Medieval Fulbert Tower at Night and its Horrifying History, Dover Castle, Kent, UK

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John Latter on May 16, 2011

Fulbert's Tower, behind which is a house occupying what was once part of the extended Debtor's Prison (1), is the square tower located 80 yards north of Rokesley Tower and the Canons Gate, or Canons Gateway, entrance to Dover Castle.

In the other direction (ie to the left of the photo), Fulbert's Tower (alt. Calderscot's Tower) lies 70 yards south of the D-type Hurst`s Tower.

This Western Outer Curtain Wall photo was taken on Thursday, 6th of January, 2011, from Canons Gate Road, at a point midway between Fulbert Tower and the Victoria Park Gate House on Castle Hill Road. Also see Rare view of Fulbert Tower and Fulbert Tower by Day.

The following account indicates the impact the plight of those imprisoned in Fulbert's Tower made upon an author in 1787 (2):

Chilham Tower, or Chaldescot Tower

This is a square tower, and was built by Fulbert de Lucy (alt. Fulbert de Lucie), whose family came over with William the Conqueror from Normandy; and he being selected by John Fienes (alt. John Fiennes, John de Fienes, John de Fiennes) to assist him in defending the castle, he changed his name for Dover. But the tower was named after the manor, and they who held Chilham were obliged to keep it in repair. Chaldescot succeeding to the command here, the tower was called by his name.

In the front of this building is a house for an officer under the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, called the Bodar of Dover castle. Though the ancient title is still retained, the original duty of his office is but little known by the inhabitants of the Five Forts and their ancient towns.

The word is derived from the Saxon, Boda, which signifies a messenger, or a person sent with letters, injunctions, or precept, from the superior of any particular jurisdiction. Upon all writs directed to him from the office of the Lord Warden, or the Constable of Dover Castle, he is called my Bodar, or, which is the same thing, my messenger.

The Bodar of Dover-castle has also another title annexed to his office, which is Sergeant-At-Arms. By this post he has power from the Lord Warden to take into his particular jurisdiction, crown and other debtors under an arrest, and to shut them up, and keep them in safe custody, in a prison belonging to Fulbert de Dover's tower.

In this, as in many other jails in peculiar districts, there are several alterations necessary, and some things which ought to be rectified without the authority of Parliament. It is to be hoped, that, when the state of this prison is known, some person who has the power will have the inclination to endeavour to soften the hardships which many suffer in it.

There are but two rooms in this building for the confinement of the gentleman, the creditable but unfortunate artificer, and the most abandoned of the human race; in these rooms are they obliged to eat and sleep, and (if report speaks truth) it has happened that the different sexes have been locked into the same apartment. The prisoners have not the least outlet, where they can go to breathe the fresh air, or for any other necessary purpose (my emphasis).

To add to the horrors of this jail, there is not the least allowance of provisions either for common or crown debtors; and, if the persons who are so unfortunate as to be locked up here are not of a trade at which they can work in their confinement, they must not eat, unless their friends can afford to keep them, or the few who occasionally visit such scenes of distress cast in their mite (as in Widow`s mite) to lighten but prolong their wretchedness (my emphasis).

The writer of this tract does not mean to cast the least censure, or to insinuate, that there is any misconduct in any one person concerned !n the direction, and government of this prison ; he only means to point out grievances which have continued too long, that those who have the power, may apply the remedy.

The least that can be done for such jails, in peculiar jurisdictions (if any such there be beyond the limits of the Cinque Ports) is, to place them upon the same footing with other prisons, that there may not be a place in a kingdom, noted for humanity, where a person may be shut up, and left to starve (my emphasis).

If it should be said, that this is a case which never hath happened, nor can happen in this country; it is much to be feared, examples might be produced to prove the contrary; and, therefore the lives of the unfortunate, ought not to be left in the hands of jailors; without the means of sustenance, and I hope for the honour of my country, that this grievance will be done away the first opportunity.

Although people tend to help each other out when subjected to a 'common lot', if people are forced to live in two rooms without sanitation, and where the occasional charity by passersby only delays the moment that some die of starvation, you can bet your boots that the background level of psychological abuse, not only between the prisoners themselves but also between guards and prisoners, would occasionally reach appalling proportions.

As the 18th Century writer says:

"...the lives of the unfortunate ought not to be left in the hands of jailors..."

