History Of Deal, Kent
The proximity of Deal's shoreline to the notorious Goodwin Sands has made its coastal waters a source of both shelter and danger through the history of sea travel in British waters.
The Downs, the water between the town and the sands provides a naturally sheltered anchorage. This allowed the town to become a significant shipping and (due to the proximity to Chatham Dockyard) military port in past centuries despite the absence of a harbour, with transit of goods and people from ship to shore conducted using smaller tender craft.
The anchorage is still used today by international and regional shipping, though on a scale far smaller than at other times in the past (some historical accounts report hundreds of ships being visible from the beach).
By the time Dickens came to Deal it had been largely forgotten how the government of 1784, under Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (who was staying at nearby Walmer Castle, and was later to be appointed Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in 1792), ensured that the Deal boats were all set ablaze, suspecting some of the Deal luggers of being engaged in smuggling. Pitt had awaited an opportunity that January, when the boats were all 'hoved up' on the beach on account of bad weather, to send a regiment of soldiers to smash and burn them. A naval cutter was positioned offshore to prevent any of the boatmen escaping.
The boatmen's ancestors had the right, under charter, freely to import goods in return for their services as Cinque Port men in providing what had been long recognised as the sole naval defence of the realm. These men continued to risk their lives and their boats, in saving the lives of shipwreck victims.
The irrepressible spirit of the Deal boatmen remained undaunted by these events throughout the Napoleonic Wars, and they continued to assert their hard-earned right to trade.
From these activities news of the events unfolding in France would reach England quickly and regularly, with about 400 men making a living of off Deal beach at that time. The war only made the boatmen’s efforts more profitable, so that afterwards the Government immediately turned a part of its naval blockade into a coastal blockade, which lasted from 1818 to 1831.
Deal had a naval shipyard which provided Deal with much of its trade. On the site of the yard there is now a building originally used as a semaphore tower, and later used as a coastguard house, then as a Time ball tower, which it remains today, and as a museum. Besides this and the Deal Maritime Museum, there is no museum of the town's history yet, though a campaign to start one is ongoing - Deal's history is told at Dover Museum instead.
The Royal Marines
The first home of the Royal Marines in Kent was established at Chatham in 1755. Because of its proximity to the continent and the fact that it possessed a thriving naval dockyard, Deal has been closely associated with the corps ever since its foundation. Records from the old Navy yard at Deal exist from 1658 and show that Marines from Chatham and Woolwich were on duty in Deal, and quartered in the town, until the Deal depot was established in 1861.
Deal Barracks has become known over its long history as the Royal Marine School of Music, the barracks at Walmer consisting of the North, East and South (or Cavalry) barracks, and all were constructed shortly after the outbreak of the French revolution.
Part of the South barracks was used from 1815 as the quarters for the 'blockade men', drafted against a threat of local smuggling. The South barracks became a coastguard station thereafter, and this duty continued until 1840.
It was the East barracks which accommodated the School of Music, until the Royal Naval School of Music was formed at Plymouth in 1903, but which moved to Deal in 1930, replacing the original depot band formed in 1891. Thus the institution became known as the Royal Marine School of Music in 1950.
During 1940, at St Margarets Bay, close to Deal, the Royal Marines Siege Regiment came into being and manned cross-channel guns for most of the remainder of the war.
On the 22nd September, 1989, a bomb planted by the IRA killed ten bandsmen and injured a further 22.
On the evening of March 26, 1996, the Deal populace were privy to a special ceremony, the 'beating of the retreat', coming from the South barracks, as the Marines were commanded to vacate their ancient Kent depot and move to new quarters at Portsmouth.
The seafront at Deal has been adorned with three separate piers in the town's history. The first, built in 1838, was designed by Sir John Rennie. After its wooden structure was destroyed in an 1857 gale, it was replaced by an iron pier in 1864. A popular pleasure pier, it survived until the Second World War, when it was struck and severely damaged by a torpedoed Dutch ship, the Nora, in January 1940. This was not the first time the pier had been hit by shipping, with previous impacts in 1873 and 1884 necessitating extensive repairs.
The present pier was opened in 1954 by Prince Phillip. Constructed predominantly from concrete-clad steel, it is 1026ft (311m) in length (the same length, as a notice announces, as the RMS Titanic!), and ends in a three-tiered pier-head, featuring a cafe, bar, lounge, and fishing decks. The lowest of the three tiers is underwater at all but the lowest part of the tidal range, and has become disused. The pier is a popular sport fishing venue.
Deal's current pier is the last remaining fully-intact leisure pier in Kent. Its structure was extensively refurbished and repaired in 1997, with work including the replacement of much of the concrete cladding on the pier's main piles.