History

Emma and the team at The Valiant Sailor welcome you to our beautiful village nestled at the edge of England in White Cliffs Country

Here you will find some information on the history of the pub and the local area

The Valiant Sailor

This Sailor was built as a farmhouse in 1780 by Thomas Baker who was granted a lease on the land from Lord Radnor and opened in 1782 as ‘The Jolly Sailor’. The pub is perched in White Cliffs Country at the top of Dover Hill on the outskirts of the picturesque and historical village of Capel-le-Ferne.

In 1820 the name was changed to ‘The Valiant Sailor’, now the only pub of its name in the country. There is no documented evidence for the name change, but anecdotal accounts suggest that the pub was a hostelry for fisherman and sailors from both Dover (The Sharks) and Folkestone (The Turks). As the pub was located midpoint in distance and a navigation aid from the coast, these seafarers would regularly come up the hill to drink, boast and fight over supremacy, and the lack of jollity likely made the name untenable. As the pub is located just a few yards within the Folkestone boundary it would suggest that the valiant victors of the day were the Folkestonians!

“The news into the town was brought

and raised such great alarms

that all the Valiant Folkestone men

betook themselves to arms”

Over the next two centuries a number of landlords have made the Sailor their home. The Aird family (firstly William in 1878, then son Alfred then grandson Bill) were the most famous as they held the longest tenure at 68 years, and for generations The Valiant was referred to as ‘Up Old Aird’s.’ The family were successful dairy farmers and the remnants of the feeding troughs can still be seen today in the car park. Alfred’s wife also opened the High Garden Tea Rooms with a pavilion, meadow flowers and breath-taking sea views from thatched summer houses. Later additions included a dancehall for 150 people and an observatory. The gardens are now home to Highview Park. Unfortunately William’s wife tragically died in 1895 on this very hill when thrown from a horse and trap.

Others have lost their lives here at The Valiant. In 1856, sisters Caroline and Maria Back were murdered by spurned lover Dedea Redaines. Known locally as Swiss John and originally from Serbia, Redaines was an officer in the British Swiss Legion based at Dover Castle and became jealous of Caroline’s relationship with a sergeant in his unit. Whilst out for a chaperoned walk with her sister along the cliff tops, he stabbed both his lover Caroline and her sister Maria to death behind the pub and was hanged for his crimes on New Year’s Day 1857. The murder gathered so much attention a song was written. Here is an extract from “The Folkestone Murder”

Her mother said “Dear daughter, you’d better stay at home,
For I do not think that it’s safe for you to go with that man alone
You had better take your sister, along with you to run”.
“Dear mother, I’ve no objection. Dear sister, you may come”.

So early in the morning, before the break of day,
Maria and sweet Caroline from Dover they did stray.
But before they reached at Folkestone, the villain he drew his knife.
Maria and sweet Caroline, he took away their life

Others who met their grizzly end at the top of Dover Hill were the keepers of the toll gate at the turnpike between New Dover Road and Crete Road East who were robbed and murdered by highwaymen. No doubt other smugglers and pirates met a similar fate between the sea shore and the myriad hidden paths through The Warren up to the pub.

The Valiant also has its own resident ghost we call Rosie. There is no definitive history however we think she is a child due to her mischievous nature and believe she died in the underground cellar which has since been closed. Rumours of smugglers tunnels from The Warren to the pub cellar are also rife and perhaps she was the victim of an untimely collapse. She likes to hide and throw things, but only ever at staff, as she loves her customers!

Many a wordsmith has described The Valiant over the years:

“Isolated and lonely on the edge of the cliff, and standing all these years four square to all the winds that blow, and hundreds of feet above the level of the sea”

“The Valiant Sailor who has stood sentinel on yonder hill-top since that time when Folkestone was nothing more than a fishing village”.

