Dover Index

The Maison Dieu


The picture above shows the west front of the Maison Dieu in 1833 (JBJ 1907)

"The history of the Maison Dieu covers more than 700 years - 331 years as a Hospital for pilgrims, 300 years as a Victualling Office for the Navy, and 73 years as a Town Hall."   (JBJ 1907)

The same scene in December 2006

The view is little changed from 1833.  The gates have been moved to the rear of the building.

"The Maison Dieu, or Domus Dei, as it was also called, was established in the year 1203, for the better provision of travellers and pilgrims; for it appears from Lambarde, that there had previously been similar provision, on a smaller scale, at the Hospital of St. Mary.  In the first instance, the Maison Dieu was little more than a hall and a kitchen, for, although Thomas A'Becket was then dead, the fashion of making pilgrimages to his tomb at Canterbury did not set in, to any great extent, until after the first Jubilee of his death, in 1220, when his body was removed to a new shrine, in the presence of Henry II.  Soon after that, when rumours of miracles, said to be worked at that shrine, were spread through the Christian world, travellers and pilgrims increased greatly."   (JBJ 1907)

"Amongst the apartments in the Maison Dieu mentioned in the inventory of 23rd January, 1534, are these: the church, the vestry, the great chamber called the Hoostrye, and a little chamber within it, Sir Peers chamber, the chamber over the water, and another little chamber in that, the Master's chamber, the kitchen, the new kitchen, the infirmary, the garner, the Master's stables, the stables for the best cart horses, the second stable, the brewhouse, the bakehouse, and the barns.  This list of departments, combined with what may still be seen of the Maison Dieu, and that which we know has been destroyed, conveys a rough idea of the great extent of the establishment.  It is the part called the Great Chamber or Hoostrye that still remains, and is now called the Maison Dieu Hall (marked 'a' on the ground plan).  This is supposed to have been built in 1253, when King Henry III. was again present to add pomp to the ceremony of the dedication of this new Hall, and also the consecration of an altar to St. Edmund.  The floor of this hall was several feet lower than it is at the present time, and it was lighted on the south-east side by seven fine windows, each 12ft. wide, having exactly the same tracery as the six there now, except that the original windows were about 2ft. deeper than the present ones.  The seventh window was built up when the south-western tower was added at a later date.  This hall is 142ft. long and 36ft. broad, and the height of the walls is 47ft.  Externally, the windows, which are at equal distances apart, have between them massive buttresses rising to the top of the wall, each being surmounted with very curious grotesque figures.

"The great church (marked 'b' on the plan), with the chapel of the Virgin Mary on the north-east end, stood on the Ladywell side of the present Maison Dieu Hall, exactly where the modern Connaught Hall is, but running further back; in fact, the chapel of the Virgin is identical with the present Sessions House.  The church (apart from the Lady Chapel, which formed its chancel), was 142ft. long and 54ft. broad.

"This was divided into a nave, and two low side aisles, which isles were supposed to have been used before the building of the Guest hall, for the resting place of the pilgrims.  The nave was divided from the aisles by two colonnades, each of seven arches, six pointed and one wide semi-circular, resting on eight pillars surmounted with clerestories.  The arches on the south-east side, are still to be seen in the Connaught Hall, where the line of pillar bases 'CC' are shown on the plan; and it is presumed that when the Maison Dieu Hall was built, the aisle on that side was sacrificed.  The grand entrance, with an ornamental porch in front, was from the High Street, where the blank end of the Connaught Hall now is.  Projecting into the top of Ladywell, where there is now a gallery entrance, there was a small building, 20ft. by 16ft., in which there was a small flight of spiral stone stairs leading to the top of the church, and possibly, at one time, to a S.W. steeple."   (JBJ 1907)

This view shows the Connaught Hall.  The ground floor (underneath the main hall) housed the town museum after the building in the Market Square was damaged by a bomb in World War 2.  When the old covered market was demolished (leaving the front elevation standing) and re-built in the 1990s, the museum returned to its old home.

The main door in the west face is an addition to the original building as seen in the 1833 picture.  The window above the main door still appears the same as in the 1833 picture, but the wall above it has been modified to form a gable-end.

For many years, the steps were covered by a canopy, but this was removed after the war.

"King Henry III. interested himself in Hubert de Burgh's hall, and gave his sanction for the erection of a church in connection with it.  The King came, with great pomp, to the dedication festival, and confirmed a charter in these words: 'Henry, by the Grace of God King of England, etc., Know ye that we have granted and by this our present charter, have confirmed to God and to the Hospital of Dover, which our well-beloved and faithful Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent, Justiciar of England, founded in the honour of God and the Blessed Mary, the gift of which the same Earl made the aforesaid Hospital with the manor of Eastbridge, with the advowson of the church, and with all their appurtenances, for the support f poor strangers coming thither,'  etc., etc., dated 11th July, 1227.  This was not the first charter, there being reference to a former grant, of which this was a confirmation."   (JBJ 1907)

"The Maison Dieu having been regularly organised under the title of Master and Brethren, with 'their men and lands,' two years later, another royal charter, dated 1229, was granted, giving to them and their men, lands and tenements, freedom from suits of counties, hundreds, leets, and lawdays, from aids of sheriffs, views of frank pledge, and other imposts, affording practically the same liberties as those granted by Edward I. to the Cinque Ports.  By another charter, the King gave to the Master and Brethren a tithe of his share of the profits of the passage between Dover and the Continent; and by divers other charters, deeds, and grants, the Maison Dieu was greatly enriched, so as to provide funds for very extensive building, as well as to meet current expenses."   (JBJ 1907)

"The Maison Dieu at Dover, in addition to affording shelter to poor passengers and pilgrims, also partook of the nature of a soldiers' and sailors' home.  An ancient manuscript, relating to Dover Harbour, mentions the Hospital to have been built (amongst other things) for the relief of poor soldiers from beyond the sea, and that each soldier was allowed a subsistence for 14 days gratis.  In addition to those who received casual shelter and relief, there appear to have been, in the 14th century, regular pensioners."   (JBJ 1907)

"When, in 1534, the Hospital was suppressed, the King kept the buildings in hand to be used for National purposes.  In the reign of Queen Mary, the Maison Dieu was converted into a Victualling Office for the navy, the well-fitted brewhouse and bakehouse left there by the Master and Brethren answering for Naval purposes; and, during the critical period of the reign of Elizabeth, it was in great use in victualling the ships which were fitted out to meet the Spanish Armada.  About the close of that reign, the red brick mansion on the southern side of the Maison Dieu Hall was built, as the residence of the Agent Victualler; and there were stores in connection with this Victualling Office, at the Victualling Yard, beside the quay in Strond Street, from whence despatch boats communicated with the fleet in the Downs.  During war periods, this agency was very busy; but, during the conflict between Charles I. and his Parliament, the victualling business was suspended, and the tower of the Maison Dieu was fortified for the defence of the town.  At a later date, some portions of the premises were used for private purposes; but the Maison Dieu never ceased to be a Victualling Office until the year 1831, when it was handed over to the Ordnance Department, and the commanding Royal Engineer occupied the adjoining residence.  They kept it in hand until the 20th May, 1834, when the property was offered for sale at the London Auction Mart, and W.F. Greville, of the Marine Parade, Dover, claimed to be the purchaser; but the Ordnance Board refused to convey it to him.  About eight months later, the part on which the Maison Dieu stands was purchased by the Town Council."   (JBJ 1907)

This is just a part of what Bavington Jones had to say about the Maison Dieu; there is much more about the restoration by the Council, the memorial windows, the portraits, the council chamber, the jail and the police force, and the Connaught Hall.  Anyone interested in the history of this building is recommended to search out a copy of the book.

When I can get inside to take pictures, I will add more photos of the interior to these pages.

Maison Dieu (S.E. view), 1830 (JBJ 1907)