For the guts of a millennium, Dover Castle has dominated the Calais-facing Kent coastline. The Normans erected a castle at Dover soon after William the Conqueror’s victory at Hastings in the neighbouring county of East Sussex. But it was Henry II, the first of the ruling Plantagenets, who built the Great Tower of Dover Castle in the latter half of the 12th century. This keep stands 25 metres tall with corner towers rising a further 3.7 metres. The walls are up to 6.5 metres thick. Strips of white Caen stone contrast with grey Kentish ragstone to create a striking visual effect. A precursor to Arts and Crafts architecture no doubt. Stripy architecture like Richard Norman Shaw’s 1880s New Scotland Yard building on Victoria Embankment in London would follow. In 2009 the Great Tower was given the full English Heritage treatment. The King’s Hall, The King’s Chamber and other rooms were decorated to suggest the royal and his court are still in residence but have popped out for full English breakfast.
The castle is a vast compound of organic architectural growth down the ages. Two concentric rings of defence – an inner and an outer bailey – are dotted with gatehouses and towers. A ruinous Roman lighthouse and a restored Anglo Saxon church on Castle Hill are some of the oldest structures on the site. One of the last additions to the built form is the Officers’ Quarters and Mess overlooking a cliffside modern carpark. This two and three storey range, faced with polygonal rubble and limestone dressings, was built to the design of Anthony Salvin in the 1850s. The architect was an expert in medieval buildings; he specialised in restoring country houses and churches. His work at the castle is in the Tudor Gothic Revival vein with appropriately detailed battlements. The patina of age ensures the various styles of architecture at Dover Castle don’t jar but harmoniously sit cheek by jowl, keep by lodge.