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Soldier graffiti found on castle door in ‘astonishing discovery’

By Catherine Nicholls, CNN

(CNN) — More than 50 etchings from soldiers have been discovered on an English castle door in an “astonishing discovery,” including graffiti of what could depict the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte being hanged.

The door was only recently discovered in Dover Castle, in southeast England, charity English Heritage said in a press statement Wednesday. It has now been “painstakingly conserved” to go on display in July, the charity added.

The graffiti on the door is thought to have been created by soldiers living inside the castle between 1789 and 1855.

In the 1790s, the castle was renovated due to the threat of an invasion from Napoleon in France, being transformed from an “aging medieval castle” to a “modern military garrison,” the statement said.

Thousands of soldiers were brought into the castle’s walls. Six to 12 men would guard St. John’s Tower – where the door was found – in the castle’s great outer ditch at one time.

English Heritage suggests that, with hours to kill and “questionable artistic talents,” the soldiers may have whittled into the door to simultaneously whittle away the time. They likely created the unconventional artwork using knives or possibly bayonets.

There are at least nine illustrations on the door of people being hanged, the statement said, with one such etching showing the hanging of a man wearing a military uniform and a bicorne hat, thought to perhaps be Napoleon.

Napoleon declared himself emperor of France in 1804 and made a lasting impact on the country as a military leader and ruler, waging wars against many of the European powers of the time. After his defeat by the British at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, he abdicated and was exiled to the remote island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic, where he died in 1821.

One carving shows a single-masted sailing ship, and another shows a chalice of wine with an elaborate cross, which English Heritage suggests may be a “representation of Christian holy communion.”

As well as drawings, the graffiti also includes writing, including the last names Downam and Hopper/Hooper, and many sets of initials.

Three significant dates are also inscribed onto the door, English Heritage said: 1789, the year of the French Revolution; 1798, a period of rebuilding in Dover Castle; and 1855, when changes were planned to St. John’s Tower.

‘Making their mark’

Paul Pattison, English Heritage’s senior properties historian, said that the door was discovered after someone scaled a ladder to the upper floor of St. John’s Tower.

“Seeing these remarkable carvings on the door was an astonishing discovery,” Pattison said.

“This graffiti gives a unique glimpse into the minds of these soldiers, especially during such a charged period of time.”

He added: “What makes this door such an extraordinary object is that it is a rare and precious example of the ordinary person making their mark; whether that be simply for the purpose of killing time or wanting to be remembered.”

The door will be on display at Dover Castle in July as part of an immersive visitor experience titled “Dover Castle Under Siege.”

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