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Deal Pier History

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Articles
  1. "Three Deal Piers", by Gregory Holyoake (1981)
  2. "The landing-place of Julius Cæsar in Britain", by the Reverend E. Cardwell, D.D. (1860)
  3. "Wreck fishing off the S.S. Patria", by Stanley Tooth (1910)
  4. "Floating furnace - 1899", by David Chamberlain
  5. "Photos of the Pier (1924/25)", by Paul Tooth
  6. "Mr Turner's paintings of our town", by Gregory Holyoake
  7. "Sea-fishing as a sport", by Lambton J. H. Young (1865)
  8. "The fine art of smuggling: King's cutters vs. smugglers (1700-1855)", by E. Keble Chatterton
  9. "The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent (1800) Edward Hasted"
  10. Deal Pier Café: online resources
  11. Deal Pier Café, Architectural Review (February 2009)
  12. "Revealed: Kevin McCloud's favourite house", The Daily Telegraph (2015)
  13. "The dark side of Deal", The Guardian (2016)
  14. L.S. Lowry painting and drawing of Deal Beach to go on sale
  15. "Pier and Fishing" reports from the Deal, Walmer & Sandwich Mercury, 1903 (work in progress)
  16. "An account of the sinking of the 'Rooswijk' in 1740", by David Chamberlain
  17. "Where have all the fishing boats gone?", by David Chamberlain
  18. "Deal, Mecca of sea angling", by David Chamberlain
  19. "Deal's tackle shops in the early 1960s", by David Chamberlain
  20. "The winter of '63", by David Chamberlain
  21. "Deal and Walmer angling clubs in the early 1960s", by David Chamberlain
  22. "Deal's tackle shops in the mid 1960s", by David Chamberlain
  23. "Boating off Deal", by David Chamberlain
  24. "The 'Morning Haze' charters", by David Chamberlain
  25. "Enjoying breezy times on Deal Pier", by Judith Gaunt (2008)
  26. "The dogfish skinning contest", by David Chamberlain
  27. "The Goodwin Sands yields its secrets", by W. H. Lapthorne (1984)
  28. "Deal smuggling in Victorian times", by J. M. Bower (1987)
  29. "Beachcombing bottles", by David Chamberlain
  30. "Dispelling a myth", by David Chamberlain
  31. "A sad occasion", by David Chamberlain
  32. "The best job in the world, Part 1", by David Chamberlain
  33. "The best job in the world, Part 2", by David Chamberlain
  34. "Christmas on the Goodwins", by David Chamberlain
  35. "An unhappy Christmas", by David Chamberlain
  36. "Jack Hargreaves comes to 'Our Town'", by David Chamberlain
  37. "Swinging the Lead", by David Chamberlain
  38. Daily Express, Daily Mirror, Watchman and South Eastern Gazette archived articles from 1838 to 1962

Enjoying breezy times on Deal pier

Judith Gaunt, Bygone Kent (January/February 2008) Volume 29, Number 1

Deal pier is famous for its fishing, pots of tea, fried breakfasts and breathtaking views back towards the shoreline, which have been the subject of many artists and photographers pictures over the years.

The pier has just marked its 50th anniversary with extensive renovations and should emerge later this year with a new pierhead café and facilities. But its history is one of determined hard work to retain a pier in the town and lengthy negotiations before the current pier was built.

The Duke of Edinburgh opened the pier on 19 November 1957 after the previous iron pier had been demolished during the Second World War.On 29 January 1940 the 350 ton Dutch cargo ship Nora crashed into the structure damaging it beyond repair. The ship had been mined earlier in the day when at anchor in the Downs. A huge hole had been blown in her stern and, although slowly sinking, she was towed towards Deal and beached about 50 yards to the south of the pier. Heavy seas and a strong tide hurled Nora against the pier, which finally collapsed under the repeated battering.

At the time of Dunkirk the town's foreshore, including the pier, had been requisitioned and as an anti-invasion measure the pier debris was blown up apart from its two tollhouses.

In the spring of 1943 a brick-built lookout was erected on what was left of the entrance to the pier. Deal Corporation began negotiations with the Government for compensation for the loss of the pier, using the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939. By July of that year the Admiralty had agreed to pay half the taxed costs but by 1946 they accepted full financial responsibility for the complete reinstatement of Deal pier, the bill finally rising to around £250,000.

In May 1954, plans for the new pier were finally approved. Two months later the corporation approved a tender of £218,441 submitted by Concrete Piling Limited of London.

DC Heard & Company Ltd from Ramsgate was the other main contractor with other Thanet firms supplying most of the materials including Alfred Olby Limited glaziers, RW Griffiths tile suppliers, Thanet-Ware (Kent) Limited metal windows, architectural and ornamental ironwork and Lockeyears Limited of Broadstairs, flooring specialists. Channel Woodcraft Limited of Folkestone fitted the restaurant and bar. Bernard Bright electricians of Deal was the main electrical contractor. Sir William Halcrow and Partners of London were chosen as consultants. Mr H.K. Arnold, aged 29, became resident engineer in what was described as his biggest job yet.

Construction of the pier finally began in September 1954 with the corporation hoping it would be completed by the summer of 1956. By April 1955 regular reports to the council showed work was already three months behind schedule.

On several occasions work was held up owing to weather conditions and accidents. Early on a 47 feet leader frame, which acted as a guide for the piles fell over, only the attached guys slowing the fall and luckily the only injury being the sprained wrist of a labourer.

