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Aycliffe near location of Shakespeare play King Lear loses community centre and inherits Dover TAP


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Next to the setting of a Shakespeare play tiny Aycliffe once represented hope for the future – but a century later it has lost everything.

First the pub went, then a play area was razed and now the community centre has fallen victim to the pandemic. In its place residents have inherited a traffic jam of epic proportions.

The now-boarded up Aycliffe Church Centre. Picture: Sam Lennon
The now-boarded up Aycliffe Church Centre. Picture: Sam Lennon

Now the residents' group has written to the Bishop of Dover protesting over the latest loss.

Aycliffe Church Centre, in Old Folkestone Road is now closed and the site is to be sold by the owners, the Parochial Church Council of St Mary the Virgin, Dover..

Aycliffe Church Centre: Closed since before the pandemic took hold. Picture: Sam Lennon
Aycliffe Church Centre: Closed since before the pandemic took hold. Picture: Sam Lennon

Ray Williams, of Aycliffe Residents Forum, has now written directly to the Rt Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin,

Mr Williams told KentOnline: "The Aycliffe estate has 525 residents and this was their last meeting place.

"The church rented it out and it had a post office and was used for events such as children's birthday parties and jumble sales."

The building, in Old Folkestone Road, was also used for public meetings to discuss problems that affected the entire community.

This has included noise nuisance from lorries when they are held up on the A20, right next to the estate, during the the Dover TAP (Traffic Assessment Project) queuing system.

Aycliffe Church Centre was needed to discuss problems affecting the entire community. This packed meeting, in July 2017, concerned noise nuisance from lorries. Picture: Sam Lennon
Aycliffe Church Centre was needed to discuss problems affecting the entire community. This packed meeting, in July 2017, concerned noise nuisance from lorries. Picture: Sam Lennon

But it is now boarded up has been out of use since February 2020, just before the first coronavirus lockdown.

The cause is also being taken up by John Heron who was a ward member for the area on Dover Town Council from 2016 to 2019.

He said: "This is stripping Aycliffe of another of the area's assets. This will impact the community very hard, losing a focal point.

"It seems as though all the institutions of the district are turning their collective backs on Aycliffe. This building has for generations acted as a hub.

"Aycliffe is being left out on a limb again, now by an organisation that should fundamentally be about community.

"People think that the church should be strengthening its links with the communities rather than leaving them isolated."

John Heron: "This is stripping Aycliffe of another asset."
John Heron: "This is stripping Aycliffe of another asset."

Canterbury Diocese is offering St Mary's Church in Dover town centre as an alternative.

A spokesman said: “While we are the legal guardians of Aycliffe Church Centre, it is held in trust with the parochial church council (PCC) of St Mary’s, Dover.

“The centre was closed last year, prior to the Covid outbreak, and since then the PCC has been discussing the future of the centre.

“Before the pandemic, urgent roof repairs were identified and costed and while there was some community use of the building, on balance the PCC decided that the cost of repairs was too high and they took the decision to sell the property.

“Aycliffe Church Centre is a satellite of St Mary’s Church and the PCC is encouraging everyone to use the services and community facilities on offer at St Mary's itself.”

St Mary's Church, in Dover town centre is being offered as an alternative. Picture: Tony Flashman
St Mary's Church, in Dover town centre is being offered as an alternative. Picture: Tony Flashman

Aycliffe is Dover's smallest community, in size and population, and assets have gradually disappeared.

It has not even had a pub since the 2000s when the King Lear, also in Old Folkestone Road, was demolished for flats.

The children's play park, next to the pub site, was removed in 2014 to place 12 new flats.

Residents raised a 117-signature petition against this and more than 100 attended the church centre to discuss fighting the scheme.

Mr Williams said the area over the years has lost both its recreation grounds, used for football games, and now has only one of originally three children' play areas left.

Aycliffe with the A20 next to it. Picture: Sam Lennon
Aycliffe with the A20 next to it. Picture: Sam Lennon

The estate has just one shop, Aycliffe Food and Wine, at St Giles Court.

The Aycliffe estate, inside a valley between Shakespeare Cliff amd Dover Western Heights, was first built in the 1920s, after slum clearance near the Western Docks.

It was greatly extended in the early 1950s.

The area is unique for being a setting for the Shakespeare play, King Lear, hence the name of the former pub.

The nearby towering Shakespeare Cliff was where, in the story, the character Gloucester tried to throw himself off.

Shakespeare Cliff, with Samphire Hoe just behind, across the A20 from Aycliffe. Picture; Sam Lennon, KMG
Shakespeare Cliff, with Samphire Hoe just behind, across the A20 from Aycliffe. Picture; Sam Lennon, KMG

There are streets on the estate called King Lear's Way, Kings Ropewalk and the Gloster Ropewalk, the latter albeit spelt differently.

The Channel Tunnel was dug on the English side, at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s from the bottom of the cliff.

The nearby Samphire Hoe country park is named after a reference in the play to the plant.

Aycliffe has regularly had problems of pollution and noise nuisance from lorries when held up on the neighbouring A20.

The community suffered massive noise and disruption during the building of the trunk road between 1989 and 1993.

Dover TAP on the A20 is usually at Aycliffe and leads to complaints of noise and pollution from residents when it is implemented. Library image: Paul Amos
Dover TAP on the A20 is usually at Aycliffe and leads to complaints of noise and pollution from residents when it is implemented. Library image: Paul Amos

Chalk dust from the works regularly coated houses and cars and some of the estate's roads were realigned to make way way for the new route.

It came to a head in 1991 when the then Dover MP David Shaw met residents and one told him: "We want our lives back, we want our sanity back."

Mr Shaw said he would "bang heads together" in Whitehall over this.

The areas's retirement housing complex, Sunny Corner, is named after one of the houses knocked down to make way for the road.

It was just a few yards away off Old Folkestone Road and during the summer was also a shop for those sunning themselves and bathing at Shakespeare Beach below.

Sunny Corner, named after the Ray Pidgeon house. Library picture: Paul Amos
Sunny Corner, named after the Ray Pidgeon house. Library picture: Paul Amos

The occupant, an elderly bachelor called Ray Pidgeon, fought heroically to stop the buildozers and regularly fired off letters to the government and local newsapapers.

By summer 1991 he was ailing in a nursing home, unaware that his beloved little house had been flattened.

Mr Pidgeon died that November 3 aged 82.

Read more: All the latest news from Dover

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