Ahoy There, Shipmates! How Dover's Maison Dieu Kept the Fleet Fed and Watered

Heritage Open Days 2023 montage

Heritage Open Days (Saturday 9 September)

You may know Dover’s Grade I Listed Maison Dieu from its founding 800 years ago as a medieval hospital, or its later incarnation as a grand Victorian Town and Concert Hall. But exploring a less well-known 300-year period in the building’s history is the theme of an exciting free event being hosted at neighbouring Maison Dieu House as part of Heritage Open Days on Saturday 9 September.

From the days of the Spanish Armada to the Battle of Trafalgar, the Maison Dieu was a victualling yard supplying ships of the Royal Navy with everything from salt pork, ship's biscuits and, of course, beer! At the time, food and drink were called “victuals.”

With the Maison Dieu currently closed for a £10.5m reawakening with the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Dover Town Council is kindly throwing open the doors of Maison Dieu House to celebrate this period of the Maison Dieu’s remarkable history.

Maison Dieu House was built next to the Maison Dieu in 1665 as the official residence of Dover’s Agent Victualler, the person responsible for keeping the fleet in Dover and anchored off The Downs in Deal, supplied with provisions.

As a victualling yard when Britain ruled the waves, the Maison Dieu employed hundreds of local people and was producing large quantities of ship’s biscuit from its bake house, brewing beer, and slaughtering live cattle and pigs which were preserved in salt in barrels also made onsite.

To discover more about how Dover supplied the fleet, book your free visit to Maison Dieu House via Eventbrite. There will be activities for all the family, including a chance to make your own ship’s biscuit and have a go at “splat the rat” an ever-present pest problem at the time!

You can also hear first hand about the work of the Agent Victualler. An actor will be in costume as Michael Russell, Agent Victualler at Dover in the 1770s and also the Town’s Mayor.  His portrait held by the Dover Collections will also be on display.  It was painted by the renowned portraitist, George Romney, who later found fame for his portraits of Emma Hamilton, Lord Nelson’s mistress!

The Grade II Listed Maison Dieu House went on to serve as the town’s public library and is now the offices of Dover Town Council, generous supporters of the restoration of the Maison Dieu.

You can also visit St Edmund’s Chapel which will be open on Saturday, 9 September for Heritage Open Days.  Once the mortuary chapel of the Maison Dieu, it is believed to be the only chapel still standing consecrated by an English canonized saint (St Richard) to the honour of an English canonized saint (St Edmund). St Richard died at the Maison Dieu in Dover just days after consecrating the chapel in 1253.

Volunteer researchers from the Maison Dieu and the Dover Greeters will also be on hand to explain more about the role of the Maison Dieu as a victualling yard, and the history of St Edmund's Chapel.

Martin Crowther, community engagement officer at the Maison Dieu, said: “We’re grateful to Dover Town Council for hosting us and providing an opportunity to explore the connections between these two historic buildings in Dover town centre.

“For centuries, Dover provided ships and men to fight for King and country as a founding member of the ancient Confederation of the Cinque Ports, and then keeping the fleet supplied for over 300 years as one of five victualling yards supplying the Royal Navy.”

Maison Dieu Partners logo strip


Posted on 21 August 2023

For media enquiries, Email: pr@dover.gov.uk