Have you been to Dover Castle, Kent? If you have, you might know something of the multi layered history it has been a part of over centuries! Recently, I watched Dan Jones’ British Castles: Dover Castle. In an engaging, upbeat way, the documentary covers the dramatic social history of Dover Castle.
5 things you (probably) didn’t know about Dover Castle
Dover Castle began life as an Anglo-Saxon Fort. In a perfect defensive location, the castle rises up from the infamous white cliffs of the region and gazes over the English channel to mainland Europe. The fort was a pre-preemptive defensive measure against anything the Roman Armies could throw at the Anglo-Saxons for taking over this previously Roman province.
In 1216, an enemy army tunnelled (also known as sapping) under Dover Castle during an intense siege. Despite being a formidable castle to attack, its foundations lay in the soft chalk cliffs of Dover. Louis (son of Phillip II of France) exploited these weak foundations in his war against King John (the ‘bad’ one; brother of Richard the Lionheart). Louis’ armies dug tunnels underneath the walls through the chalk and brought down one of the towers. Despite this success, King John’s armies won the day, pushing the enemy soldiers back from the breach. Later, the castle’s defences were bolstered through the addition of outposts within tunnels leading to the castle. Find out more at English Heritage.
At the turn of the 19th century England was once again under threat. This time from the French and Napoleon Bonaparte. In order to rapidly allow thousands of soldiers quartered in and around Dover Castle to descend to the shore and town, the Grand Shaft was built. With three interlocking spiral staircases the effect of soldiers marching down the stairs would evoke the image of water swirling down a plug hole.
In 1880, it occurred to the English that perhaps it was possible to tunnel under the British Channel. With the increase of railways across England, perhaps a railway could then be built to connect England to France! Attempts at tunnel boring near Dover castle was initially successful from 1880 until 1882 before work halted. The English government had by then become concerned that invading French armies could use the tunnel to invade. A fair call for the time I think!
Dover Castle played host to the organisational team that rescued thousands of soldiers from Dunkirk during World War II. Called Operation Dynamo, this organised evacuation on a grand scale rescued 338,000 Allied soldiers with a motley array of fishing, ferry, and other civilian boats. More info here.
Why Watch Great British Castles Episode 1?
Great British Castles includes a fascinating, vast history of Dover Castle. Indeed, the way that this documentary clearly demonstrates the continued defensive importance of Dover Castle impressed me the most. This castle’s importance stretches from the Anglo-Saxons all the way to modern times and the Cold War. To learn more about Dover Castle across the centuries, check out Dan Jones’ Great British Castles.