The Pharos, St Mary-in-Castro Church, and Colton Gate, Dover Castle, Kent, UK

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Comments (8)

John Latter on October 28, 2007

The Roman Pharos and Church of St Mary-in-Castro stand on a huge horseshoe-shaped earthwork delineated by the low wall beginning in the left-hand corner of the photo. As we trace the wall, sometimes erroneously called "Harold's Earthwork" (see below), from left to right the first object to rise above it is the squat upper stages of Colton Gate (alt. Colton Tower, just left of center). This tower is a "Norman tower built on a Saxon or even earlier base. The entrance though which Romans, Saxons and probably their Iron Age predecessors once entered their respective fortifications." See the Colton Tower from the south image for more information.

Immediately after Colton Gate the chimney stacks and flag-pole of the Constable's Gate complex barely rise above the wall (except under high resolutions) before it tapers away in front of the massive towers and walls of the Inner Bailey or Inner Curtain.

Now we come to the Roman Pharos itself. As with many other parts of Dover Castle, however, it seems that no two internet or non-internet sources can completely agree on the structures they describe (or objects - see "Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol") and the Pharos is one such example. For the purposes of providing 'Comments' for general views such as this photo, however, I have settled upon using a build date of 46 AD, which is in agreement with English Heritage, and a height of just over 40 feet, which is in agreement with most non-English Heritage sources such as Dover Museum's Roman Pharos webpage) (Dover Museum also mention the remains of the twin lighthouse to the Pharos, known as the Bredenstone, which is located on the other side of the valley in the Drop Redoubt fortifications on the Western Heights). Also see the 'Comments' under the Roman Pharos (South Face) and Roman Pharos (North Face) photos.

Finally, on the right-hand side of the above photo we have the nave of the Saxon church of St Mary-in-Castro, along with its tall blocked-up Saxon doorway. Again, sources tend to contradict one another to varying degrees but because this is a general view only one will be quoted here under the "Standard Info" entry below. NB Although only part of the nave can be seen there is no doubt that St Mary-in-Castro is 'church-shaped', both in plan or side view, but this is not how it always looked. The foundations under the tower, for example, are continuous and the walls of the transepts and chancel are built on to the tower rather than having been bonded in. The significance of this will be expanded upon at a later date (under other photos) and will include extracts 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) and Canon John Puckle's "The Church and Fortress of Dover Castle" (published 1864).

Standard Info

From "Dover Castle" by R. Allen Brown (Her Majesty's Stationery Office, HMSO 1974) (Abridged):

The oldest buildings on the site, predating the castle, yet remain to be described. The church of St Mary-in-Castro and the Roman pharos lie south of the keep, within the great horseshoe earthwork, sometimes called 'Harold's Earthwork' but now known to have been raised by Henry III. Upon it the same king later built a stone wall, in part remaining though much restored. South of it, on the counter-scarp of the ditch, Edward I built a stone windmill now vanished. The whole overlies a lesser rampart of twelfth-century date, upon which King John in his time raised a wall, and beneath and within this again, immediately south of the church, traces have been found of an eleventh-century earthwork, here attributed to William the Conqueror (William I) in 1066.

In visiting this area one should observe the Colton Tower or Colton Gate, basically a structure of King John's time, but its upper stages restored in the latefifteenth century when the windows on the north side towards the keep were inserted. The Roman pharos or lighthouse probably dates from the first century AD. It was a tower octagonal outside and rectangular within, rising to a height of perhaps some 80 ft through eight stages, each stage having a vertical face set back about a foot from the one below, thus giving to the whole a stepped or telescopic outline. Its present splayed shape results from a combination of severe weathering and 1415- 1437) [English Heritage say 3 Roman + 1 Medieval]. The tower was originally built of flint rubble, bonded with courses of tile and faced with tufa ashlar, the arches of windows and doors being turned with alternate tufa and tiles to produce a polychrome effect. The best-preserved Roman features are now the entrance on the south side [in the photo above], and various window openings especially the recess in the east inner side of the third storey. In the late Saxon period when the church was built the already ancient pharos became a free-standing western bell-tower to it.

The church itself dates from the late tenth or early eleventh century, and is cruciform in plan with the aisleless nave and a central tower. Henry III considerably altered it in the thirteenth century, inserting a vault in the chancel, and among the remains of his 'Early English' work is the altar recess at the south-east corner of the nave. Later much ruined, it was quite conservatively restored by Sir Gilbert Scott in 1862, and much more harshly treated in 1888 by Mr William Butterfield, who completed the tower and added the vestry and the crude mosaic work in the nave. In spite of all this, the church still retains much that is original, including re- used Roman brick generally, and, in the nave, the two double splayed windows on either side together with the south door.

John Latter on December 26, 2007

Click to see the "classic view" of Dover's Saxon church of St Mary-in-Castro.

John Latter on March 21, 2011

Also see:

Roman Pharos and Saxon church of St Mary-in-Castro, Dover Castle, Kent, UK

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.

John Latter on November 16, 2012

Also see an 1834 "in days gone by" woodcut of the Roman lighthouse and Saxon church at:

Georgian Engraving of St Mary-in-Castro Church and the Pharos, Dover Castle

A photo on the Pinterest Old Dover board.

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on October 28, 2007
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2007/10/19 10:40:11
    • Exposure: 0.003s (1/350)
    • Focal Length: 18.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/11.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash