Its strategic position has been evident throughout its history: archaeological finds have revealed that the area has always been a focus for peoples entering and leaving Britain. The name of the town derives from the name of the river that flows through it, the River Dour. The town has been inhabited since the Stone Age according to archaeological finds, and Dover is one of only a few places in Britain – London, Edinburgh, and Cornwall being other examples – to have a corresponding name in the French language, Douvres.
There was a military barracks in Dover, which was closed in 2007. Although many of the former ferry services have declined, services related to the Port of Dover provide a great deal of the town’s employment, as does tourism. The prospect of privatising the sale of the Port of Dover to create increased cash flow for the government was given a recent ironic twist due to the rejection of a possible bid from the town of Calais in France after opposition in Dover against any sale forced the government to withdraw the Port from the market. Local residents had clubbed together to propose buying it for the community, more than 12,000 people have bought a £10 share in the People's Port Trust.
First recorded in its Latinised form of Portus Dubris, the name derives from the Brythonic word for waters (dwfr in Middle Welsh; dowr in Cornish). The same element is present in the towns French (Douvres) and Modern Welsh (Dofr) forms, as well as the name of the river Dour and is evident in other English towns such as Wendover.
The current name was in use at least by the time of Shakespeare's King Lear (between 1603 and 1606), in which the town and its cliffs play a prominent role. The sight of the white cliffs when approaching Dover may have given the island of Britain its ancient name of Albion.
Dover’s history, because of its proximity to France, has always been of great strategic importance to Britain. Archaeological finds have shown that there were Stone Age people in the area; and that by the Bronze Age the maritime influence was already strong. Some Iron Age finds exist also, but the coming of the Romans made Dover part of their communications network. Like Lemanis (Lympne) and Rutupiae (Richborough) Dover was connected by road to Canterbury and Watling Street; and it became Portus Dubris, a fortified port. Forts were built above the port; lighthouses were constructed to guide passing ships; and one of the best-preserved Roman villas in Britain is here.
Dover figured largely in the Domesday Book as an important borough. It also served as a bastion against various attackers: notably the French during the Napoleonic Wars; and against Germany during the Second World War. It was the capital of the Cinque Ports during medieval times.
Dover is near the extreme south-east corner of Britain between Deal and Folkestone. At South Foreland, the nearest point to the continent, Cap Gris Nez near Calais is 34 kilometres (21 mi) away, across the Strait of Dover - because of this, the town is strongly associated with France
The site of its original settlement lies in the valley of the River Dour, making it an ideal place for a port, sheltered from the prevailing south-westerly winds. This led to the silting up of the river mouth by the action of longshore drift; the town was then forced into making artificial breakwaters to keep the port in being. These breakwaters have been extended and adapted so that the port lies almost entirely on reclaimed land.
The higher land on either side of the valley – the Western Heights and the eastern high point on which Dover Castle stands – has been adapted to perform the function of protection against invaders. The town has gradually extended up the river valley, encompassing several villages in doing so. Little growth is possible along the coast, since the cliffs are on the sea’s edge. The railway, being tunnelled and embanked, skirts the foot of the cliffs.
Dover has an oceanic climate (Koppen classification Cfb) similar to the rest of the United Kingdom with mild temperatures year-round and a light amount of rainfall each month. The warmest recorded temperature was 31 °C (88 °F) and the coldest was −8 °C (18 °F), but the temperature is usually between 3 °C (37 °F) and 21.1 °C (70.0 °F). There is evidence that the sea is coldest in February; the warmest recorded temperature for February was only 13 °C (55 °F), compared with 16 °C (61 °F) in January.
In 1800, the year before Britain's first national census, Edward Hasted (1732–1812) reported that the town had a population of almost 10,000 people.
At the 2001 census, the town of Dover had 28,156 inhabitants, while the population of the whole urban area of Dover, as calculated by the Office for National Statistics, was 39,078 inhabitants.
With the expansion of Dover, many of the outlying ancient villages have been incorporated into the town. Originally the parishes of Dover St. Mary's and Dover St. James, since 1836 Buckland and Charlton have become part Dover, and Maxton (a hamlet to the west), River, Kearsney, Temple Ewell, and Whitfield, all to the north of the town centre, are within its conurbation.
The Dover Harbour Board is the responsible authority for the running of the Port of Dover. The English Channel, here at its narrowest point in the Straits of Dover, is the busiest shipping lane in the world. Ferries crossing between here and the Continent have to negotiate their way through the constant stream of shipping crossing their path. The Dover Strait Traffic Separation Scheme allots ships separate lanes when passing through the Strait. The Scheme is controlled by the Channel Navigation Information Service based at Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre Dover. MRCC Dover is also charged with co-ordination of civil maritime search and rescue within these waters.
The Port of Dover is also used by cruise ships. The old Dover Marine railway station building houses one passenger terminal, together with a car park. A second, purpose built, terminal is located further out along the pier.
The ferry lines using the port are (number of daily sailings in parentheses):
These services have been cut in recent years:
Dover Harbour, from the cliffs above.
Dover’s main communications artery, the A2 road replicates two former routes, connecting the town with Canterbury. The Roman road was followed for centuries until, in the late 18th century, it became a toll road. Stagecoaches were operating: one description stated that the journey took all day to reach London, from 4am to being "in time for supper".
The other main roads, travelling west and east, are the A20 to Folkestone and thence to London and the A258 through Deal to Sandwich.
The railway reached Dover from two directions: the South Eastern Railway's main line connected with Folkestone in 1844, and the London, Chatham and Dover Railway opened its line from Canterbury in 1861. Trains run from Dover Priory to London Charing Cross, London Victoria or London St Pancras International stations in London, and Ramsgate or Sandwich in Kent. Trains from Dover Priory are run by Southeastern (train operating company).
A tram system operated in the town from 1897 to 1936.
Dover has two long distance footpaths: the Saxon Shore Way and the North Downs Way. Two National Cycle Network routes begin their journey at the town.
The Port of Dover is a 20 minute walk from Dover Priory railway station.
The Dover to Dunkirk ferry route was originally operated by ferry operator Norfolkline. This company was later acquired by the pan European operator DFDS Seaways in July 2010. The crossing time is approximately two hours. Due to this route not being as well known as Dover to Calais, prices are often cheaper. The location of Dunkirk is also more convenient for those travelling by road transport on to countries in Northern Europe including Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and further afield.
Stagecoach in East Kent provide local bus services. Dover is on the Stagecoach Diamond network providing links to Canterbury and Deal. The Western Docks at the port of Dover are served from the Town Centre as well as Canterbury and Deal. Dover is the start of The Wave network to New Romney via Folkestone, Hythe and Dymchurch. There are services to Lydd via Lydd Airport, with one continuing from Lydd on to Hastings via Camber and Rye. There is a link to Sandwich and Ramsgate. Buses run from Dover to Canterbury via Aylesham.
National Express runs coaches from Dover to other towns in Kent including Canterbury, Folkestone, Ashford, Kent, Maidstone, Gillingham at Hempsted Valley shopping centre and Greenhithe at Bluewater Shopping Centre for Dartford to London including Bexleyheath, Eltham, Walworth, Canary Wharf, Elephant & Castle, The City (The City of London) and to Victoria Coach Station
All buses serve Pencester Road except route 68 to Maxton operated by Regent Coaches.
The town's main shopping streets are the High Street and Biggin Street. The Castleton Retail Park is to the north-west of the town centre.
There are plans to open a 6 screen Cineworld Cinema and leisure element ( Restaurants) at St James but not until 2017. It has been recently announced that Marks and Spencer will relocate to St James Development and that the current M&S general store will close. The new 16,000 sq feet store at St James will be an M&S Simply Food with café only and will not sell clothing or homeware unlike the current store which will shut in 2016. Simmonds Jeweller's will close their Dover branch after 40 years in January 2014. The M&S general store and Simmonds branch in nearby Deal will remain open.
Independent stores continue to grow in Dover, but the main town centre of Dover remains in decline compared to other towns like Deal (Telegraph High Street of the Year 2013), Canterbury, Westwood Cross and Ashford who continue to take trade away from Dover.
The Dover lifeboat is a Severn class lifeboat based in the Western Docks. Dover Lifeboat station is based at crosswall quay in Dover Harbour. There is a Severn-class lifeboat, which is the biggest in the fleet. It belongs to the RNLI which covers all of Great Britain. The lifeboat number is 17-09 and has a lot of emergencies in the Channel. The Severn class is designed to lay afloat. Built from fibre reinforced composite (FRC) the boat is lightweight yet very strong and is designed to right itself in the event of a capsize.
There are nine secondary level schools, 16 primary schools and two schools for special education.
Non-selective secondary schools include Astor College, St Edmund's Catholic School and Dover Christ Church Academy. Dover Grammar School for Boys and Dover Grammar School for Girls are the main grammar schools for the town.
Astor College for the Arts federated with St Radigunds Primary School (then renamed White Cliffs Primary College for the Arts) to form the Dover Federation for the Arts (DFA). Subsequently, Barton Junior School and Shatterlocks Nursery and Infant School joined the DFA. Two schools have been rated by OFSTED as Outstanding and two Good with outstanding features. In 2014 the Dover Federation for the Arts was warned by the Department for Education about "unacceptably low standards of performance of pupils ".
The Duke of York's Royal Military School, England's only military boarding school for children of service personnel (co-ed ages 11–18), is also located in Dover, next to the former site of Connaught Barracks.
Dover College, a public school was founded in 1871 by a group of local business men.
Dover has one hospital, Buckland Hospital built in 2015 and located just along from its previous location ( A former Victorian workhouse) on Coombe Valley Road. The town once had four hospitals, Buckland, Royal Victoria, Isolation and the Eye Hospitals located at various points across the town.
Dover was the home to television studios and production offices of Southern Television Ltd, the company which operated the ITV franchise for South and South East England from 1958-1981. The studios were located on Russell Street and were home to programmes like 'Scene South East', 'Scene Midweek', 'Southern News', 'Farm Progress' and the nightly epilogue, 'Guideline'. The studios were operated by TVS in 1982 and home to 'Coast to Coast', however they closed a year later when the company moved their operations to the newly complete Television Centre in Maidstone.
Dover has two paid for newspapers, the Dover Express (published by Kent Regional News and Media) and the Dover Mercury (published by the KM Group). Free newspapers for the town include the Dover and Deal Extra, part of the KM Group; and yourdover, part of KOS Media.
Dover has one local commercial radio station, KMFM Shepway and White Cliffs Country, broadcasting to Dover on 106.8FM. The station was founded in Dover as Neptune Radio in September 1997 but moved to Folkestone in 2003 and was consequently rebranded after a takeover by the KM Group. Dover is also served by the county-wide stations Heart, Gold and BBC Radio Kent.
The Gateway Hospital Broadcasting Service, in Buckland Hospital radio, closed at the end of 2006. It was the oldest hospital radio station in East Kent being founded in 1968.
Dover Community Radio (DCR) currently offer internet programming and podcasts on local events and organisations on their website. The online station of the same name launched on 30 July 2011 offering local programmes, music and news for Dover and district.
There are three museums: the main Dover Museum, the Dover Transport Museum and the Roman Painted House.
Dover Leisure Centre on Townwall Street, is operated by Your Leisure, a not for profit charitable trust, which caters for sports and includes a swimming pool.
There are sports clubs, amongst them (Dover Athletic F.C.) who play in the conference Premier league; rugby; swimming; water polo and netball (Dover and District Netball League).
Dover Rowing Club is the oldest coastal rowing club in Britain and has a rich history, at one time becoming the best club on the south coast. More information can be found on the history page of the club's website.
One event which gets media attention is that of swimming the English Channel.
Sea fishing, from the beach, pier or out at sea, is carried out here. The so-called Dover sole (solea solea) is found all over European waters.
M.R. James used the Dover landmark, the Lord Warden Hotel, as a location in his short ghost story "Casting the Runes", first published in More Ghost Stories in 1911.