—Historic Dover —
St. Mary's Church and Cannon Street
The Church of St. Mary the Virgin has been one of Dover's main parish churches for over 400 years. The building is of early Norman origin, and Norman architecture can still be seen in the lower two stages (c.1100 AD) and three upper stages (c.1150 AD) of the tower.
The church was closed by Henry VIII's Reformation but was restored to the townspeople by public request. From 1585 until 1826 the Freemen of Dover elected the Mayor inside the church at the Communion Table. The Church foundations seemed to have become unsafe due to the number of burials in the floor and it was largely rebuilt in 1843 in the Victorian Gothic style.
Just north of St. Mary's stood Biggin Gate in the old town walls, built in the 14th Century. It was destroyed in 1762 after being used for some years as a gaol for "the better sort of foreigners".
Part of the Roman Fort walls were also in this area. Behind the western side of Cannon Street a Roman house with painted plaster walls was discovered in 1970 dating from about 200 AD. The walls of the house have been restored and can be seen by visitors to the Roman Painted House in New Street.
Almost all of the west side of both streets dates from after 1895 when that side was demolished for road-widening.
The new buildings were prize-winning designs in a public competition and are fine examples of late Victorian architecture. Above the modern shop fronts many of the original facades can still be seen. Look especially for the ornate Dutch Gable-ended building, built as a cinema, and the various stone carvings, such as the head of Mercury or the seated bear which probably once held a striped barbers pole. The bear probably represents the trade-mark of 'Bears Grease', a very popular hair oil until the 1920s.
( photo caption )
- St. Mary's Church 1814
- Biggin Street 1895
- Biggin Street 1892 Looking north from outside St. Mary's Church.