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Changing Kent: History of Dover

Bronze Age (around 1300 BC): Dover is home to a Bronze Age boat. It is the world's oldest known seagoing vessel. It was discovered in 1991 during excavation for a new road through the town.

Roman Empire (43 - 410 AD): Dover was the closest British port to the rest of the Roman Empire. The Romans called it DUBRIS after DUBRAS, the British name meaning 'waters'. Over 60 sites from the Roman period have been found in the Dover area. One of which is the Roman Painted House in the middle of the town.


Rremains of a Saxon church known as the 'tidy ruin'
Old and New: remains of a Saxon church known as the 'tidy ruin'


Dover, Sandwich, Hastings, Romney and Hythe joined together to become the Cinque Ports, providing ships and men for King Edward, later known as Edward the Confessor.

1066: After the Norman Conquest much of Dover was rebuilt and it benefited from increased cross channel trade and carrying of passengers between France and England. William the Conqueror ordered the first castle to be built in Dover. Made out of earth and timber, on the top of the cliff over-looking the town.

A gatehouse to Dover Castle
A gatehouse to Dover Castle on top of the cliffs overlooking the town

1100s - 1200s:

Henry II made great improvements to the castle, rebuilding it in stone. Henry II ruled an empire stretching from the Scottish border to the Pyrenees. Dover Castle was the most impressive of all his castles. It was the first 'concentric' fortress in Western Europe, known for its two lines of defence walls.

Stuarts and Tudors

1500s: Henry VIII visited Dover a number of times. He also made improvements to Dover's defences and built castles at Deal, Sandown and Walmer to protect the waters off the Kent coast.

14 July 1573: Elizabeth I processed through Dover accompanied by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, each with their own entourage. The procession was so long that as the head descended the Western Heights and entered Dover, the tail was 10 miles away, still leaving Folkestone.

18th & 19th Centuries

1797: To counter the threat of invasion from Napoleonic France, a network of tunnels was dug into the cliffs deep below the castle. It housed secure underground barracks for over 2,000 soldiers. Dover became a garrison town with fortifications built across the Western Heights. However, the Napoleonic threat never materialised.

1800s: The coming of the railways and trams created redevelopment of the harbour on a massive scale in the Western Docks. The town grew rapidly and developed into a seaside resort, with a pleasure pier, ice rink, bathing machines and impressive seafront crescents of hotels and apartments.

Channel swimmer statues on Dover Esplanade and the castle in the distance
Channel swimmer statues on Esplanade with castle in the distance

25 August 1875:

Captain Matthew Webb was the first person to successfully swim across the Channel. Covered in porpoise oil, he dived into the Channel from the Admiralty Pier at Dover. He landed at Calais 21 hours and 45 minutes later.

25 July 1909: Louis Bleriot completed the first flight across the Channel. He landed on Northfall Meadow, guided by a friend waving a large French flag. Bleriot won a prize of £1,000 from the Daily Mail for his achievement.

World Wars

1914-1918: The first World War I bomb to be dropped on England fell near Dover Castle on Christmas Eve 1914. Dover became one of the most important military centres in Britain. Vast amounts of men crossed from Dover to France. The town became known as 'Fortress Dover' and was put under martial law.

Bushes and gun at the castle silhouetted against the sky over the Channel
A gun silhouetted against the sky over the Channel

1939 - 1945:

The tunnels under Dover Castle built in 1797 were recommissioned and extended becoming a bomb-proof nerve-centre for the defence of Dover and the South coast of England. Dover became a symbol for Britain's wartime bravery, the centre of East Kent's 'Hellfire Corner'.

May 1940: From the underground tunnels, Vice-Admiral Ramsay inspired and directed 'Operation Dynamo', the evacuation of British and Allied troops from the Dunkirk beaches. Over 200,000 of the 338,000 men evacuated from Dunkirk passed through Dover, filling the town and railway station with soldiers, sailors and airmen.

1950s onwards

The Eastern Docks today: moving freight as well as people
The Eastern Docks today, moving freight as well as people


The Eastern Docks started to be developed for the growing roll-on roll-off car ferry services. As these services increased the Eastern Docks expanded.

1960s: From the late 1960s a regular hovercraft service ran until 2000.

1994/5: A cruise liner terminal was created and a second one opened in 2000.


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