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Dover History!

Changing sea levels and erosion are thought to have destroyed much of Dover's earliest Stone Age remains. Only a handful of stone axes have been found in the area. The first know inhabitants in the valley of the River Dour were late Stone Age farmers who crossed to Dover by boat with corn seed and domesticated animals about 6,000 years ago. The earliest surviving cross-channel vessel was discovered at Dover in 1991 during excavations for the building of a new road. The 3,500 year old Bronze Age Boat is now on show in a special gallery in Dover Museum.

It was about 9am on 26th August 55BC when Julius Caesar arrived off Dover with his invasion fleet. From their ships the Romans could see a vast number of well armed Britons lining the cliffs. Caesar decided to find a more suitable landing place, finally landing near Deal later the same day. Roman Dover, the British port closest to the rest of the Roman Empire was a thriving town, believed to have covered at least a five hectare area along the Dour valley. The Romans called the town DUBRIS after DUBRAS, the British name meaning 'waters'. The Roman town had a large harbour, flanked by two lighthouses and three successive forts. The Classis Britannica, the Roman Navy in Britain occupied one fort from AD130-208.

From the fifth century onwards, Germanic tribes crossed the North Sea to settle in Kent. Dover, then known as DOFRAS, became a major settlement in the new Kingdom of Kent. By the middle of the 10th century Anglo-Saxon Dover was prosperous and well organised with it's own mint and established cross-channel trading links.

Following his victory at Hastings in 1066 William the Conqueror and his forces marched to Dover, then as now, a vital strategic point, guarding the shortest crossing to France. William of Poitiers described the event "Then he marched to Dover, which had been reported impregnable and held by a large force... our men, greedy for booty, set fire to the castle and the great part of it was soon enveloped in flames".

After the Norman Conquest much of old Saxon Dover was rebuilt. The town benefited from the increase in cross channel trade and the carrying of passengers between France and England stimulated by the Norman conquest. Great improvements were made to the Castle. By 1190 the massive stone keep and inner walls or bailey surrounding it were complete. The thirteenth century saw many attacks on the town by French forces including the almost successful 1216 siege of the Castle by Prince Louis and a great raid of 1295 when 10,000 French burnt most of Dover to the ground.

In about 1050 the five ports of Dover, Sandwich, Hastings, Romney and Hythe joined together to provide ships and men for the King, Edward the Confessor. They became known as the Cinque Ports (after the Norman French word for five). In return for providing naval and ferry services these towns received many rights and privileges. These privileges helped Mediaeval Dover to thrive as a port.

Tudor and Stuart kings and queens took a particular interest in Dover. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I recognised the value of the harbour, by this time threatened with blockage by shingle, and financed expensive repairs and enlargements. Henry also made improvements to Dover's defences. During the reign of Charles I Dover declared against the King in the Civil War but enthusiastically welcomed the return of his son Charles II in 1660.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Dover became a garrison town heavily defended against the threat of French invasion. At first earthen batteries were built along the sea front and across the Western Heights of Dover to supplement the limited protection offered by the mediaeval Castle against cannon and shells. In 1804, with invasion expected at any time, a massive programme of defensive building in stone and brick began on the Western Heights creating two forts and deep brick lined ditches. A unique 140ft triple staircase, the Grand Shaft, linked the town to the forts.

The nineteenth century was a period of great change for Dover. The coming of the railways, the redevelopment of the harbour on a massive scale, the growth of the cross-channel passage and the expansion of local industries led to the rapid growth in size of the town. Between 1801 and 1901 the population increased by 600%. Attempts were also made to develop the town as a seaside resort through the provision of a pleasure pier, ice rink, bathing machines and impressive Sea Front crescents of hotels and apartments