GMS Notes No.59 June 2013

Kent History Federation

Annual Conference 2013


Val_at_PrioryOn Saturday May 11th three members of the Great Mongham Society travelled to Dover for the annual meeting of the Kent History Federation. The venue of the Maison Dieu also provided the subject for the first talk by Christine Waterman of the Dover Museum. Before this however, we were privileged to see the magnificent silver gilt Dover Town mace and to hear a brief history of this ancient treasure. The Town Sergeant explained its symbolic significance. Made in 1666 after the restoration of the monarchy, it commemorated the return of King Charles ll who landed in Dover after his exile in France.

Christine Waterman then traced the history of the Maison Dieu beginning with its founding in1263 as a Hospice and hostel for the poor. It was also to be an important resting place for pilgrims en-route to Thomas Becket’s shrine in Canterbury. Founded by Hubert de Burgh, it was one of 70 such buildings in England. The fortunes of the building declined especially after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, and it was closed in 1544. From this date until 1834, the Maison Gate_of_PrioryDieu became a victualling store for the Navy. Eventually in the second half of the 19th century, it became both a prison and a Council chamber. After 9 years of use the prison closed in 1868. Plans were then drawn up by Ambrose Poynter and William Burges for a town hall which is essentially still in use today. However the opening of the Town hall in 1883 revealed an ornate, lavishly decorated interior, none of which survives, having been completely covered by cream paint! There are hopes that one day this will be revealed and restored, but the cost would be almost prohibitive.

Derek Leach delivered the second talk - Dover’s Caves and Tunnels. He spoke about the extensive and complex system of tunnels and caves built in the chalk cliffs and surrounding area of Dover. Used for military and civilian purposes, the tunnels had many uses including smuggling. During WWl and WW2 further excavations were carried out by the Royal Engineers. A military hospital, accommodation for troops, and a combined HQ for the Army and Navy were situated deep in Dover’s cliffs. Tunnels near the Eastern Docks were used for storing mines, military equipment and fuel. Civilians who were bombed out of their homes found refuge in Winchelsea Caves which were visited in 1944 by King George Vl and Queen Elizabeth. Other uses for tunnels included the conveying of water from springs in hills to the rear of the town which was then pumped from the Pumping Station on Connaught Hill into Dover.

John lveson concluded the morning’s lectures with a brief talk on ‘The Western Heights’ This heavily defended area was initially intended to defend an attack from the land. Between 1804 and 1815, a quarter of a million pounds was spent on fortifications. These included The Citadel, Grand Shaft Barracks, hospital, school and chapel. In the second half of the 19th century further defences were built in response to possible threats from the sea. The Citadel is currently used as a secure immigration centre.

The day ended with a visit to the remains of Dover Priory. Situated in the grounds of Dover College and not open to the general public, the guided tour of the ruins ended an interesting and most enjoyable day.


Last Month’s Meeting

We met on Wednesday, 15th May met at St. Martin’s Church where John Puckett, with the aid of Dobby, a little rescue bat, gave us an engaging talk on bats in general, but our own bats in particular. We were interested to learn that not only were there serotines and pipistrelles in the church, but also noctule bats in the local area. A sobering prediction from Mr. Puckett, chairman of the Kent Bat Group, was that serotine bats could very well be extinct in just a few decades due to habitat loss. Although the weather was too cold for bats to be active, bat detectors did pick up sounds from a couple which were flying around the churchyard.

Unfortunately Thursday’s meeting of the Society was curtailed by a power failure in the locality due to a damaged overhead cable, so there was now power for the slide presentation From the East Kent Light Railway. The good news is that the presentation will be given next month on Thursday 20th June. The bad news is that it replaces the Bat and Trap evening.

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