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Mission – Dover – ‘the key to England’

January 2017 | by Peter Howell

The gospel came to England between 43AD and 300AD. Among the 40,000 Roman soldiers sent by the Emperor Claudius to invade Britain were believers on the Lord Jesus Christ.

The classis Britannica — the Roman fleet responsible for the Romans’ safe arrival and upkeep — was stationed at Dover.

In 1216, following the signing of the Magna Carta, a group of barons opposing King John invited Prince Louis of France to take the English throne. Louis succeeded in capturing most of south east England, except for Dover Castle.

After fierce battles and a three-month siege, Hubert de Bergh, constable of the castle, took to sea to confront Louis’ fleet. ‘Do not give up the castle even if I am captured’, he said, ‘for it is indeed the key to England’. The battle of Dover marked the end of Louis’ campaign.

Baptist church

In 1643, the Baptist church in Dover, with 120 members, called Richard Hobbs as their first pastor. Captain Samuel Taverner, Governor of Deal Castle, hid behind a hedge to hear the preaching and bring a legal charge against the Baptists. Instead he was converted and in 1681 became the church’s pastor. Sadly, the church later declined from the faith and became Unitarian.

In 1823, Dr John Rippon sent John Giles to the village of Eythorne, near Dover. In the early nineteenth century many Particular Baptist pastors had been joining in a ‘concert of prayer’ for world mission, and revival came to south east Kent.

John Giles sent a team of 16 to Dover to plant a Baptist church, and, within a year, Pentside Chapel had been formed and had 100 members. The 1851 census shows that average Sunday attendance was 270 in the morning, 70 in the afternoon and 350 in the evening. In 1909, the Particular Baptist Church closed, bringing to an end an era of Reformed Bible teaching and evangelism.


In 1940, once more, Dover was at the centre of a national crisis, with the need to evacuate the British Army from Dunkirk. From the safety of the castle’s tunnels, Sir Bertram Ramsay and his staff organised what has many times been described as ‘the miracle of Dunkirk’.  338,000 British soldiers and 139,000 French were brought home, aboard a total of 693 ships. As one Dovorian said, ‘I knew God would help us to win the war. I’ve never seen the sea so calm’.

Ten thousand lorries now pass through the port of Dover every day. Much of the town’s working population is employed directly or indirectly by the port. The docks are being expanded to facilitate container shipping, and cruise liners berth in the western docks.

A new marina is being built and town centre redeveloped. The population of Dover is now over 31,000. Most immigrant arrivals are quickly passed to other centres in the UK.

Today there is no Reformed church in Dover. As in most towns and cities in England, the under-50 age group are largely atheistic. Some older folk retain some belief in God, but hardly ever is it biblical in content. However, the people of Dover are generally friendly and willing to talk.

New beginnings

This article is a prayer request from Peter and Sue Howell. They moved to Folkestone in 1982, renovated the old Strict Baptist chapel there and started meetings in their home with regular evangelistic services. Grace Chapel was planted and continues today under the pastorate of Andrew Saywell at Grace Hill.

Now Peter and Sue feel called to respond to the heart-breaking needs of the people in Dover, a town with such a history of God’s blessing. But, at age 71, they also feel the need for a younger pastor, or other helpers, to come and join them and make this their life’s work.

A house meeting for Dovorians has just begun. Please pray that the Lord will bless this and the possibility of re-starting Pentside Chapel will arise. The immediate need is to provide each of the 10,000 Dover households with a copy of Luke or John’s Gospel, along with a summary explanation, and information about how to find out more. Open-air meetings will be needed this summer.

Would it not be wonderful to see and hear the Lord’s name loved, honoured and praised in Dover once more, where the enemy seems to have remained unchallenged for so long? Would you be willing to join us in prayer, or help in some way? Our email address is: [email protected]

Peter Howell

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