This Saturday we were lucky enough to have a behind the scenes tour of Dover’s Maison Dieu building with the amazing Martin Crowther!
Maison Dieu has been standing at the heart of Dover since 1203 and has been everything from a “Hospital” for Pilgrims (a free place to sleep and eat for the night on your pilgrimage, but not nearly as nice as an hotel as you’d only get straw to sleep on and a bit of bread!) to a supplies depot for the navy, to a dance hall and functions venue! It has been closed for restoration for many years now but we were allowed a sneaky peek behind the doors to investigate the building’s many medieval inspired animals!
From hidden lions to tiny dragons and even butterflies, medieval inspired animals are all over Maison Dieu. They were part of a renovation scheme undertaken in Victorian Times, when medieval gothic was very fashionable, and they still look fabulous, even behind scaffolding and layers of dust and grime!
The whole afternoon felt like a Scooby Doo adventure, exploring secret passages and hidden cupboards, even locking people up in the Victorian jail! We even had a mock trial in the courtroom with judge, jury and police on standby. Diane got sent to Australia for stealing a loaf of bread, and then eating the evidence!
We also got to handle ancient artefacts from the building, make medieval inspired tiles and grotesques just like the ones decorating the building! Martin explained that grotesques are a bit like gargoyles that you can find in many medieval churches, only unlike gargoyles they don’t have water spouts coming out of their mouths. Did you know the word for gargoyle comes from the words gargle and gurgle? That was the noise they made as they acted like drain pipes, their mouths spewing out the rain water from a church roof!
On the week of the Queen’s jubilee we even got to see the special toilet installed for the Queen’s mum when she visited Maison Dieu many years ago! It is currently used as a store cupboard and was very low as the Queen Mother was very tiny. It did amuse us and got us all to thinking whether Her Majesty needs a special loo when she goes to places?
It was a truly amazing afternoon and we all learned so much!