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Dover: Lock and Key of the Kingdom

Dover Castle - History

Dover is a giant among castles. It has the longest recorded history of  any major castle in Britain. Indeed Dover Castle began before history  itself, its earliest rampart defences date back to the prehistoric Iron Age. Then the Romans built a pharos (lighthouse) here in the first century  AD. The same tall headland, already partially defended, was resettled in  the tenth century or earlier by the Anglo-Saxons. They built a burh, a  fortified town, of which St Mary-in-Castro was the church. The bulk of Dover Castle, as we know it today, dates from a century  after the Norman Conquest. Soon after the Battle of Hastings, in the  autumn of 1066, William the Conqueror spent eight days at Dover  strengthening fortifications which had only recently been rebuilt by the  defeated Harold. Yet neither William's works nor those of Harold are  identifiable today and, with the exception of the church and pharos, the  masonry of Dover Castle dates from the twelfth century or later. Most monumental is the great square tower, or keep, built in the 1180s  for King Henry II (1154-89). Also of the1180s are the walls of the keep's  surrounding court (the inner bailey), as is a stretch of outer curtain wall  towards the east. The remainder of this substantial outer curtain, with  its sophisticated gate houses and many flanking towers, is chiefly the  work of Hubert de Burgh, Constable of Dover (1202-32), and his  successors under Henry III.   After the thirteenth century little of substance was added to the Castle  before the present barracks were built and the defences remodelled,  starting in the 1740s. It was then that the Castle, after years of neglect, entered a new lease of life. The Georgians and Victorians stripped Dover  bare, towers were lowered to create positions for artillery and the outer  defences strengthened. The Castle continued in use as a military base until the second half of  the twentieth century. The underground tunnels cut into the cliffs in  Napoleonic times came into their own during the Second World War as a  bomb proof base for military command in the area. After the war the  barracks within the Castle fell into disuse and some were demolished.  However it wasn't until the end of the Cold War that the castle's  defensive role finally came to an end when the Regional Centre of  Government, deep in the cliffs, which would have been activated in the  event of a nuclear war, was decommissioned. The Castle is now a major tourist attraction.
St Mary-in-Castro and Pharos c.1910 The Castle from the North-West c.1910 Constable's Gate c.1910 The Castle from Connaught Park c.1910 Back to Castle Index