Lock and Key of the Kingdom

The Maison Dieu (Old Town Hall)

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Two views of the Maison Dieu today.


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 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.



Image:  The Maison Dieu in 1801.
The Maison Dieu in 1801.

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, stained glass, Cinque Ports Volunteer flags, arms and armour 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.



Image:  The Maison Dieu about 1900.
The Maison Dieu about 1900.

The Maison Dieu about 1900, showing the Connaught Hall side of the building.

Burges designed the Council Chamber at the end of the 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.


Image:  The interior of the Stone Hall.
The interior of the Stone Hall.


Image:  The Council Chamber.
The Council Chamber.




Image:  Shakespeare Cliff.transparent