A Dover Study


This report stems from a university study trip undertaken in Dover, on 17 and 18 March 2004, when the authors were given presentations and examined various aspects of tourism in Dover. The objective of the trip was to get a practical example of the tourist potential of a town like Dover, looking at possibilities and solutions.  This is a very much abridged version of a very comprehensive study.


Dover is well known, thanks to its being the world’s busiest passenger port.  This mainly explains its ranking No. 12 in a list of best-known towns in the English Speaking countries.


Nevertheless, if Dover is a gateway to England via its port, it suffers also from various difficulties due to its special position.

Dover, geographically, is a valley, which makes plans for new building limited.  The town centre is also isolated from the port and the beach by the A20 highway.  The port activities do not provide the town with as much money as it used to.  Actually, it used to depend too much on the port and its economic fallout, on which it cannot rely anymore.  Changes in the structure of the economy makes the port’s weight less in the local economy.  In the past, it employed many more people, for 60% of Dover inhabitants were working for the port.  Now, with the system of one week on/one week off, most of the staff do not come from Dover, making other towns in England benefit from its revenues.  Consequently Dover needs to base its economy on other activities and sources of profit.  Unfortunately, there is no major business park, almost all businesses are linked with the port, hence a need for diversification.  Sources of employment are thus quite rare; furthermore, the level of qualifications is poor.

The town lacks shops and private entertainment infrastructure.  No major retailer wants to invest in a poor economy, but investment could boost the local economy.

Except for the ferry port, all transport infrastructures are outside Dover, with, for example, the Eurostar passing through Folkestone and not Dover.  There is also no high-speed train connection to and from London.  Moreover, the A20 and A2 highways (the advised routes for trucks) are congested.


The castle

One of the most important assets of Dover is its castle, as a symbol of the history of the town.

There are 6 places to visit at the castle:  The Keep Yard, the Secret Wartime Tunnels, the Battlements Walk, the Medieval Tunnels, the Admiralty Lookout and the Roman Pharos and Saxon Church.  These attractions provide visitors with a complete and highly recreational historic outline of Dover.

  • The Keep Yard presentation of the 1216 siege of the castle through a 12 minute ‘son et lumière’ recreation of Henry VIII’s court and interactive exhibition.
  • Secret Wartime Tunnels: This is where wartime personnel were stationed during World War II.  From this place, in 1940, Vice Admiral Ramsay and Sir Winston Churchill masterminded the evacuation of Dunkirk in “Operation Dynamo”.  Objects and decor from the period, sounds, smells and film clips and the atmosphere in these tunnels show the every-day life of soldiers and officers.
  • It is possible to spend half a day (or even a full day) at Dover Castle: the visits to the Keep Yard and the Secret Wartime Tunnels lasts one hour each, the Medieval tunnels 45 min., and it is possible to go for a walk on the Battlements Walk and to enjoy the sight on the Channel and the town. There is a self-service restaurant on the site.
  • During our stay in Dover, we had the chance to have a guided tour of the tunnels. The wartime atmosphere is perfectly re-created, and this is to our mind one of Dover’s best asset.

The Town Hall and the Maison Dieu

One part of the present Town Hall (called the Maison Dieu) has seen many owners and has fulfilled many functions over the last 800 years.  Many rooms make a great impression on the visitor, even though, unfortunately, it is not always possible to view the building and learn more about its history.

Pilgrim’s Rest (1203-1544)

The Maison Dieu was a large and important example of many medieval hospitals found from 1050 on, which were at one time as numerous as better-known monasteries.

The hospital in 1203 was probably only a large open hall with a kitchen and living quarters attached for the Master who practised hospitality to all strangers. Wounded and destitute soldiers, some staying as permanent pensioners, as well as pilgrims were accommodated. Pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas Beckett in Canterbury ensured the hospital a steady flow of visitors.

 A chapel was added to the hall in 1227 and consecrated during a service at which Henry III was present. The chapel, converted into a courtroom, still survives today. The courtroom was re-opened to the public during the 90s offering the visitors re-enactment of courtroom life of the times. Unfortunately it closed in 2001 due to a lack of funding.