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Brief History of Deal


Early History

Deal is mentioned as a village in the Domesday book but archaeological evidence suggests its history stretches back much further.  Archaeological evidence shows that Deal has been occupied at least since the Stone Age: many Roman artefacts have been found as well as a Celtic figurine (known as the Deal Man) and an Iron Age warrior buried with his armour.

It was here that Julius Caesar landed on 25 August 55 B.C., to violent opposition from the local Britons.  He established a bridgehead on the shore, but had to return to Gaul (France) after a severe storm scattered and wrecked many of his galleys carrying the Roman cavalry.  Returning the following year he made further inroads into the countryside, defeating the local tribes on the Barham Downs, but the weather once more caused mayhem with the galleys on the beach and sent him scuttling back to Gaul for a second time.

It would be almost 90 years before the next (this time successful) attempt by Aulus Plautius, who landed along the coast at Richborough in 43 A.D.

Until the 15th century, Deal was an agricultural community, centred around the Parish Church of St Leonard; an area now known as Upper Deal.  The coastal area was largely marsh-land, washed by the sea at high tide.  By the time the three castles were built by Henry VII in 1539/40, the shingle bank had built up and the marshland had dried up, making it possible for the area to be colonised.

All of the land along the foreshore (the present town centre) was owned by the See of Canterbury and it was the Archbishop, William Warham, who planned the development of the area around Middle Street in the early 1500s, most of which still exists today.  The Archbishop was also responsible for setting (and collecting!) the rents for the properties.  As people moved into the new town a new type of community developed, relying mainly on the sea for a living.  Leyland (c.1540) described Deal as a "fyssher village", but much of the work of the local boatmen was related to the shipping in the Downs: ferrying pilots, crew and passengers to and from the shore; carrying stores and victuals to supply the ships; rescuing people wrecked on the Goodwin Sands; and salvaging ships and cargo from the "Shyppe Swallower".  In the days of sail, as many as 300 vessels could be seen lying at anchor in the Downs in bad weather.

Early 18th century State Papers describe Deal as one of the four great English naval ports, along with Portsmouth, Plymouth and Rochester.  Although Deal has never had a harbour, there were proposals to build one in the 19th century, and shares were issued in a company to undertake the project.

The Naval Dockyard never had any docks; it was mainly used as a victualling and supplying station for the hips in the Downs, although some small vessels were built on the beach.  It occupied the area of land between the beach in the east and Prospect Place (Victoria Road) in the west, and South Street to the north and the Castle in the south.  After the closure of the yard in the 1800s, the land was bought up for housing and the area became known as Victoria Town.

Horatio Nelson once said of Deal, "This is the coldest place in England, most assuredly."  The centre of the town is below sea level and the area is very flat, exposed to the bitter north and east winds off the sea, but the people are far from cold.  Having spent almost 20 years in Deal I can say that they are, on the whole, very warm and welcoming.

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