He’s right. Or at least he was – until recently. Deal’s liberal atmosphere and unique culture have thrived from being precisely the place that no-one happens upon, situated as it is between Dover and Ramsgate.
Historically, however, it was the preferred landing spot for every potential invader from Julius Caesar, who arrived in 55BC (check out the memorial on the promenade towards Walmer) to Napoleon (no, he didn’t quite make it). And it’s this combination of inaccessibility and vulnerability that has allowed Deal to live by its own rules.Its significance in the sixteenth century as the busiest port in England resulted in the building of three castles including Walmer, the most spectacular, but by the 18th Century, a thriving smuggling trade meant the town had gained a lawless reputation: diarist Samuel Pepys called Deal “pitiful”, whilst the author Daniel Defoe talked of its “barbarous hated name”. So why is it now bustling with delis, restaurants, great pubs, galleries and vintage/interior shops? The clue lies in the famous Georgian conservation area of fisherman’s cottages just behind the seafront. In the sixties, the council nearly demolished a sizeable portion, but gradually the crumbling dwellings were bought up (often by “theatrical London types”, according to local estate agents Bright & Bright) and refurbished – to the point where a stroll around this now highly picturesque quarter is the most enjoyable way to spend an hour upon arrival (see section below).
And the many blue plaques are testament to the town’s bohemian history – an author here, a painter there – especially that belonging to Carry On actor Charles Hawtrey (who had a penchant for sailors, booze and setting fire to his bed, often all at the same time).Deal’s busy past and bright future seems to converge on its pier, the only one of its kind to have been built in the UK since the end of the last war. The first, erected in 1838, was replaced by an iron structure in 1864, which in turn was damaged in WW2 by a torpedoed Dutch ship. The present pier, constructed from concrete-clad steel, was opened in 1957 by Prince Phillip and restored in 2008 as state-of-the-art RIBA-award winning glass café. The piazza on the seafront was also regenerated a few years back, facilitating alfresco drinking and dining. There are always live bands and shows on Sundays and bank holidays here – it’s where the town comes together, in fact.
Stephen Emms has lived in and written about Deal, and the Kent Coast, for well over a decade.