Avranches Tower for Crossbows from the Inner Bailey, Dover Castle, Kent, UK

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John Latter on December 16, 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.

The photo was taken from a square opening near ground level in the north-east wall of the Inner Bailey.

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

The Louis Bleriot memorial is in the wooded area (Northfall Meadow) to the left of Avranches Tower.

Notes on Avranches Tower

Extract 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)

Extract 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

Dover Castle (abridged from The English Heritage Trail)

Guardian of the 'Gateway to England', Dover Castle displays a solid strength and determination that has obviously carried it through many troubled times. Proudly standing atop the White Cliffs, overlooking this busy port, Dover Castle has withstood the test of time remarkably well throughout its long and eventful history. Dover Castle, as it stands today, dates from the rebuilding work during Henry II's reign, but the site has been of vital importance since the Iron Age. The first castle at Dover was probably an Anglo-Saxon fortress and, on the arrival of William the Conqueror, the existing fortifications were improved with the building of an earthwork castle. This Norman 'motte' (mound) which supported the castle is today known as 'Castle Hill'.

Work began on Dover Castle in the latter part of the 12th century with the construction of the Keep (or Great Tower) - the largest in Britain - and is entered through a forebuilding more substantial than any other built before or since. At each corner of the Keep lies a buttress turret, and mid-way along each wall is a pilaster buttress. Four storeys high, the Keep comprises a basement, first floor, and a second floor that spans two storeys, the upper level of which is a mural gallery that can be seen today at the end of the Great Armour Hall. The second storey provided the royal accommodation, and the first floor, based on a similar plan to the second, contained rooms with a much less elaborate decor. All floors were connected by staircases set in the north and south corner turrets.

Providing the entry staircase, and two chapels, is the magnificent forebuilding. It is interesting to note the decor of the chapels - the lower chapel of a Gothic style, and the upper chapel late Norman and richly decorated. From outside of the Keep, the significance of the three-towered forebuilding can be fully appreciated, as it can be seen travelling along the eastern wall of the Keep and turning at the corner of the southern wall. It was around this stronghold that the concentric castle was developed and work was completed mid-13th century.

Dover Castle appears in "Dover in World War Two: 1942", a ten minute British Ministry of Information film, released by the US Office of War Information, and narrated by the American journalist, Edward R. Murrow.

John Latter / Jorolat

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on December 16, 2009
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2009/12/14 12:45:34
    • Exposure: 0.006s (1/160)
    • Focal Length: 55.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/8.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash