Dover CastleWe must insist upon maintaining superior artillery positions on the Dover promontory no matter what form of attack they are exposed to. We must fight for command of the Strait".
Extract from a speech made by Churchill in 1940
First used as a fortification by the early Britons, Dover Castle spans some 2000 years of history. Soon after the conquest of Britain, the Romans built an 80 foot Pharos or lighthouse overlooking their major port. This was in turn used as a bell-tower by the Anglo-Saxons who built the church of St-Mary-in-Castro next to it. While these ancient structures are still standing, an early Saxon fort and fortifications by William the Conqueror are less easy to identify. The castle you see here today was the work of Henry II when the great keep and inner bailey were built. Constructed between 1170 and 1180, by Maurice the Engineer, the new castle lay at the centre of a concentric ring of defences. Three floors high, the keep was designed as an inpenetrable defence with walls some 21 foot wide. A defence which would soon be put to the test.
In 1216, Dover Castle was a central player in France's attempt to conquer England. At the invitation of the rebel barons, King Louis VIII of France had landed in England and now held London, Rochester and Canterbury. Dover would prove to be the thorn in his side. After a siege which lasted three months, Henry de Burgh, the constable of the castle and his garrison stood firm and Louis was left with little choice but to call a truce. He returned to London but his mission continued to be thwarted by the Dover garrison who undermined his attempts to communicate with France. Investing many of his men in a second siege at Dover led to heavy losses at the Battle of Lincoln. De Burgh went on to lead the English fleet to a conclusive, coastal victory in August 1217.
The preservation of Dover Castle is due to a large extent to its seizure by a group of parliamentarians in 1642. While many other castles in England suffered the brunt of the violence in the civil war, Dover's retention by Cromwell and his men preserved the castle for posterity and future conflict. Later, in the Napoleonic Wars, the castle's underground fortifications were largely extended. Barracks were needed to house the soldiers and the lack of space led engineers to dig into the soft chalk. Seven parallel brick vaults, running some 18m underground were linked by a tunnel and featured a balcony with views over Dover Harbour. Put to use in 1803, these casements housed 2,000 troops. However, it was WWII when the full benefits of Dover's fortifications would be felt.
The imminent fall of France to German invasion called for the Dunkirk Evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from the country. 26 May 1940, the signal to begin Operation Dynamo was received at Dover. Vice Admiral Ramsay controlled the dangerous mission which sought to evacuate 40,000 troops. Coming under attack, the troops were encircled by Germans and yet the operation was an outstanding success. In all, Churchill reported to the House of Commons that 338,000 soldiers had been rescued. Ramsay continued operations from Dover, extending the tunnels to include the Annexe, a hospital and Dumpy, an administrative centre.
Military operations at Dover did not stop with WWII. In top secrecy, the tunnels became the nerve centre for nuclear war operations. Installed with new communication equipment, air filtration and power generating systems, this would be the new seat for the government in the case of an attack. The scheme was abandoned when the realisation set in that the tunnels and their chalk would not provide adequate protection from radiation. The project was brought into the public eye for the first time in 1984 when the military moved out and passed care over to the English Heritage. By guided tour only, you'll be shown the Secret Operations Room, the Communications Room, the Hospital and the Napoleonic Casements.
Address: Castle Hill
Postcode: CT16 1HU
Town/city or near: Dover