PUBLIC HOUSES AND THE DRINKING QUESTION IN VICTORIAN DEAL
Précis of an illustrated talk by Andrew Sargent at the Astor Theatre on 12 November 2016
Deal had an exceptionally large number of public houses in Victorian times. We know because the Victorians collected statistics of the number of pubs per head of population. Why were there so many?
In 1830 the Government authorised a new kind of drinking establishment – the beerhouse. In the 1850s and 1860s the Deal magistrates allowed as many of these as they possibly could to become fully licensed public houses. The number of pubs rose from 39 in 1846 to 79 in 1870.
But there were also special “demand” factors. Deal boatmen, of whom there were still some 300 in the 1880s, frequented the pubs on Beach Street and used them as places to wait, meet and plan. Just outside the town boundary were three barracks. Soldiers, and then from the 1860s marines, provided a lot of trade for houses west of Lower Street. In Edwardian times visits by the fleet brought large numbers of thirsty bluejackets to the town.
Until the 1870s a good many houses were also reckoned to be brothels, and many continued to double after that as “common lodging houses”. In the 1890s the development of Deal as a seaside resort brought an increasing number of visitors to the town and helped sustain the large number of pubs.
Many public houses also benefited by providing a home for a friendly or fraternal society or a local club. But the extremely lucrative function of providing committee rooms during general elections came to an end in the 1880s, not least because of the breathtaking cupidity of landlords and citizens alike during the 1880 by-election.
By 1870 the only brewer in Deal was Hills & Son. In that year they owned almost 40% of the pubs in town. But a quarter were still privately owned. By 1900 almost all houses were owned by brewers, and the purchase of Hills by Thompson & Son of Walmer meant that the latter then owned almost two thirds of Deal's pubs and beerhouses.
Public houses ranged from the large Royal Hotel on Beach Street to very small establishments tucked away in the maze of streets in central Deal. Over the years several were destroyed by fire. Many landlords had a second occupation. A good many of those attempting to run a small house or a sizeable hotel came to grief. But landlords of established medium-sized public houses seem to have fared rather better.
Women were often de facto in charge of pubs, but were sometimes also the licence-holders. Landladies like Susannah Marsh (Admiral Keppel) and Amelia Kemp (Yarmouth Packet) were well known and respected figures in the town.
Although it is hard to quantify, it is clear that drunkenness and bad behaviour declined in late Victorian times. Until 1889 Deal had its own police force, and the town magistrates seems to have operated effectively and pragmatically.
There was a surprisingly large number of temperance organisations in the
town. They had helped by the 1890s to persuade the council and the magistrates that Deal had far too many pubs. But the magistrates failed in their efforts to take a lead by closing the Three Compasses and the landlords began to mobilise effectively in their defence.
Finally Government legislation provided a framework for the closure of public houses. Between 1906 and 1914 the magistrates brought about the closure of 18 pubs and beerhouses. The number has been falling ever since, particularly in recent years.
Research by Andrew Sargent.
Further information can be found in Andrew Sargent, Drinking in Deal: Beer, Pubs and Temperance in an East Kent Town 1830 – 1914 (BooksEast, 2016). If you would like a copy of please drop a line to moc.tenretnitb|tsaeskoob#moc.tenretnitb|tsaeskoob. It is also available at Ropers in Deal High Street, or through Amazon.