The days are beginning to shorten noticeably with dark mornings and earlier nightfall but at present we are enjoying a spell of fine weather. The warmth of the recent "Indian summer" has passed away and there is a chill on the early morning air but once again today there is a clear blue sky and the sun is shining. To what use shall we put this fine Saturday?
We caught a bus to St Pancras and while I went to fetch us some breakfast, Tigger bought train tickets for Deal in Kent. The journey starts aboard the HS1 and then we change at Dover Priory to the Minster train which calls at Deal.
On Deal station, Tigger noticed this platform belonging to a weighbridge manufactured Henry Pooley & Son. These weighbridges used to be found on all railways stations and remnants are still often to be seen. I previously mentioned Henry Pooley and the firm’s history in Bristol 2011 – Day 3.
We reached Deal just after midday and, having had a look at the station itself, built in 1847 when this line was opened, turned towards the centre of the town.
The station leads into Sainsbury’s car park where I photographed the above gull and then we progressed into Queen Street.
Here is the local office of the East Kent Mercury, though it is closed on Saturday.
The newspaper office has a small quaint façade and a elegant doorway with an unusual tall fanlight.
The High Street is a long street with a lot of shops and part of it is closed to vehicles, which makes it a pleasant place to stroll and shop. We went south on High Street until it enters Victoria Road and turned left into Sondes Road, heading towards the seafront.
Along Sondes Road we discovered the Masonic Hall. This is known as Wellington Lodge 784 and belongs to the Province of East Kent. Last year, the Lodge celebrated its centenary having been built in 1910, the first permanent meeting place for this Lodge.
Sondes Road leads to the seafront at Victoria Parade. The dockyard used to stand here with large numbers of ships anchored all over what are called the Downs. The tower was first built in 1795 as the end of a chain of shutter telegraph towers stretching from London, which provided the then fastest channel for sending messages. In 1826, the new semaphore system was introduced and the tower was accordingly converted. It remained in use as the Royal Signal Tower until 1842. In 1853, a new use was found for it. Ships needed to have accurate timekeeping in order to calculate their true longitude at sea. A time ball was built on top of the tower and its ball would be raised and then dropped at precisely 1.30 pm. All the ships at anchor would be able to see it and set their clocks accordingly.
Further along is the Regent. It was built in 1928 as a dance hall and was converted into a cinema in the 1930s. It is said that a frequent visitor was Noel Coward who would come here to watch his films. At the moment it is closed and facing an uncertain future.
Turning inland again we continued exploring and found the Head Post Office in Stanhope Road. I think that today it serves as a sorting and parcels office as there is a notice on the posting box reassuring potential customers that it still functions. I particularly liked the chequered patterning on the pediment.
Returning to the long High Street (here open to traffic) we had a look at St George’s Church. It is quite a pretty church with a modest wooden spire or cupola containing a bell. It was built between 1706 and 1716. The gate is slightly curious because of the inscriptions on the gateposts.
On the side of the gateposts facing the church we find the above stone and a matching one naming the churchwarden. The latter was so eroded as to be almost illegible so I didn’t photograph it. The inscription seems to indicate that the gate was built in 1860.
On the outer face of the gateposts, however, we find a dedication to Edward VII. The left-hand stone reads “IN MEMORY OF KING EDWARD VII” and the right-hand one, “KING & EMPEROR 1901 – 1910”.
The answer to the apparent paradox is perhaps here, on the iron gates. These have shields displaying the coat of arms of Deal and are each surmounted by a royal cypher “ER” for “Edward Rex”. So it seems it is the iron gates, installed, perhaps, to replace older ones, that have been dedicated to the late king. That would date them to not long after 1910, I imagine.
Further along is another impressive building, the colonnaded town hall. Built in 1803, and replacing an earlier town hall (which still stands though we did not see it this time around), its colonnade provided space for a market. The town’s fire engine was also kept here for a time. The drinking fountain was presented to the town (perhaps supplying water from the nearby Bear Well, said at the time to be the best water in town) by Granville George Leveson Gower, 2nd Earl Granville in 1875, the year in which he became joint leader of the Liberal Party.
What would you say Deal’s best kept secret was? According to some it is the very existence of the D.M. & L.H.M. – the Deal Maritime and Local History Museum. We found it because we saw a signpost indicating it 100 yards down St George’s Road. Museums like this are usually run by the local council but this one is maintained by a private trust and staffed by volunteers.
