Dover Town Hall - Guided Tours

White Cliffs Country website to see and do

features guided Tours of Dover Town hall.

 

Dover Town Hall, Maison Dieu - old 

print, probably early 1800s.

Dover Town Hall
Maison Dieu
old print, probably early 1800s.

Postcard of 1904 showing Dover Town Hall and tram

 

THE TOWN HALL PROJECT – AN UPDATE

 

The Dover Society’s decision in 2011, supported by Dover District Council and Dover Town Council, to organise guided tours of the Town Hall had the aim of making the local community and visitors to the town more aware of the building’s 800 years of fascinating history and its architecture. It was intended as a precursor to a major Heritage Lottery Fund bid to assist in the restoration of the building, as far as possible, to its Victorian glory.

A desire to restore an historic building is not, unfortunately, sufficient reason to merit a heritage lottery grant. Any such grant application has to include, amongst other criteria, proposals for a sustainable future use. Sadly, after a few encouraging initial meetings with interested parties, including the District Council (the owner) and Dover Town Council, no meetings have been held since February 2012 due to the stretched staff resources of DDC.

In the meantime, the Society, with a dedicated band of volunteers, continues to offer guided tours every Wednesday. Since 2011, 1125 people have enjoyed tours with entrance fees and donations received totalling £1900. Several times that number of people refused a tour but had a look round the Stone Hall – we do not allow them to go any further unescorted in case they get lost!

During the summer of 2011 we started tentatively with tours on Wednesday mornings once a month, but from September with the opening of the History Room in the former Court Room we increased tour hours to every Wednesday from 10 to 4. A constraint is that we have to work around other Town Hall activities at the same time – the weekly afternoon tea dance and two regular monthly lunch bookings.

Most of our visitors are ‘casual’ turning up on the day – local people, cruise passengers or others from the UK or abroad – but we also cater for prebooked groups either on a Wednesday or another day, avoiding commercial events. Groups have included two coach loads from the Historic Houses Association when we guides had to be on our toes with these enthusiasts and their complex questions! The Town Hall operator often benefits from these visits when lunch or refreshments are required.

We have attractive publicity leaflets available at the Town Hall, the Town Council offices and Dover Museum/Visitor Information Centre and the Library. We also advertise on websites such as Visit Kent and in the Kent History Journal. On sale are sets of specially produced postcards of the six glorious stained glass windows in the Stone Hall. During 2013 requests for a guide book were satisfied by producing a very attractive 32 page full colour guide cum history, which is also available in the Museum shop and at WHS or direct from me. It was financed from the Society’s publication fund but the cost will be recouped from sales. Any profit will go into our Town Hall Restoration Fund which has benefited from a generous donation of £1,000 from Jack Woolford, from income on shares donated to the Society and the value of the shares. The Fund now totals £4643.

A disappointment has been failure to obtain permission for regular access to the old cells in the basement, which many visitors ask to see, particularly those who remember the Old Town Gaol attraction. Most of the cells are full of museum items in store, but at least one cell is empty plus the fascinating passageway with cells on either side, but there are health and safety and security issues. We did, however, manage to have them open specially for the Kent History Conference last May when 150 members of history societies throughout Kent spent the morning in the Town Hall listening to three presentations on Dover – its Town Hall, its caves and tunnels and the Western Heights. In the afternoon people chose one of several guided tours on offer around the town including the Town Hall.

Now we would like to share the building with school groups. To achieve this we are thinking of producing a package of activities for primary school groups using the history and architecture of the Town Hall.

 

 

The Maison Dieu

The Maison Dieu or Domus Dei - meaning House of God, in both its Norman French and Latin forms - was founded in 1203 by Hubert de Burgh, Constable of Dover Castle and Earl of Kent.

The Maison Dieu and its large grounds were built as a hospice, run by monks, to provide temporary lodgings for travelling pilgrims and for the care of wounded and destitute soldiers and old people.

The monks soon added stables, a bakery, a brewery, farmlands and orchards. When Henry III consecrated the chapel in 1227 he was the first in a long line of monarchs to visit the Maison Dieu, later to include Edward II, Edward III, Richard II, Henry V and Henry VI. The monks were evicted in 1544 during the reformation and the Maison Dieu and its lands were given to the Navy for use as a Victualling Store, which supplied the English fleet for 300 years, from the time of the Spanish Armada to the Battle of Trafalgar.

A magnificent suite of four beautiful historic rooms to seat from 10 to 500 guests, Dover Town Hall is a unique historical setting for special occasions and popular venue for civil marriage ceremonies.

Connaught Hall was originally opened in 1880's as a concert and meeting hall very much Victorian with pillars and balconies and a magnificent dance floor.The hall is currently used regularly for tea dances, exhibition, concerts, dinner/dances and shows.

The hall can seat 500 theatre style for a show or concert and 300 cabaret style for dinner/dances with a good size dance floor.

The Maison Dieu seen from Priory Field, looking out to sea - old print c.1800

The Maison Dieu seen from Priory Field, looking out to sea

 old print c.1800

Stone Hall window of the landing at Dover of Emperor Sigismund in 1416

 

Dover's Corporation Plate c.1900

Dover's Corporation Plate c.1900

 

Of the insignia of the Corporation the only article handed down from ancient times was the Horn which was used for calling together common assemblies... The Mayor's most ancient 'badge' was the Wand... This was a sign that the Corporation were partisans of the Yorkists. It was a white wand, carried in processions. Pepys, in his diary, mentioned that when Charles II landed at Dover the Mayor gave him his staff, which the King returned to him. Maces were very ancient emblems of the Dover Corporation. Dover Corporation used three from about the time of Edward III (1354). One was carried by the Mayor's Sergeant, one by the Town Sergeant, and one by the Bailiff's Sergeant, until 1671 when some were sold and an order given for the large silver gilt mace to be made for the Town. It was intended to mark the landing of Charles II at the restoration and is actually dated May 25th 1660 but also engraved on it is the statement" Will.Stokes Esqr, Maior, 1676" The ancient horn was said to be of the 13th century and there is or used to be a hand-bell of brass-gilt dated 1491. The Mayor's gold chain and badge was given by Sir William Henry Bodkin, the Recorder, in 1867.

 


Details for Guided tour of Dover Town Hall

On every Wednesday from 10am until 4pm ( 1st April – 31st October ) from 10am until 2pm ( 1st November – 31st March ) visitors will be able to join a guided tour of the building led by volunteer guides from The Dover Society. There will be a small charge of £2 .00 for adults (children under 16 free ) Dover Town Hall is a working building and tour routes may vary depending on functions.

Please ring the Dover Visitor Information Centre 01304 205108 to check tours are running before making a special visit.
 

DOVER – THE ANCIENT TOWN HALL:

“A subscription is opened at Dover to finish the ancient town-hall. The estimated cost is about £16,000. The grand picture of the Duke of Wellington is affixed in the hall; and leave was obtained of the council at their quarterly meeting on Tuesday to place it by a portrait of Her Majesty, should her royal sanction to a sitting for the purpose be obtained.”

(Kentish Gazette 12 February 1839 p.3 col.2)