Tuesday, 11 October 2011

St John's Tower, a 13th Century Round Tower in the Moat of Dover Castle, Kent, UK

A "rare view" of St John's Tower which is situated in the moat (ditch) at the northern end of Dover Castle. It is connected to the interior of the castle by an underground tunnel and gallery, or sousterrain, that passes beneath the Norfolk Towers, the earth-banked lower slopes of which can be seen in the upper left-hand corner:

Norfolk Towers, St John's Tower and Spur outwork (earthworks) built by Hubert de Burgh, Constable of Dover Castle, after 1216 Great Siege of Dover. Spur Caponnier and Ravelin added in Napoleonic Wars
(Click this text link to see the largest size)

The photo was taken at 7.05 am on Wednesday, 25th of May, 2011, from the eastern outer moat wall. An earlier Rare view of St John's Tower, taken from near enough the same location but under different light conditions, was photographed at 11.32 am on Friday, 13th of May.

This unusual round tower effectively divides the Eastern Outer Curtain Wall (out-of-shot to the left) from the Western Outer Curtain Wall (on the far side of the tower).

The roof of a two-level caponier (alt. caponnier: fr. "chicken cage") to the right of St John's Tower connects it to the Ravelin (or Redan), a brick-lined structure, partially visible behind the trees near the right-hand edge, that had been added to the Spur by Colonel William Twiss of the Royal Engineers between 1801-1803 during the the Napoleonic Wars.

The Spur itself, now a huge arrow-shaped earthwork at the northern apex to Dover Castle, was built after the 1216 Siege of Dover when engineers of the Dauphin (Prince Louis, later King Louis VIII of France) succeeded in bringing down the existing eastern gate tower of the castle's northern entrance.

Prince Louis had landed in England after being offered the throne of England by a group of barons rebelling against King John (also known as John Lackland or Softsword) during the First Barons War. Although the french soldiers gained entry to the castle after the eastern gate tower fell they were repulsed by Hubert de Burgh, then Constable of Dover Castle, who had even armed his servants.

Eventually a truce was called and Prince Louis moved north only to return in 1217 after Henry III had become king (which caused many barons to change sides) to besiege the castle once more, this time employing a medieval catapult known as a trebuchet: a replica of this type of siege engine now stands near the Devil's Tower: see the Medieval Trebuchet and Godsfoe Tower photo.

It was during the gap between the two sieges that work on St John's Tower and the Spur began.

Extract from a 1787 account (1):

The tower in the ditch, and the adjoining subterraneous works are supposed by some to have been built by Hubert de Burgh, while the Castle was besieged by the Dauphine (? feminine form), in the reign of King John; but this I consider as impracticable; it cannot be supposed that the besiegers would have suffered the besieged to have carried up materials for the building of such a Work, when they could have so easily prevented them. If this tower, and the barbican (ie the new Spur, not a previous barbican) were raised by Hubert de Burgh; it must have been in the interval of the Dauphine's quitting the siege, and returning to it again. That he might then erect them, will indeed appear highly probable, when we consider how indefatigable Hubert de Burgh was, in fortifying, and defending this Castle for his sovereign.

Lord Saint John had a grant of Burleigh, and Pising, in Kent; and Popeshall, in Hertfordshire, to repair, and defend it (ie St John's Tower).

The war effectively ended with the defeat of the Dauphin's troops, under the command of the Comte de la Perche, at the Second Battle of Lincoln (20th of May, 1217) and the siege of Dover Castle lifted.

The old north entrance to Dover's 12th Century Norman castle was more permanently sealed and new entrances made at the Constable's Gateway on the Western Outer Curtain Wall and at Fitzwilliam's Gate on the Eastern Outer Curtain Wall.

Between 1217 and 1256 Henry III spent GBP 7500 on improving the castle's defences.

(1) Excerpt from "A brief history of Dover Castle; or description of Roman, Saxon and Norman, fortifications". Unknown author but: "Printed for the author, and sold by G. Ledger, Dover, sold also by Simmons and Kirkby, T. Smith, and Flackton and Marrable, Canterbury; W. Gillman, Rochester; J. Hall, Margate; P. Burgess, Ramsgate; and T. Evans, London, 1787". The same source is used in the Medieval Fulbert Tower of Dover Castle at Night and its Horrifying History

More information (including sources used and a Google Earth satellite map) can be found on this photo's original webpage at:

St John's Tower, a 13th Century Round Tower in the Moat of Dover Castle

Links to the main Images of Dover website:

A Dover Medieval and Napoleonic Wars history photo.

The English Heritage "Pastscape" entry for Dover Castle states:

"Medieval castle possibly originating as a pre-1066 motte and bailey castle, remodelled during the reign of Henry II (Curtmantle), to became a castle with concentric defences, one of the first examples of its kind in western Europe."

All castle photos first appear under the Castle and Dover Castle tags.

The castle is one of Dover's Grade I Listed Buildings and English Heritage sites.

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

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