Dungeness - History and Facts | History Hit


Dungeness, Kent, England, United Kingdom

Peta Stamper

04 Jun 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Dungeness

Dungeness in Kent, southern England, is a headland that sits about 3 miles into the English Channel, and is an area of Special Scientific Interest, a bird sanctuary, and includes the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station and hamlet.

Dungeness has a long and varied history, and today you can visit the open flat coastal area, touring the multiple sites from nuclear power plants to the old lighthouses.

Dungeness history

The name ‘Dungeness’ is derived from Old Norse ‘nes’ meaning headland, likely connecting the area to the Denge Marsh which Dungeness shelters. The Romans marked their presence along the coastline by building sea defences at Dymchurch and Rhee Wall to prevent the encroaching Channel, continually maintained since.

In 1615 a wooden lighthouse was built at Dungeness to replace a warning beacon for sailors. The lighthouse was 35 feet tall, but was in turn replaced by a new lighthouse closer to the water in 1635, known as ‘Lamplough’s Tower’ reaching 110 feet.

Samuel Wyatt built a more modern lighthouse in 172 which was painted black with a white stripe so it was visible during the day. While this lighthouse was demolished in 1904, the accommodation remained, built in a circle at the base of the tower.

During the D-Day landings in Normandy during World War Two, Dungeness was the site of PLUTO: Pipe Line Under The Ocean, supplying fuel through high pressure hoses. The operation was a success, and the pipeline could supply 1 million gallons of fuel per day.

In the later 20th century, 2 nuclear power stations were built in Dungeness: the first in 1965 and second in 1983. While the old station closed in 2006, the newer power station was bought by EDF Energy and provides tours for the public – temporarily paused after the September 11 2001 attacks.

As the second power station was being built, the film director and artist Derek Jarman bought a small Victorian fisherman’s hut along the Dungeness coast. From 1986 until his death in 1994, the small hut was Jarman’s home along with his partner Keith Collins, painted in black with contrasting yellow windowpanes, Jarman decorated the walls with lines from John Donne’s poem, ‘The Sun Rising’.

Dungeness today

Today, Dungeness is one of the largest areas of shingle in Europe and has a rich and unique plant and bird ecology. For that reason, the area is a fantastic place to go walking and spot the local wildlife. The tall black lighthouse is also open to climb with spectacular Channel views over to France on a clear day from the top!

If you take the Coast Drive towards Greatstone Beach, you will see some of the buildings used for the PLUTO operation such as the Pluto B&B House (now a private dwelling). At the south end of the area you will also find a number of ‘shacks’ built during the 1920s for workers on the Southern Railway who had come from Ashford, a southern railway hub.

Getting to Dungeness

From London, by car Dungeness is reached un 2 and a half hours via the M20, exiting at Ashford and taking the A2070 to the coast. There is a small car park at Dungeness with toilets.