Roman Painted House Ruins, Market Street, Dover, Kent, United Kingdom

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John Latter on April 6, 2009

The east corner of the building, an irregular five-sided polygon, that covers the "Roman Painted House" whose main entrance is in New Street (near where the 'Golden Wall' photo was taken). The above view was taken from the grass area at the top of what remains of Market Street [1] [2], close to the Market Square.

The buildings behind the Roman Painted House on the left are one of the blocks of council house flats that lie between Durham Hill and North Military Road; above the flats a small part of the Western Heights is visible.

The taller building on the right of the photo is Maybrook House where births, deaths and marriages are registered.

To the left (but out of shot) of the viewer are excavated remains of St Martin-le-Grand church (more ruins of the Norman church; more Dover churches).

The Roman Painted House is open from April to October each year, the current entrance fee is £2 and I'll be adding interior photographs once it re-opens.

The following has been adapted from information provided on a tourist information board near the New Street entrance:

Dover (Portus Dubris) was founded as a major Roman naval base by the Classis Britannica, the Roman fleet in British waters, which established its British headquarters here in about A.D. 130. This naval fort and many other Roman buildings were discovered during major excavations across the town-centre by a Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit (led by Brian Philp) from 1970-1995.

The Romans selected the Dover gap as the only break in the White Cliffs where the tidal estuary of the River Dour (now a small stream) then gave ample anchorage for warships and civilian transports. Major harbour installations included quays, a sea wall across the estuary and a stone lighthouse (Pharos) on each of the flanking cliffs (the East Pharos still survives in the grounds of Dover Castle; the ruins of the West Pharos are known as the Bredenstone and are located on the Drop Redoubt section of the Napoleonic Western Heights fortifications).

The naval fort had a large headquarters building, a commander's house, two large granaries, at least ten barracks, a latrine and other buildings, all within a strong defensive wall. It also had four gatehouses and many internal streets, drains and pipes carrying water. After two major rebuilds the fort was abandoned in A.D. 208 when the fleet left Dover for campaigns in Roman Scotland (Caledonia) and never returned.

The Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit also discovered the "Roman Painted House" [3], part ot a large official hotel (Mansio) outside the naval fort. Dover was then the first port of entry for leading officials. lt is the best-preserved Roman house now open to the public in Britain, containing unique wall-paintings, or murals, and elaborate underfloor heating (Hypocausts). Nearby the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit discovered a major military bathhouse, used by the naval marines, but reburied for protection.

Both the naval fort and the Roman Painted House were partly demolished about A.D. 270 by an army garrison moved to Dover as a measure against Saxon raiders, lts large new fort occupied part of both sites and preserved much of the mansio beneath its ramparts. This fort was also discovered by the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit with long lengths of its west and south walls being excavated and seven great bastions revealed. Part of the fort wall and one large bastion are preserved within the Painted House cover-building. The internal buildings were of stone and wood.

This late-Roman 'Shore-Fort' was garrisoned in the fourth century and its ruined walls framed the Anglo-Saxon town from the 6th Century A.D. Its walls also formed the precinct wall for the great central church of Dover, St. Martin-le-Grand from the 11th Century.

Detailed information on Roman Dover and many finds from the excavations are on show inside the Painted House and Dover Museum (open all year).

The above photo was taken on Sunday the 5th of April, 2009, at 8.57 am.

[1] From Street Names of Dover:

_Market Street - When the town was walled this road formed a connection between the Market Place and St. Martin’s Gate, running under the northern wall of the monastery. The line of this street has recently been changed by carrying its entrance to Cannon Street some yards northward of the old road. Just off this street old chalk coffins were unearthed in 1892 and again in 1956. _

[2] An entry in Barry Smith's 1991 edition of, "By The Way: The Dover Pubs" reads:

Five Alls, 13 Market Street: The pub closed on 14th of July 1968. It was a compulsory purchase by the town and the ground then lay idle for twenty-two years before being redeveloped. i never saw any price or compensation figure divulged.

It was rumoured to be over 200 years old and to have formed part of a smuggling chain in the past. A secret room was indicated and underground tunnels were purported to run to the "New Inn" and the "Cause is Altered", both in the vicinity.

Many inns have this title but often different characters are used. The five faces portrayed here were those of a lawyer, priest, farmer, soldier and the devil, with the caption, "I plead for all", "I pray for all", "I work for all", "I fight for all" and "I claim all". You were served by George Hudson in 1849 and at the close by Mr Pratt.

The street was closed to traffic from 1971 and to pedestrians from 1989.

[3] "...Built about A.D. 200 the Roman Painted House formed part of a large mansion or official hotel, for travellers crossing the English Channel. It stood outside the great naval fort of the Classis Britannica, but in A.D. 270 it was demolished by the Roman army during the construction of a larger fort. Three of its main rooms were then buried substantially intact under its ramparts."

The burial by the Army resulted in the unique survival of over 400 sq. ft. of painted plaster, the most extensive ever found north of the Alps.

This is the Images of Dover website.

John Latter on March 28, 2011

Click to see the Roman Ruins of the Classis Britannica Fort and Saxon Shore Fort at Dover photo.

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

This is the Images of Dover website: click on any red or blue "John Latter" link to access the Entry Page.

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on April 6, 2009
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2009/04/05 07:57:15
    • Exposure: 0.004s (1/250)
    • Focal Length: 23.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/13.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash