Several d' Avranches (forerunners of the Houghams) held key appointments at Dover Castle.
by Robin Young, Rochester, Kent
I had been to Dover Castle many times but this visit was different. It was the first time that I had been there after discovering that my ancestors had been a part of its history, and as I stood at the threshold of the Pharos I couldn’t help thinking about my ancestors who must have stood in the same position 1000 years ago. But even 1000 years ago this Pharos was an ancient monument.
The Pharos which stands adjacent to St Mary's in Castro was one of two lighthouses built to guide the Roman fleet into the harbour. The one on the western side of the valley survives only at the level of its foundations. The Pharos within the castle grounds survives to a height of about thirteen metres which makes it the tallest surviving Roman building in Britain, although it may once have stood to a height of twenty-four metres. The dating of the early phase of the fort is around AD130 to AD150, and as it stands today only the first four Roman stages survive.
As well as a fire lit on top of the Pharos to guide ships, it also contained bells, and the earliest reference to them appears in 1252, when three bells were cast in Canterbury to be hung in the tower
The medieval stage appears to have been rebuilt between 1426 and 1437 when four masons are listed as being engaged in setting up in the belfry five new stone windows brought from Folkestone.
As part of a comprehensive restoration programme begun in 1580, the Pharos was given a new floor and roof in 1582. This work was done to enable the Pharos to be used as a powder magazine.
The first family connection with Dover Castle comes via William D’Averanche who landed in Dover with William the Conqueror. To place William in the family tree, he is Robert De Hougham’s grandfather. At that time the first castle at Dover was probably an Anglo-Saxon fortress and, on the arrival of William, the existing fortifications were improved with the building of an earthwork castle. This Norman 'motte' (mound) which supported the castle is today known as 'Castle Hill'.
Work began on Dover Castle in the latter part of the 12th century with the construction of the Keep (or Great Tower) - the largest in Britain - and is entered through a forebuilding more substantial than any other built before or since. At each corner of the Keep lies a buttress turret, and mid-way along each wall is a pilaster buttress. Four storeys high, the Keep comprises a basement, first floor, and a second floor that spans two storeys, the upper level of which is a mural gallery that can be seen today at the end of the Great Armour Hall. The second storey provided the royal accommodation, and the first floor, based on a similar plan to the second, contained rooms with a much less elaborate decor. All floors were connected by staircases set in the north and south corner turrets.
In the castle itself, there are a number of charts on display listing the Constables of the castle and it is here that we find further evidence of our family’s connection. Between 1100 and 1135 a Simon D’Averanche was a Deputy Constable. Currently, we know nothing about him and how he fits into the family tree has yet to be discovered.
Another Simon is deputy Constable in 1189- 1199. This Simon is Robert's nephew.
The next family member to be connected is Robert’s brother, another William, he is credited to be the architect of Avranches Tower, reputedly the strongest tower in the curtain wall.
In 1226, yet another William, this one Robert’s grand nephew and son of Simon was Constable of the castle, the chart on which Simon and his father William appear gives us the proof that the Houghams came from the Averanche family in as much as their coat of Arms is the same as is recorded in the College of Arms as belonging to Robert de Hougham.
Finally we have another William, Robert’s great grand nephew and Deputy Constable in the period 1272 – 1307
More information on these people can be found in the notes in the family tree.
The photograph of the statutes of Dover Castle give some indication of the duties and responsibilities held by the Constable and it is not hard to imagine our ancestors striding the battlements chastising or giving encouragement as necessary
This period of time is very difficult to research, not least because of the variety of spellings of the name. Sometimes AvEranche is used, sometimes Avranche and sometimes with an "s" at the end. These are all legitimate French spellings. The Latin versions are ALbrincis or Abrincis and the English version Arcis or Arques. Auberville has also been suggested as a derivation of the same name, and this list does not include all those variations caused by keyboard errors or mistakes.
It is all very confusing and open to debate but I think it all fits together, my only concern is that we have actually placed Robert correctly, and I don’t think we have but until I get the proof I have to stay with the traditional story
The more prominent members of the Hougham family eventually left the area and migrated throughout Kent. Ash, Sandwich and Canterbury all being homes to wealthy family members and from there the family moved on to London and hence to the US, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The castle itself remained at the doorway to England and repelled all invaders including one Adolf Hitler in 1939- 1945
Invaders of the Castle today are welcome and come from Japan, Holland, France and many other countries but I wonder if those from Scandinavia realise their part in our history, and as they view the countryside from the top of the keep, the scenery cannot have changed much over the years. True, the town and docks have grown enormously but the surrounding countryside remains untouched and if you look very carefully in the shadows you can see the old Norsemen sharpening their swords.
Photos: Robin Young