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

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John Latter on August 4, 2011

The East Roman Pharos (on the right; a lighthouse and watchtower) and Saxon church of St Mary-in-Castro sit in a shallow depression on top of the foreground horseshoe-shaped mound called "Harold's Earthwork" in the grounds of Dover Castle, England.

Harold's Earthwork was raised by Henry III (Henry of Winchester, Plantagenet) and lies south of Henry II's Keep, or "Great Tower", out-of-shot to the left (1).

The earthwork is rimmed by a the ruins of a low parapet wall, visible on the right, that was once connected to the composite Norman and Saxon Colton Gate from where the photo was taken.

The Colton Gateway, or Colton Tower, was the entrance whereby Romans and Saxons once entered their respective fortifications.

The photo was taken at 5.27 pm on Sunday, 26th of June, 2011. Despite only being able to see the upper storey of the buildings, I quite like this photo because it conveys a sense of "looking up" and also because I'm far enough outside Harold's Earthwork not to have to use wide-angle (it also shows a bit more of the Western side of the Pharos than is usually the case).

Recent photos of the Pharos and St Mary-in-Castro include:

Saxon Church and Roman Pharos on Harold’s Earthwork, Dover Castle

The Field of Fire of Bell Battery at Sunrise, Dover Castle

Roman Pharos and Saxon Church from the Norman Keep of Dover Castle

Roman Pharos, Saxon Church, and Victorian Garrison School, Dover Castle

Click to see all photos of the Pharos and St Mary-in-Castro; also see all Dover Lighthouse and Church photos.

Dover Castle is a Grade I Dover Listed Building and Dover English Heritage site; the Pharos and St Mary-in-Castro also have separate listings.

Roman Watchtower and Saxon Church on Harold's Earthwork

To the left of the left-hand window near the top of the Pharos is a small square light-coloured stone (2):

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 (3).

Excerpt from the 1863 Victorian book, "Chambers’s handy guide to the Kent and Sussex coast" (4):

Quite early in the Christian era, some kind of castle or defence-work was built here by the Romans; together with a Pharos or watch-tower. About the year 200, a Christian church and other works were built by the Romano-Britons. The Saxon kings, after the departure of the Romans, greatly extended the castle, excavated fosses or ditches, and constructed parapets, walls, towers, and gates. Next came the Normans, who added further to the castle.

Whoever, therefore, stands on this bold hill (averaging about 350 feet high), and looks around him, will see the vestiges of four Dover castles, one within another: namely, Roman, the smallest of all (about 400 feet by 140); Romano-British, a little larger; Saxon, larger still; and Norman, largest of alL

The Pharos has an interior 14 feet square, and an octagonal exterior; the walls, 10 feet thick, consist of layers of Roman tiles and conglomerate cement; about 40 feet of the height still remains.

The Church, called St Mary in Castro, close to the Pharos, had a nave 72 feet by 27; a choir, 22 feet by 18; a transept, 72 feet by 20; and a central tower 28 feet square. Since the year 1860, the portions still remaining of this very ancient building have been adapted for a garrison church to accommodate 600 men.

East Roman Pharos

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.

Abridged Pastscape entry (5):

This stand-alone tower is a Roman lighthouse, 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. It is one of only three in the world to survive.

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 replica remains of the West Roman Pharos, known as the Bredenstone, is located in the Napoleonic Drop Redoubt on the Western Heights.

For more historical background, see the caption to the The 1st Century East Roman Pharos, Dover Castle photo.

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 (medieval) 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.

Grade I: buildings "of exceptional interest, sometimes considered to be internationally important".

St Mary-in-Castro

Abridged Pastscape entry (6):

Late Saxon Church situated within the defences of Dover Castle. A minster was founded at St Mary-in-Castro by 640 AD but in 696 was transferred to St Martin's Church (St Martin-le-Grand) in the town. The church is thought to have been built before 1020 and reuses Roman building material within its fabric and at some point used the Roman lighthouse as its belfry. The church was extensively repaired in 1582 but was in little use from the end of the 16th century. By 1724 its bells had been removed and the building was in ruins. It was used as a Fives Court in the early 1790s and a garrison coal store during the NapoleonicWars with France (1793-1815). During the modernising of the castle in mid 19th century the church was restored. This was carried out by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1862. An additional restoration was undertaken by William Butterfield in 1888.

Alternative names for this ex-British Army Garrison Church: Church of St Mary, St Mary-sub-Castro, St Mary de Castro, King Lucius Church.

Abridged extract from a magazine published in September, 1773 (7):

In the year 180 AD, King Lucius,being converted by Pope Eleutherius (Eleutheros, or Eleuterus),built here a church, wherein were afterwards placed by Eadbald,son of Ethelbert (Aethelbert), twenty-four secular Canons, who remained here 105 years; but at length, in the year 696, Withred King of Kent, thinking Dover Castle in danger from these Canons, who went in and out at all hours, and had frequent disputes with the Officers of the garrison, removed them to the church of St Martin,in the town of Dover.

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

Building Details:

Building Name: CHURCH OF ST MARY SUB-CASTRO Parish: DOVER District: DOVER County: KENT Postcode:


LBS Number: 177826 Grade: I Date Listed: 07/03/1974 Date Delisted: NGR: TR3262941823

Listing Text:




The latest possible date for the foundation of the church is c. 1020 AD. The exterior is of 2 storeys flint with some reused Roman brick window dressings and some modern ashlar dressings. Modern tiled roof and restored tower. The Church was roofless and used as a coalstore in the C18 (18th Century) but was restored for use as a garrison church to the Castle by Sir Gilbert Scott in 1862. The interior contains a Chancel arch of Roman brick, a blocked Saxon doorway and the site of a Military or soldiers altar of A.D. 1225. There is a Victorian wooden roof and stained glass windows. Mosaics by Butterfield 1888 (William Butterfield).

Listing NGR: TR3263241823

Source: English Heritage.

Grade I: buildings "of exceptional interest, sometimes considered to be internationally important".

(1) Photos of the representation of a 12th Century medieval Royal Palace the Keep begin with the Throne of Henry II in King’s Hall, Great Tower of Dover Castle.

(2) Excerpt 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.

(3) 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

(4) "Chambers’s handy guide to the Kent and Sussex coast", by George Dodd (1863)

(5) English Heritage Pastscape entry

(6) English Heritage Pastscape entry

(7) The Universal magazine, Volumes 52-53: "Antiquities of Dover Castle" (September, 1773). Published for J. Hinton.

Click to see all photos of Dover Castle

A Dover history photo.

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 a related 1834 "in days gone by" woodcut 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 July 18, 2011
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2011/06/26 17:27:05
    • Exposure: 0.004s (1/250)
    • Focal Length: 35.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/13.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash