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Dover Castle

In the civil parish of Dover.
In the historic county of Kent.
Modern Authority of Kent.
1974 county of Kent.
Medieval County of Kent.

OS Map Grid Reference: TR32484194
Latitude 51.12948° Longitude 1.32123°

Dover Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle, and also as a certain Palace.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


Due to its strategically important position overlooking the Straits of Dover and the shortest route to the Continent, the medieval royal castle at Dover developed from its presumed origins an Iron Age hillfort to become one of the most elaborate and heavily defended fortresses in Europe. Although medieval castles generally show a great deal of variety in form, the defences at Dover demonstrate an unusually high degree of technical innovation and engineering skill. Henry II's great keep was both the last and the technically most ambitious of its kind in England and the defences of the outer bailey, planned and begun before Henry's death, pre-empted the concentric castles of the 13th century by almost half a century. Despite later modifications, the medieval castle is unusual in surviving in such a complete state. Its importance is further enhanced by its royal connections and the survival of detailed documentary sources relating to its construction, and to the sieges of 1067 and 1216. Between 1537 and 1540 Henry VIII instigated a campaign to build a chain of defences along the south coast to counter the threat of French invasion. The defences included a series of artillery forts, blockhouses and batteries and were particularly concentrated along the Thames estuary and the south east. Although modified in later periods, Moat's Bulwark is the only remaining example of the three batteries known to have been built at Dover during this period, and as a smaller battery rather than a fort, it represents a particularly rare survival. The extensive 18th and 19th century defensive works surrounding the castle and the remodelling of earlier features provide a rare opportunity to understand how military theory and engineering practice was forced to adapt in the face of new technology. The Napoleonic underground barracks represent an unusual solution to the problem of providing artillery-proof accommodation and are both more extensive and complete than examples surviving elsewhere. The tunnels have additional historical significance due to their use as the headquarters of Ramsay during 1940. Together with the tunnels subsequently constructed in World War II and adapted in the post-war period for use in the event of nuclear war, the remains demonstrate a unique sequence of uninterrupted military occupation from the Napoleonic era to the late 20th century. Dover Castle represents a complex multi-period site. The hillfort, lighthouse, Saxon settlement, medieval royal castle and later defences, the tunnels and Moat's Bulwark will all contain buried remains providing information about the construction and use of the site, its economy and environmental setting from the prehistoric to the post-medieval periods. Dover Castle is a prominent feature in the landscape which is open to the public and has additional significance as both an amenity and a major educational resource. The monument includes Dover Castle, a medieval royal castle built within the presumed defences of a univallate Iron Age hillfort, a Roman lighthouse, and a Saxon settlement and church. The monument also includes a series of tunnels beneath the castle built between the 13th and 20th centuries and a 16th century gun battery called Moat's Bulwark at the base of the cliff. The remains of the castle and the lighthouse are Listed Grade I and the monument is in the care of the Secretary of State. It is situated on a chalk promontory overlooking both the River Dour and the modern town of Dover which lie immediately to the west. The hillfort was roughly triangular in shape, measuring a maximum of 300m north-south and 200m east-west with the cliff at its southern extremity preventing attack from this direction. The defences probably comprised a single bank and ditch, with an entrance on the north eastern side. Excavations adjacent to the church have produced evidence of Iron Age occupation in the form of a series of pits. In around the 1st century AD a pair of lighthouses were constructed on the headlands flanking either side of the major Roman port of Dubris to help guide in cross-channel traffic. One of the lighthouses survives within Dover Castle as a stepped tower approximately 19m in height constructed of flint rubble, with tile bonding courses and a tufa ashlar facing. The architecture of the lighthouse suggests that it originally stood to a height of around 24m, but it has been extensively modified. Its top is known to have been rebuilt by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester between 1415 and 1437 during his tenure as Constable of the Castle, by which time the lighthouse had been adapted for use as a bell tower. During the late 10th or early 11th century the Grade I Listed Church of St Mary in Castro was constructed adjacent to the lighthouse, and excavation has revealed an associated Saxon cemetery immediately to the south. Although the church and cemetery were almost certainly located within a Saxon settlement, its precise status is unclear. Documentary sources suggest that it was probably a burh or fortified town, which utilised the defences of the earlier hillfort. Whether it was a castle, or merely a burh, immediately following the Norman Conquest it is known that Duke William, a Norman, spent eight days adding to the defences. Excavation has produced evidence of a bank and ditch cutting through the Saxon cemetery which probably dates from this phase of Norman occupation. William put the castle into the care of Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Hugh de Montfort. In 1067 Dover was attacked by the men of Kent in league with Count Eustace of Boulogne, but the assault was quickly repulsed by the garrison, despite the absence of Odo and de Montfort. Pipe Rolls show that by the time of his death in 1189 Henry II had spent 6000 pounds rebuilding the castle, which constituted a huge expenditure. Work included the construction of the great keep and the inner curtain wall surrounding it. The keep was built between 1181 and 1188 and represents the most elaborate example in England. Both the inner curtain and a portion of the eastern outer curtain built during Henry II's reign included rectangular mural flanking towers which allowed the outer face of the walls to be defended by cross-fire and sections to be isolated if captured by escalade. The inner curtain had 14 towers with entrances to the north and south protected by barbicans, only the northern of which is visible today. Excavations in the area of the southern barbican in 1963 revealed the foundations of a substantial gatehouse which had been constructed