The Castle Keep, Dover 1908 Postcard

Dover Castle had been an important military installation since at least the Roman era. By the end of the nineteenth century its massive keep had been supplemented with barracks and gun emplacements as it was central to the town of Dover’s role as a garrison. Despite these later additions, it was the main keep that was the visually most impressive part of the structure and it is that which is the central focus of today’s postcard:

The keep was built by Henry II in the 12th century and cost an exorbitant amount of money at the time, estimated to be £6500 at a time when the King’s annual income was only £10,000! By the turn of the twentieth century the Great Keep was used as a combined barracks, storehouse and armoury. Here the Great Tower dominates the image, looming over the parade ground in the foreground:

The parade ground itself has a small contingent of troops marching on it, some in khaki and some in their home service dress blues, implying they are artillery troops, perhaps part of the garrison manning coastal defence batteries at the location:

Dover was to be on Britain’s front line in World War One and one of the first bombs to fall on the UK landed in the grounds of Dover Castle on Christmas Eve 1914.. When war was declared on 4 August 1914, Dover assumed a vital role in the defence of Britain. The huge Admiralty Harbour supported naval forces controlling the Straits of Dover and safeguarded troops and supplies going to and returning from France. The town itself became one huge fortress, with a garrison to hold the port at all costs. Among Dover’s defences, an obsolete gun battery within the castle was transformed into a command and control centre that played a vital part in safeguarding Dover as a garrison and naval base. The building began life in 1874 as a gun battery to defend Dover from attack by enemy ships. But by 1890 its guns had become obsolete, and from 1891 its structure was adapted, so that by the First World War it had two key roles.

On the lower floor it served as a Fire Command Post, controlling the coastal artillery around the harbour that protected Dover and the Straits of Dover. The floor on top of this, which was added in 1914, operated as a Port War Signal Station. From here the Navy controlled the movements of all ships in and out of the harbour, communicating with ships and other signal station using flags and wireless, and providing early warning of attack by enemy ships and aircraft. This building has since been restored to its Great War configuration and can be viewed as a tourist attraction today.

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