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).


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6 thoughts on “The Pubs of Old Deal

  1. I am always really interested to read your articles on the history of Deal. I grew up in Deal and when in secondary school did a history project all about the smuggling etc. I used to ask to see the books in the library which were locked away and sit for hours reading and making notes.

  2. Great reading. I grew up in Deal, there was a saying that Deal was made up of pubs and churches.

  3. In your favourite pubs list you mention the Kings Arms, do you mean the Kings Head or is there a local hostelry I am not currently aware of?

    1. Well spotted, I meant the Kings Head and have made a correction. Apparently there was a Kings Arms at 176 Beach Street at one time. It was still going in 1849 as it was auctioned that year along with many others, but there is no record of it after 1877 (according to Dover Kent Archives) so I definitely didn’t visit it!

  4. I live in Florida now, Reading your magnificent article has made my day. I have visited many of the pubs mentioned…not even knowing their wonderful history. Thank you so much

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