Dover Castle

Dover Castle is located in Kent, England, overlooking the seaport at the narrowest part of the English Channel. The occupation of the site has been traced to the Iron Age.

Dover Castle England

History of the Dover Castle

In Roman times Dover was a military settlement and later a Saxon Shore fort. The Pharos lighthouse survives as the bell tower of the church of St Mary-in-Castro, within the castle precinct.

Pencil and watercolour on paper Dover Castle by amelia Long Lady farnborough 1772 1837

Although larger in area than the norm, Dover Castle could not be a better example of an English castle. Founded immediately after the battle of Hastings in 1066 by William I, it is even more than usually a product of the Norman Conquest, the site having been sought by the Norman duke in 1051 as a surety for his succession to the English throne.

The late 10th-century or early 11th-century church of St Mary-in-Castro survives from the Old English burgh, which itself occupies the position of a former Iron Age fortress. Thus the Conqueror’s work doubly shows the essential difference in concept and scale between the feudal castle and the larger communal fortress of earlier ages.

Part of the bank of the Norman castle was revealed by excavation in 1961–1963, beneath the misnamed ‘Harold’s Earthwork’ near the south transept of the church. It was probably a relatively small fortified enclosure placed centrally within the burgh, very much like the Norman castle at Old Sarum. From then, as with so many ‘English castles, the theme of Dover’s architectural history is continuity and development on the same site.

Dover castle kent

The first recorded works are those of Henry II (1154–1189), who evidently began the expansion that was to take in the whole Old English and Iron Age site to produce the colossal castle visible today. He built the great rectangular keep of around 1181–1188, a new donjon in the prestigious form of a great tower.

This was one of the most sophisticated in the realm, with an elaborate rebuilding, two residential floors above a basement (the upper for the king himself, rising through two stories with a mural gallery, now marred by the brutal ‘bomb proof’ arches inserted in the late 1790s), two chapels and many mural chambers, excellent garderobe arrangements and even plumbing.

Dover Castle’s tower keep stands within the same king’s inner bailey, the curtain wall of which displays one of the earliest surviving systems of scientifically disposed of mural towers, 14 in all, rectangular and originally open-backed.

There are two gateways (the King’s Gate in the north and the Palace Gate in the south), each consisting of a pair of mural towers flanking the gate passage and each with a barbican in front of it.

The Dover castle Church

Residential buildings on the east side supplemented the grander accommodation in the keep. Henry II also began the outer curtain of the castle on the east side, perhaps from the cliff edge to the Avranches Tower; a length now vanished), certainly from the polygonal Avranches Tower inclusive to the later Fitzwilliam Gate.

It follows, therefore, that the principle of concentric fortification was practiced at Dover a century before such textbook examples as Beaumaris or Caerffili.

Henry II died before the work was finished, to be continued not by his immediate successor, Richard I, but by John (1199–1216). Between 1205 and 1214 he completed his father’s outer curtain about the north end of the site, with a twin-towered gatehouse at the northern apex and a series of towers, which are D-shaped except for the Godsfoe Tower, along the west, and evidently brought his towered wall and defenses looping back via the Colton Gate round St Mary-in-Castro to join the eastern curtain near the Avranches Tower.

Dover castle tower

The final development of the castle took place between 1217 and 1256, during the long reign of Henry III. He extended the outer curtain on the west from Peverell’s Tower to the cliff edge, raised the huge Harold’s Earthwork about the church and Roman Pharos (which became the bell tower), and built more sumptuous residential accommodation (now masked by mid-18th-century barrack blocks) to replace that of Henry II in the inner bailey.

To deny to any future enemy the high ground from which the 1216 attack had been launched, the cylindrical St John Tower was built out in front of the Norfolk Towers, and a great spur work beyond that, all reached by underground passages.

The twin-towered Fitzwilliam Gate was inserted in the northeast outer curtain as a sally port. The main entrance to the new castle thus being blocked, the elaborate and formidable Constable’s Gate was built in the northwest outer curtain.

Dover Castle part of the defences

The remaining architectural history of Dover is of adequate maintenance, eventual decay, and then, for over a century after 1745, a series of works to convert the medieval castle into a ‘modern’ fortress equipped for and against heavy guns.

Much of the medieval fabric was destroyed, especially on the east and south of the inner bailey, walls were earthed up, and unsightly brickwork appears all over the place. The cutting down of almost all the towers for artillery robs the castle of its proper majesty.

Dover Castle Visitor Information

Dover Castle is an English Heritage site and it is open for visits all year round!

An adult ticket is £16.00, while a Children’s ticket is £9.60. A Family Ticket will cost you £41.60 The ticket price includes access to the Secret Wartime Tunnels complex and the Underground Hospital tour.

Dover Castle Location

The Dover Castle is located at the following address: Castle Hill, Dover, Kent – CT16 1HU. Use this map to get help with directions:

Dover Castle Map

Scroll to Top