AD 46 East Roman Pharos on Harold's Earthwork, Dover Castle, Kent, UK

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John Latter on June 13, 2011

The AD 46 East Roman Pharos and adjacent Saxon church of St Mary-in-Castro are situated on top of Harold's Earthwork whose low perimeter wall can be seen to the right of the tower.

This photo of the lighthouse's north face was taken from near Dover Castle's Garrison School and Four Gun Battery at 5.12 pm on Wednesday, 8th of June, 2011. The crescent moon in the crenel between the right-hand two merlons has been included at no extra charge (crenels are the "cut-out" portions of a battlement, merlons are the solid widths).

Other photos of the Pharos ruins recently uploaded include:

Roman Pharos and Saxon Church from the Great Tower of Dover Castle (recommended)

Roman Pharos, Saxon Church, and Victorian Garrison School, Dover Castle (pretty good, too)

Click to see all photos of the Pharos (both east and west towers) and of St Mary-in-Castro.

Click to see all photos of Dover Castle, a Dover English Heritage site and a Grade I Dover Listed Building (the general listing text for the whole of the castle is appended to a number of photos, a personal favourite is Rare View of Peverell Gateway, Western Outer Curtain Wall, Dover Castle). NB The Pharos and St Mary-in-Castro have separate Grade I Listings, the listing text for the Pharos is given below.

The Coat of Arms Tile

Of initial interest is the small light-coloured stone to the left of the top centre window (1):

This ancient structure was repaired, and the greatest part of it cased with flint, in the year 1259, when Richard de Grey, of Codnore, was Constable of Dover Castle; and his coat of arms, cut in a small square stone, were placed on the north side of the tower, and are still remaining there. A barry of six, argent, and azure (2).

The Pharos and Julius Caesar

In the 1899 book, "The History of the Castle, Town and Port of Dover", the Reverend S. P. H. Statham wrote (3):

In the days of Edward I, and as late as Elizabeth (Elizabeth I) the Pharos is spoken of as the "Tower of Julius Caesar" (Julius Caesar's Tower). In the reign of Henry III, if not earlier, it was converted into a bell tower for the church, and the date given by Lyon of 1259 for the flint casing is probably right.

The West Roman Pharos is located on the other side of the River Dour valley (4):

A Roman pharos was situated on the Western Heights at Dover and was known as Bredenstone and Caesar's Altar (Julius Caesar's Altar)in the 16th and 17th century and Devil's Drop (Devil's Drop of Mortar) in the 18th century. The latter name is perpetuated in "Drop Redoubt" the structure built on the site of the lighthouse.

The Pharos and St Mary-in-Castro

The Victorian Statham also comments on interesting relationships between the church and lighthouse (watchtower) (1):

From an examination of these buildings we find that an arched passage existed on the ground floor between the Pharos and nave, the remains of the arch are still clearly visible, whilst, beneath the surface, of the ground, the solid concrete foundations for the connecting walls remain intact. Entrance to the tower was gained through a portal in the west face of the tower wall, remains of which opening were discovered by the clerk of the works during Sir Gilbert Scott's 19th Century restoration. It was therefore easy to pass through the entire length of the structure, from the Pharos to the tower, upon the ground floor.

It is quite clear, from the existence of a second series of openings some sixteen feet above the ground level, that a first floor existed in the Pharos. It is remarkable that what Sir Gilbert Scott very rightly describes as the "doorway " in the west wall of the nave corresponds exactly, so far as height and width and level above the ground are concerned, with the opposite opening in the Pharos. There is no doubt that a passage across the top of the arched approach beneath provided an easy means of communication between the two buildings at this point. Whether a gallery was placed in the, nave, communicating through a door with the tower is uncertain, the present windows are said to be typically Saxon, although that is open to question, but even that would not prevent them having taken the place of smaller openings which could have been used for defensive purposes. We are inclined to think that this may have been the case, and that a through communication was also possible on this storey.

Ascending again some sixteen feet in the Pharos another storey was reached, well defined by three windows on the north, west and south sides, as well as by another opening towards the church. The west wall of the nave is pierced at this point by two openings, with brick capitals, which seem to be of a later date, and probably superseded the original single opening. A floor or connecting gallery must have existed in the nave at this level, as we find a wide door pierced in the west wall of the tower, which was evidently meant to connect it with the nave and Pharos. No attempt has hitherto been made, so far,as we know, to explain the presence of these various openings on the same level in the east and west walls of the nave and Pharos, they could not have been made for ornament, and were presumably made for use. To what use could they be put except their natural one as a means of egress and ingress?

Pastscape and Listed Building Text (5)

This stand-alone tower is a Roman lighthouse or watchtower, one of a pair constructed during the reign of Emperor Claudius in AD 46 on the headland flanking either side of the major Roman port of Dubris.

Aulus Plautius led the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD, and became the first governor of the new province, serving from 43 to 47 AD.