in the reign of Henry II but which was quickly demolished and superseded by the inner bailey with its towers and barbicans. The precise extent of work carried out on the outer bailey during the reign of Henry II is not known, however the odd shape of the defences suggests that the new walls of the outer curtain almost certainly followed the line of the earlier hillfort defences. Dover is believed to be the first castle in western Europe to have employed concentric lines of fortification. Although the outer curtain remained uncompleted there is no record of major expenditure at Dover until the reign of King John between 1199 and 1216. Between 1205 and 1214 John spent 1000 pounds on improving the domestic buildings within the inner bailey, constructing a defensive wall around the church and adding to the outer curtain on the northern side of the castle, where the mural towers are 'D'-shaped rather than the characteristically rectangular examples from Henry II's reign. The end of King John's reign was marked by the rebellion of a large part of his baronage, who invited Louis, son of the King of France to be their leader and take the Crown of England. Louis therefore laid siege to Dover, then held for the King by Hubert de Burgh. Work during John's reign had also included the construction of a gate at the northern apex of the curtain, and it was from a piece of high ground immediately north of this gate that Louis chose to make his assault. Engineers under Louis mined underneath the gate causing its eastern tower to collapse, an occurrence confirmed by excavation. As a result the castle almost fell, but de Burgh managed to hold and following the accession of Henry III in 1217 Louis was eventually forced to withdraw. Between 1217 and 1256 Henry III spent 7500 pounds on improving the castle's defences. A great spur or outwork was dug to the north of the damaged gateway, which was blocked off. The spur was remodelled between 1801-03 to include a brick redan which survives today. In an effort to further improve defences on this side, St John's Tower, which was built in the ditch between the redan and castle in the 13th century was modified and the tower, castle and spur were linked by an underground passage. Fitzwilliam gateway was added on the north east side of curtain with a covered passageway leading across the ditch. The outer western curtain was further extended and the wall around the lighthouse and St Mary in Castro was replaced by a horseshoe-shaped earthwork surmounted by a palisade, and a masonry wall. A new set of buildings for the King and his entourage were constructed along the eastern wall of the inner bailey, including Arthur's Hall, finished in 1240, and chambers, a kitchen and chapel. The ruinous buildings were converted into barrack blocks in the mid-18th century but their medieval origins have always been visible in surviving architectural features, and their plans have been revealed by excavation. By 1256 the medieval castle had achieved its maximum size and an appearance similar to that of today. In around 1540 Henry VIII built three artillery fortifications at Dover to protect the newly constructed harbour. One of these, Moat's Bulwark, was situated at the foot of the cliff beneath the castle, and provided additional protection to its southern flank. The battery was probably completed in around March 1539. A 16th century plan depicts it as a timber revetted platform approached by tunnels in the cliff, although it was remodelled as a large semi-circular battery in around 1750, and in 1856 linked with the castle by a spiral stairway tunnelled into the cliff. Little further building took place at the castle until the Austrian Wars of succession between 1742 and 1748 when the derelict domestic buildings lining the inner bailey were converted into new barracks. In 1756 two new batteries were constructed to improve landward defence. One was situated to the south east of the inner bailey and mounted six guns. The other, with four guns, was built immediately north of the church. A further outbreak of war with France in 1779 led to the construction of a large powder magazine within the castle. However, the most sustained period of building activity took place during the Napoleonic wars, particularly between 1794 and 1803 under the direction of Lt Col William Twiss. Heavier artillery saw a switch from reliance on masonry for protection to earthen banks, which absorbed shock better. The eastern approaches to the castle were considered the most vulnerable and Horseshoe Bastion was constructed beyond the ditch. Hudson's Bastion was placed in the middle of the eastern side, and East Demi-Bastion at the south, on the cliff edge. In 1797, faced with the problem of finding additional barrack accommodation for soldiers within the castle, four parallel tunnels were constructed within the southern cliff. The following year a further series of tunnels were constructed to the east to provide accommodation for officers. The two barracks were linked by communication tunnels and had latrines, a well and vertical ventilation shafts. The seaward ends opened out onto the cliff face and had brick frontages. As a consequence of rock falls the tunnels were brick-lined, the work being completed in 1810. Throughout the 19th century the defences were gradually improved and updated. The three eastern bastions were subsequently connected by passages beneath the ditch, which were adapted in the 1860s to lead to musketry galleries behind the scarp and counterscarp banks. In 1853 Hudson's battery had a covered gallery or caponier added with provision for artillery to cover the ditch bottom. In 1905 the obsolete hospital battery above the southern cliff was converted to a fire command post by the Army, and in 1914 the Admiralty moved its Port War Signal Station to new quarters immediately above it. The station played a fundamental role in controlling the traffic entering the new 610 acre Admiralty harbour below the castle, and following the threat of air attack, had a concrete protective roof installed above it in 1941. During World War II provision was made for the anti-tank defence of the castle by building a gun emplacement within the north western curtain, a Type 28 Pillbox at the foot of Horseshoe Bastion, and a series of anti-tank obstacles and a concrete wall for an infantry position on the counterscarp bank immediately west of the spur. In 1940, the Napoleonic barrack tunnels were used by Vice Admiral Ramsay for the planning and direction of Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from France. A further two complexes of tunnels named Annexe and Dumpy Levels were built beneath the castle between 1941 and 1942. The tunnels were lined with corrugated iron or concrete and fulfilled a variety of roles from Combined Headquarters and gunnery control to a military hospital. During the Cold War period they were adapted for use as a regional seat of Government in the event of a nuclear war. (Scheduling Report)