In February 1956 work was at a total standstill thanks to heavy snow and high winds and was further delayed due to the late arrival of the final two piles for the pier approach.

Then in March three workmen were hurled into the sea when a winch pulled itself out of position. They were in the freezing water for nearly five minutes before being rescued. Again in May a workman was injured when a winch spun back and injured his hand.

Eventually work was completed and Deal's newest pier was used for the first time at the end of July 1957 when the Queen of the Channel steamer called at the pierhead to take a party of 800 on a day's outing to Calais.

In October more than 11,000 anglers and visitors used the pier for the first National Angling Festival to be held in Deal for 18 years. A new pier master, Captain Arthur Vyvyan Harris, was employed and preparations made for the official opening.

The Duke of Edinburgh arrived at Deal station by Royal train and was welcomed at the pier by local schoolchildren, representatives of youth organisations, Royal Marines and dignitaries. Prince Phillip was presented with a ceremonial key designed by Thomas Fattorini of London.

But what of the earlier iron pier? Built in 1863, the pier was 1,000 feet long, and had been designed by Mr E Birch, a civil engineer from London while the contract for its construction was won by R Laidlaw and Son, of Glasgow.

The ceremonial opening by the town's Mayor took place on 14th July 1864 but with work not quite completed, a final opening ceremony was performed by Mr Knatchbull-Hugessen, MP for Sandwich, on 8th November.


Deal's Victorian iron pier with the popular view of the shoreline behind it

Writing in his Illustrated Guide to Deal and District around 1892 John Heywood considered one of the pier's "unusual charms" was that

"it always seems high water … the tide may come and go at Deal as at other places, but I never saw any great difference in the might and fullness of the sea that rattles the shingle morn, noon and night. A structure that strides on many legs aloft across a dreary waste of sealess sand always appears to me more or less ridiculous and unnecessary. From the sides of Deal pier the pedestrian may always look into many feet of bright and gleaming water."

An iron pier had been chosen because a previous pier, just north of the Royal Hotel had been built of wood in 1838. An Act of Parliament was obtained allowing the formation of a Deal Pier Company with a capital of £21,000. Sir John Rennie, who created London Bridge, designed the pier to be 445 feet long. In the end only 250 feet were built at a cost of £12,000 because of a shortage of money. Continual gales undermined the structure, sea worm had infected the timbers and the pier finally collapsed in a severe gale around 1857. The materials were put up for auction and made about £50.

Although piers have become associated with seaside resorts the need for a practical jetty at Deal had long been evident for anyone trying to land from the Downs. In 1675 Henry Teonge, a parson from Warwickshire, became a naval chaplain.


Queen of the Channel steamer calling at the pier during the 1950s to take passengers on day trips to France

Anchoring in the Downs he wrote:

"The captain and his lady, the lieutenant and his wife and myself went on shore at Deal; we were all carried out of our pinnace to the shore on men's shoulders." Returning in the evening "we were all carried from shore to our pinnace at least 100 paces, the water being up to the middles of the seamen; the women, for fear of falling and especially the lieutenant's wife, hugging the watermen about the necks until they nearly choked them caused much laughter, though our feet and garments wept."

In 1740 King George II,on returning from Hanover, landed on Deal beach. The Kentish Post described the event:

"About 10 o'clock His Majesty landed at Deale and as the barge approached the shore, Mr Carr, Collector of Customs at that place, attended with his four-wheeled open chaise and caused it to be drove into the sea; so that the barge was pulled close to it; when the said Mr Carr assisted His Majesty while he stept out of the barge into the chaise …"


The concrete pier in 2007, exactly 50 years after its formal opening in 1957

Deal is mostly credited with having three piers, including the present, but Gregory Holyoake in his book Deal Sad Smuggling Town says the King later complained of this incident to the Mayor of Deal Josiah Lane who, being an astute businessman and ardent royalist, organised the construction of a wooden jetty. It stretched out a short distance to the sea opposite Coppin Street but a great storm lasting two days in October 1758 completely demolished it and it was never rebuilt.

In 1801 when Nelson, during the Napoleonic wars, was at anchor in the Downs he tried several times to land at Deal, but also found difficulty. He famously wrote:

"This is the coldest place in England, most assuredly. The surf is still so great on the beach, that I could not land dry if it was necessary today; but I hope it will be smooth on Thursday: if not, I must go in a boat to Dover and come from thence to Deal."

Over the centuries steamers, pleasure boats and warships have landed on the various piers. Fishing competitions have been organised, concerts and tea dances have been held in the pierhead buildings.

Now, with further renovations ahead, Deal pier enters a new era and visitors and local residents enjoying the facilities will watch the fishermen, artists while photographers will continue to capture the view back to the seashore and all will reminisce about the old pier café where they queued patiently for a cooked Sunday breakfast.


The Goodwin Sands yields its secrets

W. H. Lapthorne, Bygone Kent (July 1984) Volume 5, Number 7

In June 1979 divers of the Isle of Thanet Underwater Research Unit made a fascinating and unusual discovery in the dangerous waters above the Goodwin Sands. A local fisherman reported the whereabouts of a large wooden wreck laying on the seabed in 12 fathoms of water, its hull projecting 20 feet out of the sand, yet Admiralty charts had shown a depth of only 3 fathoms, clearly indicating that the sands had shifted. It was decided to search the area thoroughly with a full team of divers.

With their fast undercurrents, poor visibility and constantly shifting sands, the Goodwins prove a hazardous and formidable challenge to even the most skilled of divers. Over the wreck-site two divers went down and to their amazement landed on the gundeck of a large 17th century warship which, although half covered on its starboard side by a steeply shelving bank of sand, was easily discernible as an early line-of-battleship. Its deck was littered with cannon still mounted on carriages, the bones of their crews beside them, cannon balls, ropes, blocks and two great anchors with rings large enough for a diver to swim through without his airtanks touching. So perfect was the wreck that at first it was thought to be modern. It took much research to discover that the infamous Goodwin Sands had yielded one of their most exciting secrets - the 70-gun warship 'Stirling Castle'.

In the year 1703 a storm occurred so terrible it is recorded as the most destructive in the history of the British Isles. The widespread damage it caused gained it the title 'The Great Storm'. South of a line from the Wash to the Mersey the countryside was utterly devastated, with thousands of buildings unroofed and hundreds of houses and windmills destroyed.

In Kent the effects were felt more than in any other county. Trees were uprooted in thousands. Daniel Defoe commented

"I counted 17,000 oaks down in Kent alone, then gave up counting as it seemed pointless and wearisome to do so."

At Faversham, the London to Dover Mail coach was blown by a gust of wind a distance of 30 feet and landed in a ditch, its occupants unharmed. The area surrounding the North Foreland Lighthouse was showered with hot cinders blown from the open coal-fire of its summit, setting light to thatched buildings for miles around. In nearby St Peter's a cow was found still alive in the uppermost branches of a tree. At Brenchley the tallest steeple in Kent crashed across its cloisters and children played on its remains boasting they had leapt over Kent's highest spire. From Sandwich to Canterbury river banks were strewn with fish blown out of the Stour. At Cranbrook grazing land was rendered useless by salt spray blown 25 miles from the nearest sea. Lead linings of churches and houses were rolled up like paper and carried 40 feet away, with smaller sheets torn from roofs to fly through the air like magic carpets. Terrified birds were pulled from the sky and dashed against buildings to fall and die in thousands on the ground.

If the effects on land were appalling, at sea they were disastrous. Over 10,000 seamen were lost, a third of them men of the Royal Navy, which with its heavily manned ships lost an entire fleet in the worst disaster in its history. The storm had been blowing hard for a fortnight before it concentrated its terrible climax into a few hours of 26th/27th November. When it burst upon the Downs a large number of warships and 200 merchantmen were at anchor in what, since Roman times, had been the traditional haven of shipping. Among the vessels present were the flagships of no less than five admirals, including Sir Basil Beaumont, Rear Admiral of the Blue and commander of the Channel Squadron, the youngest officer of such rank in the Royal Navy. As the storm increased, one vessel after another was blown from its moorings, many of them never to be seen again. No less than 13 warships and their crews were lost, including Admiral Beaumont and his entire command. Four of the larger ships lost on the Goodwins were the flagship 'Mary' 60-guns, 272 men; 'Restoration', 386 men; 'Northumberland', 253 men; and 'Stirling Castle', 249 men; all of 70-guns. Of the first vessel there was one survivor, from the second and third none and the last seventy. Within a few tides nothing was left to mark the spot where England's pride had sunk.

In spite of the damage done by The Great Storm, few text-books give it more than a brief mention. For what we know of this storm today we must thank one man - Daniel Defoe (1660-1731). After placing an appeal in the 'Gazette' for experiences of the 'Late Great Storm and Dreadful Tempest', he carried out a nation-wide survey which resulted in the publication of 'The Storm' in 1704. His book gives a vivid account of damage done in town and country, though in parts the imagination of the author of 'Robinson Crusoe' is quite noticeable. Defoe was a caustic penman and by its use in attacks on authority he often found himself in prison. In 'The Storm' he attacked the Government for allowing so many large warships to be in the Downs during winter, when they should be laid-up out of service. As can be imagined this did not make him or his books popular with the Government and many copies were seized and destroyed - thus making this volume very rare. Even so 'The Storm' remains the definitive work for research on the subject.

The 'Stirling Castle' was a third rate of 70-guns, built by Jonas Shish at Deptford in 1679 and rebuilt at Chatham in 1697, with a gundeck of 152 feet and 1,087 tons. When last seen, according to Flag Captain Martin of the 'Prince George' (the only 90-gun ship to ride out the storm in the Downs), it was a dismasted hulk being driven helplessly on to the Goodwins. There it was to remain until released by phenomenon similar to that which entombed it. In 1978 a terrible storm that lashed Kent and destroyed the pier at Margate also shifted the sand covering the wreck. After discovering the wreck the six-man team of divers spent 45 days diving in the first season of 1979. As the sand might again cover the wreck, it became important to recover items as quickly as possible. Here for the first time in British waters was a fully commissioned 17th Century ship, perfectly preserved in a vast historic time-vault of sand, complete with its crew and their possessions, the answer to a marine historian's prayer. The Great Storm has always fascinated me and, having written a Paper on the subject in 1962, I little thought I would at some future date be a founder-member of a unit that was to discover and salvage artefacts from ships lost during that storm.

In the space available only a few of the 172 artefacts can be mentioned. Heading the impressive array are two ship's kettles - the first examples ever found. These are large cooking cauldrons referred to as galley pots. Circular in shape and made from rivetted sheets of copper, they are 4 feet across and 3 feet deep with a 120 gallon capacity. Projecting from the base is a long lead pipe fitted With a brass cock to control the flow from the interior. Knowing what we do today, such a combination of copper, lead and brass must have been dangerous. Such pots were located on a brick hearth, situated below the forecastle, to provide hot meals (mostly soup) for the crew. Without doubt the finest item recovered was a magnificent Dutch 9-pounder Demi-Culverin bronze cannon. Weighing half a ton it is inscribed 'Assuerus Koster made me Amsterdam 1642'. Koster was the most famous gunmaker in Amsterdam from 1618 to 1650. The cannon is stamped with the British broad arrow mark as it was a prize taken during the Dutch Wars. Also found was a brass shot gauge marked D.C.9. for Demi-Culverin. This vital accessory was used to check that shot was not oversize.

The ship's bell was recovered complete with its stock, weighing two-hundredweight and cast in bell-metal. It is of typical Admiralty pattern, bearing the broad arrow and date 1701. In the category of small firearms was a rack of 6 brass-barrelled Musketoons, stamped variously with the cyphers of Charles II, James II and William Ill. At the forward end of the gundeck a sea chest was found containing a highly important collection of nautical instruments. Among these was a splendid Gunter's Scale, a cross-staff, the earliest example of its type found to date, a varying number of brass dividers, four being of a special marine type that could be used with one hand. More interesting still was an accumulation of sand-glasses found in a packing case. These were made up in five sizes from kits which were assembled by push fit. These measured time from minutes to hours, with the smaller type for timing the log and the large for watch-keeping. Other glassware was found in abundance, including green wine containers known as 'onion' bottles, from their resemblance to the vegetable. Most of these were found still filled and corked, though the contents had little to recommend them as a beverage. Among those bearing moulded seals was one with the name and date 'William Stonas 1700'. These bottles were found everywhere on the wreck and were often accompanied by human bones. Some have suggested that the crew had given themselves up for dead and were prepared to die in an intoxicated state; though I am inclined to believe that self-preservation would have prevailed to the very end.

Also recovered was a great deal of decorated pottery including dishes, ewers and jugs, with some fine porcelain cups and a beautiful Cologne Ware pot. Some of the finest acquisitions were of the Bellarmine Jug variety. One of the divers reported seeing several hundred of these rare pots on the Orlop (lowest) deck, but conditions were too dangerous to allow them to be recovered. Some of the most simple articles were often the most interesting. These were items that the common seaman would have made for himself, such as a shaving kit, a carved draughtboard and wooden eating utensils - a striking contrast indeed to the fine gold-plated hilts of the officers' small swords. Several interesting sword hilts were recovered, the blades of which had long rusted away. Two were brass-hilted naval hangers dating from 1690 and an extremely important find, as they are the earliest pattern found to date. This type was referred to by the Royal Board of Ordnance as being 'for issue to mattrosses', an early term meaning matelot or seaman. Other hilts are of typical 17th Century small sword design such as would have been carried by officers. One example was of richly plated gold, its fretted guard decorated with classical figures in amorous poses. The most important of all discoveries were those which gave the identity of the ship, notably a set of pewter tableware belonging to the captain and first officer. The vital clue was the initials J.J. and J.B. Both Defoe's 'The Storm' and the Ship's Muster List testify that Captain John Johnson and Lieutenant James Beverley were in command of 'Stirling Castle' when lost. Discoveries of a more macabre nature were: a leather tunic with the rib cage of a seaman inside it and a gilt candlestick locked in the grip of a skeletal hand. What, I wonder, were the final thoughts of the last person to hold it in death?


Just three of the fine examples of pottery recovered.
Left: Bellarmine Jug (1670), Green glass 'onion' type bottle, dated 1700.
Right: a Cologne Ware pot.


Various brass navigational dividers, some of a type that can be used with one hand.


The two two bells salvaged from the 'Stirling Castle' and 'Northumberland' and now on display at Bleak House.

At Whitsun 1980 a Channel gale lashed the coastline of east Kent and, to the divers' dismay, covered the wreck once more. However, when this 'ill wind' shifted the sand it revealed two other wrecks some distance from the first. After much research and hard diving the possible identity of these wrecks became known. The smaller was thought to be the shattered remains of the 'Mary', ill-fated flagship of Admiral Basil Beaumont, with the larger wreck being the 'Northumberland'. From the latter a number of important artefacts were recovered of which the best were: the ship's bell dated 1701 and showing traces of having been gold-leafed - the first instance of a bell being recovered so treated; another ship's kettle, a large number of green glass 'onion' type bottles, some carrying the seal of Northumberland's Purser.

Thus it was that a team of Thanet divers, working in the dangerous waters above the greatest ocean graveyard in the world, found the last resting place of victims of the worst naval disaster in British history.


Deal Smuggling in Victorian Times

J. M. Bower, Bygone Kent (January 1987) Volume 8, Number 1


Deal Boatmen in 1866 standing around one of the capstans used to draw boats up the beach

Deal has always been notorious as a smuggling town, largely because of its nearness to the Continent and long, flat coastline where boats could come ashore and goods be quickly moved inland. The author of a Lloyd's report thus described Deal in 1869:

"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 18th century was the great age of smuggling, when armed gangs of 'Free Traders' used to roam all over Kent and few people on the coast were not somehow involved. After the Napoleonic Wars, the government made a determined effort to eradicate smuggling. They were largely successful in preventing the large scale 'runs' of the previous century, but the Deal men could not be persuaded to abandon the habits of centuries in a few decades, and for most of the 19th century the Customs authorities continued to be troubled periodically by smuggling in the town. In 1851, an officer at Deal, writing to Lord Clanwilliam, declared himself "at a loss to account for this everlasting attempt upon the Revenue".

