East Roman Pharos Interior Wall, Dover Castle, Kent, United Kingdom

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John Latter on November 18, 2007

The internal east wall of the East Roman Pharos which stands in the grounds of Dover's 12th Century Norman Castle adjacent to the Saxon church of St Mary-in-Castro.

This image may partially explain the reason why some sources say the remains of the Pharos consists of four Roman stages surmounted by a medieval addition (eg Dover Museum's "Roman Pharos" webpage) while others state there are only three Roman levels plus the medieval one (eg English Heritage - see 'Standard Info' below):

The arch at the bottom of this photo is the top of the east entrance to the Pharos with the west wall of St Mary-in-Castro's nave visible through it. Above the archway are three further Roman openings followed by a medieval level with an opening offset to the left (the Roman 'brickwork' is distinctively different to that of the medieval).

This photo of the external south wall of the Pharos, on the other hand, shows the south entrance, only two further Roman levels, and then the medieval level. I'll have a closer look the next time I'm up there - check later 'Comments'.

The photo of the nave wall of St Mary-in-Castro taken looking through the lower half of the Pharos' east entrance (ie from the same vantage point as the above image) states "There is a great deal of other detailed evidence to indicate both church tower and nave began life as part of a Roman fortress" and has this quotation 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):

With very little hesitation we suggest that the [Roman] fortress when first constructed consisted of [St Mary-in-Castro's] tower, nave and Pharos. 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. [Page 228]

Statham then goes on to say:

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 [1] 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.


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 ?

[1] Sir George Gilbert Scott (13 July 1811 – 27 March 1878) was an English architect of the Victorian Age, chiefly associated with the design, building and renovation of churches, cathedrals and workhouses. He was commisioned to restore St Mary-in-Castro in 1860 and Canon John Puckle, who had received permission from the then Secretary of State for War to do so, made an independent examination of the building during the progress of the work. Quotations from "The Church and Fortress of Dover Castle" (published 1864) by Canon John Puckle accompany some of the other photos on this website.

The white 'lattice-work' to the right of the first opening above the arch in the above photo is sunlight reflecting off of a net which is suspended above the doorway across the whole interior of the Pharos. At the very top of the photo part of the octagonal ceiling can be seen. The Pharos is inhabited by pigeons, one of which, a white pigeon or dove, is resting on a ledge to the right of the first opening above the doorway.

Standard Info

The English Heritage webpage entry for the Roman Pharos states:

[The Pharos 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. 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.

It is interesting to note the construction date of 46 AD because other sources give the "second half of the first century", or "between 100 - 200 AD", and some even later! The English Heritage date also agrees with that indicated in "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):

We have no hesitation in ascribing the erection of these two towers (Pharos and Bredenstone) to the days of Aulus Plautius, and in believing them to be the earliest permanent Roman work executed in this country. [Page 221]

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 Reverend Statham also states:

In the days of Edward I, and as late as Elizabeth [ie Elizabeth I] the Pharos is spoken of as the Tower of Julius Caesar. In the reign of Henry III, if not earlier, it was converted into a bell tower for the church (ie St Mary-in-Castro), and the date given by Lyon* (1259) for the flint casing is probably right. [Page 213]

*The University of Kent at Canterbury has the following entry in its Local History Collection:

Lyon, J

The history of the town and port of Dover and of Dover Castle, with a short account of the Cinque Ports, 2 v , Printed by Ledger & Shaw for the author, 1813-14.

Except for the possible exception for the height given (most other sources say 14 instead of 19m), the English Heritage site seems the most accurate source to quote and will be used in the "Standard Info" for all Pharos photos.

The West Pharos/Bredenstone is located in the Drop Redoubt on the Western Heights.

New photos will be uploaded all of the time - check the "Pharos" tag on the right for recent additions.

John Latter on March 28, 2011

Click to see the Roman Ruins of the Classis Britannica Fort and Saxon Shore Fort at Dover 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.

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Photo taken in Dover Castle, Castle Hill, Dover, Kent CT16 1HU, UK

Photo details

  • Uploaded on November 18, 2007
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2007/10/14 11:47:43
    • Exposure: 0.033s (1/30)
    • Focal Length: 18.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/3.500
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • Flash fired