1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dunkirk (France)

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DUNKIRK (Fr. Dunkerque), a seaport of northern France, capital of an arrondissement in the department of Nord, on the Straits of Dover, 53 m. N.W. of Lille on the Northern railway. Pop. (1906) 35,767. Dunkirk is situated in the low but fertile district of the Wateringues. It lies, amidst a network of canals, immediately to the west and south of its port, which disputes with Bordeaux the rank of third in importance in France. The populous suburbs of Rosendaël and St Pol-sur-Mer lie respectively to the east and west of the town; to the north-east is the bathing resort of Malo-les-Bains. The streets of Dunkirk are wide and well paved, the chief of them converging to the square named after Jean Bart (born at Dunkirk in 1651), whose statue by David d’Angers stands at its centre. Close to the Place Jean Bart rises the belfry (290 ft. high) which contains a fine peal of bells and also serves as a signalling tower. It was once the western tower of the church of St Eloi, from which it is now separated by a street. St Eloi, erected about 1560 in the Gothic style, was deprived of its first two bays in the 18th century; the present façade dates from 1889. The chapel of Notre-Dame des Dunes possesses a small image, which is the object of a well-known pilgrimage. The chief civil buildings are a large Chamber of Commerce, including the customs and port services, and a fine modern town hall. Dunkirk is the seat of a sub-prefect; its public institutions include tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a board of trade-arbitrators, an exchange, a branch of the Bank of France and a communal college; and it has a school of drawing, architecture and music, a library and a rich museum of paintings. Dunkirk forms with Bergues, Bourbourg and Gravelines a group of fortresses enclosed by inundations and canals. A chain of forts to the eastward is designed to facilitate the deployment of an army, concentrated within the fortified region, towards the Belgian frontier.

The harbour of Dunkirk (see Dock) is approached by a fine natural roadstead entered on the east and west, and protected on the north by sand-banks. From the roadstead, entrance is by a channel into the outer harbour, which communicates with seven floating basins about 115 acres in area and is accessible to the largest vessels. The port is provided with four dry docks and a gridiron, and its quays exceed 5 m. in length. Its commerce is much facilitated by the system of canals which bring it into communication with Belgium, the coal-basins of Nord and Pas-de-Calais, the rich agricultural regions of Flanders and Artois, and the industrial towns of Lille, Armentières, Roubaix, Tourcoing, Valenciennes, &c. The roadstead is indicated by lightships and the entrance channel to the port by a lighthouse which, at an altitude of 193 ft., is visible at a distance of 19 m.

Dunkirk annually despatches a fleet to the Icelandic cod-fisheries, and takes part in the herring and other fisheries. It imports great quantities of wool from the Argentine and Australia, and is in regular communication with New York, London and the chief ports of the United Kingdom, Brazil and the far East. Besides wool, leading imports are jute, cotton, flax, timber, petroleum, coal, pitch, wine, cereals, oil-seeds and oil-cake, nitrate of soda and other chemical products, and metals. The principal exports are sugar, coal, cereals, wool, forage, cement, chalk, phosphates, iron and steel, tools and metal-goods, thread and vegetables. The average annual value of the imports for the years 1901-1905 was £23,926,000 (£22,287,000 for 1896-1900), of exports £6,369,000 (£4,481,000 for 1896-1900). The industries include the spinning of jute, flax, hemp and cotton, iron-founding, brewing, and the manufacture of machinery, fishing-nets, sailcloth, sacks, casks, and soap. There are also saw- and flour-mills, petroleum refineries and oil-works. Ship-building is carried on, and the preparation of fish and cod-liver oil occupies many hands.

Dunkirk is said to have originated in a chapel founded by St Eloi in the 7th century, round which a small village speedily sprang up. In the 10th century it was fortified by Baldwin III., count of Flanders; together with that province it passed successively to Burgundy, Austria and Spain. In the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries its possession was disputed by French and Spaniards. In 1658 Turenne’s victory of the Dunes (q.v.) gave it into the hands of the French and it was ceded to England. After the Restoration, Charles II., being in money difficulties, sold it to the French king Louis XIV., who fortified it. By the terms of the peace of Utrecht (1713) the fortifications were demolished and its harbour filled up, a sacrifice demanded by England owing to the damage inflicted on her shipping by Jean Bart and other corsairs of the port. In 1793 it was besieged by the English under Frederick Augustus, duke of York, who was compelled to retire after the defeat of Hondschoote.

See A. de St Leger, La Flandre maritime et Dunkerque (Paris, 1900).