Great Tower or Keep Forebuilding, Dover Castle, Kent, United Kingdom

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John Latter on May 22, 2011

This wide-angle view of the eastern corner of Dover Castle's Great Tower shows the three-storey "forebuilding" which stretches along the north-eastern side of the Keep (right, in shadow), and part-way along the south-eastern side (left).

The forebuilding is three storeys high and has a small chapel on the corner of the middle floor with the larger Thomas a Becket chapel directly above it on the top floor (Thomas Becket was murdered by Henry II's knights at Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170).

The photo was taken from the Keep Yard inside the Inner Bailey: click to see all photos of the Keep and of Dover Castle. An English Heritage site.

Extract from The Heritage Trail entry for Dover Castle:

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 (north) eastern wall of the Keep and turning at the corner of the south (eastern) wall. It was around this stronghold that the concentric castle was developed and work was completed mid-13th century.

Extract from "The History of the Town and Port of Dover and of Dover Castle (With a Short Account of the Cinque Ports)", Volume 1. Dedicated by the Reverend John Lyon, Minister of St Mary the Virgin" of Cannon Street, to John Gunman, Esquire, on May 14th, 1813, and published the same year:

The Keep: This tower derived its name, by being built in the centre of the quadrangle (Keep Yard), which was the Saxon keep, or a place of safety.

The foundation of it was laid about the year 1153, according to an ancient chronicle, by the advice of Henry, son of Henry the First, when he came from Normandy, to the relief of Wallingford castle, not long before he ascended the throne.

The architect, in erecting this building, adopted the plan which had been introduced into England by Gundulph, bishop of Rochester, for defending their strong holds. This edifice is still remaining, after a lapse of several centuries; and it has undergone many alterations since it was first built. As the mode of defence has altered in different periods, doors and windows have been added, and enlarged; and as dangers have decreased, conveniencies have been sought after, to make the apartments more comfortable.

Though time, and the mutilating hand of man, are continually making innovations, there are several characteristic parts of this building still remaining, which point out their antiquity; and they shew the inventions which were adopted by our ancestors, to defend their strong holds, when they could not face their enemy in the field.

At the time of building this keep, elegant apartments were not sought after by warriors. In places they intended to retire to, as their last resource, they chiefly required solidity and strength in the masonry, security for themselves and their stores, and concealed places for annoying the enemy in a close siege.

The foundation of this keep is upwards of twenty-four feet thick, and, on the north-east side, forty-four feet of solid masonry under the stairs.

The sides of this tower are of unequal lengths. On the northwest, the side is one hundred and eight feet; on the south-west, one hundred and three feet; and on the other two sides, one hundred and twenty-three feet each.

The ground floor, where they deposited their stores, in the centre of the keep, is about fifty feet square, including the partition wall, in which there are three arches; and through them there was formerly a communication with the stairs in the north and south angles of the tower.

There were originally two windows on the south-east, and as many on the north-west side of this apartment, which yielded a faint glimmering of light, and they admitted a current of air; but the architect had a further view in making them.

The two windows on the north-west side were evidently intended to defend the entrance at the gate; and the besieged could command the whole space between it and the keep; and the besiegers would have been exposed to the arrows of a concealed enemy.

The two windows on the south-east side commanded all the space between Palace Gate and the stairs leading to the vestibule (ie forebuilding); and it would have been a desperate and a fruitless attempt, to have endeavoured to force the passage, as they were sure of sacrificing their lives, without vanquishing a besieged enemy.

The windows, or rather loop holes, were constructed in a peculiar manner; and there are still remaining sufficient traces of their outline, and the uses for which they were intended, in the ancient mode of defence, before the invention of gunpowder.

Extract from the English Heritage webpage, Dover Castle and the Secret Wartime Tunnels:

At its core stands the mighty keep or 'Great Tower', 83 feet (25.3m) high and just under 100 feet (30m) square, with walls up to 21 feet (6.5m) thick. Designed by 'Maurice the Engineer' and built during the 1180s, it houses three floors of rooms, the topmost being 'state apartments' for the monarch himself. As the ultimate strongpoint of the castle as well as an occasional royal palace, it could only be entered via a heavily fortified 'forebuilding': this also contains two chapels, the richly decorated upper chapel being dedicated to St Thomas Becket.

For all its strength, the Great Tower was not intended to stand alone. Around it Henry built a powerful curtain wall with fourteen square towers and two gateways, the earliest example of this type of fortification in Britain. Still more revolutionary was Henry's decision to begin an outer curtain wall, surrounding the inner wall. These three mutually-supporting lines of defence - Great Tower, inner and outer curtain walls - made Dover the first 'concentric' fortress in Western Europe.

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

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.

John Latter on June 23, 2011

A number of photos of the Keep have been uploaded since this Forebuilding photo was added. Among them are:

The Norman Keep or Great Tower of Henry II, Dover Castle at Night

The Throne of Henry II in King`s Hall, Great Tower of Dover Castle (+ 3 more interior shots)

The Keep, or Great Tower, of Dover Castle from the King`s Gateway

Check the Keep tag for others.

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Photo taken in Dover Castle, Castle Hill, Dover, Kent CT16 1HU, UK
Dover Castle

Photo details

  • Uploaded on April 10, 2010
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2010/04/09 11:36:56
    • Exposure: 0.004s (1/250)
    • Focal Length: 18.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/11.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash

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