Avranches Tower of Dover Castle and East Wing Battery of Fort Burgoyne, Dover, Kent, UK

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John Latter on December 8, 2009

A view of Avranches Tower (see appended notes for alternative spellings) on the first corner where the eastern outer curtain wall of Dover's Norman Castle briefly changes direction before continuing on its way southwards to the cliff edge.

Click to see a close-up of Avranches Tower and all photos of Dover Castle (an English Heritage site).

The oval wooded area in the top right-hand quarter of the photo is the East Wing Battery of the Victorian Fort Burgoyne - many interesting things lie below those tree-tops! (see notes below).

Fort Burgoyne itself is beyond the trees at top left and is connected to the East Wing by a moat.

The Louis Bleriot memorial is out of view to the right.

I can remember exploring the West Wing on several occasions as a kid: Kerry Manning, Jeff Coade and I were one group (after coming up through the Zig Zags); Leslie Simpson and our Westbury Crescent/Westbury Road gang were another; and the summer after leaving St Mary`s Primary School, I spent some time up here with Peter King, the brother of Mary King (one of my classmates from St Mary's).

Notes on Avranches Tower

From "The History of the Castle, Town and Port of Dover" by Reverend S. P. H. Statham, Rector of St Mary-in-the-Castle (ie St Mary-in-Castro) (Longmans, Green, and Co., 1899):

Averanche Tower was placed in the angle of this curtain (ie the outer curtain wall above the moat/ditch surrounding Dover castle) and "its foundations were laid below the bottom of the deep ditch on the one side, and the wall was carried up, about ten feet thick, to a level with the inner vallum (vallum was a type of palisade, originally used as part of the Roman defensive fortification system). In this wall they built a gallery on each of the five sides of the tower. At every angle there were several slope steps, leading from one platform to another." It was supported by the manor of Folkestone (1). (p.270, abridged)

William de Averanche seems to have acted as Constable of Dover Castle until 1227. He was a descendant of the William de Albrincis (Averanche) to whom William I (also see William the Conqueror) granted lands for the defense of the Castle, and it is more than probable that Averanche's Tower is named after him. (p.333)

From "Dover Castle" by R. Allen Brown (Her Majesty's Stationery Office, HMSO 1974):

...Furthermore, attention has recently been drawn to the sophisticated design and concentrated fire-power of that section of the curtain (ie outer curtain wall) which is undoubtedly Henry's from Fitzwilliam to Avranches, again reminiscent of Edwardian work a century later at, say, the Tower of London (Mint Street) or Caernarvon. The Avranches Tower itself, which blocks and guards the potentially dangerous re-entrant and entrance of the former Iron Age earthworks, is polygonal to the field (five sides of a pentagon, and cf. the near-contemporary Bell Tower of c. 1190 at the Tower of London), and on each face has two tiers of triple loops evidently designed for the crossbow (2) (see "The English Castle).

(1) From "The Folkestone of Edward Hasted":

The manor of Folkestone was frequently called an honor because it was the 'chief seat of residence of the lords paramount in this barony'. It was held directly from the king and called the Barony of Folkestone or Averenches, after the family who held the barony from the 11th and 12th centuries. The lord who held this manor had to provide certain services for the king, in particular soldiers for the defence of Dover Castle. Each knight was required to defend a certain tower, so one of the towers at the castle was called Averenches Tower and later Clinton Tower.

The last appears to be inaccurate: Avranches/Averenches Tower is a separate constuction to Clinton Tower.

(2) The crossbow reference appears to originate (or at least is discussed) in Renn, D.F., The Avranches Traverse at Dover Castle, Archaeologia Cantiana v.84 (1969), p. 79-92. If anyone can email me a copy then I would be very grateful!: jorolat AT gmail.com

Notes on Fort Burgoyne

Extracts from, "Connaught Barracks/ Fort Burgoyne", by A. D. Saunders (2nd of April, 2007):

The construction of a fort north of Dover Castle was a recommendation of the Royal Commission on the Defences of the United Kingdom (1860).

The construction of a new fort north of Dover Castle was ‘in order to prevent an enemy establishing his batteries on the high ground which overlooks the castle in that direction’.

The fort was originally known as Castle Hill Fort, until at least 1864, before being re-named after Field Marshall W F D Burgoyne*, Inspector General of Fortifications. Its construction was contemporary with the improvements being carried out at Western Heights.

Fort Burgoyne was designed by Captain Edmund Du Cane R.E., who was also responsible for the reconstruction of the defences on the Western Heights.

Castle Hill Fort according to the Royal Commission was to be a polygonal work with a ditch 36 feet wide at the bottom, flanked by one double and three single caponiers, each of two tiers. The gorge ditch forms a re-entrant with casemated flanks for guns and musketry. Scarps and counterscarps were cut into chalk protected by a facing of concrete and flint work and well defiladed. The fort was provided with a chemin des rondes below the crest of the rampart as well as a covered way on the scarp of the ditch. Twenty-nine guns could be mounted on the ramparts of which six were to be in Haxo casemates. At the right of the gorge two guns were on the parade level covering a flank ditch connecting the East Wing Battery with the main work.

Construction started 18 June 1861, with a contract for the building of a casemated barracks by civilian contractors at a total cost of £29,508, but the remainder of the work was finally completed by military labour. The right and left wing batteries were part of the initial construction. There are plans and drawings relating to Castle Hill Fort dated to May 1861 and others of March/April 1864. The Fort was said in an official report to be almost complete by 1868.

The East and West Wing Batteries on either side of the fort were for four and five guns respectively with the requisite magazine accommodation. Both wing batteries were linked by ditched earthwork lines to the fort proper.

One unique feature, not seen elsewhere in Britain, are the wing batteries connected by earthwork lines to the main fort. These also reflect the concern for covering the ground to the north of the Western Heights and filling the gap between the fort and the castle.

*A wikipedia entry for Fort Burgoyne says, "...the fort is named after the 19th century General John Burgoyne, not the more famous John Burgoyne of the American Revolutionary War".

The English Heritage Pastscape entry for Fort Burgoyne states:

Fort built following the Royal Commission of 1860. Primarily a land defence to protect the northern approach to Dover Castle construction started in 1861 and was almost finished by 1868. The right and left wing redoubts were built in 1870. By 1886 there was a re-arrangement and reduction in armament. The Haxo casemates in the salients were now obsolete, and the upper tiers of the centre and left caponiers were disarmed. In 1892 the approved armament was one 4-inch breech-loader, 2 x 6.6-inch howitzers, 7 x 24-pounder carronades, and 6 machine guns. The West wing battery had 2 machine guns, the East Wing battery one machine gun. During the First World War it mounted two 6-pounder heavy anti aircraft guns.

The fort is an irregular pentagon in plan, bastioned at the corners, containing large casemated accomodation and stores, with guns on the ramparts. A wet ditch surrounded the fort and an extension ditch ran to the south east to a small redoubt.

After 1900 the fort played no part in the defence of Dover although the casemates round the parade ground are still in use. In World War II brick gun positions and pillboxes were erected, and two batteries for 25-pounder guns added.

The defences have been considerably altered but in general the fort's original features are well preserved.

John Latter / Jorolat

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on December 8, 2009
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2009/12/04 12:19:22
    • Exposure: 0.004s (1/250)
    • Focal Length: 38.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/9.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash