Constable’s Gateway, Entrance to the Key of the Kingdom, Dover Castle, Kent, UK

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John Latter on May 22, 2011

The classic view of Constable's Gateway, today's pedestrian entrance to what Matthew Paris, a Benedictine monk and English chronicler, once famously described as the Lock and Key to the Kingdom of England.

The approach to this drawbridge doorway on the Western Outer Curtain Wall of Dover's 12th Century Norman Castle is via Constable's Road which joins Castle Hill Road at a junction above Connaught Park and the Zig-Zags (both Victorian). The entrance for vehicular traffic lies further south at Canons Gateway.

Constable's Tower was built by John de Fiennes under William the Conqueror and for this reason was once known as Fiennes' Tower.

In 1216, in the Siege of Dover during the First Barons` War against King John, the Dauphin (Prince Louis, later Louis VIII of France, son and heir apparent of Philip Augustus, unsuccessfully besieged Dover Castle.

The importance of Dover Castle to the Dauphin's campaign is reflected in this 1784 account (1):

When Lewis the Dauphin of France came hither, at the instigation of the pope, and by the invitation of the barons, and had made himself master of most of the castles in the southern counties, his father, hearing that he had not got possession of Dover Castle, swore by St. James's arm, he had not gained a foot of land in England.

Despite the failure to take Dover Castle, Prince Louis' miners so damaged the Northern Entrance that it had to be closed and sealed. In the 1220s, Hubert de Burgh then rebuilt Constable's Tower as an alternative entry point which probably led to it being called by its other name of Newgate Tower.

NB St John`s Tower and the Spur (an earthwork) were also built as a result of the 1216 siege; a trebuchet, a medieval catapult, was used when the siege resumed in 1217 after Henry III had became King.

Constable's Gateway (alt. Constable's Gate) was modernized in 1882 and is the quarters of the Deputy Constable of Dover Castle, who at one time was the commanding officer of any Dover-based battalion but is now the senior military officer for the district.

Constable`s Barbican lies out-of-shot to the right on a line with the drawbridge.

Queen Mary`s Tower, and then Peverell Gateway (alt. Peverell's Gateway, Peverell's Tower), are the next towers to the south of Constable's Gateway (ie on the other side of the above view), and the Treasurer Tower (Treasurer's Tower) is the next tower to the north, out-of-shot to the left.

The above photo was taken at 4.38 pm on Friday, 20th of May, 2011, looking across the western outer moat, or ditch, from Constable's Road, and is a better view of the gateway than that shown in the 2007 Constable`s Gateway or Tower, Western Outer Curtain Wall, Dover Castle photo. The Connaught Road Pumping Station photo was taken from nearby.

For a frontal view of the gateway see The Constable Gateway and Drawbridge of Dover Castle.

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

Abridged 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):

The Constable's Tower (Constable's Gate, Constable's Gateway)

"One of the grandest gateways in England. Its plan is that of a triangle with its obtuse angle presented to the field. The angles at the base fall within the line of the curtain and are capped by two large drum towers. The salient angle in like manner is capped by an oblong tower, rounded at each end and flat in the centre."

The three towers are connected with an embattled curtain. Within the triangle a central tower rises to a greater height, and commands the whole. It was supported by the manors of Allington and Tunstal. This gate, called New Gate or Fiennes' Tower (Fienes' Tower) at different times, has undergone several alterations, none of which have added to its beauty. The brickwork arches are supposed to have been added in the reign of Charles I, and the cement covering to the central tower during the present century (nineteenth).

The modern additions are more in keeping with the building, and have rendered it a convenient dwelling-house for the Officer Commanding the troops in the South-Eastern District. The hall was used as a court house at one time, and there is a general belief that the tower was the ordinary place of execution for the Castle, but we have discovered no proof of it.

For a long time the porter's lodge contained a sword, an old key, and a horn, which were described as belonging to the days of Julius Caesar. The horn was supposed to be the original one used in summoning the labourers to their work when engaged in building the Castle. They are now exhibited in the Keep (or Great Tower). The small room, now used as an engine room, was formerly the record office, and the Ports' Domesday Book used to be kept there. About the beginning of the seventeenth century these invaluable documents were either sold to, or stolen by, tradesmen of the town, fortunately transcripts were made of some which have survived to the present day.

The caponiere (caponier) was erected during the great war with France at the beginning of the 19th century, and the outwork, remains of which can still be seen, was built about the same time. The main entry into the Castle was not until comparatively modern times through this gate, but through Mamignot's Towers farther north. The original approach to this tower was up a flight of steps.

Abridged extracts from "The History of the Town and Port of Dover and of Dover Castle (With a Short Account of the Cinque Ports)", Volume 2. Dedicated by the Reverend John Lyon, Minister of St Mary the Virgin of Cannon Street, on April 21st, 1814, and published the same year:

John de Fienes, Constable of Dover Castle, his Gate-way, and Tower

John de Fienes (alt John de Fiennes) being placed, by his royal master and kinsman, at the head of the associated knights, and appointed Constable of Dover Castle, he undertook to re-build the principal gate-way, with apartments over it, suitable for a feudal baron of that age; and the particular situation to which he was appointed.

To enable him to discharge the arduous undertaking, the King gave him many lordships and manors; and those which he kept in his own possession, were called Constabularie.

In re-building this new entrance into the Castle, he adopted the plan introduced by Gundulph, the Bishop of Rochester; and he is said to have been the first, who ventured to have a spacious arched passage into the Castles, which he secured with drawbridges, portcullisses, and massy gates. These he considered as preferable to the low gate-ways, and the contracted passages, adopted by the Saxons; when they first sought the aid of the mason, to secure their fortresses with stone walls.

The foundations for the front of this gate-way, and for the piers of the bridge, are laid below the bottom of the ditch (moat), which is, at this place, sunk deep in the solid rock; and it plainly shews, that labour, materials, and expense, were considered as secondary objects by the Constable, in the execution of his plan.

The entrance to the Saxon vallum is between two thick parallel stone walls, and it is arched over with stone. There are two towers on each side of the gate-way, to command the ascent of the hill, and the passage to the bridge.

The entrance into the Castle was secured by two portcullises, and thick gates; and when the bridge was raised up into the recess in the wall to receive it, these barriers rendered the passage perfectly safe.

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.

(1) "The antiquities of England and Wales", by Francis Grose (1874), an English antiquary, draughtsman, and lexicographer.

The same account also appears in the September 1773 edition of "The Universal Magazine for Knowledge and Pleasure".

John Latter / Jorolat

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Elena Belloso on May 22, 2011

Impressive castle! John

I like your story

Best regards from Spain..Elena

John Latter on May 22, 2011

Elena Belloso, on May 22nd, 2011, said:

Impressive castle! John

I like your story

Best regards from Spain..Elena

Thank you, Elena :)

It certainly is an impressive castle and I hope you don't mind me pointing out for the benefit of future visitors (assuming I get any more, that is!) that everything in the photo is only HALF of Constable's Gateway.

Furthermore, although its an important component, Constable's Gateway is only a small part of Dover Castle.

John

John Latter on June 5, 2011

John Latter, on May 22nd, 2011, said:

(1) "The antiquities of England and Wales", by Francis Grose (1874), an English antiquary, draughtsman, and lexicographer.

This should read:

(1) "The antiquities of England and Wales", by Francis Grose (1784), an English antiquary, draughtsman, and lexicographer.

John Latter on June 5, 2011

John Latter, on May 22nd, 2011, said:

Abridged extracts from "The History of the Town and Port of Dover and of Dover Castle (With a Short Account of the Cinque Ports)", Volume 2.

This should be Volume 1 (May 14th, 1813).

Christos Theodorou on February 11, 2012

Wonderful capture - Greetings from Athens.

John Latter on February 11, 2012

Christos Theodorou, on 11th February 2012, said:

Wonderful capture - Greetings from Athens.

I'm pleased you like it, Christos - thank you :)

Greetings from Dover, England!

John

John Latter on March 31, 2012

mygottica, on 30th March 2012, said:

amazing light !!! wonderful place !!! L !!!

Thank you, mygottica - I'm pleased you like it! :)

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on May 22, 2011
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2011/05/20 16:38:10
    • Exposure: 0.004s (1/250)
    • Focal Length: 24.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/10.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash

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