In 1858, the Collector of Customs at Deal reported to the Board in London that

"in all probability, scarcely a boatman lands without a pound or more of tobacco concealed about his person, which is disposed of to persons on the lookout and afterwards forwarded by them in large quantities to all parts of the country."

In 1860 the Collector sounded almost despairing:

"I am still at a loss to understand how tobacco, segars or spirits can be landed in this district without the knowledge of the Coastguard and as the illicit trade in these articles appears now to have assumed a regular system in this neighbourhood, I respectfully submit that a detective officer from London may be directed to proceed here in order if possible to find out the guilty parties."

Tobacco was the commodity most usually smuggled. Boatmen would bring ashore a few pounds at a time concealed in their clothing. In 1851, John Cottle was found to have about six pounds of 'segars' packed in 'a pair of stays very ingeniously made' while his companion John Osborn had a further six pounds in his hat and boots. These small amounts would be collected together and sent away by train. One man strongly suspected of being responsible for the collection and distribution of smuggled tobacco was William Riley of the Prince Albert beerhouse in Middle Street.

The more daring boatmen used to attempt to bring ashore large bales of tobacco hidden under nets or among the ballast in their luggers. The biggest seizure made by the Customs at Deal during the period 1850-1880 was of 1,200 lbs of tobacco discovered in the lugger Earl Grey in 1852. The crew, John Ashington, John and William Foster and John Hanger gave themselves up, but

"from the loose and contradictory manner in which Brinkly and Vallack [the Coastguard witnesses] gave their evidence in support of the charge, the magistrates … could come to no other conclusion than to acquit the prisoners."

This was not the only occasion upon which what seemed to be a clear-cut case collapsed due to unsatisfactory prosecution evidence; one has to suspect that there may have been some suborning of witnesses.

The Earl Grey seizure was exceptional, but a number of luggers were involved in running smaller loads. The crew of the logger Industry was strongly suspected of making trips across to France for illicit purposes, but were never caught; it was thought that they landed their goods on the isolated Sandwich Flats, north of Deal. In 1858 the galley-punt Lark was seized with 370 lbs of tobacco concealed in the ballast bags, although the crew escaped. It was thought that the tobacco had been brought from Nieuport in Belgium, "from which place" the Collector wrote, "it is the general impression … here that most of the smuggled tobacco on this part of the coast is obtained." In 1865 the Collector wrote of the lugger Fawn, which had been run down in the previous year with the loss of her crew of four;

"I have never heard it doubted that she was on a smuggling expedition from Broadstairs to Nieuport there to ship a quantity of tobacco to be landed in the Isle of Thanet."

The usual penalty for smuggling was a £100 fine, with the alternative of six months' imprisonment in Sandwich Gaol if, as was usually the case, the convicted men were unable to pay. In addition, any boat found to have been used for smuggling was confiscated by the Customs. The boatmen, wrote the Collector, "seem to care less for the loss of their liberty than their boats".

Certainly whenever a boat was seized, the owner or owners would earnestly petition the Customs for its return. The excuse was usually that the boat had been taken clandestinely and used for smuggling without the owner's knowledge or permission, but as Lieutenant Batt of the Coastguard service reported in 1853

"any boat on Deal beach with her head toward the sea can be taken from the beach by any of the Hobblers [hovellers] so that a boat cannot be taken clandestinely away; this is a plan that the smugglers have adopted of late, that is you can take the boat and if you succeed in your illegal purposes you pay so much for the boat and if seized she was clandestinely taken from the beach without the owner's consent."

Boat owners usually had a hard-luck story to back up their petitions. James Dawes was convicted in 1851 with Zachariah Nicholas and John Frost of attempting to smuggle 24 lbs of cigars. (A fourth man, John Baker, escaped.) On his release from prison Dawes appealed for the return of his boat

"that I may try to get a few witings in her to get a few shillings to support my family with during these trying times there is in Deal for us Poor Men that follow the water to get a crust to fill the Belleys of our children."

James Dawes' boat was returned to him; the owners of the Earl Grey were not so fortunate. Three widows, Elizabeth Petty aged 82, Sarah Pettitt aged 60 and Mary Petty, claimed that the boat was theirs.

"As Honourable Gentlemen you must be aware the boat being taken we have nothing to support us in our Old Days."

Their petition was supported by the Mayor, who asked that the boat be restored to "these poor and unoffending widows". However the Collector recorded that John Foster, one of the men convicted, had acknowledged previously that he was the sole owner of the Earl Grey and that "the widows are not in needy circumstances, one keeping the King's Head Inn in Beach Street, the other having houses and other property in and about Deal which Mr Reakes the Mayor perfectly well knows".

The Customs often had cause to complain of the attitude of the local population generally towards smuggling. In 1865 the Collector referred to

"the sympathy which, when detected and punished, the boatmen receive from those in a superior position in society - very many of whom have been pointed out to me as owing their position to the fortunate contraband speculation of their immediate ancestors - some too of whom I have heard spread their opinion that there is not much harm either in smuggling or wrecking".

Confiscated boats were sold by the Customs at public auction; here again, the Collector complained,

"the tradesmen here and at Ramsgate will not bid against the owner of any seized boat, when most probably she will fall into hands to be used on a similar occasion at some future period."

There is no way of telling, of course, how many smuggled cargoes were brought ashore undetected. However, the number of seizures made at Deal declined almost to nothing during the 1870s, and in 1881 it was decided that there was insufficient business at Deal to justify the maintenance of a separate Customs' Office there and Deal was downgraded into a 'creek' of the Port of Dover. But the Deal boatmen even then had not entirely given up their traditional pursuits, as late as the 1890s it was reported that they now landed their cargoes on the remote shore of Dungeness.

Sources: P.R.O. Kew MT9/105A/1875 and CUST 53/1-5.


Beachcombing Bottles

by David Chamberlain

After the January gales of 1953 the beaches from Walmer to Pegwell Bay were littered with jetsam. Beachcombers at Sandwich Bay found some very interesting and curious shaped bottles that had washed ashore. A number of these were discovered intact - and a few were still corked and contained their original contents. A local fishmonger scooped up five bottles whilst he was pushing his shrimp net, and Mrs B. Longmore of Sandwich, walking along the beach, found six. From the broken bottles that lay shattered above the tide line Major-General and Mrs I.D.Erskine discovered four more undamaged. These squat, dark green bottles had the profile of a ship's decanter. Their contents were certainly undrinkable and the fluid had an unpleasant aroma that was hard to dispel; however, it was their shape that made them collectable.

Later, it was found that most of these bottles came from the ships that were lost in the 'Great Storm of 1703'. Some were from the vessels' cargo and many others were from the officers' personal wine supplies. In those days much of the ships' water became stagnant and the crews would rely on beer to quench their thirst - usually a gallon a day. However, wine was sometimes the preferred taste of the ship's captain and officers, and these onion shaped bottles contained a pint and a half of the liquid.

Needless to say, the precious onion bottles were not discarded when empty. Some were refilled with wine when the ship put into different ports during the voyage. In the Mediterranean, the officers occasionally used them to store olive oil.

Another cache of bottles had been found at St Margaret's Bay in 1908. These were from the wreck of the Loanda which sank inshore just east of the Bay. The Loanda's destination was the West Coast of Africa and part of her cargo was 6,000 cases of gin, and the same again in rum and schnapps. When the winter weather started to wash out the contents of the wreck's hold, the bottles were washed ashore in vast quantities. The alerted local inhabitants were quick in rescuing those bottles that had not broken in the surf. Coastguards did their utmost to recover this illicit windfall from the residents. Nevertheless, some of the populace decided to empty the bottles' contents before they could be confiscated. It was recorded that one old lady died on the beach through alcohol poisoning.

When divers discovered the Loanda in the 1970s, they described the cargo holds of the rusting wreck to be similar to the stacked shelves of Tesco's. Racks of bottles were everywhere to be seen, and most of them still with their corks in place. However, time and saltwater had spoilt the contents of the bottles and there were none that were drinkable.

It must be remembered that anything of value, washed up, or found on the foreshore should be declared to the Receiver of Wreck. Not to do so is classed as 'theft by finding' and could lead to a prosecution.

18th century bottles found on the 'Rake' at Sandwich Bay Washed up gin bottles

Copyright © David Chamberlain 2016


Dispelling a Myth

by David Chamberlain


The frontispiece of Daniel Defoe's book, 'The Storm', published in 1704 [1]

'The Storm: or, a collection of the most remarkable casualties and disasters which happen'd in the late dreadful tempest, both by land and sea' was published and printed in London in 1704, for G. Sawbridge, in Little Britain, and sold by J. Nutt, near Stationer's Hall. [2]

It was produced from an anonymous author who collated eyewitness accounts, but also added his own comments, regarding the great storm of the 26th/27th November 1703. Throughout the pages there are descriptions of the hurricane's brief and destructive history that is charted on its course from Bristol to Norfolk. The observers' statements are sometimes a little exaggerated, but each declaration is signed, dated and the town of origin inserted. We are led to believe this is a true account and even in the book's preface a promise is made that:

"if a man tells a lie in print, he abuses Mankind, and imposes upon the whole world, he causes our children to tell lies after us, and their children after them, to the end of the world."

This work has been used as a standard text by many scholars who have studied the chronicle of the meteorological phenomenon. It is only when it is found out that the author of this book is none other than Daniel Defoe that alarm bells should start to ring.

In the year of 1705 certain people in Deal found some of its contents offensive. According to Steven Pritchard in his book 'History of Deal' [3] they ordered that a letter be sent to the publisher and bookseller in London, to ascertain the name of the author. They described the defamatory libel as:

"several scandalous and false reflections unjustly cast upon the inhabitants of Deal, with malicious intent to bring a disreputation (sic) upon the people thereof, and to create a misunderstanding between Her Majesty's subjects, which, if not timely confuted, may produce consequences detrimental to the town, and tend to a breach of the peace." It carries on by stating: "that the person who caused the publication therefore may be known in order to be brought to condign punishment for such his infamous libel, we have thought fit, therefore, to appoint our Town Clerk to proceed against him in a Court of Law."

The offending pages in 'The Storm' are 199 to the end of page 202. The beginning of the former page starts:

"And here, I cannot omit that great notice has been taken of the townspeople of Deal, who are blamed and no doubt not with too much reason, for their great barbarity in neglecting to save the lives of abundance of poor wretches; who having hung upon the masts and rigging of the ships, or floated upon the broken pieces of wrecks, had gotton ashore upon the Goodwin Sands when the tide was out."


The Stirling Castle foundering on the Goodwins

It goes on to declare that some boats approached the shipwrecked mariners but did not assist and were only there for plunder from the wrecks. The observer is then anxious to tell his readers of one person who was prepared to help. Thomas Powell, the town mayor, a slop seller by profession and good Christian who, according to the author, deserves to be remembered "… for his charity and courage in a town with so little."

Defoe continued the story by disclosing that, in the morning light after the storm, when Thomas Powell spied the castaways upon the Goodwins, he made a request to the Custom House officers for the use of their boats and men to save the lives of as many as they could. He was met with a rude refusal. Powell eventually requisitioned the custom boats, along with several other local boats, by force. He provided them with crews made up of willing townsfolk, to whom he had promised to pay five shillings per head for every man saved, and they raced out to the shipwrecked sailors. Of the one hundred and seventy sail which he professes to be in the Downs the night before, only seventy were still afloat. The mayor's crew of stout, honest fellows saved and brought ashore above two hundred men whose lives a few minutes after would infallibly have been lost.

Powell now had the survivors to feed, clothe and billet until it could be decided what to do with them. His application to the Queen's agent for sick and wounded seamen for help brought no relief; and after he had fed, lodged and buried those who had died from hypothermia and trauma he again applied for financial help, and again he was refused. This is where page 202 ends.

The above is the narrative that has been used, and rewritten, by many authors, myself included, [4] and was thought to be a true record.

The complaint to the publishers requested that further communication be made to the mayor, jurats and Corporation of Deal and is signed by Thomas Horne, mayor, Joshua Coppin, Tobias Bowles, Samuel Fasham, Thomas Brothers, William Conning, John Pye, Thomas Powell, late mayor, Benjamin Hulke and Thomas Warren.

It was not until I was researching some papers from the Public Record Office, for Sea Dive, [5] that I came across letters from the latter signatory of the summons. [6]

Although I admit I know nothing of Thomas Warren, Navy Storekeeper at Deal, by reading his letters to the Admiralty and Navy Board I have come to some conclusions. He was an educated person and excellent penman. His writings flowed over the paper with barely a mistake and never an ink blot. He used the modern form of the word 'the' and not the thorn or 'ye' and, apart from a few words, the manuscripts have been the simplest I have had to decipher from that period. The employment of store keeper, I feel, is a lowly name for Warren's occupation, as his position called for astute decisions, dealing with vast amounts of money, and he was the eyes and ears of the Admiralty at Deal. The Navy Yard would have contained amounts of cables, anchors, masts and spars, anything that a ship had the misfortune to lose or break. Unfortunately the storm of 27th November 1703 exhausted their meagre resources very quickly.

Thomas Warren's writings went into overdrive over and after the period of the hurricane. He was sending and receiving instruction daily to and from the Admiralty and it was from this correspondence that the truth of what really did happen can be found.

He began his discourse on the morning of the disaster [7] by informing the Admiralty of the miserable slaughter amongst shipping in the Downs. He writes that about two in the morning several guns were fired from ships in distress, but there being such a hurricane it was impossible to stand, let alone launch a boat from the shore. At daybreak there were only seventy ships left from the one hundred which were anchored in the Downs the night before. All these vessels were seen to be in a sorry state, some without masts, and all of them torn to pieces by the storm. He also observed five hulks aground on the Goodwins; two of them large, and one which he identified to be a man-of-war by the number of men that could be seen upon her deck. The storm had slightly abated but Warren could not send a boat off in such conditions.

The damage caused to the town of Deal was extensive. Some houses had been destroyed and all the grain mills blown down, likewise the gibbet upon which a pirate hung in chains was washed out to sea carrying with it his corpse.


A cannon from the Stirling Castle

The following day [8] the weather calmed and Warren went afloat to find out the needs of the crippled ships. He also sent boats to the only wreck left that was showing a waft. [9] This vessel was named the 'Stirling Castle' and, with the help of a Ramsgate boat, seventy men were recovered alive.

In all of the logs that I have read, from the officers of the ships who survived in the Downs, none have mentioned, as did Defoe, that there were rapacious local boatmen afloat at the time. Deal was also a compassionate town as it is recorded in 1702 there were four hundred infirm seamen being cared for. The hero of Defoe's piece, Thomas Powell, must have been highly embarrassed by the story. As a deeply religious and pious man, the lies about him would have been much to bear.

So why did the disingenuous Defoe have such a dislike for Deal? He must have had some sleepless nights at the thought of the summons, as at that time he was complying with seven years probation for slander. However, it appears, for reasons unknown, that the summons seems never to have been served on him.

History has not been changed by this article, but perhaps a myth has been dispelled and the truth at last uncovered. Personally, I prefer the myth.

References

[1] per Wikipedia: The Storm (1704) is a pioneering work of journalism and science reporting by British author Daniel Defoe. It has been called the first substantial work of modern journalism, the first detailed account of a hurricane in Britain. It relates the events of a week-long storm that hit London starting on 24 November and reaching its height on the night of 26/27 November 1703. Known as the Great Storm of 1703, and described by Defoe as "The Greatest, the Longest in Duration, the widest in Extent, of all the Tempests and Storms that History gives any Account of since the Beginning of Time." The book was published by John Nutt in mid-1704. It was not a best seller, and a planned sequel never materialised.

