The History of Deal Town Hall
Until William III granted a Royal Charter to Deal in 1699 “making the town and parish of Deal co. Kent, a free borough” it was, as a limb of the Cinque Port of Sandwich, managed by that town.
Sandwich had a Guildhall but “there was much need [in Deal] of a suitable place to be used as a Court Hall, for the use of the Corporation and for public business, especially for the execution of justice in the Borough.’
After much discussion by the new corporation, the building now known as 72/70 High Street and used as commercial premises, was erected adjacent to the Market Place. The right to hold a market in Deal was one of the primary reasons for the desire to become independent of Sandwich. The first extant lease in “Lower Street [for] the Town Hall/Market Place/ jail” from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who owned most of the east side of the town is dated 1768 although the building is of an earlier date.
In the last half of the eighteenth century the corporation debated the need for another Town Hall, often referred to as the Court Hall and sometimes the Guildhall. On 15 March 1803, the foundation stone of the present building was laid on top of a copper plate naming the mayor, Isaac Gammon.
It is a Grade II listed building with the Chamber on the first floor above the Undercroft designed for the Town Market. Until recent times the Chamber has doubled as a Court Room, indicated by the royal coat of arms above the chair used by the magistrates and the coroner. The room has attractive oak panelling which lists past mayors behind the Aldermanic Bench. The art collection decorates the walls, including portraits of three monarchs, Deal’s daughter, Elizabeth Carter, the scholar and translator, and a famous freeman of the town, Sir Winston Churchill.
The building has changed over time. The Mayor’s Chamber is still in use and the Town Charter, six original letters by Elizabeth Carter and a view of the seashore by J.M.W. Turner must have heard many debates over time.
The original design incorporated the town goal as required in the Town Charter, but it has been adapted as law enforcement changed and the town fire engine is no longer kept in the Undercroft.
Deal in history.
In 1697, Celia Fiennes described Deal as “…a good, thriving place, the buildings new and neat brickwork with gardens. I believe they are most masters of ships houses and seamen else those that belong to… other requisites of shipping.”
There is evidence that the locality encompasses the history of Britain starting when the country was joined to European continent before the formation of the English Channel. From prehistoric times to the Palaeolithic period, through the Neolithic period, the Bronze Age, the Iron age to the arrival of the Belgae, and the Roman Conquest. Then followed the Saxons, the Gauls, and the Jutes which are remembered in Hengist Road and Horsa Road in North Deal.
The settlement of Deal or Dola, set back from the sea, existed at the time of the Domesday Survey when it was called Addelam.
It was mainly an agricultural area around the 12th century parish church of St Leonard, which can be seen from the Downs. Coastlines change, shingle built up and the marshland dried out leaving the way open for development in ‘Sea Valley’, the site of High Street, formerly Lower Street as it was below the other two parallel streets, Middle Street and Beach Street that form the layout of the town today.
Three Tudor castles were built for defence. The safe haven of water between the shore, the Downs and the sandbank known as the Goodwin Sands became a valuable asset to this seagoing nation, bringing trade to the town.
Troops were stationed here and billeted here before departure from the Downs. Although not as popular as other coastal towns there was sea bathing, and the railway came in the mid-nineteenth century.
The fortune of the town went up in the Georgian period and down after the Napoleonic wars but the bombing in WWII caused considerable damage in the Middle Street area leaving the way open for possible post-war modern development with loss of tangible history of the town.
Resistance to this idea led to Deal having the first designated Conservation Area in Kent, centred on Middle Street with 44 historic buildings becoming Grade II listed in 1949 and opening the way for the town as it is known today.