Dover Castle, Kent

Guardian of the 'Gateway to England', this giant of a castle displays a solid strength and determination that has obviously carried it through many troubled times. Proudly standing atop the White Cliffs, overlooking this busy port, Dover Castle has withstood the test of time remarkably well throughout its long and eventful history. Dover Castle, as it stands today, dates from the rebuilding work during Henry II's reign, but the site has been of vital importance since the Iron Age. The first castle at Dover was probably an Anglo-Saxon fortress and, on the arrival of William the Conqueror, the existing fortifications were improved with the building of an earthwork castle. This Norman 'motte' (mound) which supported the castle is today known as 'Castle Hill'.

Work began on Dover Castle in the latter part of the 12th century with the construction of the Keep (or Great Tower) - the largest in Britain - and is entered through a forebuilding more substantial than any other built before or since. At each corner of the Keep lies a buttress turret, and mid-way along each wall is a pilaster buttress. Four storeys high, the Keep comprises a basement, first floor, and a second floor that spans two storeys, the upper level of which is a mural gallery that can be seen today at the end of the Great Armour Hall. The second storey provided the royal accommodation, and the first floor, based on a similar plan to the second, contained rooms with a much less elaborate décor. All floors were connected by staircases set in the north and south corner turrets.

Providing the entry staircase, and two chapels, is the magnificent forebuilding. It is interesting to note the décor of the chapels - the lower chapel of a Gothic style, and the upper chapel late Norman and richly decorated. From outside of the Keep, the significance of the three-towered forebuilding can be fully appreciated, as it can be seen travelling along the eastern wall of the Keep and turning at the corner of the southern wall. It was around this stronghold that the concentric castle was developed and work was completed mid-13th century. The original buildings of the inner bailey are now largely ruinous, the most impressive of those representing the Great Hall and dates from the time of Henry III. Three blocked doorways are easily identifiable. However, many of the in tact buildings represent barracks, erected in the mid 18th century to house an enlarged garrison.

Henry III carried out repair work to the gatehouse, and rebuilt the eastern wall. The entrance was blocked by a third bastion, which completed the group of towers now referred to as the Norfolk Towers. Additional works was carried out at Dover Castle, and the outer curtain wall, with twenty individual towers, was completed to create a large outer bailey stretching to the edge of the cliff. The resplendent Constable's Gate was constructed, and by this time Dover Castle had reached its full potential.

Built to replace the former entrance, the Constable's Gate comprises a cluster of different sized round towers situated high above the ditch, with spur bases dropping deep in order to command all angles of attack. Cylindrical towers join over the entrance passage to the front, and at the rear the Constable's living quarters were located. Although the entrance passage has survived from the medieval period, the Constable's living quarters have been subsequently modernised. During the Civil War, Dover Castle was attacked and kept under Cromwell's forces for a number of years, unusually without suffering the widespread despoliation and destruction that was commonplace throughout this period.

Hidden deep inside the famous White Cliffs, and under Dover Castle, are a vast network of underground tunnels, first constructed in the Middle Ages. However, during the Napoleonic Wars, these tunnels were greatly extended to provide barracks for the great numbers of soldiers called to Dover Castle to prepare for invasion from the French. This massive underground complex also played an important role in the Second World War, and it is absolutely fascinating to 're live' these moments today.

Dover is still an important and bustling centre of commerce, and the castle is constantly 'beseiged' - but, thankfully today, only by hundreds of visitors overawed by its size and dominance, who are eager to discover some of the fascinating secrets held within its imposing walls.


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