That's still true today, and I'm not just thinking of those people whose official job description equates to that of "jailor"!

In 1892, 750 copies of a book called, "Bygone Kent" (3) were published, edited by Richard Stead, and with a chapter on Dover Castle written by E. Wollaston Knocker.

The following extract is from copy 94:

Fulbert of Dover was Lord of the Manor and Castle of Chilham in Kent, on condition that he kept one fort in repair. Hence the tower was first called Chilham, but its Deputy-Governor was one Chaldercot, and the tower later was called by his name. This tower had a small one as an appendage to it, which took its name from Hurst, a village near Chilham, the rents of which were allotted to its repair and defence.

Near Fulbert's Tower was the Bodar's house. As sergeant-at-arms he was also gaoler of the adjoining prison.

For many centuries, and within the recollection of the present generation, it was used as a prison for debtors. These used to ring a bell near the outside of the Canon's Gate, and attract the attention of passers by, to obtain alms in a box placed close to the bell.

I think the "appendage" E. Wollaston Knocker is referring to is the small crenellated tower at the rear of Fulbert Tower (centre of the photo) rather than Hurst Tower proper which, as stated above, is 70 yards north of the gaol.

(1) According to the 1916 book, "Annals of Dover", by John Bavington Jones, it was previously the Cinque Ports' Prison and subsequently "taken down in 1911 to make room for soldiers' quarters".

(2) A brief history of Dover Castle; or description of Roman, Saxon and Norman, fortifications. Unknown author but: "Printed for the author, and sold by G. Ledger, Dover, sold also by Simmons and Kirkby, T. Smith, and Flackton and Marrable, Canterbury; W. Gillman, Rochester; J. Hall, Margate; P. Burgess, Ramsgate; and T. Evans, London, 1787".

NB I replaced the original long s used throughout the quotation (as in "This is a fquare tower", "Dover Caftle", etc.) to aid readability.

(3) Bygone Kent

Standard entry for DoverCastle photos (May, 2011)

Dover Castle is a Grade I Listed Building (4).

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.

The English Heritage Pastscape entry for Dover Castle (5):

Medieval castle possibly originating as a pre-1066 motte and bailey castle,remodelled during the reign of Henry II (Curtmantle), to became a castle with concentric defences, one of the first examples of its kind in western Europe.

Much of this work was supervised by Maurice the Ingeniator (Maurice the Engineer, or Mason) and started with piecemeal additions to the defences during the 1160s and 1170s and major construction work, including the Keep (or Great Tower),walls of the Inner Bailey (Inner Curtain Wall) and parts of the Outer Curtain Wall between 1179 and 1188.

Work during the reign of Henry III included strengthening of the defences and the modernising of the castle's accomodation. Much of this took place between 1217-57 and was supervised by Hubert de Burgh (first Earl of Kent). Additions included construction of St John's Tower outside the northern defences which was linked to the castle by a tunnel. Limited work on the castle and its defences took place during the 14th and 15th century and by the 17th century it was in neglect.

The castle was in use as a prison for prisoners of war from 1690 and until the 1740s when a programme of modernisation was started. This included the updating of the defences and construction of barracks, supervised by John Peter Desmaretz (military engineer, c. 1686-1768) . Further changes took place in response to the Napoleonic Wars. Much of this took place between1794 and 1805 and was implemented by Lieutenant Colonel William Twiss, and included bombproofing of the keep,installation of additional gun batteries and outworks and the excavation of underground tunnels for communication and additional accomodation.

The castle was also adapted to protect itself from new explosive shells in 1853 and new barrack were constructed. The castle was used during World War I and World War II when features including anti aircraft and search light batteries were constructed. (Abridged)

Dover Castle is located upon the famous White Cliffs overlooking the town and port below. The Normans, beginning with William the Conqueror,built upon earlier Roman and Saxon fortifications on a site first selected by their Iron Age predecessors.

See wikipedia entries for Portus Dubris and Anglo-Saxons

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

(5) Pastscape: Dover Castle (Pastscape Homepage)

Dover Castle appears in the video, "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.

Click to see all photos of Dover Castle, a Dover English Heritage site and a Grade I Dover Listed Building.

A Middle Ages (5th century to the 15th century) history photo.

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

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

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on May 13, 2011
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2011/01/06 18:46:51
    • Exposure: 30.000s
    • Focal Length: 55.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/18.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash