Alexander "Sasha" Volokh

My tour of medieval Europe
Dover, England, July 2, 1999

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

- Matthew Arnold, "Dover Beach," 1867

Above: A picturesque view of Dover Castle.

Jonathan Coad writes: "Dover Castle, one of the mightiest fortresses in western Europe, guards the English end of the shortest sea crossing to the Continent. Its location, overlooking the Straits of Dover, has given it immense strategic importance and has ensured that it has played a prominent part in national history. Its shape was largely determined by a pre-existing Iron Age hillfort, while within its walls stand a Roman lighthouse and an Anglo-Saxon church, the latter probably once forming part of an Anglo-Saxon burgh or fortified town.

"There has been a castle here since November 1066. That month, Duke William of Normandy's forces, fresh from victory at the Battle of Hastings, constructed the first earthwork castle before continuing their march on London. The castle was to retain a garrison until October 1958 -- an 892-year span equalled only by the Tower of London and Windsor Castle.

"During its medieval heyday this was very much a frontier fortress, looking across to the frequently hostile lands of the counts of Flanders and the kings of France. Under Henry II the castle was rebuilt, incorporating concentric defences and regularly spaced wall towers, a combination then without parallel in western Europe. In 1216 it successfully withstood a prolonged siege. By the 1250s its medieval defences had assumed the extent and shape which they retain to this day and the castle, on its cliff-top site, formed a highly visible symbol of English royal power.

"After declining in importance from the sixteenth century, the castle was modernised and its defences extended in the 1750s and again during the Napoleonic Wars. Further alterations and additional gun batteries added in the 1870s enabled the castle to retain the role of First-Class Fortress almost until the end of the nineteenth century.

"During both world wars the castle was rearmed, but perhaps its finest hour came in May 1940. In that month Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay, in naval headquarters deep in the cliff, organised and directed the successful evacuation of the British army from Dunkirk. These same tunnels became in the 1960s a Regional Seat of Government in the event of nuclear war; only in 1984 were they finally abandoned."

Further quotes are from Dover Castle, the English Heritage guidebook.

Above: Roman lighthouse and Saxon church

"At the highest point in the castle stand two buildings which predate the castle -- the remains of a Roman lighthouse and a Saxon church. The surrounding bank dates from the thirteenth century but underlies one dated by archaeologists to the mid-eleventh century, suggesting that this area could be the site of the first small castle built by William the Conqueror.

"In the second half of the first century AD the Romans began to develop Dover as a port. To guide ships across the Channel they constructed three lighthouses. One, the Tour d'Odre, stood at Boulogne; the other two were at Dover, on high ground on either side of the small harbour. The foundations of the western lighthouse can be seen at Drop Redoubt on Western Heights on the far side of the town, while the eastern one still stands within the later castle, where it forms one of the most remarkable surviving structures of Roman Britain.

"The Roman pharos or lighthouse was originally an octagonal tower with eight stepped stages, of which only four survive. It rose to a height of some 24 m (80 ft). Within its rectangular interior were a series of timber floors; at the top there was probably a platform for some form of brazier. After its abandonment by the Romans the tower became ruinous. Later its exterior was refaced, and between 1415 and 1437 the top was rebuilt as a bell-tower for the neighbouring church by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester.

"Adjacent to the lighthouse stands the church of St Mary-in-Castro. Despite heavy restoration in the nineteenth century, it remains the finest late Saxon building in Kent, dating from around AD 1000. Its location, and the evidence of numerous Saxon burials found in a graveyard to its south, suggest that there was a pre-Conquest civilian settlement here. The church probably originally formed part of an Anglo-Saxon burgh, a fortified town within the Iron Age ramparts. The builders made extensive use of Roman tiles and the church retains its Saxon cruciform (cross-shaped) plan. Certain details in the interior, such as the vaults in the chancel and over the crossing, and the chancel windows, show that the church was modified in around 1200, probably by the same masons who had worked on the chapels in the keep.

"By the early eighteenth century the church was in ruins. During the Napoleonic Wars (1803-15) it was used as a Fives Court and then as the garrison coal store. In 1862 it was restored by the architect Sir George Gilbert Scott and in 1888 William Butterfield completed the tower and added the unsympathetic mosaic decoration to the nave. The nearby church hall forms part of this mid-Victorian renaissance of this part of the castle; initially it was the schoolroom for the children of the garrison.

"The surrounding medieval bank provides fine views. It was once topped by a medieval curtain wall linking to the eastern outer defences near Pencester's Tower and running westwards to Peverell's Tower via Colton's Gateway. The wall was demolished in 1772 but Colton's Gateway, built by King John, and the length of curtain wall beyond it, give an impression of the height of the missing sections. Beside the church hall are the earthworks of Four-Gun Battery, constructed in 1756."

