Medieval Avranches Tower for Crossbows, Dover Castle, Kent, United Kingdom

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Comments (13)

John Latter on November 3, 2007

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

The photo was taken looking in a easterly direction and is the first one of this tower to have been uploaded. Other photos will follow - check later 'Comments' or click on the Tower tag.

There are 5 windows and doorways on the inner face of Avranches Tower which will be commented upon in later images. For the moment, of interest here is the vertical window just beneath the center of the second arch from the right (the 'crossbeam' is in fact a wooden railing on the near side of the arch opening).

This unglazed window is the center of one of the 'triple loops' referred to in the historical notes below. To the right of this 'center loop' is a dark area which is the location of an identical window angled at 45 degrees to the first. A third window, similarly angled, on the left of the center one is obscured by the column between the second and third archways. A close-up of a triple loop will be uploaded in due course.

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 is inaccurate: Avranches/Averenches Tower is a separate constuction to Clinton Tower.

[2] The crossbow reference appears to originate (or at least 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

John Latter on November 13, 2010

Also see:

Avranches Tower for Crossbows from the Inner Bailey

Avranches Tower and East Wing of Fort Burgoyne

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 November 18, 2010

Dover Castle is a Grade I Listed Building (1).

The following is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under the terms of the Click-Use Licence (PSI licence number C2010002016):

Building Details:

Building Name: DOVER CASTLE

Parish: DOVER

District: DOVER

County: KENT



LBS Number: 177823

Grade: I

Date Listed: 07/03/1974

Date Delisted:

NGR: TR3249141696

Listing Text:


TR 3241 1/47

TR 34 SW 7/47



Norman keep C.1155 of rag-stone ashlar blooks picked out flints with Caen stone dressings. Around the keep are ranges of C18 (=18th Century) houses of 2 to 3 storeys ashlar with a flint galleting. Round headed windows. Surrounding these ranges are 2 concentric rings of walls and towers dating from Mediaeval times. Beneath the castle are a whole series of subterranean passages dating from the C13 and improved for defence during the Napoleonic period. Ancient Monument. (Abridged).

Listing NGR: TR3249141696

Source: English Heritage. Click to see photos of Listed Buildings and English Heritage locations in the town of Dover, England.

(1) Grade I: buildings "of exceptional interest, sometimes considered to be internationally important".

Caroline Heijkoop on May 19, 2011


I'm a student from the Netherlands and I have to do a presentation for the English subject about Avranches Tower. You really helped me with your information, but do you have any more information? Something like; when the tower is build, who build it and why? I can't find much information about the Tower. Thank you.

Yours sincerely, Caroline Heijkoop

John Latter on May 19, 2011

Caroline Heijkoop, on May 19th, 2011, said:


I'm a student from the Netherlands and I have to do a presentation for the English subject about Avranches Tower. You really helped me with your information, but do you have any more information? Something like; when the tower is build, who build it and why? I can't find much information about the Tower. Thank you.

Yours sincerely, Caroline Heijkoop

Hi Caroline,

I have no further information immediately to hand other than that already given.

However, I hope to upload some more photos of Avranches Tower soon (2-4 weeks) and may have the time to look for new information then.


Caroline Heijkoop on May 19, 2011

Hello, Allright, thank you. My presentation is in about 4 weeks, so I hope you have more information then. Caroline

John Latter on May 19, 2011

Hi Caroline,

The Historic Fortifications Network states the following:

(11) Avranches Tower was probably built between 1185 and 1190 by Maurice the Engineer, the architect of the keep, on the possible site of the gateway to the iron age hillfort. It is a very early example of a purpose built crossbow tower. The Roman pharos was one of two lighthouses built c. AD 130 to guide the Roman fleet of the Classis Britannica into the harbour. It survives 13m high, making it the tallest surviving Roman building in Britain; that on the Western Heights was swept away in the urgent building of defences against Napoleon in 1803.

No references are given, but it appears to be a reputable organization:

The Historic Fortifications Network is a collaboration between 17 towns in Kent (UK), Nord-Pas de Calais (France) and West Flanders (Belgium) linked by history, origin and evolution. The 'network' has been created by the towns themselves and co-ordinated by three partner organisations: Kent County Council, le Syndicat Mixte de la Côte d'Opale and the Province of West Flanders. From About the Network

Bear in mind, however, that other sources such as English Heritage say the Roman pharos was built in AD 46 (other sources give different dates) and that there are still identifiable remains of the pharos on the Western Heights visible.

In other words, no single source can be considered "gospel".


Caroline Heijkoop on May 23, 2011

Thank you very much, John! Caroline

John Latter on May 28, 2011

Caroline Heijkoop, on May 23rd, 2011, said:

Thank you very much, John! Caroline

You're welcome, Caroline.

I've just uploaded a photo (very similar to the one on this page) to:

Avranches Crossbow Tower, Eastern Outer Curtain Wall, Dover Castle

I'll be adding relatively "rare" views of Avranches Tower in the next week or so, including at least one of the underground level.

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on October 8, 2007
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2007/10/06 16:19:42
    • Exposure: 0.004s (1/250)
    • Focal Length: 24.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/11.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash