Dover is a town and major ferry port in the home county of Kent, in South East England. It faces France across the narrowest part of the English Channel, and lies south-east of Canterbury; east of Kent's administrative capital Maidstone; and north-east along the coastline from Dungeness and Hastings. The town is the administrative centre of the Dover District and home of the Dover Calais ferry through the Port of Dover. The surrounding chalk cliffs have become known as the White Cliffs of Dover, and the narrow sea passage nearby – the Strait of Dover. Its strategic position has been evident throughout its history: archaeological finds have revealed that the area has always been a focus for peoples entering and leaving Britain. The name of the town derives from the name of the river that flows through it, the River Dour. The town has been inhabited since the Stone Age according to archaeological finds, and Dover is one of only a few places in Britain – London, Edinburgh, and Cornwall being other examples – to have a corresponding name in the French language, Douvres.
There was a military barracks in Dover, which was closed in 2007. Although many of the former ferry services have declined, services related to the Port of Dover provide a great deal of the town’s employment, as does tourism. The prospect of privatising the sale of the Port of Dover to create increased cash flow for the government was given a recent ironic twist due to the rejection of a possible bid from the town of Calais in France after opposition in Dover against any sale forced the government to withdraw the Port from the market. Local residents had clubbed together to propose buying it for the community, more than 12,000 people have bought a £10 share in the People's Port Trust.
The name Dover was first recorded in Latinised form as Portus Dubris, which was for many years explained as derived from the Brythonic Dubrās ("the waters") referring to its river Dour. However, a recent detailed study showed that the name is far more likely to come from an ancient word for 'double bank' referring to the shingle spit(s) that formed across the harbour entrance, for which a word dover is still used in the Isle of Wight. Subsequent name forms included Doverre; the modern name was in use at least by the time Shakespeare wrote King Lear (between 1603 and 1606), in which the town and its cliffs play a prominent role. The cliffs may have given England its ancient name of Albion ("white").
Dover’s history, because of its proximity to France, has always been of great strategic importance to Britain. Archaeological finds have shown that there were Stone Age people in the area; and that by the Bronze Age the maritime influence was already strong. Some Iron Age finds exist also, but the coming of the Romans made Dover part of their communications network. Like Lemanis (Lympne) and Rutupiae (Richborough) Dover was connected by road to Canterbury and Watling Street; and it became Portus Dubris, a fortified port. Forts were built above the port; lighthouses were constructed to guide passing ships; and one of the best-preserved Roman villas in Britain is here.
Dover figured largely in the Domesday Book as an important borough. It also served as a bastion against various attackers: notably the French during the Napoleonic Wars; and against Germany during World War II. It was one of the Cinque Ports during medieval times.