Above: Henry II's keep

"In the 1170s and 1180s, Henry II's military engineer Maurice was to transform Dover. Central to the great rebuilding was the massive new keep, which ultimately was to be surrounded by a double ring of defensive walls, making Dover the first concentric medieval fortification in western Europe. The keep itself served multiple functions as a great storeroom, occasional residence of the monarch and his court, and ultimate stronghold during a siege. With few intervals and modifications, it was to retain a varied military role up to 1945.

"The first line of defence beyond the keep were the curtain walls and towers of the inner bailey, with its two strongly defended gateways. Within the courtyard a succession of buildings was later added for royal and garrison use. Today the inner bailey is lined with barracks constructed in the mid-eighteenth century, but many of these incorporate the remains of earlier medieval structures."

Above: Hubert de Burgh, in a Victorian painted window at Dover Town Hall

"Hubert de Burgh was an able and efficient administrator and a courageous soldier who had a long and distinguished career serving Kings Richard I, John and Henry III. In 1204 he gained fame through his prolonged defence of Chinon Castle during John's retreat from Normandy, an experience that undoubtedly helped him during the great siege of Dover in 1216-17. In 1215 he was appointed Justiciar (chief minister) to the king, but in the 1230s powerful opposition, and loss of the king's support, led to his sudden downfall. He died in 1243."

Above: The medieval tunnels

"The medieval underground tunnels at the northern tip of the castle form part of an extraordinary defensive system constructed by Hubert de Burgh after the siege of 1216. His was the first of several attempts to strengthen this area of the castle. Hubert's new defences were substantially modified in the eighteenth century, but the core of his underground work remains. The tunnels were designed to provide a protected line of communication for the soldiers manning the northern outworks, and to allow the garrison to gather unseen before launching a surprise sortie. Later, during the Napoleonic Wars, the tunnels were largely remodelled along with the outer defences, and were further modernised in the 1850s. In their date and complexity these tunnels are unique. Access to them is down a spiral stair beneath the bridge leading north from King's Gate barbican."

Above: The battlements walk

"Henry II's rebuilding campaign, begun in the 1180s and completed by his successors Kings John and Henry III, made Dover Castle one of the most powerful of all medieval castles. This great strength was due to the successive layers or rings of defensive walls protecting the keep in the centre. This is the earliest use of such concentric defences on a castle in western Europe. These fortifications were to be augmented by artillery outworks in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most notably during the 1790s when attack by France was widely expected. The Battlements Walk follows the outer line of the medieval fortifications and gives stunning views over the castle's defences and surrounding areas."

Above: (No longer) Secret Wartime Tunnels.

"The Secret Wartime Tunnels are a complex web of underground rooms and passages which played a key role during the Second World War. They were later adapted to form the headquarters of one of a number of Regional Seats of Government, secure accommodation to be used in the event of a nuclear attack on Great Britain. However, the first tunnels here are considerably older and were built for a very different purpose [defense against France in the late 18th century]....

"The three main headquarters within the tunnels at the outbreak of the Second World War were the naval headquarters for the Dover Command, the Coastal Artillery operations room and the anti-aircraft operations room. This last has been partly reassembled, again making use of contemporary equipment.

"By contrast, Admiral Ramsey's former naval headquarters today stands empty, enabling visitors to appreciate the huge scale of the Georgian underground barracks. In the walls are fireplaces which once provided some warmth for George III's troops quartered here, while lines on the walls and on the timber floor installed in the late 1930s show where naval office partitions were located. During the war years this tunnel was a warren of offices, with the Admiral's own quarters in the cliff front overlooking Dover Harbour and the Straights. (The cliff end was sealed by the Home Office in the 1960s.) Although it is silent now, little effort of imagination is needed to visualise this once-busy hub of naval activity, scene of so many momentous decisions.

"The hospital tunnels, known as Annexe Level, lie above and slightly to the rear of the Casemate Level tunnels. The main entrance links directly to an ambulance lay-by on the road running up from Canon's Gateway. Inside, the differences in plan, scale and construction between the two sets of tunnels are at once apparent. The main tunnels of the 1790s are lofty, spacious chambers, lined with brick. Their 1941 equivalents are far more cramped and are lined with steel shuttering. In addition the hospital tunnels, unlike their Georgian predecessors, are laid out on a regular grid pattern.

"The hospital comprised a carefully planned sequence of reception areas, wards, washrooms and latrines, galley and food store, and operating theatres. Most of the equipment on display is contemporary. The operating theatre, galley and mess are based on photographs showing them in use towards the end of the Second World War. Casualties mercifully were far lower than anticipated and, as a result, some of the tunnel wards were later given over to dormitories and mess accommodation for military personnel based at the castle."

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