Notes: Castle is well signposted and has a large car park. Occasionally this will be shut for major events but car parking is then provided by sign-posted park and ride.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
A well preserved and extremely well presented flagship site with remains including Roman (the lighthouse), Henry II’s medieval castle and twentieth century defensive structures. The underground tunnels are also accessible although this is via guided tour only.
1. The British Roman Navy, the Classis Britannica, built one of two Lighthouses at Dover (the other being at Western Heights) to guide their ships to the port.
2. Hubert de Burgh, who led the successful defense of Dover against the forces of Prince Louis of France in Summer 1216, built Hadleigh Castle in Essex.
3. During the Civil War the castle remained loyal to the King whilst Dover town supported Parliament. In August 1642 a number of civilians from the town scaled the cliffs, surprised the garrison and captured the castle for Parliament. Dover played no further part in the Civil War.
4. Operation Dynamo, the 1940 evacuation of the British Army from Dunkirk, was planned from Dover Castle
Known as the ‘Key to England’, the site of Dover Castle has been fortified for thousands of years from the Iron Age to the Cold War. It was successfully held for King John against a significant French assault in 1216 and in 1940 the Dunkirk evacuation was planned from within its underground caves.
HISTORY OF DOVER CASTLE
As the closest point to the European continent and situated high on the white chalk cliffs, the site of Dover Castle has been fortified for thousands of years. An Iron Age Hillfort was here and later the site was adopted by the Roman Navy. The Saxons also had a presence here, the Anglo-Saxon church is believed to have been part of a fortified settlement, but it was the arrival of the Normans that started a period of continuous military occupation that lasted from 1066 through to 1958. Upon landing at Pevensey, William I marched directly to Dover and spent eight days there establishing a castle there; he almost certainly re-used the existing Saxon earthworks and created a timber ringwork castle on the site from which he mounted his campaign to conquer England. It was his great grandson, Henry II, that rebuilt the castle in stone constructing the Great Keep and the distinctive Inner Bailey walls in the 1180s.
The rebuilt castle saw action during the troubled reign of King John. The vast European Plantagenet empire built by Henry II and sustained by Richard I imploded under John’s weak rule. In the first few years of the thirteenth century virtually all continental Crown possessions were lost. Worse was to come for John’s Barons, tired of his rule, sought to impose Magna Carta on him. His ultimate rejection of the terms led to the eruption of the first Baron's War in 1215 with his leading opponents inviting Prince Louis of France to invade and take the Crown. When Louis arrived Dover Castle was held by Hubert de Burgh, later Earl of Kent who had distinguished himself at the siege of Chinon in Poitou, France; in 1204 he had led a spirited but ultimately futile defence of the fortress. He remained a strong support of John despite his failings. When Louis - who had successfully taken Rochester Castle, Winchester and London - attempted to seize Dover in Summer 1216, Hubert refused to surrender. Despite using the latest siege engines and undermining part of the outer wall (prompting Hubert to sally out with his forces in order to secure and rebuild with timber) the did not get taken.
The death of King John in 1216 and the defeat of a French resupply mission at the Battle of Sandwich (1217) - at the hands of Hubert - defused Prince Louis’ campaign but regular wars with France continued upto the eighteenth century. Throughout Dover's defenses were regularly updated including building of barracks, modifications to support heavy artillery and digging of underground tunnels. The latter proved to be useful as a bombproof base during World War II and it was from here that Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of the British Army from France in 1940, was planned. Finally the end of the Cold War saw the last official function of Dover Castle cease; within the deep tunnels the nuclear bunker for Regional Government was decommissioned.