Dover lies by the sea in the
mouth of a long deep valley of the east Kent uplands. Chalk
downs tower above it on either side. To the east are the cliffs
of the precipitous Castle Hill. Opposite, with a slightly
gentler ascent, rise the Western Heights. In the middle of the
valley the tiny stream of the Dour makes its way to the sea. The
shore is a bar of sand and shingle heaped through long years by
the Channel currents, but never heaped high enough wholly to
block the river mouth. Behind this bar, fed by the little river,
spreads a lagoon, which, till the great expansion of recent
years, provided a harbour for Dover. The mouth of the lagoon now
opens beneath the seaward cliff of the Western Heights. In
earlier days, before the shingle had gathered thick and pushed
the river westwards, the lagoon and its mouth alike lay under
the Castle Hill near the Burlington Hotel. The harbour can never
have been deep or spacious. But it was sheltered by tall hills
from northern and western winds. It could be approached from the
sea without fear of shoal or quicksand. It was the one natural
haven in the long range of chalk cliffs between Walmer and
Hythe. It was the nearest point to the continent of Europe. It
commanded the narrow seas at their narrowest point. All this was
recognized, but perhaps not fully recognized, in Roman times.
The true value of Dover was first seen in the Middle Ages.
Indeed, its importance has steadily grown as the years have gone
by. To-day Dover counts for very much more than we shall find it
counting in Roman days.
The Roman remains of Dover consist of a few traces
of inhabitation beside the harbour in the valley, some
cemeteries, and the remains of two lighthouses—the one still
standing and the other almost vanished—on the two heights
which overhang the valley (Fig. 11).
(i) The traces of building in the valley represent
no doubt the Roman settlement at Dover. They do not tell us much
about it, but they are well worth recording and mapping (P1.
(1) Near the parish church of St. Mary, walling has
been noted at and close to the site of Biggin Gate. It contained
‘bricks of an extraordinary size, stone and other materials,
singularly hard and firm.’ Something of the same sort was
observed about 1831—2 a little east of this at Eastbrook.65
Whether this wall was Roman or medieval, the description
does not indicate.
(2) At various times the remains of a Roman
bath-building have been found under the west end of St. Mary’s
church, and extending both north and south of it. In I 77 8—9
the Rev. John Lyon saw parts of a narrow passage and four rooms,
one or perhaps two provided with hypocausts and flue-tiles and
another with ducts for water. His very summary plan suggests two
periods of Roman work. Some of the tiles bore the stamp CL. BR (P1.
IX, No. 5), showing that the building (or at least its
material) was officially connected with the classis
Britannica or the Channel Fleet. During the restoration of
the church in I 843, Canon Puckle found under the three western
bays of the nave, at a
64 For the
structural remains of Roman Dover, see Wheeler, Arch. Journ. lxxxvi,
29; and Amos and Wheeler, Ibid., p. 47. Much information
has kindly been supplied by Mr. E. G. J. Amos.
65 Puckle, Arch. Cant. xx, 129; Batchellor, Guide
to Dover (Dover, 1845), pp. 12—14. A solid wall found on
the sea-front, between Butchery Gate and Snargate, must have
been the sea-wall of the medieval town. A fragment of this wall
can still be seen in Townwall Street, where it is carried on an
old arch over the Dour.