The Pubs of Old Deal

The pubs of old deal ship inn
The Ship Inn, Middle Street, Deal

The British Pub is world renowned, and for good reason. In towns and villages across the country pubs have played a vital role since our earliest history. Pubs in Deal have played a fascinating variety of roles over the course of the town’s history. It’s a story that is well told in Andrew Sargent’s excellent book Drinking in Deal’, which was the main source for this short article. Another fine book on the subject is The Old Pubs of Deal and Walmer by Steve Glover and Michael Rogers.

The Boatmen

As Deal was an important port for many years – see the article The Historic Town of Deal on this site for more on this. Many of the pubs in Deal, particularly those around Beach Street, were frequented by the Deal Boatmen. Some pubs, such as the Rose and Crown, even had an early license for those boatmen returning home early in the morning. Pubs were places for the boatmen to socialise but also to wait, and in some cases, watch for salvage opportunities and other work. The Fountain and The Napier Tavern, both which were on the seaward side of Beach Street, had look out verandas. Today, The Royal Hotel is the only surviving property on the beach – the others were all demolished in 1924 when the road was widened.

In addition to the boatmen, Deal’s pubs were frequented by sailors on shore leave from their ships anchored in the Downs and Royal Marines from the barracks in the town. Occasionally the marines caused trouble in the town and Drinking in Deal provides accounts of drunken vandalism and disorder. One of the more amusing stories occurred in 1863 when a marine was caught under the bed of the landlord’s daughter in The Deal Hoy. He escaped, only to be appended later that day, not far away in The Bowling Green.

Emergency Accommodation – for the Living and The Dead

Deal’s pubs also served as emergency accommodation for shipwrecked or injured sailors. The proximity of the Goodwin Sands meant this was a regular occurrence over the years. In 1702 it was recorded that 400 infirm seamen were being cared for in the town. The Great Storm of 1703 battered the coast for 9 days, during which The Navy lost 387 men on the Restoration, 220 on the Stirling Castle, 387 on the Mary and 269 on the Northumberland.

The Ship Inn was one of the pubs that took in survivors from the steamship Strathclyde which sank in 1876 with the loss of 38 lives.  The Antwerp (now The Bohemian) took in survivors from the Great Storm of 1877 which did a great deal of damage along the Kent coast. Corpses, including those of drowned sailors, were sometimes taken to pubs until the town had its own mortuary around 1890. This was common enough for the coroner of West Kent to complain in 1879 that he had told publicans repeatedly not to receive corpses in their houses as ‘a licensed house was for the living, not the dead’. Inquests were often held in Deal’s pubs until forbidden by law in 1902.   

Multipurpose Establishments

Pubs in Deal had a wide variety of uses. The New Inn doubled as the local excise office between 1840 and 1884; Public Auctions were held at several pubs – most notably The Black Horse, whilst The Rose and Crown acted as a milk collection point as it had early morning license. Military pensions were paid from The White Horse in 1878 and the Deal Fire brigade, along with many other organisations, associations and clubs, used the town’s pubs for meetings and dinners.

Inns and Stabling

The town’s Inns also acted as staging posts for travellers . In Deal, some travellers would come ashore from the Downs and continue their journey by coach and horses to London. The Swan in Queen Street had stabling for 20 horses and 6 coaches in 1838, and The Walmer Castle in South Street was a terminus for the coach to London and the mail coach. The Inns and pubs would also house itinerant tradespeople of all kinds.

Smuggler’s Haunts

Deal has a history of smuggling and some pubs were used as receiving houses as well as unofficial stations for the boatmen. In particular, The Fountain, a very old pub of weatherboard construction that stood next to the Royal Hotel on the beach, was reputed to have a strong association with smugglers. According to an article in the East Kent Mercury posted in the Dover Kent Archives “Many a successful run was planned in the bar of the Fountain Hotel and there were secret panels, false stairs and a tunnel all used by the smugglers. The Fountain lost its smuggling association when the activity came to an end in Deal but it became notorious again in 1905 when the licensee was murdered by one of the barmen.”

The same source posts an article from the Kentish Weekly Post in 1813. It describes how two Customs Officers, having seized a boat on the beach with a quantity of smuggled spirits on board, were violently assaulted by a number of smugglers. They emerged from The Port Arms, one of the town’s oldest pubs, which stood on the beach at the time, and carried away the casks.

What’s in a Name?

Rose Hotel old pubs of Deal Kent
The well faded sign for the Rose Hotel in 2016

Many of the names of Deal’s pubs reflected its strong nautical links. The Deal Cutter, Deal Lugger and Deal Hoy were all named after local boat types. The Walmer Castle was not named after the nearby fortification but an ill-fated Deal Lugger. There were pubs named after Lord Nelson, and fellow Admirals Keppel, Keith, Rodney and Sidney Smith. These naval leaders were most famous for their actions in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars when the town of Deal was booming. Admiral Nelson visited the town during that time, and Admiral Keppel was also a visitor to the pub that was renamed in his honour in 1778. For more on Nelson and other famous visitors to the town see my post Deal’s Illustrious Residents and Visitors.

Through Admiral Nelson’s victories against Napoleon Bonaparte are well known, Sidney Smith’s role in his downfall is not so well remembered. In fact, his actions were significant enough that Bonapart said of him: “That man made me miss my destiny”.

Another British military hero, the Duke of Wellington, also had strong links with the town as he resided in Walmer Castle as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. The Wellesley Arms was named after him. It seems fitting that John Ferris, another old soldier, who took over the pub in 1867, was a veteran of the Charge of the Light Brigade of 1854.

Deal’s nautical pub names included The Jolly Sailor, Port Arms, Pier Hotel, Ship Inn, Ship and Castle, Waterman’s Arms and The Anchor. Naturally there were also pubs in Deal with names that were common across the country such as The Kings Head, The Black Horse, and The Rose.

Pub Signs with a Story

Pub names became compulsory in 1393 during the reign of Richard II along with the requirement to hang a sign outside. Given the low level of literacy of their customers, Publicans initially opted for signs that were easy to recognise such as a crown or bull. By way of contrast, the New Inn, was applied liberally to new establishments making it hard to determine the history of the old pub of that name in Deal High Street.

Many of the signs for pubs in Deal and Walmer were painted by Bill Pearce, Charrington’s artist. These included signs for The Rose Hotel (pictured here), The Walmer Castle and The Drum Major.

The rose shown on the sign for the Rose Hotel is of a Noisette rose, which was brought to this country from France by the Rev. Henry Honeywood D’Ombrain, the first vicar of St. George’s Church which is adjacent to The Rose Hotel. He was instituted as the Vicar in 1852. A well known plant breeder, his work was noticed by Darwin, with whom he corresponded.  Darwin quotes D’Ombrain’s findings in his The variation of animals and plants under domestication of 1863.

The Walmer Castle was named after a Lugger of the same name, which was lost with all hands off the Isle of Wight in 1892. The ill-fated boat, shown on the pub sign throughout the 1970s, was previously named The Petrel. She had been renamed and refitted after she was found drifting and full of water off Brixam, in an incident where four Walmer boats were lost. Among those drowned in the second tragedy were the skipper and owner, Henry Axon, who had missed the previous disaster having left the Lugger to act as pilot for another boat.

The Many Pubs of Deal

When I was growing up it was still the habit of much of the town to go to the pub every Friday and Saturday night. My friends and I made a selection each weekend from a circuit of pubs: The Kings Head and Port Arms on the seafront; The Black Horse, New Inn and The Rose on the High Street, or The Walmer Castle in South Street. Occasionally we’d diversify and visit The Pelican, Clarendon Hotel or Pier Hotel – all of which were on the sea front. If we were in Walmer it would be The Lifeboat, The Stag or Lord Nelson.

We had a lot of choice as there were still a great many pubs in the town. I was told the apocryphal story that that there was once a pub in Deal for every day of the year, and there were still enough pubs in town that I believed it. Research shows this to be an exaggeration; according to Drinking in Deal, at its peak in 1871 Deal had 79 Public Houses and 16 Beer Houses, which is still a large number for a population of around 8,000 souls at the time.

This is confirmed by Victorian ‘density indicators’, which were based on the size of the population and the number of licensed houses. In 1899 Deal’s was 1,057, far higher than the nearby coastal towns of Dover (646), Ramsgate (615) or Folkestone (556).

The Rise and Fall of the Beer House

Part of the growth in Pub numbers in Deal can be accounted for by the new Beer Houses that were a result of the 1830 Beerhouse Act. This allowed a ratepayer to brew or sell beer on or off the premises for a payment of two guineas to the Excise. These houses were not permitted to sell wine or spirits but were also not under the control of the magistrates.

The Act was intended to increase the availability of beer so that the the population might be weaned off stronger alcoholic drinks such as gin, which had established an evil reputation in the previous century during the gin craze. The act resulted in the opening of thousands of new drinking establishments and many new breweries throughout the country. The Saracen’s Head in Alfred Square started as a beer house, as did The Prince Albert across the road and The Railway Tavern near Deal Station.  Before the act Deal had had 39 Public Houses. 

In 1869 new legislation brought the licensing of new beer houses under the control of the magistrates and many became Public Houses. Some never made the transition. The Deal Lugger was refused a license in 1867 and 1869 and remained a beer house until it closed.  

Lost Pubs and Survivors

Deal has lost many of its old pubs – there is a long listing at The Lost Pubs Project, but many wonderful establishments remain. My favourites, in no particular order, are the Deal Hoy, The Kings Head, The Royal Hotel and The Ship. In nearby Walmer I am fond of The Freed Man, and just along the coast in Kingsdown The Zetland Arms is always a pleasure to visit.

As I write this in the lockdown of Spring 2020, all the pubs in Deal, like those throughout the rest of the country, are closed due to the Corona Virus. However, the culture of Britain’s pubs is inextricably linked with our tradition of resilience and these old houses have already survived much turbulence in their long histories. I greatly look forward to their re-opening.

Three black and white photo galleries of Deal can also be found on this site Deal Gallery, Deal Gallery 2 and Boats of Deal (film).

The Historic Town of Deal – Part I

The historic town of Deal is unique in once having been a port without a harbour.  Central to the town’s history is the sheltered anchorage, known as The Downs, which lies between the Deal shoreline and the notorious ‘ship swallower’ the Goodwin Sands, which acts as a breakwater for ships in the channel.  Hundreds of ships could be anchored in The Downs at once, sometimes remaining for weeks at a time. Whilst at anchor, the ships required provisions that were supplied from Deal and the town became a thriving port.

Three Castles and a Duke

By the time of Henry VIII the importance of the Downs made the coastline worthy of protection. There is a Tudor artillery fortress at Deal (constructed 1539–40). Another is close by at Walmer. This evolved into a stately home where the Duke of Wellington stayed in his role as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports until his death at the age of 83 in 1852. The Duke, then Lt. Gen. Sir Arthur Wellesley, also lived in Wellesley House in Walmer just before the Peninsula War of 1807. A third castle at nearby Sandown was lost to the sea.

Farrier Street in the Historic Town of Deal
Farrier Street, Deal

A Major Port

Deal gained special status in the 12th century when it was granted a Royal Charter as part of the confederation of five ports (The Cinque Ports). The confederation provided the crown with ships as required in return for exemption from tax and tolls.

Unlike nearby Sandwich, which lost its status due to changes in the coastline, Deal retained its strategic importance. In the eighteenth century the town was still one of the four great ports of England, along with Portsmouth, Rochester and Plymouth.

Smuggling, Hovelling and Heroism

Amongst this maritime activity was extensive smuggling.  Deal’s smuggling activities were so notorious that Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger had the town’s Luggers burned on the beach. Smuggling soon resumed however, with the support of at least some of the community. In 1801 smugglers were aided by a local mob who attacked the revenue men when they forced a lugger onto Deal beach.

The author of a Lloyd’s report in 1869 observed: “Deal might have been built for smuggling … The streets run parallel to the beach, and close to it, and are connected by numerous narrow alleys, out of which open doors leading into yards and sheds. The beach extends some miles, and at various parts of it, on the shingle itself, stand roomy wooden sheds, belonging to the boatmen. The cargoes of a whole fleet of ships, once landed on the beach, might be so effectually disposed of in these yards and sheds, in a few hours, that not a trace of them would remain.

The Deal Lugger

The Luggers, which weighed up to 30 tons, were two masted and could be launched from Deal’s steep shingle banks. They were designed and built by skilled craftsmen for speed, strength and seaworthiness, and were the fore runners of the lifeboats.

Operating Luggers was hazardous. In The Last of Our Luggers and the Men who Sailed in Them (1929), E.C. Pain describes the loss of the Deal Lugger Fawn, run down by a steamer in 1864; Topsy, sunk by a French vessel in 1868, Reform, dashed against the pier in 1871, Walmer Castle, which foundered off Ventnor in 1892, and the Earl of Zetland which had the same fate in 1860. Pubs in Deal and Kingsdown respectively were named after the last two boats. Luggers fell out of use with the disappearance of sailing ships from the Downs at the end of the nineteenth century, the last, according to Pain, being the Cosmopolite which finished as a relic on Walmer beach.

There is still an example of a later, smaller, design based on the Lugger on the beach at Deal. The Lady Irene was built in 1906 as a trip boat to take holiday-makers on short trips out to sea.  

Painting boat, Lady Irene historic town of Deal Beach Kent
Lady Irene undergoing maintenance on Deal beach in 2017

Deal’s boatmen used their Luggers for salvage and to rescue shipwreck victims as well as for smuggling, and were known for their fearless seamanship. Accordingly, the boatmen, whose work was known as ‘hovelling’ developed a reputation for both villainy and heroism simultaneously.

In 1858 the Collector of Customs at Deal asserted that ‘this place has long been notorious for the lawless character of persons who flock by hundreds to disasters merely for the sake of plunder.’ However the author of Our Sea Coast Heroes, published in the 1880s, had an entirely different perspective: ‘The race of boatmen now existing at Deal has never been surpassed for those generous qualities which have rendered their forefathers famous…. There is no danger to themselves which they do not habitually incur in their endeavours to save life or property. They are indeed a race of heroes who go forth on their mission of mercy with their lives in their hands.’

The Lifeboat Station

Because of the difficulties in reaching ships wrecked on the Goodwin Sands there were several lifeboats stationed along the coast. The Walmer station was established in 1856, followed by North Deal, which closed in the 1930s when Walmer received a motor boat, and Kingsdown. Only Walmer is still operational.

The Walmer lifeboat Charles Dibdin (ON 762) was one of 19 lifeboats which took part in the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940. She was manned by a naval crew, and no details are known about the trip, but she came back decorated with holes in both sides. Since 1856 Walmer crews have received 28 awards for gallantry.

The Naval Yard and Timeball Tower

Time ball Tower historic town Deal Kent
The Timeball Tower

A naval yard was built in Deal in 1672. This provided for the ships anchored in the Downs. Over time, this grew to several acres in size. It was not a dockyard as Deal offered no dock, so small supply boats were kept at the yard, which remained an important part of the town until it closed in 1864.

Deal has one of only seven surviving timeballs in the UK. The Timeball Tower is four-storeys high and stood at the entrance of the Naval Yard. The ball fell at precisely 1 PM each day, triggered by an electrical signal from the Royal Observatory. This allowed the ships’ marine chronometers to be checked or reset, which was vital for accurate navigation. The tower stands on the site of an earlier Shutter Telegraph and Semaphore station, used for the suppression of Smuggling.

In 1805 news of victory at Trafalgar, where the Royal Navy annihilated the greatest threat to British security for 200 years, and the death of Britain’s greatest war hero, arrived in Deal by schooner. It was subsequently transmitted to the Admiralty in London from the Deal telegraph station.

Nelson visited Deal whilst his fleet was at anchor in the Downs. Nelson Street (in which I rented a cottage in the summer for many years) was named after the Admiral, as were two Lord Nelson pubs (one in Deal and one in Walmer) and two Deal Luggers – the Brave Nelson and the Nelson.

A High Density of Pubs

The historic town of Deal developed a mile or so inland from the coast, in an area now known as Upper Deal, where the ancient Parish church of St. Leonard’s stands with its distinctive cupola, once a landmark to shipping. In the seventeenth century development shifted closer to the beach in Lower Deal along the three streets that run parallel to the shore – Beach, Middle Street and Lower Street (now the High Street). There are numerous narrow streets and alleys that cross these three main streets, such as Farrier street in the shot above. These were ideal for taking smuggled goods quickly from boats on the beach down into the town.

At one time these narrow streets also contained a very large number of pubs. At its peak in 1871 the town had 79 Public Houses and 16 Beer Houses for a population of around 8,000 people. The Victorians recorded ‘density indicators’ based on the size of the population and the number of licensed houses. In 1899 Deal’s was 1,057, far higher than nearby Dover (646), Ramsgate (615) or Folkestone (556). See the post The Pubs of Old Deal for more on this subject.

Garrison Town

Deal was a garrison town for over two hundred years. A cavalry barracks for the 15th Light Dragoons built in 1793 was expanded to accommodate infantry before becoming home to the Royal Marines in 1869 where they remained until 1996. The last unit to leave, preceded by 41 Commando, was the Royal Marines School of Music, which had moved to Deal in 1930. The school relocated to Portsmouth, where it remains today.

In 1989 part of the Royal Marines School of Music was bombed by the IRA resulting in the deaths of 11 musicians, and 22 injuries. There is a memorial bandstand on Walmer Green where concerts are still regularly played in the summer months.

Mining Town

Coal was first discovered in Kent as part of excavations to build a Channel tunnel in the late 19th century, though the first commercial coal was not mined until 1912. Numerous bore holes were drilled resulting in collieries at Betteshanger, Chislet, Snowdown and Tilmanstone. In the late 1920s farmland on the outskirts of Deal at Mill Hill was acquired to build housing for the miners. Mill Hill remained a vibrant mining community until the pits were closed. Betteshanger, where my stepfather worked for 23 years, was the last colliery in Kent to close in 1989, just a year short of the centenary of the discovery of coal in the area.

Boom and Bust

Deal has enjoyed and endured periods of boom and bust over the centuries. It was booming during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars but declined as a port afterwards, leading to William Cobbet’s harsh commentary on the ‘villainous place’ in 1823. The town started to attract more visitors after 1847 when the railway arrived. Charles Dickens attended the celebrations that accompanied the opening of the South East Railway line, of which Deal was the terminus. The town also benefited from the late Victorian growth in seaside holidays, particularly after the 1871 Bank Holiday Act which was accompanied by a rise in disposable income for much of the population.

Boats and Angling

Morning Haze historic town of Deal
Morning Haze on Deal Beach

Deal ceased to be classified as a port in 1881, but became popular for angling. In October 1957, 11,000 anglers attended the first National Angling Festival for 18 years. Events like these continued to be popular throughout the 1950s and 1960s and the town had several tackle shops for the anglers. There were also had many fishing boats on the beach, some of which were available for charter to fisherman or divers who wanted to explore the wrecks on the Goodwin Sands.

