Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Canons Gate and Rokesley Tower, Western Outer Curtain Wall, Dover Castle, Kent, UK

The Canons Gateway, located at the southern end of the Western Outer Curtain Wall, is the vehicular entrance to Dover Castle:

Canons Gate entrance to Dover's 12th Century Norman Castle built by Colonel William Twiss during Napoleonic Wars. Rokesley's Tower and Garderobe (medieval toilet) on left. English Heritage Listed Building.
(Click this Canons Gate of Dover Castle text link to see the largest size)

The bridge entrance is accessible from Canons Gate Road, a turning off of Castle Hill Road not far from the Victoria Park junction. The pedestrian entrance to the castle is via Constable's Gateway to the north.

The tower on the left of the Canons Gate entrance is Rokesley's Tower, a D-type mural tower complete with Garderobe (a medieval latrine, or toilet).

Further to the left, Fulbert's Tower lies 80 yards north of Rokesley's Tower; out of view to the right is the Tudor Bulwark.

The photo was taken at 11.40 am on Easter Sunday, 12th of April, 2009.

Abridged excerpt from a Georgian book published in 1828 (1)

The following account refers to the original and now demolished "Canon, or Monk's Gate", once located out-of-shot to the right, and to the "New Entrance" - the Canons Gateway shown in the photo:

Canon, or Monk's Gate: This gate probably took its name from the canons, or secular priests, formerly belonging to the garrison, whose apartments, surmounted with battlements, were over the arched passage. It is uncertain at what period the gates were taken down, and the walls of the gate-way nearly levelled with the ground, on the inside of the curtain. A platform was then made, by filling up the passage with earth, and cannon placed on it.

When alterations were making at this place, in 1797 (see below), the stone frame of the old gates, and the iron hooks on which they hung, were found on the inside of the arch. It is evident there could be no necessity for a bridge in passsing to these gates, which were only a few feet above the basement of the present ditch (moat). After the demolition of this gate, another was made a little farther from the cliff; and the arch of it remained in the curtain until 1797; but the passage had been closed many years.

A souterrain, excavated out of the solid rock, and several feet under the present surface, was discovered, a short time since, in sinking the ground for a new road: but the use for which it was intended, is very uncertain. A well was likewise discovered, about the same time, near Monk's gate.

Within these last fifty years, great alterations have taken place at this part of the wall. A military road (Castle Hill Road and Canons Gate Road) has been constructed, rising with an easy ascent from the town to this point. Here a new entrance (Canons Gate) was constructed, and defended with a draw-bridge, a caponniere (see below) under it, and a tete-du-pont (bridgehead), or an outwork, to annoy an enemy marching up the military road. Several other precautions have been taken, to defend this new entrance.

Abridged excerpt from a Georgian book published in 1814 (2)

Rokesley's Tower: This was a circular tower, built by Albrincis, and it has been called by his name; but the tower, in which he commanded, is on the north-east side of the Castle (see Avranches Tower).

Several of the towers had open fronts, and without the least accommodation for the watchmen, when they were not on duty. This obliged them to build houses, near their stations; and Thomas de Rokesley, of Lenham, had a house belonging to this tower, near the old gate (Canon Gate or Monk Gate, close to the present Canons Gate entrance).

He probably descended from Malerinus de Rokesley, who settled at North Cray, in Kent, in the reign of William the First (William the Conqueror). It was the custom of those, who commanded in the different towers, to have their arms cut in stone, and fixed in the wall, to shew from what family they descended; and it is very probable that they were removed; either at the decease, or at the resignation of the commander, as vey few of them have reached our time.

Heraldry: Thomas de Rokesley's arms were - Argent, a fesse, between three etoiles.

Abridged excerpt from the Pastscape entry for Dover Castle (3)

In a response to the French Revolution of 1789 and subsequent Napoleonic Wars with France a major programme of modifying the castle and its defences took place, between 1794 and 1805, implemented by Lieutenant Colonel (later General) William Twiss of the British Army's Corps of Royal Engineers.

This included instalment of additional gun batteries and four powerful outworks (earthworks): Constable's Bastion to the West and Horseshoe Bastion, Hudson's Bastion, and the detached East Arrow Bastion to the East, some of the latter linked to the castle by underground tunnels.

(A bastion is a structure projecting outward from the main enclosure of a fortification, situated in both corners of a straight wall or curtain, facilitating active defence against assaulting troops. It allows the defenders of the fort to cover adjacent bastions and curtains with defensive fire.) (4)

Ashford Flank Caponier covered the Eastern ditch (moat). The Spur was strengthened by a massive redan (the Ravelin, a raised gun platform) and the ditch behind flanked by brick caponiers.

Caponiers were also built at the Constable's Gate and beneath the bridge of the newly formed Canon's Gate at the South-West corner of the outer bailey.

(The term "caponier" refers to a covered passage way that traverses the ditch between the walls of a fortress and a ravelin outside the wall. This was more than simply a passage however as fire from this point could sweep the ditch between the ravelin and the curtain wall and inflict devastating damage on any attempt to storm the wall. Thus the passageway was equipped with musket ports and cannon ports that fired along the ditch.) (5)

Alterations to the Keep (Great Tower, or Palace Tower) made it bombproof and heavy artillery guns were installed on its roof.

By 1810 the Keep was in use as a gunpowder magazine.

Barracks and a military hospital were also constructed within the castle. However, by 1797 due to severe space limitations excavations were started on underground accommodation. This eventually housed over 2000 soldiers.

These underground excavations were added to over the years and are now known as the "Secret Wartime Tunnels", their most visible entrance being the Cliff Casemates Balcony on the White Cliffs of Dover above East Cliff.

Notes and Sources

(1) "New History Of Dover & Dover Castle During The Roman, Saxon, And Norman Governments" by William Batcheller, 1828.

Full title:

"New History Of Dover & Dover Castle During The Roman, Saxon, And Norman Governments: With A Short Account Of The Cinque Ports, Compiled From Ancient Records, And Continued To The Present Time. To Which Is Added A New Dover Guide, And A Description Of The Villages Near Dover"

The book was printed and published by the author at the King's Arms Library, 1 Snargate Street, Dover.

(2) Excerpt from "The History of the Town and Port of Dover and of Dover Castle (With a Short Account of the Cinque Ports)".

Volume I dedicated by the Reverend John Lyon, Minister of St Mary the Virgin of Cannon Street, to John Gunman, Esquire, on May 14th, 1813, and published the same year.

Volume II dedicated to Jonathan Osborn, Edward Thompson, and John Shipdem on April 21st, 1814, and published the same year.

(3) English Heritage Pastscape entry for Dover Castle
(4) From Bastion:

The bastion was designed to offer a full range on which to attack oncoming troops. Previous fortifications were of little use within a certain range. The bastion solved this problem. By using a cannon to cover the curtain side of the wall, the forward cannon could concentrate on oncoming targets.

(5) From Caponier

The main photo first appeared at:

Rokesley Tower and Canons Gate, Western Outer Curtain Wall, Dover Castle

All castle photos first appear under the Dover Castle and Castles category labels.

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

A Dover British Army, Medieval (Middle Ages), Napoleonic Wars, and History photo.

More Dover Architecture and History photos.

Clickable thumbnails of all Dover Castle-related photos on the main Panoramio Images of Dover website are available on this blog on the Dover Castle Page (also linked to below the blog title).

The Panoramio photos are each accompanied by a Google Earth satellite map. However, the images are smaller than those on the Images of Dover Blog and the captions are less well formatted.

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

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