The aerial ropeway

A photograph of an aerial ropeway

The aerial ropeway at the White Cliffs of Dover was designed to deliver coal to the Port of Dover for export. At the time, railway transport was too slow and too expensive, so an aerial ropeway was built to take the coal from Tilmanstone mine to Dover Harbour’s eastern arm. Here, there was a bunker big enough to hold 5,000 tons of coal and this had to be kept full.

A series of endless cables was supported on steel towers, with buckets attached at intervals. Each held three quarters of a ton of coal, and took one hour 45 minutes to travel from the mine to the bunker. This delivered about 500 tons of coal an hour.

The first part of the ropeway was in use by October 1929, and all was officially opened on 14 February 1930.The idea was for the ropeway to branch off to various other sites: power stations, cement works, a carbonisation plant, brick works and iron ore mines, however the line across the cliffs was the only one actually built.

Cutting across the landscape

The ropeway came across the fields and was then planned to go off the top of the cliff in Langdon Hole and down to the Eastern Arm. Because of high winds on the cliff top, the ropeway was taken through a tunnel into the side of Langdon Hole. The tunnel came out directly above the Eastern Arm about halfway down the cliff.

The ropeway continued to be used up to the outbreak of the Second World War, when it became too dangerous to use the harbour because of its exposed location. After the war the ropeway was never re-opened and was finally dismantled in 1949-50.

What can you see today?

The Langdon Hole end of the tunnel has been filled in but the spoil heap from the tunnelling is still there. Tower bases - concrete platforms supporting four concrete cubes - are still visible on the cliff edge in Langdon Hole and the beach below although once installed they were never actually used.

Discover the history of the cliffs