Avranches Gap, Entrance to the Iron Age Hill Fort, pre-Dover Castle, Kent, UK

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John Latter on June 6, 2011

A rare view of the 12th Century Avranches Tower, one of the few remaining crossbow towers in the United Kingdom. The tower is located on the eastern side of Dover Castle, the wild side that visitors do not get to see - except from within the safety of the castle grounds.

And from the castle grounds, Avranches Tower appears to consist of only a ground level (the top row of triple-loop windows) and a truncated roof level ("lowered" in 1755-1756 by the military engineer, John Peter Desmaretz). The bottom level of arrow-loops go unnoticed because they are underground and normally closed to the public (photos of this level will be uploaded soon).

Avranches Tower was probably built between AD 1185 and 1190 by Maurice the Engineer (Ingeniator, mason), Henry II's architect who was also responsible for the Keep, or Great Tower (night view). For more information, see the caption to Avranches Crossbow Tower on the Eastern Outer Curtain Wall.

Alternative names: Avranche's Tower, Averanches Tower, Averenches Tower, Averanche's Tower, Averenche's Tower, Maunsell's Tower, Maunsel's Tower.

Now for the Iron Age (800 BC - 100 AD):

The Outer Curtain Walls of Dover's 12th Century Norman Castle are built above the perimeter ditches of a much earlier Iron Age Hill Fort (1):

A hill fort is a type of earthworks used as a fortified refuge or defended settlement, located to exploit a rise in elevation for defensive advantage. They are typically European and of the Bronze Age and Iron Age. Some were used in the post-Roman period (Sub-Roman Britain). The fortification usually follows the contours of a hill, consisting of one or more lines of earthworks, with stockades or defensive walls, and external ditches.

The Western Outer Curtain Wall ditch, or moat, of Dover Castle is continuous from the cliff-edge near Canons Gate in the south to St John`s Tower in the north (see Western Outer Curtain Wall (South) and Western Outer Curtain Wall (North)).

St John's Tower is sited in the moat below the Norfolk Towers on the curtain wall.

From the Norfolk Towers, the Eastern Outer Curtain Wall (North) heads back towards the sea for 180 yards (via Fitzwilliam Gate and two watchtowers) to arrive on the other side of Avranches Tower to the faces shown above. The associated ditch, however, runs past the tower and ends below the right-hand corner of the photo.

At Avranches Tower, the curtain wall turns through 90 degrees to become the Avranches Flank (as shown to the left of the tower).

Avranches Flank is only 30 yards or so long and ends out-of-shot at where Pencester Tower used to be. Here, the line of the "Eastern Outer Curtain Wall (South)" (the wall itself no longer being there) turns back through 90 degrees to resume its previous course.

The ditch from the cliff edge below the vanished Eastern Outer Curtain Wall (South) stops directly in front of the Avranches Flank. There is, therefore, both an overlap and a gap between the south ditch, which ends below the left-hand corner of the photo, and the north ditch, which ends below the right.

It is this single break in the continuity of the Iron Age ditches that has led to the belief the Avranches Gap - from where this shot was taken - may have been the main entrance to the Iron Age hillfort.

A revetted "firewall" moat (brick-lined hanging moat) between the two ditches, probably inserted by Colonel William Twiss of the Royal Engineers sometime during the Napoleonic Wars when he built the Horseshoe Bastion, now prevents direct access to the base of Avranches Tower along the Gap.

The photo was taken at 7.15 am on Wednesday, 25th of May, 2011.

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

Notes on Iron Age Kent (2)

The name Kent probably means 'rim' or 'border' (compare the dictionary words cant in English, Kant in German, etc), regarding the eastern part of the modern county as a 'border land' or 'coastal district.' Historical linguists believe that the proto-Indo-European root *kanthos could not pass into a Germanic language with its initial K sound intact, so the word must have passed via an intermediate language, either Celtic or Latin.

Julius Caesar described it as Cantium, although he did not record the inhabitants' name for themselves, in 51 BC. His writings suggest localised groups of people whose chieftains were flattered by his description of them as 'kings'. Writing of the Britons generally in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico, Caesar noted that:

...by far the most civilised are those who inhabit Cantium, the whole of which is a maritime region; and their manners differ little from those of the Gauls_.

Pottery studies indicate the county east of the River Medway (eg Dover) was inhabited by Belgic peoples (Belgae) who were part of an economic and cultural region embracing south east England and the lands across the English Channel.

The extreme west of the modern county was occupied by other Iron Age tribes; the Regnenses and possibly another ethnic group occupying The Weald known today as the Wealden People. During the late pre-Roman Iron Age the names of a few Kentish kings are known, such as Dumnovellaunus and Adminius.

Excerpt from an 1863 archaeology journal (3)

It is probable that Kent was the first part of England where stone would fall into disuse, and the metals would take its place.

...Looking then to such evidence as we have, it is plain that both the Gauls and the Britons were thoroughly acquainted with iron in the time of Julius Caesar. We find that the Britons had even war-chariots with scythes fixed to the axles of the wheels. Hence a date long anterior to Caesar must be fixed, for in all probability centuries of bronze intervened between the stone and the iron age, and the iron age in Caesar's day was considerably advanced.

(1) Wikipedia entry for Hill Fort

(2) Wikipedia entry for History of Kent: Iron Age Kent

(3) From Archaeologia cantiana, Volume 5 (1863) (Abridged); Journal of the Kent Archaeological Society.

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on June 6, 2011
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2011/05/25 07:15:46
    • Exposure: 0.004s (1/250)
    • Focal Length: 28.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/11.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash