When the Eurostar used to stop at Calais it made breakfast in France much more straightforward. So the next best thing is lunch in Dover. Like its French counterpart, the English port’s charm is not always apparent to the unseeing. But the Kentish rumour mill grinding on overtime has it that Dover is the next southeast town to be discovered. So we’re here, if not ahead of the curve certainty at its tip, making a splash, ready to dive in, explore and lots more besides.
Dover’s coastal position and proximity to France made it a natural first point of settlement for Huguenot refugees. Some stayed; others moved on to Canterbury and Spitalfields in London. An early 17th century census of foreign residents in Dover recorded 78 Huguenot residents: one gardener; one shepherd’s wife; two advocates; two esquires; two maidens; two preachers of God’s Word; two schoolmasters; three merchants; three physicians and surgeons; eight weavers and wool combers; 12 mariners; 13 drapers; 25 widows and makers of bone; and a handful of other tradespeople.
Typical of Huguenot destinations, the Dover textile industry increased in prominence. Dover and Sandwich became particularly well known for wool combing, the process of arranging fibres so that they are parallel ready for spinning. A French church was already established in Dover by the arrival of a Flemish population in the 1640s. The Huguenot population of Dover was large enough towards the end of the 17th century to receive monies from the Civil List of William and Mary.
Dover is still a welcoming place to foreigners. The Town Council’s 2015 Statement of Welcome for Refugees declares: “People in Dover are compassionate and caring. Almost everyone has experience either firsthand or through families and friends of the challenges of living in a border town. Many who work in Dover have responsibility at the sharp end for the protection and freedom of citizens against those who wish harm to our national community but also for upholding British values of community and compassion to those in need.”
The Statement adds, “The names on Dover’s war memorial and the graves of the War Dead in Dover’s cemeteries testify to the determination of our community to protect our national freedoms and way of life even at terrible personal cost. Dover is a front line community with a proud history of welcoming those seeking safety when in fear of their lives. In 1685 French Huguenot refugees landed at Dover fleeing persecution for their religious beliefs.”
And finally, “Dover was the first town to welcome Jewish children saved from Germany before the Holocaust of the Second World War. A child coming to Dover remembers, ‘When I saw the famous cliffs of Dover, I got terribly excited. Inside me I had a feeling that a new era was about to start. I made up my mind there and then to start afresh.’ We understand that threats to our freedoms and values can be physical and support our Border Force in their duties. Dover people fought and died in the past to make sure that our community was a safe and caring and compassionate place to live and flourish. Dover people today are committed to working to make sure we remain a safe and caring and compassionate community where a warm welcome is given to refugees and all are able to live full and happy lives.”
Banker Michael Ramus used to work in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral London. “Its architecture inspired me to drive around and visit every cathedral in England!” he relates. Michael is of Huguenot descent. “Back in the days when there was a telephone directory there were only six Ramus families listed. Huguenots, especially in the south of France, were often successful lawyers and textile merchants.” He is the patron of several artists and fashion designers. There’s clearly an affinity with France. “I feel totally at home in France whether in the south of France, Paris or Granville in Normandy.” I spend so many holidays there but even when I’m yachting in the Caribbean I can spot the Parisian yachts!” Michael is carrying a cutting from the Encyclopaedia Britannica of his ancestor:
“Ramus, Petrus, or Pierre de la Ramée (1515 to 1572), French humanist, was born at the village of Cuth in Picardy in 1515, a member of a noble but impoverished family; his father was a charcoal burner. Having gained admission, in a menial capacity, to the college of Navarre, he worked with his hands by day and carried on his studies by night. The reaction against scholasticism was still in full tide, and Ramus outdid his predecessors in the impetuosity of his revolt. On the occasion of taking his degree (1536) he actually took as his thesis ‘Everything that Aristotle taught is false’. This tour de force was followed up by the publication in 1543 of Aristotelicae Animadversiones and Dialecticae Partitiones, the former a criticism on the old logic and the latter a new textbook of the science.”
The extract also confirms, “Henry II made him Professor of Philosophy and Rhetoric at the Collège de France. But in 1561 he embraced Protestantism, and was compelled to flee from Paris, and in 1568 from France. But he returned before the Massacre of St Bartholomew (1572) in which he was one of the victims… The logic of Ramus enjoyed a great celebrity for a time, and there existed a school of Ramists boasting numerous adherents in France, Germany and Holland.”
Dover is awash with Georgian architecture. It’s Bath-on-Sea, Clifton-de-Mer, Canning-over-Dour. In 2014, Castle Hill House was elevated from Grade II to II* by the Secretary of State. The actress Julia Stavrietsky owns the Listed Building. She stated the Government’s letter described the building as “the grandest 18th century house in Dover”. And, “The upgrade is a reflection of it being of more than special architectural interest for its quality of composition, detailing, distinctive plan form and outstanding interior decorative features, its degree of survival, its rarity of type in Dover and its historical associations with prominent local and national figures.”
Cambridge Terrace is one of many impressive residential blocks close to the beach. Jeff Howe and Paul Wells write about it in their 2012 publication Dover Then and Now. “The buildings are Grade II Listed, being mid 19th century constructions; they are stuccoed (plastered) to the front and ends, with bare back to the rear.” A vintage photograph in the book shows Cambridge Terrace in its original unpainted state: the architecture looks so much better, less two dimensional, the patina of the material adding a warm to its appearance.
Dover is proud of its heritage as demonstrated by the number of information signs on buildings. One on hoarding outside an impressive public building reads: “The Grade I Listed Maison Dieu (or Dover Town Hall) is undergoing a £9.1m restoration project over the next few years thanks to a £4.27m grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. The project will see the restoration of internationally significant decorative schemes by the renowned Victorian neo Gothic architect William Burges (1827 to 1881), a new street level visitor entrance to the Connaught Hall, along with improved access throughout the building. The project creates a sustainable future for the Maison Dieu by bringing redundant spaces back into commercial use, including restoring the Mayor’s Parlour as a holiday let in conjunction with The Landmark Trust, and a unique new café in the Victorian gaol cells. Once complete in 2024 the Maison Dieu will be permanently open to the public for the first time in its 800 year history and contributing to the creation of a heritage quarter in Dover town centre.”
A sign in English and French explains the history of a petite building next door to Maison Dieu: “St Edmund’s Chapel, built in 1253, originally belonged to the Maison Dieu, which ministered to pilgrims, and was under the control of a Master appointed by St Martin’s Priory, then the most important institution in medieval Dover after the castle. A ‘Cemetery of the Poor’ had been established outside the priory and the town walls and the chape you see today was built in its grounds, probably as a Chapel of Rest. It was consecrated in 1253 by Richard, Bishop of Chichester, in the name of Edmund, a former Archbishop of Canterbury under whom Richard had first studied and who was canonised in 1246. Richard fell ill and died in the Maison Dieu only four days later. Before his body was returned to Chichester Cathedral for burial, his internal organs were removed and buried in a cist, or pit, under the chapel altar. When Richard was canonised in 1262, St Edmund’s Chapel became a place of pilgrimage in its own right. It is still the only church in existence that was dedicated to one English saint by another.”
It continues, “After the Reformation in 1534, the priory, the Maison Dieu and St Edmund’s were forced to close. The chapel was surrendered to the King in 1544. Over the years, new buildings concealed the old chapel and its sacred status was forgotten. It had many uses including, in late Victorian times, as a blacksmith’s forge. In 1943 German artillery shells demolished two nearby shops revealing the chapel building for the first time in 400 years. 1n 1965 Father Tanner, Dover’s Roman Catholic Parish Priest, arranged for both the private purchase of the chapel and its restoration, using only genuine medieval materials – at least 75 percent of the building is still original. The chapel was reconsecrated in 1968 and is now owned by a charitable trust who maintain it solely from gifts placed in the wall boxes.”
We’ve swapped the harbourside delight of Le Channel restaurant in Calais for the hillside wonder of The White Horse pub in Dover for school day lunch. A plaque beside the bar reads, “The history of The White Horse, St James Street, Dover: Said to be erected in the reign of Edward III, in 1365, the premises was occupied by the verger of St James’ Church which stood next door. With the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 the ‘house’ was no longer connected with the church. In 1574 it became home to a string of ‘Ale tasters of Dover’ residents. The White Horse had been known as ‘The City of Edinburgh’ from 1635, its name and sign having been taken from a wrecked American freighter. It became the meeting place for actors and players from the Dover Theatre in the 18th century.”
It also states, “The name changed in around 1818 when the house was frequently used for inquests, often relating to recovered bodies from the sea. These are said to have been stored in what is now part of our dining area to the rear of the property. In 1865 a Mr John Friend sold the house, along with ‘The Five Ales’. Satchell was the owner in 1881 when the property was sold again to the Kingsford Brothers for the princely sum of £870; it was described as a ‘freehold property in the Hamlet of Uphill’. Later its ownership went to George Beer who began opening at 5am in 1890 and later merged with Fremlins Brewery. Alterations to The White Horse in 1952 uncovered a programme for Dover Theatre, dated 1809, advertising Harlequin and Mother Goose. This is still displayed in the pub today.”
Dover Then and Now includes a vintage photograph of Old St James’s Church and explains, “It is thought to be one of Dover’s oldest churches and stands next door to what is probably Dover’s oldest pub, The White Horse. Almost certainly referred to in the Domesday Book, the church was of Saxon origin, although the present ruin dates from the 1100s. As well as a congregational meeting place, the church was also used by the courts of the Barons of the Cinque Ports. The Victorians decided that St James’s was too small, and New St James’s Church was built in 1860 in Maison Dieu Road.” Like a large number of buildings in the town, Old St James’s Church was mostly destroyed by World War II German bombing.
Marianne Faithfull covered Dolly Parton’s song Down from Dover in 1970. Crooning in her unmistakeable husky upper class English voice, Marianne makes it all her own. It’s as if the feckless character in the lyrics (who gets a young woman pregnant out of wedlock and deserts her) is due a visit to the southeast coast of England. Not so, Dolly wrote it about Dover, Tennessee, which when it comes to rhyming usefully has – move over Kent – fields of clover. So little time, so many photographs to be taken! The Park Inn glass house extension, Hubert Passage, St Radigund’s Road, Victoria Park, Marine Parade also known as East Cliff…