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Visiting the Ruined St James's Church, Dover, England: A Well-Preserved Norman Arch and an Exciting History

Updated on October 6, 2017
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
The doorway of the ruined St James's Church in Dover, Kent.
The doorway of the ruined St James's Church in Dover, Kent. | Source

Bombs, ruins and demolition

So, another ruined church building, that fell into disuse?

Well, not exactly.

In fact, in the 19th century, on the aptly named St James's Street, the Anglican Parish Church of St. James, Dover, Kent, had so many parishoners that the powers that be decided to build a bigger replacement. A new building in Maison Dieu Road was duly erected.

Up to the 19th century, St. James's Church, Dover was also used for sessions of officials of the Cinque Ports, known as Barons, notably presided over in 1851 by the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), the famous victor of Waterloo (1).

Then came World War One; with France — invaded by Imperial Germany — not far away, St James's Church suffered aerial bombardment.

Repairs were duly made.

Then came World War Two; with France — invaded by Nazi Germany — St James's Church again suffered aerial bombardment.

This time, after World War Two, the powers that be decided to leave St James's Church as a set of good looking ruins. Within the ruins, a fine, rounded Norman arch, with chevron features, survived the war damage, and is a well preserved example of architecture dating from the era of William the Conqueror (c.1028-1087). Prior to the building's serious war damage, the Norman arch also had a good example of a rose window (2).

Guess what also happened after World War Two? The church building on Maison Dieu Road, once erected as a replacement for the Norman structure, was destroyed in 1953: not by Imperial or Nazi German bombs, but by demolition.

There must be a moral there somewhere; I'm not quite sure what it is.

October 6, 2017


(1) The Duke of Wellington also served as Prime Minister of Great Britain.

(2) As well as the rose window, much of the building's formerly conspicuous tower disappeared. See also:

Some sourcing: Wikipedia.

The ruins of St James's Church in Dover, Kent, with Dover Castle in the background.
The ruins of St James's Church in Dover, Kent, with Dover Castle in the background. | Source
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington | Source

Also worth seeing

The English Channel port town of Dover has a number of fine sights; these include the world famous White Cliffs, and the cliff-top Castle; an octagonal chapel, originally Baptist, now Unitarian, dates from 1820.

Calais, France (39 kilometres by sea), a short trip from Dover — an easy day excursion — this major port city has much historic architecture, some of it Medieval; among its well known structures are the conspicuous Flemish belfry of its Town Hall and the famous statue by Rodin, the Burghers of Calais.


How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to London Heathrow Airport (distance to Dover, Kent: 147 kilometres), where car rental is available. There are rail and coach links from London to Dover. Scheduled flights to nearby Lydd Airport (London Ashford) operate from Le Touquet, Northern France. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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