Within a week of the storm Defoe placed newspaper ads asking readers to submit personal accounts, of which about sixty were selected and edited by Defoe for the book. This was an innovative method for the time before journalism that relied on first-hand reports was commonplace. Defoe considered the accounts reliable because "most of our Relators have not only given us their Names, and sign'd the Accounts they have sent, but have also given us Leave to hand their Names down to Posterity." The Storm has thus been called the first substantial work of modern journalism. Defoe described the storm as

"the tempest that destroyed woods and forests all over England". He wrote: "No pen could describe it, nor tongue express it, nor thought conceive it unless by one in the extremity of it." Coastal towns such as Portsmouth "looked as if the enemy had sackt them and were most miserably torn to pieces".

He thought the destruction of the sovereign fleet, in which about one-fifth of the navy was lost, was a punishment for their poor performance against the Catholic armies of France and Spain during the first year of the War of the Spanish Succession.

"Most People expected the Fall of their Houses," wrote Defoe. Even so, they judged it safer to stay put than to seek new shelter: "Whatever the Danger was within doors, 'twas worse without; the Bricks, Tiles, and Stones, from the Tops of the Houses, flew with such force, and so thick in the Streets, that no one thought fit to venture out, tho' their Houses were near demolish'd within."

Some of the first-hand accounts include that of Elizabeth Luck from Tunbridge Wells, who reported hundreds of trees fell down, a church lost its steeple, and two horses perished beneath a smashed stable. One Rev. James King of London told of a chimney that crashed through a house and buried a maid who was thought crushed dead, but then appeared the next morning from the rubble unharmed. Thomas Powell, a shopkeeper in Deal, paid five shillings each to rescue sailors stranded on a sand bar, Defoe credited him with saving 200 lives. Defoe recounts another story of the captain of a ship who committed suicide rather than drown, only to have his ship rescued but too late for him.

[2] Republished by Penguin 2003, ISBN 0 713 99726 5.

[3] 'History of Deal' by S. Pritchard, 1864.

[4] 'The Goodwin Sands Man of War, 1703-2003' by David Chamberlain.

[5] South East Archaeological Divers using 'Sea Dive' as its acronym.

[6] PRO Adm 106/3250 (Deal Letter Book).

[7] 27th November 1703.

[8] 28th November 1703.

[9] Signal of distress.

Copyright © David Chamberlain 2004

For your very own copy of 'Lost and Found' - the true story of the bravery of Deal boatmen during the Great Storm of 1703 and the gross calumny of Daniel Defoe's 'just reproach' - click eBay or Amazon … only £3.99.


A sad Occasion

by David Chamberlain


South Brake buoy

One of my customers, let's call him Alf (as that was his name), used to book me for monthly fishing trips. Alf was a keen and enthusiastic angler who had served in 'Flower Class' corvettes in the Second World War. He had the physique and humour of a matelot and we got on well together. I was sad when told of his demise; however, his daughter phoned me and asked if I would scatter his ashes from the place he loved to fish. I readily agreed and informed her there would be no charge.

A week later, his daughter phoned again with the date for the scattering. She also informed me that a small wooden casket had been made to accommodate Alf's ashes. I explained that wood would float and it would need to be weighted. She explained that had been taken into consideration and holes had been drilled into the casket along with some lead. The casket had been tested in the bath and was of negative buoyancy and it would be of no problem sinking. The lady certainly convinced me that she had everything under control.

The day came for the event and Alf's family duly boarded the Morning Haze and we set off from the beach. I had travelled a mile out to sea and was close to the South Brake buoy, as it was a focal point that could be seen from shore; and the family would be able to remember where Alf's ashes had been scattered if they visited Deal again. I stopped the engine and lowered the flag to half mast. The casket was rested on the boat's gunnels and the daughter said a few words about her father. She then took out a small bottle of Bacardi … I must admit I quickly looked in the wheelhouse for a cup. To my disappointment she poured the contents over the casket this being Alf's favourite tipple.


Sad occasion

From then on it all started to go horribly wrong. The writing on the casket with Alf's full name, date of birth and death, plus RIP, must have been in transfer form. With the neat spirit being applied, the transfers started to dissolve and slide over the lid of the oak box ending up like alphabet spaghetti. I'm not sure if Alf's wife noticed, but I know the daughter had as she hurriedly launched Alf into the sea. There were a few sobs and then silence. The casket was bobbing up and down with more freeboard than the Morning Haze. After the silence poor Alf's wife started crying with his daughter looking on embarrassed.

I quickly took over the situation and unhooked the landing net, scooping Alf back on board before he drifted away. I made up the excuse that he would be a hazard to shipping if left bobbing in the water. His ashes were in a sealed plastic bag that was acting as a life jacket, hence the casket's buoyancy. Obviously the daughter hadn't tested that in the bath. I quickly scrabbled into my tool box and found a large lead-filled priest that I used on congers and lashed it onto the casket with the utmost haste. Finally Alf was committed to the deep and this time he sank.

Death is not a joking matter and I take it seriously; however, I'm sure that Alf would have seen the funny side to this as he was brought back onboard in the same net that had also landed the many large fish he had caught in the past. By the time we got ashore Alf's wife had stopped crying although she was still, understandably, sad. She thanked me as did the rest of the family when they disembarked onto the beach, although, I must admit the daughter looked very sheepish.


Coming ashore

Copyright © David Chamberlain 2016


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