Dover Castle: Long Serving Military Site

Dover Castle: Long Serving Military Site

It was clear when we began researching castles that some sites had been considered defensive positions of hundreds and sometimes thousands of years.  We knew that Crac des Chevaliers had been the site of “an outdated Kurdish fort” and that the origins of the Alcazaba in Malaga where lost in time when Yusuf decided to further secure the location.  It’s worth considering other evidence of development at Dover.  There is clear evidence of its Roman and Saxon past.  As a result we can argue that Dover is the longest serving military site in England, through which we can trace many developments of English military history.

Dan Snow provides a quick introduction to Dover as more than a castle:

The Saxon church he refers has been often restored and updated, but embodies its Kentish location with chunks of local flint embedded in the mortar, like the walls of the castle itself.

St Mary in Castro and Roman Pharos at Dover Castle

St Mary in Castro and Roman Pharos at Dover Castle

I was so charmed that this photo of the doors has been my cell phone wallpaper since I visited nearly four years ago.

The Door of St Mary in Castro

The Door of St Mary in Castro

The guidebooks refer to Iron Age earthworks at the site of Dover Castle, but they never go into much detail.  From the height of the Keep at Dover Castle you do get the sense of the the earthworks which would have protected the early site.

St Mary in Castro from the Keep at Dover Castle

St Mary in Castro from the Keep at Dover Castle

Compare these earthworks to the one that I found referenced in a guidebook to Dover Castle I found by William Batcheller back in 1828.

Plan of Roman and Saxon Fortifications at Dover Castle (1828)

Plan of Roman and Saxon Fortifications at Dover Castle (1828)

Batchellor proposed that the origins of the church dated back into Roman times due to the presence of Roman tiles in the structure, although most modern sources claim it was around 1,000AD.  Intriguingly, he assigns a defensive purpose to the Pharos or lighthouse.  The lighthouse obviously protected Roman shipping from being smashed on the beaches, but its relative height ensured early detection of anyone approaching by sea.  This advanced warning system then necessitated fortifications.

It’s unlikely we’ll ever truly know exactly how history unfolded here at Dover Castle.  The excavations required would be so extensive as to disrupt the current site.  After the great siege in 1216 and its occupation during the English Civil War, the castle continued to be updated through the Napoleonic era and that tunnels beneath the castle, still the closest point to France, still served even through World War II.  Is there another military site in England that can claim such an extensive past?

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