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 much needed 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. Consultants were appointed and following consultations and workshops with the community an exciting project costing some £13 million emerged. A £10 million Heritage Lottery Fund bid was submitted in December 2016, but was unsuccessful despite Dover District Council, Dover Town Council and The Dover Society pledging a substantial sum. HLF was keen on the project and said that we had a strong case, but insufficient funds were available. We were advised to resubmit the application in December 2017 but by then HLF had imposed a £5 million maximum for any grant. We decided to retain virtually the whole scheme,but divided it into two phases for grant purposes. A £4.7 million grant application to the HLF for the first phase,covering mainly the repair and construction work, was submitted in March 2018. This was successful in July, allowing us to proceed to a funded development phase to produce detailed plans for HLF approval.
In the meantime, the Society, with a dedicated band of volunteers, continues to offer guided tours
every Wednesday from April to October. Since 2011, 1150 people have enjoyed tours with entrance fees and donations received totalling £1900. Several times that number of people have refused a tour but have had a free look round the Stone Hall – we do not allow them to go any further unescorted in case they get lost!
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 .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 as well as from income on shares donated to the Society.. The Fund now totals over £10,000.
The Society has agreed in principle to donate £10,000 toward the project to restore the Town Hall and increase its use.
by Derek Leach
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.