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History of Dover

Dover comes from the Celtic stream ‘dubras’ meaning the ‘waters’. The Romans took up this name and called their settlement Dubris. The name had changed to Dofras by 969AD and the Domesday Book records Dover as Dovera.

William the Conqueror built the first recorded earthwork castle at Dover before proceeding to London. Henry II rebuilt it in stone in the 12th century.


Dover castle withstood a great siege in 1216, when Prince Louis of France attempted to seize the English crown from King John. The castle once again saw military service during the Napoleonic wars with the sighting of gun batteries in the 1870's. In both world wars, the Royal Navy used Dover castle as their headquarters.


In May 1940, Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsey, headquartered himself in tunnels deep inside the cliffs, from where he successfully organised the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk. The Government designed the tunnels to be used for the seat of regional administration in the event of a nuclear attack.

At 10am on 26 August 55BC, Julius Caesar arrived off
Dover with his invasion fleet. From their ships, the Romans could see a vast number of well-armed Britons lining the cliffs. Later the same day Caesar found a more suitable landing place near Deal. Roman Dover, the British port closest to the rest of the Roman Empire, thrived and covered at least a five hectare area along the dour valley. The Roman town had a large harbour, flanked by two lighthouses and three consecutive forts. The Classis Britannica, the Roman navy in Britain, occupied one fort from 130-208AD.

From the 5th Century onwards, Germanic tribes crossed the North Sea to settle in Kent.
Dover became a substantial settlement in the new Kingdom of Kent. By the middle of the 10th Century, Anglo-Saxon Dover was prosperous and well organised with its own mint and established cross-channel trading links. 

Following his victory at Hastings, in 1066, William the Conqueror and his forces marched to
Dover, a crucial strategic location, guarding the shortest crossing to France. The Normans rebuilt much of Saxon Dover, with the town benefiting from the increase in cross channel trade and the carrying of passengers between France and England. They made significant improvements to the Castle, completing the massive stone keep and inner walls, or bailey surrounding, by 1190. The 13th century saw many attacks on the town by French forces including, the 1216 siege of the castle by Prince Louis, and a great raid of 1295 when 10,000 French burnt most of Dover to the ground. 

In about 1050, the five ports of
DoverSandwich, Hastings, Romney and Hythe joined together to provide ships and men for King Edward the Confessor. They became known as the Cinque Ports (after the Norman French word for five). In return for providing naval and ferry services, these towns received many rights and privileges, which helped Mediaeval Dover to thrive as a port. 

Tudor and Stuart kings and queens took a, particular, interest in
Dover. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I recognised the value of the harbour and financed expensive repairs and enlargements. Henry also made improvements to Dover's defences. During the reign of Charles I, Dover declared against the King in the Civil War, although enthusiastically welcomed the return of his son Charles II in 1660. 

In the 18th and 19th centuries,
Dover became a garrison town heavily defended against the threat of a French invasion. They built earthen batteries along the sea front and across the Western Heights of Dover to supplement the limited protection offered by the mediaeval Castle against cannon and shells. In 1804, with invasion expected at any time, a massive programme of defensive building in stone and brick began on the Western Heights creating two forts and deep brick lined ditches. A unique 140ft triple staircase, the Grand Shaft, linked the town to the forts. 

The 19th Century saw a period of considerable change for
Dover. The coming of the railways, the redevelopment of the harbour on a massive scale, the growth of the cross-channel passage and the development of local industries led to the rapid growth in size of the town. Between 1801 and 1901, the population increased six fold. The town developed as a seaside resort through the provision of a pleasure pier, ice rink, bathing machines and impressive sea front crescents of hotels and apartments. 

During the First World War,
Dover became one of the most important military centres in Britain. Vast numbers of men crossed from Dover to France. The harbour became home to the Dover Patrol, a varied collection of warships and fishing vessels protecting Britain's vital control of the English Channel. The first bomb to fall on England dropped near Dover Castle on Christmas Eve 1914. Regular shelling from warships, together with bombs from aeroplanes and Zeppelins, forced residents to shelter in caves and dug-outs. The town became known as 'Fortress Dover'. 

During the Second World War
Dover again became a town of considerable military importance. In May 1940, over 200,000 men, evacuated from Dunkirk, passed through Dover, filling the town and railway stations. Vice Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay controlled the evacuation from his headquarters in tunnels beneath the castle. Both shells and bombs fell on Dover causing 3,059 alerts, killing 216 civilians and damaging 10,056 premises - many had to be demolished. Dover became a symbol for Britain's wartime bravery, the centre of East Kent's 'Hellfire Corner'.

After the war,
Dover suffered the attentions of the town planners leading to the destruction of many of the town's historic buildings that had survived the war in the quest for modernity and free movement of road traffic. Traffic through the port continued to grow with the increase in foreign travel, modern car ferries, hovercraft and high speed catamarans replacing the old rail and ship services. 

Dover Parish Church is a Grade: II listed building, dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. The Secular Canons of Dover built the first church on the site of Roman Baths in the 7th century. Having destroyed the church in the fire of 1066, the Normans rebuilt it early in the 1100’s, with additions in the 13th century. In the 16th Century, after the Dissolution of Religious Houses, King Henry VIII, a frequent visitor to the town and church gave St Mary’s to the people of Dover. In 1724, Samuel Knight recast the bells into a new octave. In 1843-44, the Victorians, during the incumbency of Canon Puckle, rebuilt the old medieval building, with the exception of the tower – repaired 1898 - in the style of the time. 


Originally, a Saxon church St James's is one of the three, unnamed, Dover churches listed in the Domesday Book. The present structure dates from about the 12th century.

As well as being a place of worship, the church also doubled as a meeting place of the official courts of the Barons of the Cinque Ports. The Duke of Wellington as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports presided over their final meeting in 1851.

By the 19th Century, the church required enlargement and restoration. Although, not possible on the site it occupied, the parishioners decided to rebuild it elsewhere. They built the new church in 1862, and when opened it became the main parish church. 

A group of French Protestants used the old church, eventually restoring it in 1869. Having received severe shelling in WWII, resulting in the destruction of the tower, it remained as a ruin in commemoration of the people of
Dover who, like the church, suffered much during the war.

The new St James's survived the war, relatively unscathed, although much of the parish lay in ruins, resulting in the church being declared redundant and demolished.

Dover’s first railway station – later known as ‘Dover Town’ - opened on the South Eastern Railway's, final section - Folkestone to Dover - of the London to Dover main line, on 7 February 1844. It would be nearly 17 years before the London Chatham and Dover Railway reached the port, by a more direct route from London, opening what became known as ‘Dover Priory’ station on 1 November 1861.