New Doctoral Research to Uncover Tudor Past of Dover's Maison Dieu

Kieron Hoyle 2

Kieron Hoyle is researching the history of the Maison Dieu under the Tudors and exploring the relationship with town and Crown

A doctoral research project is set to uncover the role of Dover’s Maison Dieu under the late Tudors as work gets underway on a two-year, £10.5m Lottery funded restoration of the Grade I Listed building and Scheduled Monument. 

Kieron Hoyle, a former history teacher at Dover Grammar School for Boys and now a senior lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University, is researching the Maison Dieu’s development following the Reformation and Dissolution of the monasteries as part of her PhD.

Kieron said: “The Maison Dieu is a fascinating building but there has been little research into the period following the Reformation and its surrender to the Crown. My project will explore the history of the Maison Dieu under the Tudors and this remarkable building’s relations with the town of Dover and the Crown. It is also an opportunity to explore a time in history when Calais was still held by the English Crown.”

Originally founded as a medieval hospital in the early 1200s, the Maison Dieu was surrendered to the Crown in 1544. The last master of the Maison Dieu, John Thompson, used the hospital to store materials for the new harbour works in Dover and it became a victualling yard, supplying ships of the Tudor Navy as Britain emerged as a maritime power.

Ironically, it was Henry VIII who effectively closed the Maison Dieu with the Dissolution, but who brought about the next chapter in its history in helping lay the foundations of the future Royal Navy!

The research is funded by The Janus Foundation via the Ian Coulson Memorial Postgraduate Awards scheme at Canterbury Christ Church University. It is linked to the ‘Kent’s Maritime Communities’ project jointly run by the University of Southampton and Canterbury Christ Church University.

Kieron’s research is being supervised by Dr Sheila Sweetinburgh, Lecturer in Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and Co-Director of the Centre for Kent History and Heritage at Canterbury Christ Church University. The Maison Dieu was one of the case studies in Dr Sweetinburgh’s own doctorate on Kent’s medieval hospitals, ‘The Role of the Hospital in Medieval England: Gift-giving and the Spiritual Economy’ (2004).

Dr Sweetinburgh said: “This is a great opportunity to take forward the story of what happened to the Maison Dieu after it was no longer needed as a hospital for poor pilgrims. It will help to demonstrate the importance of early modern Dover and the relationship between Crown and town, as well as Dover’s place as a gateway to Europe and beyond.”

Cllr Oliver Richardson, Dover District Council’s portfolio holder for corporate property, said: “Our project to reawaken the Maison Dieu has sparked so much interest in the fascinating story of this remarkable 800-year-old building. We’re delighted to be working with Kieron and Canterbury Christ Church University to uncover more about the story of the Maison Dieu during the reign of the Tudors.”

Notes to editors:

History of the Maison Dieu

The Maison Dieu (House of God) was founded in the early 1200s by Hubert de Burgh, the patronage passing to King Henry III in 1227, when the earliest surviving part of the building, the Chapel (later the court room), was consecrated in his presence.

It was built as a place of hospitality for pilgrims journeying from continental Europe to Canterbury Cathedral to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket. Following the Dissolution in the 16th century, the Maison Dieu was subsequently used as a victualling yard supplying ships of the Royal Navy.

In the mid-19th Century, the prominent Victorian architect Ambrose Poynter (1796-1886) extensively restored the Maison Dieu aided by the up-and-coming Gothic Revival architect, William Burges.

Burges later went on to further remodel the building and design an assembly hall (the Connaught Hall) and civic offices, including a range of bespoke furniture and interior schemes.

The Maison Dieu is the only civic commission by William Burges, and the only intact building in England still containing his decorative scheme, furniture, and fittings. 

About the Reawakening the Maison Dieu Project

The £10m reawakening of the Grade I Listed Maison Dieu sees the restoration of internationally significant decorative schemes by the renowned Victorian neo-Gothic architect, William Burges, and a new street-level visitor entrance to the Connaught Hall, along with improved access throughout the building.

The project creates a sustainable future for the Maison Dieu by bringing redundant spaces back into commercial use, including restoring the Mayor’s Parlour as a holiday let in conjunction with The Landmark Trust, and a unique new café in the space once occupied by Victorian gaol cells.

Once complete in 2024, the Maison Dieu will be permanently open to the public for the first time in its 800-year history and contribute to the creation of a heritage quarter in Dover town centre.

Project funders/partners include the National Lottery Heritage Fund, The Wolfson Foundation, The Landmark Trust, Dover Town Council, and the Dover Society.

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Posted on 02 November 2022

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