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The Maison Dieu

The Hospital of St Mary, Domus Dei, or Maison Dieu, which  forms part of the Old Town Hall buildings, was founded by  Hubert de Burgh, then Constable of Dover Castle, in 1203. The  main purpose was that it should accommodate pilgrims  coming from the Continent to visit the shrine of Thomas à  Becket in Canterbury. The original buildings were probably little more than one  substantial hall with a kitchen and living quarters attached for  the Master and Brethren who 'practised hospitality to all  strangers'. Wounded and destitute soldiers, some staying as  permanent pensioners, as well as pilgrims were  accommodated. A chapel was added to the hall in 1227 and dedicated during a  service at which Henry III was present. This chapel, converted into a courtroom in the nineteenth century, still stands. The  Stone Hall with its magnificent pictures, arms and armour,  stained glass and Cinque Ports Volunteer flags, is thought to  be the "Great Chamber" built in 1253.   In 1534, the Master and Brethren of the Hall signed an oath  accepting the supremacy of Henry VIII as Head of the Church  of England, formally ending all religious connections with the  Maison Dieu. In 1544 the building was surrendered to the  Crown and until 1830 was used as a supplies base for the  navy and army. In 1834 the building was sold to the Corporation of Dover  who, finding their old Guildhall in the Market Square rather  cramped, determined to turn the Maison Dieu into their new  Town Hall. At first the building was only superficially  refurbished for use as a meeting place for the Town Council.  The old chapel became a courtroom with a prison built below,  and to one side, of the Stone Hall. There was a desire to fully  restore the building but little was done until 1851 when it was  agreed to carry out work suggested by Mr Ambrose Poynter,  an eminent Victorian architect. A further seven years passed whilst attempts were made to  raise funds for the project, until at last a proper programme of  restoration began under the direction of William Burges,  another famous architect of the Victorian era, funded almost  entirely by the Council. Burges admired the style of mediaeval  craftsmen and builders and this can be seen in his work such  as the grotesque animals around doorways, and in the coats of arms of the Lord Wardens of the Cinque Ports ranged along  each side of the Stone Hall. Burges designed the Council Chamber at the end of the Stone  Hall added in 1867. The Connaught Hall, adjacent to the Stone  Hall was built between 1881-3 as a meeting and concert hall  for the town. Built on the site of the old prison, the building  also contained meeting rooms and offices for the mayor and  civic officials. All were designed by William Burges but  completed after his death by Pullan and Chapple, his partners.   The Maison Dieu is still one of the main meeting halls in Dover  used for conferences, weddings, banquets, fairs, concerts and  theatrical performances.
Maison Dieu, 1830.  An engraving showing the building shortly before its sale to Dover Corporation. Maison Dieu c.1860.  The prison built on the other side of the Stone Hall can be seen beyond the tower. Maison Dieu c.1920.  Compare to the picture above taken from almost the same angle. The William Burges extension has replaced the old prison. The Council Chamber. Added in 1867, this photo is from the 1949-50 Dover Guide. The Stone Hall. Victorian stained glass showing the landing of King Charles II at Dover in 1660. The Connaught Hall. The Stone Hall. Back to Buildings Index