An extensive 12th/13th century concentric castle on the Eastern Heights overlooking Dover. Little Medieval internal detail survives. The palatial apartments in the keep are recognisable despite their conversion to ordnance stores and the insertion of a bombproof vault at roof level. The same later military use applies to many of the mural towers to a lesser or greater degree. The Medieval structures around the inner bailey have been largely converted into barracks, although parts of Arthur's Hall have been recovered by archaeological excavation. The configuration of earthworks on the cliff top is believed to have its origins in a prehistoric hillfort of probable Iron Age date and a Saxon burgh. The castle and surrounding area have been heavily modified and extended over the years particularly during the 18th - 20th centuries with additional gun emplacements and underground shelters. The site also contains the Roman Pharos Lighthouse. (Kent HER)

This hill top site was strongly defended by Iron Age ditches. The use of the Roman Pharos as the bell tower for a rare stone and reused Roman tile built Saxon church suggests a high status Saxon dwelling within the IA ditches. Further ditches and earthworks within the IA circuit have reformed the site into a triple enclosure with the castle in the upper enclosure, the church in the central enclosure (and embanked mound), and a lower enclosure. This is topographically similar to Windsor Castle. The earthworks have been altered at several periods during the long life of the castle but this basic form of two 'baileys' on either side of a embanked mound must be ancient.
The Great Tower sits centrally in the northern enclosure. This was built, with great sophistication, but in a somewhat dated square form in the 1180's by Henry II and represents an enormous royal palace. In 2009 this was redecorated and presented as it may have been to receive Philip, count of Flanders, in 1186. This is very impressive and does give a clear idea of the, to modern ideas, garish nature of medieval decoration. However for sophisticated and knowledgeable the compromises which had to made for the visitor experience will distract from the experience.
It is worth noting that while Henry II's great tower is highly visible from the town and port of Dover it is the Roman Pharos which is visible on the approach to Dover from the sea, with the tower of Henry II barely visible at all.
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:06

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