke of Dover, which title is possessed now by his son.

From this place the coast affords nothing of note; but some other small Cinque-Ports, such as Hith and Rumney , and Rye ; and as we pass to them Folkstone, eminent chiefly for a multitude of fishing-boats belonging to it, which are one part of the year employ’d in catching mackarel for the city of London: The Folkstone men catch them, and the London and Barking mackarel-smacks, of which I have spoken at large in Essex, come down and buy them, and fly up to market with them, with such a cloud of canvas, and up so high that one would wonder their small boats cou’d bear it and should not overset: About Michaelmas these Folkstone barks, among others from Shoreham, Brighthelmston and Rye , go away to Yarmouth, and Leostoff, on the coast of Suffolk and Norfolk, to the fishing-fair, and catch herrings for the merchants there, of which I have spoken at large in my discourse on that subject.

Daniel Defoe, A tour thro’ the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies Letter 2 part 2: Canterbury and Sussex, 1727 (London: JM Dent and Co, 1927)
Vision of Britain: Daniel Defoe