There is a modest admission fee of £2 but photography is not allowed, which is a pity, as you might have liked to see pictures of some of the exhibits. I can only say once again how misguided I consider this policy. After all, a "secret" museum needs all the publicity it can get and pictures posted on blogs are free publicity, especially as this museum doesn’t seem to have a Web site.
Back in the High Street, we came across a rather different survival from a past era in the form of this cigarette vending machine. These shiny metal machines were once to be found everywhere, outside shops, on stations, in cinemas and pubs, in fact anywhere where they could catch the passing trade. New generations of more sophisticated dispensers have succeeded these but now, in England at least, cigarette machines will no longer be legal anywhere as the government has banned them in a measure aimed to cub underage smoking. How long will it be before machines like these take their place in antiques emporia beside the lever-operate pre-decimal shop tills?
We turned down Farrier Street, heading for the seafront but deviated into Middle Street when Tigger spotted a blue plaque. This one informed us that the comedy star Charles Hawtrey, a veteran of the Carry On series, among others, Had lived here, though I do not know exactly when or for how long.
Farrier Road brings you onto the seafront at the appropriately named Beach Street. These Art Deco shelters were built in the 1950s as part of a regeneration scheme and I think they suit their environment very well.
Although it was sunny, it was not very warm and so it was unsurprising that there were few people on the beach and none bathing. On the other hand, there were folk walking along the promenade and enjoying the sun. The present pier was opened in 1957 and refurbished in 1997. The previous pier had been seriously damaged in 1940 when a Dutch ship ran into it.
While we sat for a while on a bench, someone put some food on the ground, provoking a feeding frenzy among the gulls.
When the dockyard was thriving there would no doubt have been plenty of custom from seafarers and associated trades people for the seafront pubs but times change and Deal is a relatively quiet town these days. Many of the old pubs have been converted to other purposes but it is good to think that these historic places still survive albeit in a different form.
This neat little edifice, which opened as a chapel in 1885, and served also as the local branch of the Mission to Seamen, was also the home of the Rev T.S. Treanor, who wrote about the seafarers of Deal, including the famous Heroes of the Goodwin Sands (still in print and still selling).
This pleasant square (pleasant except for being cluttered with that modern eyesore, the parked car) is Alfred Square. The building today called Lloyd Court used to be Deal College, one of whose principals, James Lush, was Mayor of Deal no fewer than 5 times.
On one corner of the Square is a pub called the Saracen’s Head. I spotted something potentially interesting on its wall and went to look. Yes! I was right. It was a Queen Victoria posting box. That argues for a good age for both the box itself and the pub that hosts it.
The sun was going down so what should we do now? I think sensible people would have taken the train home, but when were we ever sensible? Instead, we jumped on a bus and went to Sandwich.
The bus dropped us at a square called the Cattle Market. Sunlight was still lighting roofs and towers such as that of St Peter’s Church, but night was coming on.
We went exploring and found the street without a name,
had a look along New Street, which actually looked quite old,
and saw pigeons roosting above an ancient face.
It was beginning to get dark by now and shadows were gathering in the streets, making it hard to take photos.
Then the sun disappeared altogether and we returned to the Cattle Market to wait for a bus back to Deal. From there we took a train back to London.
It had been an enjoyable as well as interesting day out. Deal is a small, rather tranquil town (or so it appeared to us), probably quieter these days that when the dockyard flourished and the Downs were covered with ships at anchor. It’s long shingle beach is innocent of the raucous entertainments seen at other seaside locations but the town provides all the usual amenities for the visitor. There are enough historical buildings and other traces to keep us clicking away with our cameras and I am sure we missed as much or more than we actually saw, leaving discoveries for other visits.
On the train we talked to the ticket inspectors and asked about ticket punches. We had noticed that the punches they used produced holes with unusual designs (see two examples above). They explained that the punches issued by the railway company were of poor quality and broke easily. Moreover, these made only one sort of hole, boring round ones. So inspectors bought their own punches and even looked for rare designs on eBay. One inspector we spoke to, an Australian, had a punch that made holes in the shape of a kangaroo but unfortunately she did not punch our tickets. How nice it is when a little whimsicality can be introduced into official processes!