The lighthouse survives within Dover Castle and comprises an octagonal stepped tower approximately 19 metres and four storeys high. The fourth storey was reconstructed between 1415 and 1437 when the lighthouse had been adapted for use as a belfry to the church of St Mary-Sub-Castro (St Mary-in-Castro).

The original design of the top of the lighthouse has been destroyed by these alterations, making its functionality unclear. It is thought that both lighthouses were used during fine weather as sea-marks in guiding vessels into the harbour. At night this role would have augmented by fire-lit braziers situated at the top of the lighthouse. The lighthouse may have also been used as a smoke beacon during certain weather and visibility conditions. Another possible role is as a signal tower.

Medieval and later alterations within the immediate locality of the lighthouse have removed any possible evidence of structures associated with the running of the lighthouse. Changes to the lighthouse took place in 1582 when it was converted into a gunpowder magazine.

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

Building Details:

Building Name: THE ROMAN PHAROS Parish: DOVER District: DOVER County: KENT Postcode:


LBS Number: 177825 Grade: I Date Listed: 07/03/1974 Date Delisted: NGR: TR3260441815

Listing Text:

1. 1050 DOVER CASTLE The Roman Pharos TR 3241 1/48


2. AD 46. Built under the Emperor Claudius. This guided the Roman fleet round to the port of Richborough. In mediaeval times it was used as a belfry to the Church of St Mary Sub-Castro. 4 storeys, 3 being Roman and the top storey and remains of battlements mediaeval. An octagonal tower with originally vertical stepped walls rising in tiers set back each within the last, now almost smoothed. Rubble with a facing of green sandstone and tufa and levelled at an interval of 7 courses with a double course of brick set in hard pink mortar. Round-headed windows with a small recessed spy-hole inside them.

Listing NGR: TR3260541815

Source: English Heritage.

A Victorian Perspective

Except from an 1869 journal (6):

There can be no doubt that the Romans held a favourable position on the eminence where the present Castle stands. Their camp was oval in form and mainly adapted to the nature of the ground; within the entrenchments were the buildings they usually erected, with the uncommon addition in the present instance of a pharos or beacon. This was, in all probability, the very first building raised in England by the Roman conquerors.

In constructing the pharos they followed their usual method of laying a certain number of courses of ashlar alternated with two courses of Roman bonding tiles. Finding the Kentish rag too small and shapeless, and no other materials being within easy distance, they laid their foundations upon blocks of calcareous tufa brought from Normandy, to the depth of 7 feet 4 inches: below this they placed a single course of tile, and a stratum of conglomerate, a foot-and-a-half thick, resting upon yellow clay mixed with flints. The rules laid down by Vitruvius were accurately followed, and an analysis of the mortar proves that his precepts in that respect were as carefully adhered to.

This building, in its original condition, is said to have resembled the curious lighthouse at Boulogne, attributed to Caligula, and which was destroyed in 1644. The old facing of the walls is almost entirely gone, but on the south side some of the Roman bricks still remain, with grooves and projections to dovetail into each other. One of the original entrances still exists, with the voussoirs of the arch formed alternately with pieces of travertine and double tiles: it bears a strong resemblance to arches of an aqueduct near Luynes, at Lillebonne, Pompeii, and other places.

The Pharos is octagonal without and square within, and the walls are 10 feet thick; in its present state it is 40 feet high, but has had a much later portion imposed upon it, though at the present day this addition may be considered ancient. This was probably the work of Richard de Grey, Constable of Dover Castle in the beginning of the fourteenth century, whose arms appear upon a small square stone; but it was again altered at a later time by William de Clinton, Earl of Huntingdon, and constable.

The Pharos is called the tower of Julius Caesar in documents of Edward I. (1287), and appears at that time to have been used as a bell-tower; and in the following reign repairs of the great bell 'in turri Caesar' are mentioned. In the beginning of the last century 'a pleasing peal of bells' was removed from hence to Portsmouth, since which time it has been suffered to go to ruins.

(1) Abridged excerpts 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.

(2) Heraldry: When the field of a coat of arms is patterned with an even number of horizontal (fesswise) stripes, this is described as barry. The colours: Argent is silver/white/blank and azure is blue. Also see Coat of Arms

(3) From "The History of the Castle, Town and Port of Dover" by Reverend S. P. H. Statham, Rector of St Mary-in-the-Castle (Longmans, Green, and Co., 1899)

(4) English Heritage Pastscape entry for The Drop Redoubt

(5) English Heritage Pastscape entry for The Roman Pharos (Abridged)

(6) Abridged excerpt from The architect and contract reporter: a weekly illustrated journal (Volume I, January - June 1869).

A Dover Roman and Saxon history photo.

Dover's 12th Century Norman 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].

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.

Loszmann Ágnes on July 3, 2011

Great! Greetings, Ágnes

John Latter on July 3, 2011

Loszmann Ágnes, on July 3rd, 2011, said:

Great! Greetings, Ágnes

Thank you, Ágnes - some more Greetings from Dover, England :)

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on June 12, 2011
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2011/06/08 17:12:26
    • Exposure: 0.005s (1/200)
    • Focal Length: 24.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/10.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash