Dover Town Hall (Maison de Dieu)
Dover District Council
The Maison Dieu, translated as God’s House, is widely acknowledged to have been founded in 1203 by Hubert de Burgh as a medieval hospital to provide charity and hospitality for pilgrims travelling predominantly to Canterbury to visit Thomas Becket’s shrine. From the 16th century the building was surrendered to the Crown and used as a victualling yard providing vital supplies for the Navy. In the 19th century the building was sold to the Town Council, where it experienced an initial use as a gaol and underwent extensive remodelling and extension leading up to its conversion into a Town Hall and courtroom.
A substantial extension to the gaol was added during the late 19th century, but soon demolished to make way for an exquisite meeting hall flanking the existing medieval hall.
Much of the remodelling was undertaken in the gothic revival style by two of the most prominent Victorian architects, Ambrose Poynter and William Burges. This is still in evidence today throughout the building.
During the 1970s the Maison Dieu’s ownership passed to Dover District Council and has since been used as a venue for a wide range of community events, activities and local government functions. (Information taken from Maison Dieu Dover: A History of Dover Town Hall by Derek Leach, Dover Society, 2013.)
The range and sequence of buildings is extremely complex and comprises: the disused gaol, storage space, kitchens and courtyards on the lower ground floor; two large halls with adjacent meeting rooms on the upper ground floor in a ‘piano nobile’ position; and numerous meeting rooms and ancillary space on the first, second and third floors. There are also a range of intriguing rooms within the various towers and roof structures that are entirely unused. Parts of the Maison Dieu remain well used for events such as weddings, pantomimes, tea dances and private functions. However, due to a number of issues relating to access and the layout of the building, other elements have become under used or vacant. At the same time the physical fabric of the building has become tired and in places requires repair and conservation to prevent further deterioration and loss of historic material.
We are developing options that will not only restore the building to sustainable and thriving use but will also employ strategies for both arresting deterioration and accentuating some of the beautiful, decorative schemes by William Burges. Additionally, we have recently completed a conservation Statement of Significance in order that any development options and proposed alterations are based on a sound understanding of the building and its heritage.