Dover has a long history dating back to the Bronze Age and a fine boat from that period rests in Dover Museum. Dover, Deal and Sandwich all have Roman settlements due to their proximity to the rest of the Roman Empire. Dover received its name during Roman times when it was known as DUBRIS after DUBRAS the British name meaning waters. There is a fine Roman painted house in the town.
From the fifth century onwards, Germanic tribes crossed the North Sea to settle in Kent. Dover, by then known as DOFRAS became a major settlement in the new kingdom. By the middle of the tenth century Dover was prosperous and had established cross-channel trading links.
Dover, Deal and Sandwich have all been invaded throughout history. The confederation of the Cinque Ports was founded around 1050 when the ports of Dover, Sandwich, Hythe, Romney and Hastings grouped together for mutual support. The obligation of the ports was to supply ships and men to the King once a year. By this time Sandwich, then on the coast, had become one of the most important ports in England.
Deal was named as a ‘limb port’ of the Cinque Ports in 1278.
Tudor and Stuart monarchs took a particular interest in the area and financed expensive repairs and enlargements to Dover Harbour. Henry VIII also improved Dover’s defences and built castles at Walmer, Deal and Sandown to protect the Downs anchorage where ships could take shelter inside the notorious Goodwin Sands and take on provisions. Although there was never a harbour the town grew to be a significant shipping and military port.
The sea walls were built at Sandwich Haven to protect the town and the Barbican and Fishergate still stand although the River Stour is now much narrower and Sandwich two miles from the sea.
The 19th century saw the coming of the railways which combined with the ferries at Dover and Sandwich led to an increase in industrial activities. Then as Deal and Sandwich declined as ports as the sea reclined, Dover grew and the harbour was redeveloped.
During World War I Dover became one of the most important military centres in Britain. The harbour hosted a collection of warships and fishing vessels which protected Britain’s vital control of the Channel.
The first bomb to be dropped on England fell near Dover castle on Christmas Eve 1914.
During World War II Dover again became strategically important. In May 1940 over 200,000 of the 338,000 men evacuated from Dunkirk passed through Dover.
The tunnels beneath Dover castle became one of the main headquarters for the British Army.
The White Cliffs of Dover stretch from for 8 miles from Kingsdown to Dover and a further 8 miles form Dover to Folkestone. Made of solid chalk and over 100 metres high the cliffs are famous for their whiteness which is caused by erosion. There are White Cliffs 21 miles across the Channel from South Foreland at Cap Blanc Nez.
The point at which the English Channel becomes the North Sea is at Leathercoat Point between St Margaret’s and Kingsdown.
Dover is situated in the Dour Valley. It is one of the few places that has been visited by every English monarch. Under appreciated by many, Dover has many interesting sites from the classic seafront promenade, the ferry terminal at the eastern Docks, the Western Docks, the modern marina and cruise terminal, interesting churches and chapels, the Maison Dieu (13th C hospice, now the council offices) amongst many more.
Much of the River Dour is hidden but from its source it flows through Temple Ewell through River and the back streets of Dover. There have been 13 mills along this short stretch of water including Crabble Mill. It then runs through the centre of Dover and into the sea through Wellington Dock. This is a surprisingly clean, chalk river supporting a significant colony of brown trout.
The magnificent castle with its vast history including a Roman lighthouse and Saxon church stands formidably above the town looking out over the Channel. Close to the castle is the memorial which marks the spot where Louis Bleriot landed on the first cross-Channel flight.
On the other side of the valley The Western Heights were built to defend England against invasion by Napoleon and there are many reminders of this part of history such as the Drop Redoubt and the Grand Shaft but there is also lots of nature and magnificent views over Dover and the Channel.
Along the White Cliffs is Leathercourt Point, South Foreland, St Margaret’s and Kingsdown. From here the cliffs give way to flat shingle beach towards Walmer site of Julius Caesar’s landing and one of Henry VIIIs castles.
Hawkshill Freedown was an aerodrome in World War I and is now the site of a memorial to the pilots who flew from there.
Deal has its own castle built by Henry VIII, an historic Town Hall, a relatively modern pier (built in 1957), the Timeball Tower and the Maritime & Local History Museum. Middle Street with all its individual houses leading to Alfred Square was the centre of Deals notorious smuggling activity and hiding places are still being discovered. Fifty years ago this unsavoury, insanitary area was marked for demolition but thankfully the Deal Society was formed and successfully prevented this travesty.
The town still has fishing boats and there are regular sightings of larger vessels taking shelter on the Downs where a Dutch navy destroyed a Spanish fleet in the early 17th century. The Goodwin Sands is a shifting sandbank beyond the Downs and it is believed more than 2000 shipwrecks have occurred in this area. At times it is possible to land on the Sands at not so long ago it had its own postbox.
From the site of Sandown castle stretches Sandwich Bay adjacent to the golf courses. Much of the area is home to significant flora and fauna and an RSPB observatory. The Ancient Highway courses past the golf course and the private Sandwich Bay estate into Sandwich past the toll booth (free for cyclists and pedestrians).
Sandwich contains the highest number of listed buildings per head of population and has been noted as the most complete medieval town in England with a preservation order on the entire town. Just outside the town is the White Mill heritage centre and Richborough Roman fort. The River bus also offers trips to Richborough or out to Pegwell Bay with its thriving colony of seals.