Looking north along the long, flat promenade which extends from Kingsdown in the south to Sandown at the outer edges of the town, before the salt marshes and golf links that stretch to Sandwich, the Georgian splendour of Deal’s historic conservation area is laid out. This photo, taken from the 1950s concrete pier which boasts a notice stating that it measures the same length as the Titanic – the veracity of which is questionable – shows the Royal Hotel, where Admiral Nelson once stayed with Lady Hamilton, prominent among the buildings in view.
Deal’s proximity to the notoriously hazardous Goodwin Sands and the deep harbour formed on the shoreward side of this natural barrier led to the development of a Naval Boatyard in 1672 to service the shipping which regularly anchored off the coast, a practice known locally as ‘sheltering the Downs’. The Time Ball Tower, now nestled among later buildings on the southward side of the pier, was established in 1855 and linked to the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Formerly a semaphore tower, these technological advances ensured shipping were given an accurate 1pm time check every day.
A long association with the Royal Marines began when they were billeted at Deal in 1755 and moved into permanent barracks among the many buildings including Army and Navy hospitals that were established by 1864 when the old Naval Yard was closed. Situated to the south of the pier and stretching from the Tudor Rose-design Deal Castle, one of three such built by Henry VIII along this part of the coast, a Depot was established for the Royal Marines which would become the official home of the Royal Marine School of Music in 1950.
As the promenade stretches past the Castle it moves away from the road where the few remaining fishing boats offering the Catch of the Day fresh from the sea are inter-mingled with beach huts and a few beach-side houses whose inhabitants once enjoyed the Victorian sea-bathing boom. The road meanwhile branches off past the extensive footprint of the former barrack buildings which have now largely been converted to housing following the closure of the School of Music in 1996, but the town retains an affection for the Corps and an annual concert for the Bandsmen that lost their lives in the IRA attack on Deal in 1989 draws a huge audience to the Memorial Bandstand on the green at Walmer to the south of the Castle.
Continuing past the Walmer Lifeboat Station in operation since 1830 to assist ships floundering on the Goodwins, the path passes a stone plinth commemorating the landing by Julius Caesar at a point near here where, having been rebuffed from entering the natural harbour at Dover by the Britons manning the cliffs, he travelled down the coast to complete his first attempted invasion of Britain in 55 BC.
The grand houses of The Beach at Walmer extend the feeling of Victorian and Edwardian prosperity and a few of them have private gardens situated between the road and the promenade which now winds away towards the point where Walmer Castle, the third of Henry VIII’s forts is situated. With Deal Castle presenting a forbidding stone-fortress air and Sandown Castle now lost to the sea, Walmer Castle delights visitors by being almost fully furnished having been converted to a residence for the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in 1708. This illustrious post is bestowed by the crown and many famous names have held the position including Wellington between 1829 and 1852. Many of his possessions and mementos are still on display at the castle but perhaps the most famous Lord Warden in recent times is Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother who held the position between 1978 and 2002, when I was very fortunate to be able to meet her twice when her role brought her to Dover Castle.