Rare view of the 13th Century Norfolk Towers at Sunrise, Dover Castle, Kent, UK

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John Latter on July 1, 2011

The medieval Norfolk Towers at the northern end of Dover Castle viewed from a field adjacent to the hidden East Wing Battery of the Victorian Fort Burgoyne (originally known as Castle Hill Fort). The field (no access without permission) is where part of the French army were arrayed during the Great Siege of 1216.

The Norfolk Towers are in the fobidden zone that surrounds the entire perimeter of the castle. Despite their massive size, if this photo were to be mixed with half-a-dozen photos of other Norman castles, then I would be very surprised if the average Dovorian "man or woman in the street" would recognize that the Norfolk Towers are part of the ancient monument they see almost every day.

This zoomed photo of 400 yards was taken at 6.54 am on Monday, 27th of June, 2011. The flag-pole and collection of chimney stacks at top-left are part of Constable’s Gateway, 120 yards beyond the Norfolk Towers. The British Army flag is that of "Deputy Constable of Dover Castle". On a less-hazy day, the English Channel is visible above the skyline to the right of the towers.

Also see the Norfolk Towers from the Counterscarp (1) photo, and check subsequent comments for future uploads.

The main entrance to Dover Castle prior to the 1216 Siege of Dover Castle (First Barons War) was the Northern Entrance (North Entrance, or Northgate).

During the siege, which broke off and then resumed briefly in 1217 when a trebuchet catapult was used (Malvoisin, or "Bad Neighbour"), the engineers of the Dauphin (Prince Louis, later Louis VIII of France) so damaged the eastern gate tower of the North Entrance by mining that Hubert de Burgh (Constable of Dover Castle under King John and Henry III) subsequently sealed the gateway and new ones were made at Constable’s Gateway (in the west) and the Fitzwilliam Gate (alt. Fitzwilliam's Gateway, Fitzwilliam's Tower; in the east: a postern, or secondary entrance).

Hubert de Burgh also constructed the Spur earthwork (originally a tear-drop shaped affair, out-of-shot to the right) and St John’s Tower in front of the Norfolk Towers. St John's Tower is round and the only tower located in the Dover Castle's surrounding moat (or ditch).

When the Norfolk Towers replaced Northgate (termed King John's Gatehouse by Goodall), communication from St John's Tower with the castle interior was made via an underground passage that runs beneath the Norfolk Towers and surfaces below a keyhole-shaped tower at the end of the North Barbican causeway (alt. King's Gate Barbican, King's Barbican). Another passageway connects St John's Tower to the Spur earthwork (other tunnels go elsewhere).

Below the trees at top-left, the Eastern Outer Curtain Wall (North) begins a 180-yard run from the Norfolk Towers down to Avranches Tower (for crossbows) and then does a 30-yard "dogleg" (or zig-zag) across the Avranches Gap before continuing on towards the sea.

For ease of reference in these webpages, the Eastern Outer Curtain Wall ends on this side of St John's Tower and the Norfolk Towers, and the Western Outer Curtain Wall (North) begins on the other.

Excerpt from "Dover Castle and the Great Siege of 1216" (2):

The fabric of the northern tip of the castle is an impossibly complex hotchpotch of different periods of documented and undocumented building work, to such an extent indeed that, in the absence of a full archaeological survey, much informed guess-work is involved in establishing its development. Externally the medieval castle has been smothered by eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century accretions. In this period the backs of the walls were buttressed with earth and backed by casemates; the towers cut down for the sighting of artillery; and an elaborate fortified Spur, incorporating a series of medieval tunnels, constructed to the north of the walls.

Excerpt from a 1916 book (3):

Magminot's Towers: There were two towers here originally, but they, having been altered, are now represented by four towers occupying the angle facing the high ground northward. There was within the walls, adjoining these towers, a guard-house intended to contain men-at-arms always alert to protect this assailable part of the fortress. After the French Siege in 1216, a souterrain was carried under these towers across the exterior ditch, and, dividing into three branches, gave egress to the centre, and to each side of the Spur, to facilitate sallies and retreats. The Spur, which still remains, was made in the 13th Century, and altered to suit artillery in 1796.

St. John's Tower: This is a round isolated tower in the exterior ditch, where the souterrain branches into three outlets. It is named after St. John of Basing, a descendant of the Peverells (see The Peverell Gateway).

Standard entry for Dover Castle 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 (13th Century) 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, Architect, 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 between 1794 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 (see Casemates Balcony, Entrance to the Secret Wartime Tunnels of Dover Castle).

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

(1) Outer moat embankment, or earthwork: A scarp and a counterscarp are the inner and outer sides of a ditch used in fortifications. In permanent fortifications the scarp and counterscarp may be encased in stone. In less permanent fortifications, the counterscarp may be lined with paling fence set at an angle so as to give no cover to the attackers but to make advancing and retreating more difficult. See Profile of the European fortress wall from the 16th century.

(2) "Dover Castle and the Great Siege of 1216", by John Goodall. From: Chateau Gaillard XIX: Actes du Colloque International de Graz, (Autriche), 22-29 août 1998 (published 2000).

(3) "Annals of Dover", by John Bavington Jones (1916).

(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 June 28, 2011
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2011/06/27 06:48:21
    • Exposure: 0.008s (1/125)
    • Focal Length: 0.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/8.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash