It is possible that the original church
of St Mary’s was Saxon in origin, although there is
little concrete evidence to this effect. What is certain
is that the church was built on the site of a Roman
. The tower and western part of the nave
date from the 11th century. This Norman church was built
between 1066, when Saxon Dover was destroyed by the
Norman invaders, and 1086, when the Domesday Book lists
three churches in Dover. Although not named it has been
assumed that the three churches were St Mary’s, St
The church is mentioned in a list of possessions of
in 1180. In 1230
St Mary’s passed into the control of the Maison
, the Master providing priests for the church
until the Dissolution in 1537, when the church was closed.
The townspeople petitioned Henry
to let them have St Mary’s as a parish church,
and this was granted in 1544.
In 1581 the Mayor and Corporation moved their official
place of worship from St
, which had fallen into disrepair,
to St Mary’s. Since then the church has been associated
with civic bodies, the Mayor and Corporation, the Cinque
Ports Pilots of Trinity House, and the Dover Harbour
Board, all have official seats in the church.
The Mayors of Dover and Members of Parliament for Dover
were elected in the church from 1581 until 1826. A barrier
was placed down the centre of the building to keep the
rival factions apart, and often there was bloodshed
and the church desecrated and made unfit for public
St Mary’s present form dates from the controversial
restoration carried out in 1843 by the then Vicar, Canon
John Puckle. It was less restoration and more complete
rebuilding. The church was enlarged, the south aisle
extended to balance the north aisle, and the roof raised
and clerestory windows added. During the rebuilding,
original Norman piers and arches were taken down, the
stones numbered and then re-erected in their new position.
Only the tower escaped relatively untouched. So the
church as it is seen today is mainly a Victorian construction.
St Mary’s is still very much the town’s parish church.
Many of the stained glass windows, put in to replace
those destroyed in World
, commemorate the various historic associations
between the church and town.