Of Sailors: “The Valiant Sailor, their namesake, standing on the top of Dover Hill, keeps watch and ward on the coast during their absence, will not be one whit behind”

The pub is located in the part of England known during the war as Hellfire Corner, which stretched from Dover to Hythe and has its own links to wartime history when Alfred Aird was a spy. He set up a canteen at the pub for the troops who lived under canvas stationed at Capel Battery next door. The “hump” at the side of the pub was constructed for the war and it housed a military telephone exchange with connections all over the country, including directly into Winston Churchill’s war room under Whitehall. At that time the area outside immediately outside The Valiant was a barbed wire barricade acting as a check point for entry into Folkestone and the cliff edge was used to house defile flame traps intended to set invaders alight. A long since abandoned fire command post is also dug into the hills just behind which gives fabulous views along East Wear Bay and the harbour, and on clear days it is possible to see France.

The grounds also formed part of civil engineering history as the land was used for a brick lined test bore for the channel tunnel which today runs under the north of Capel. Colonel Beaumont’s English patent boring machine used in the 1880s was discovered under the current entrance to Highview Park by Bill Aird and his father Alfred in 1928 and Bill has no doubt it still resides underground to this day.

Capel-le-Ferne

Our “village in the clouds” derives its name from the phrase ‘Chapel in the Ferns’ based on St Mary’s Church (whose namesake was St. Mary le Merge) and the local vegetation around the medieval church. The building is quite far from the centre of the village and has only recently reopened for visitors due to structural issues.

Being 567 feet above sea level and at the highest cliff point in Southern England, Capel has its own microclimate to which the residents can attest, with the village known locally as Capel-le-Fog.  The fog (which is actually low-lying cloud) rolls in and out all year round creating an eerie feel thanks to the humid sea air being quickly cooled as it is forced up the cliff face. Occasionally though we are lucky enough to be above it.

For many years the village had no pub on the insistence of the founder. Both The Valiant Sailor and The Royal Oak are technically outside of the parish boundary. The village does though now have The Lighthouse, a hotel with a bar, that was once Capel Court Country Club and prior to that a home for psychiatric patients.

The village is a popular holiday spot due to its location between Eurotunnel (4 miles) and the Port of Dover (6 miles) and The Battle of Britain Memorial and has several holiday parks. This combined with beautiful walks, fantastic views and close proximity to the beach (albeit a steep old climb!), makes it an ideal place to visit on its own or for a stop-over on trips to continental Europe. It is especially popular with channel swimmers and they have their own dedicated park. Capel is twinned with Oye-Plage in the Pas-de-Calais department in France, about 7 miles (12 km) east of Calais.

Capel Walks

The village is on several nationally recognised walks

  • National Cycle Trail Number 2
  • The North Downs Way
  • The England Coast Path
  • The Saxon Shore Way

There are also several tracks from the village down the cliff to the coast, through The Warren, aptly named due to its rabbit burrow-like trails. This spectacular country park can be reached to the south of The Valiant along the England Coast Path (red) that takes you past Martello Tower 1, the zig zag behind the pub that arrives at the Little Switzerland campsite (dark green), the zig zag down to the beach from the Cliff Top Café (blue) and down from Abbots Cliff (light green) and along the shore.

Capel Battery

Adjacent to the pub was a military facility known as Capel Battery.  This camp was built in 1941 to defend the coast from German-occupied France. Three 8” guns with a range of 29,000 yards were placed along the cliff tops to provide anti-shipping defensive fire. As well as the guns on the surface, below ground was a plotting room, shelter and hospital. Due to the geology of the area being difficult to excavate three men died from a tunnel collapse during construction and tragically in 1980 a young girl died when playing on the abandoned site. Attempts have been made to create a memorial here but sadly yet to no avail. Bill Aird recalls the test firing blowing out all the pub windows!

The northernmost end of the battery site is now The Battle of Britain Memorial and the housing of guns 1 and 2 form part of that site. The remnants of the third gun’s housing can still be seen however all other structures have been removed and the guns themselves were dismantled in 1947. There is a fire command post behind the pub due to its excellent views of the Channel however the coastguard station was demolished so as not to spoil the view from the park homes and only rubble now remains.