These boats started to disappear as government requirements for licensing and equipment became more stringent and there are few working boats on the beach today. I’ve been photographing boats like FE 371 ‘Denise’, DR 28 ‘Morning Haze’, DR 110 ‘Moss Rose’, DR 181 ‘Fair Port’ and the old Deal Trip boat ‘Lady Irene’ for many years. The letters identify the port of origin and are typically DR for Dover, FE for Folkestone or R for Ramsgate. Some of these (like Denise for example) are potters and and are surrounded by lobster pots. You can find photographs of them in the Deal Gallery

Seaside Town

Today it is a highly rated seaside resort with many boutiques, bars and restaurants. The seafront and the conservation area, centred on Middle Street, are both particularly attractive. See my post on The Many Pleasures of Deal for ideas.

Deal Pier

One of Deal’s most notable seaside attractions is the pier. The first was of wooden construction. This was never completed and was destroyed in a gale in 1857. It it was replaced by an iron pier in 1864 which was severely damaged by a drifting ship which had been hit by a mine in 1940 and demolished in 1943.

The current pier, the last intact leisure pier in Kent, was opened in 1957 and is made of reinforced concrete. It was opened by Prince Philip, who remarked that he had a link with the town due to his involvement in the rescue the pier master. The Pier Master, Captain Arthur Vyvyan Harris, had been in a tanker blown up by a mine in 1943 and the-then Lieutenant Philip had helped him up the scramble nets.

The pier provides an excellent view of Deal seafront, as well as the coast from Thanet in the North to St Margaret’s bay in the South. The pier is internationally recognised as an angling venue and features a glass-walled café-bar at the end of the pier.

If you are thinking of visiting, take a look at my post on the top ten attractions the town has to offer – or check out the three black and white photography galleries on this site: Deal Gallery, Deal Gallery 2 and Boats of Deal (film). If you are interested in Deal’s famous residents and visitors there is also a post on that subject on this site.

The Many Pleasures of Deal, Kent

I spent the first 18 years of my life in Walmer, the village that adjoins the town of Deal in Kent. When I was 18 all I wanted to do was to leave for the excitement of London, but by my thirties Deal had become my favourite place to return to. I brought my young family to Deal often and we rented a cottage in Nelson Street which is situated in the picturesque conservation area of the town. I’ve travelled extensively over the years but Deal remains my favourite place to visit and I visit as often as I can.

Morning Haze In Praise of Deal Kent
The Morning Haze on Deal Beach

A Port Without A Harbour

Deal, Kent is unique in once having been a port without a harbour.  The anchorage known as The Downs located between the Deal shoreline and the Goodwin Sands  provided shelter for ships in the channel, and Deal became a thriving port, later defended by several castles.  It has a fascinating history, equally famed for heroism and villainy. Over time it has been a garrison town, a mining town and lately a thriving seaside resort. See the post on The Historic Town of Deal for more on this subject.

The Many Pleasures of Deal

There are many pleasures to be had whilst staying in Deal.  Here are ten of my favourites things to do in the town, in no particular order:

  1. A stroll along the broad promenade and then onto the pier (said to be the same length as the Titanic but actually 200 ft longer)
  2. A walk through the winding narrow streets of the conversation area to admire the restored cottages and town houses, and perhaps to visit one of the fine old pubs like The Ship Inn, The Deal Hoy or the Royal Hotel.
  3. Coffee or a bite to eat in the Black Douglas (run by the descendants of the Scottish knight)
  4. Sitting out on the seafront in front of the picturesque Kings Arms
  5. Shopping for fresh fish at Jenkin’s fishmongers
  6. Lunch or dinner at 81 Beach Street
  7. Shopping in the boutiques of the High Street (Deal was the inaugural High Street of the year for the Daily Telegraph in 2014)
  8. Browsing the produce and bric-a-brac at Deal Market on a Saturday morning
  9. A visit to the nearby visit to the picturesque former fishing village of Kingsdown immediately south of Walmer and the beachside pub The Zetland Arms
  10. And of course…taking pictures of one of my favourite places in the world – my first Deal Gallery can be found here and the second here.