Canterbury: The dungeon

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 11. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1800.

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Edward Hasted, 'Canterbury: The dungeon', in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 11( Canterbury, 1800), British History Online [accessed 19 July 2024].

Edward Hasted, 'Canterbury: The dungeon', in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 11( Canterbury, 1800), British History Online, accessed July 19, 2024,

Edward Hasted. "Canterbury: The dungeon". The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 11. (Canterbury, 1800), , British History Online. Web. 19 July 2024.

The dungeon

THE DUNGEON is a place so remarkable here, that it cannot be passed by unnoticed in the description of this city. The Dungeon, or Danejohn-field, for it is at present known by both these names, lies near the scite of old Riding-gate, adjoining but within the walls of the city, at the south-east corner of it, and on the west side almost to the ditch and wall of the castle bayle. In antient deeds the name is variously written Dangon, Daungeon, and Dungen; names all much alike and of the same import.

At the south-east corner of this field, close to the city wall, there is thrown up a vast artificial mount, or hill, now to all appearance circular, having a deep ditch, from which no doubt the earth was taken round the other part of it; it is a great deal higher than the wall ever was, when entire; insomuch, that from the top of it there is a clear view over the whole city below it, as well as a great extent of the adjacent country; (fn. 1) the field itself, before the late alterations, consisted of very uneven ground, and whatever had occasioned it, had never been levelled. On the outward, or opposite side of the wall to the above mount, the city ditch and a high road only separating the two, is another artificial mount, of a much smaller size and not half so high. (fn. 2).

This place was esteemed of such consequence, that it gave name to the adjoining manor of the Dungeon.

The original of its name is conjectured to have arisen from its having been the Danes work, and to have been from thence corruptly called Dangeon and Daungeon, for Danien or Danes hill; (fn. 3) and that, because it was either their work against the city, or of the city against them; but the former appears, by what follows, to be much more probable. Indeed, it seems to have been the proper work of the Danes, the great and frequent molesters, invaders, and wasters of this city, and most likely at the time when in king Ethelred's days they besieged the city, and after twenty days resistance, took it by storm, and then destroyed both city and inhabitants.

Whoever well observes the whole of this spot, will plainly see, that the works above-mentioned, both within and without the present wall of the city, were not counterworks one against the other, as the common opinion is, but were once all one entire plot, containing about three acres of ground; the outwork of a triangular form, with a mount or hill (what appears to be now two, having been but one of a pearlike shape, till cut through, as will be noticed hereafter) intrenched round within it, and that, when first made and cast up, it lay wholly without the city wall, and that part of the mount which now forms the larger one and most part of the outwork likewise, to wards the north of it, for the greater security of the city, has been taken and walled in, since that side of the trench was formed, which encompasses the smaller mount now lying without and under the wall, (fitly meeting with the rest of the city ditch) after both sides of the outwork were cut through to make way for it, at the time of the city's being walled and inditched; a conjecture that must seem probable to any one who marks and examines the place with attention. (fn. 4)


  • 1. On the top of this hill, some time since, there stood a windmill, which has been removed many years ago. Leland, who wrote in king Henry VIII.'s time, says, in his Itin. vol. vii. p. 145, "Many yeres sins men soute for treasor at a place cauled the Dungen where Barnhales house is now and ther yn digging thei found a corse closed in leade."
  • 2. The field or meadow, at the north west corner of which thismall mount stands, is of like uneven surface as the other.— It is usually called the Martyr-field, from several persons having been burnt in a large hollow or pit at the south end of it in queen Mary's reign, on account of their religion. See Fox's Martyrs, vol. iii.
  • 3. Dugdale, in his Warwickshire, says that dungeon meant a strong tower, or platform, upon a large or high mount of earth artificially raised, such being usually placed towards the side of a castle or fort, which is least defensible; and he gives an example of a like mount having been raised at Warwick for the purpose of defence. He says, that when that place had been destroyed by the Danes, it rested so till Ethelfleda, daughter of king Alfred, repaired its ruins, and in 915 made a strong fortification there called the Doungeon, for resistance of the enemy, upon a hill of earth artificially raised, near the river side, as is yet to be seen on the west part of the castle; and a fort so considerable in respect of its natural situation, was no doubt of great importance for securing the peace of all those parts. See Ibid. p. 298, 341.
  • 4. The field in which the larger mount stands, has lately been levelled and converted into public walks, as has been already mentioned before.