The Battle of Britain Memorial

The Memorial is dedicated to the fewer than 3000 brave pilots flying Spitfires and Hurricanes over the Channel to protect our shores from Hitler’s Luftwaffe between 10th July and 31st October 1940. The building was opened by the Queen Mother in 1993 and has the names of ‘the few’ are etched into the Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall.

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight are frequent visitors and Spitfires can be seen flying over the pub almost daily during the summer (weather dependant) between March and October. Regular events are held at the site with an immersive interactive Scramble experience available whenever the Memorial is open.

RNAS Capel Airship Station

The land that is now White Cliffs Caravan Park was once a WW1 airship station that opened in 1915. In 1916 it was bombed by German aircraft who dropped 5 high explosive bombs but failed to cause any damage as the shells all burst short of their targets. Being so close to Dover, the open fields and cliff top siting of Capel was a both a perfect location and an ideal target. The site became RAF Folkestone once the Royal Air Force was formed in 1918. The airships carried out patrols along the Channel, escorting ships and looking out for enemy submarines.

The term blimp was coined in Capel by 1st commanding officer A J Cunningham who on an inspection for gas tightness flicked the side of the airship which then gave the distinctive ‘blimp’ sound. The ground crews were accommodated in huts but the officers were stationed at the more luxurious nearby Abbots Cliff House. One of the last tasks of the airships was to escort King George V to Boulogne. The base was used by motor bus companies until it was sold in the 1990s for a residential caravan site but was briefly requisitioned by the Royal Navy in 1940.

Abbots Cliff

The magnificent Abbots Cliff House, now a luxury guest house, was a former WW2 ‘Y Station’ for intercepting German Naval transmissions and sending information back to Station X – which we now know as Bletchley Park – and the women stationed here helped break the Enigma Code.

Abbots Cliff also houses a spectacular sound mirror. These acoustic mirrors were intended to provide early warning of incoming enemy aircraft. These worked by focusing the sound from the plane’s engine so it could be heard before it was visible.

The first mirrors or ‘dishes’ were cut directly into the chalk to try and reflect the sound. These early beginnings soon gave way to larger and more complicated structures made of concrete.

Sound mirrors worked using a curved surface to concentrate sound waves into a central point, which were picked up by a sound collector and later by microphones. An operator using a stethoscope would be stationed near the sound mirror and would need specialist training in identifying different sounds. Distinguishing the complexity of sound was so difficult that the operators could only listen for around 40 minutes. On a lighter note, the beach at the foot of Abbots Cliff is quite popular with naturists!

Samphire Hoe

This rare and beautiful habitat is actually land reclaimed from the sea and was constructed using the waste from the Channel Tunnel excavations to fill a large concrete lagoon. The name comes from the term hoe meaning a piece of land that juts out into the sea and the rock samphire that grows there. Over 200 species of plants, including the rare early spider orchid, 120 species of bird and 30 of butterfly have been recorded. Sheep and cows graze on Samphire Hoe meadows.

The park covers 30 hectares and is set at the foot of the famous Shakespeare Cliff, between Dover and Folkestone. The impressive cliff is said to have inspired a passage in Shakespeare’s King Lear as Shakespeare was a frequent visitor to Dover at the time of writing it. Other authors of note who resided along this beautiful ‘hellfire coast’ include Charles Dickens, Ian Fleming, Noel Coward, Agatha Christie, HG Wells and Mary Shelley.

East Cliff and Warren Country Park

Designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, The Warren and East Cliff Country Park provides stunning scenery along the Folkestone to Dover Heritage Coast with beautiful beaches accompanied by unique flora and spectacular geology. In December 1915 a huge landslip resulted in 1.5 million m3 of chalk to fall burying the railway line and Warren Halt Station. Water percolates down through the chalk and seeps up through the greensand which essentially oils a bed of impermeable Gault Clay which causes the chalk above to collapse.

