The town of Deal first developed a mile or so inland. But in seventeenth century “Lower Deal”, a network of streets running north of Deal Castle, began to call the shots. Deal boatmen became famous for their bravery, enterprise and – so it was said - avarice in fetching and carrying for ships at anchor in the Downs.
By the 1880s, with steam now replacing sail, boatman faced hard times. It was clear that the prosperity of the town would increasingly depend on attracting visitors and holiday makers.
Deal could not hope to compete with the Thanet towns of Margate and Ramsgate in terms of the number of visitors it attracted. But many holiday makers were nonetheless drawn to the town during the summer to enjoy the sea breezes, the bustle of sea-front and the comings and goings of vessels in the Downs.
The Town Council did its best to encourage the tourism by sponsoring band concerts and various kinds of entertainment at the end of the pier. But it was hard going at times. There was so much opposition to spending money on a new concert hall on the site of an old roller-skating rink that it was a full 30 years before the “Pavilion” was opened. Only five years later it had to be leased as a cinema.
On the other hand there was never any shortage of public houses. Indeed Deal had more pubs per head of population than almost any other town in Kent. In 1872 there were 26 pubs and beerhouses on Beach Street alone - one every 32 yards.
Deal pier was damaged and pulled down in the Second World War but a replacement was built in 1957 (according to Dover District Council “the first seaside pleasure pier of any size to be built since 1910”). Tourist guides promoted Deal as place for the discerning visitor, quirky but very rewarding.
The same, many feel, remains true today.
Andrew Sargent and Colin Varrall, From the Rink to the Regent: Seafront Entertainment in Deal since the 1870 (BooksEast, 2020) tells the story of entertainment on a site which had once been part of the Naval Yard.
For the social history of Deal pubs and pub life in Victorian and Edwardian Deal see Andrew Sargent, Drinking in Deal: Beer, Pubs and Temperance in an East Kent Town 1830 – 1914 (BooksEast, 2016)
A detailed history of individual pubs can be found Steve Glover and Michael Rogers, The Old Pubs of Deal and Walmer (with Kingsdown and Mongeham) (Whitstable, 2010)
A recent illustrated history of Deal as a whole is Gregory Holyoake Secret Deal and Walmer (Amberley, 2021)