May 18, 2024

Dover Castle & Durham Castle

Dover Castle

Dover Castle rises high above the town and harbor, crowning a hill, which ends at the White Cliffs. This site was first fortified in the Iron Age and the medieval castle fills the area defined by the ancient hill fort – thirty-five acres. The castle, therefore, is of extraordinary size and exceptional strength.

The keep is one of the greatest of square Norman keeps. It is a mighty cube, nearly a hundred feet long in each direction, with square corner turrets and the most elaborate of fore buildings. This fore building is an L-shaped structure appended to the main body of the keep with three projecting turrets of its own. The fore building was originally roofless, so the assailants would be exposed to projectiles hurled from the parapet. Where the accent changes direction is an ornate little Romanesque chapel occupying one of the fore building turrets.

The staircase leads to a grand entrance portal at second-floor level – one floor higher than usual and another parallel with Newcastle. No doubt, this arrangement provided an extra degree of security, but it also means the fore building took the form of a grand staircase, communicating directly with the principal apartments, as this floor contained the royal hall and solar.

As in other major Norman keeps, this level actually forms a double story with a mural gallery running most of the way around the upper stage. A number of private chambers are contrived within the great thickness of the walls off the hall and solar. One of them contains a well, the shaft of which sinks 350 feet into the underlying chalk. A passage leads to another chapel, even more delicate than the one immediately below it, and showing signs of the transition to Gothic architecture. The floor beneath is similar in layout, including the mural chambers.

Durham Castle

In the year 995, monks from Chester-le-Street brought St. Cuthber’s body here to protect it from the Danes. They chose the naturally fortified site within an incised loop of the River Wear as the setting for their new cathedral. As late as 1075 it rebuffed a Danish attack. The only landward approach to the promontory is guarded by Durham Castle, which was established by William the Conqueror in 1072 but was soon given to Bishop Welcher. The castle remained the chief seat of the bishops of Durham until 1836, when Bishop Van Mildert gave it to the newly founded university. It now serves as University College.

As seen from across the Wear, castle and cathedral form a magnificent spectacle. It is the cathedral which dominates, but this can only be expected of England’s celebrated Norman church. Above the river the castle presents a purely residential fa├žade, the domestic buildings protruding from the great hall to the edge of the precipice. Clearly, the steep drop was considered protection enough. Whereas Durham Cathedral is still essentially a Norman building, the castle exhibits architecture of every century from the eleventh to the nineteenth, reflecting the changing tastes of the bishops, and is memorable as a palace rather than a fortress. In outline, however, the castle is still a Norman stronghold, comprising a triangular bailey overlooked by a large motte.

The promontory within the loop of the Wear was given a stone enclosure wall for extra protection under Bishop Flambard in the early twelfth century. Much of this wall remains in a featureless condition, particularly on the west side beyond the cathedral building. Near the soythern apex is the Water Gate, rebuilt in 1778. The short gap between the castle motte and the eastern arm of the river was closed by a stronger wall and ditch.