The park attracts geologists due to its geomorphology and large number of fossils, predominately ammonites, that can be found along the shore, and in 2017 dinosaur tracks were found. The beach at The Warren is magnificent and provides excellent walks all year round. 

Western Heights Country Park

The Western Heights are a complex collection of wartime defences dating back to 1778 after war broke out with France, sited just west of Dover Castle. The fortification is carved into the hillside and comprises a series of forts, strong points and ditches. They were created to augment the existing defences to protect the key port of Dover from both seaward and landward attack. The chalk slopes that surround it are a protected local nature reserve.

Martello Towers

There are three towers (Numbers 1, 2and 3) down the cliffs along the coast to the south of The Valiant. Martello Towers were built between 1805 and 1812 to resist a potential invasion by Napoleon. They were built of brick, stood about 30 feet high and were equipped with at least one cannon on the roof. They housed a garrison of up to 24 men over two floors, these being supply and powder rooms below and soldier’s and officers quarters above. The entrance would have been 3m above ground level reachable by a retractable ladder.

Tower 1 is located at the edge of the Warren, Tower 2 in a now residential area and Tower 3 is adjacent to both the East Cliff Pavilion and Coast Guard Station above the Copt Point area of East Wear Bay.  

Road of Remembrance

The Road of Remembrance, originally called Slope Road, was renamed in the early 1920s in memory of the near 10 million servicemen who passed down it as they marched from basic training at Shorncliffe Camp on their way to the continent via Folkestone Harbour and either returned from war or were repatriated here.

The Queen of Spies

Louise De Bettignies was a French secret agent who spied for the British under the pseudonym Alice Dubois and claimed “I’m a handful of water, running everywhere”. Although of aristocratic origins, her family had fallen on hard times but she was still well connected. The “Alice Network” she created consisted of almost 100 people and was so effective she was nicknamed ‘The Queen of Spies’. She smuggled men to Folkestone and provided valuable information on German movements to MI1C (the original British secret service) but she was captured after 9 months and sentenced to forced labour. She subsequently died of pleurisy but was awarded a posthumous OBE for her service.

Royalty and Folkstone

Although The Metropole was supposed to have no rival on The Leas within 600 yds, The Grand opened shortly afterwards under the guise of a ‘Gentleman’s Club’ to circumnavigate the caveat. King Edward VII and his mistress Alice Keppel (Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall’s grandmother) enjoyed holidaying at The Grand and the discretion it afforded. The hotel had a conservatory and as the King, with his fabulous beard, was a frequent visitor the locals would peer through, gaining it the title of The Monkey House. His famous three-piece suits became known as Monkey Suits in the US and the goings on behind the glass became known as Monkey Business, a term still popular today. The conservatory in the hotel is now called Keppels.

Pub Quiz Trivia

Folkestone

  • The pier and harbour were built by the famous civil engineer Thomas Telford in 1809
  • Folkestone’s Foord Viaduct is still the tallest brick arched viaduct in the world
  • The world’s first pillar box was installed here in 1858
  • One of the first roller-coasters in the world opened in Folkestone in 1888
  • The earliest concrete houses were built on Marine Crescent in 1872, and the first steel and reinforced concrete building, The Grand, was erected in 1899
  • John Logie Baird made the first television transmission from his shop in Folkestone to John Stainer’s shop in Sandgate
  • The UK’s first telephone kiosk was installed on The Leas in 1903 opposite The Grand
  • Natalie Bainbridge, the world’s first beauty queen, was crowned in Folkestone in 1911
  • Sunny Sands is the nearest sandy beach to London
  • Folkestone once had the highest density of Rolls-Royces in the world per head of population

Dover

  • South Foreland Lighthouse on the cliffs was the first to be powered by electricity and also the site of the first international radio transmission
  • The English Channel is the world’s busiest shipping lane
  • Dover has the world’s busiest passenger port
  • Dover castle is the largest castle in England

We hope you enjoyed reading this potted history of our beautiful corner of Kent. Enjoy your time here in Capel, and bon voyage!