Deal Kent - From Smuggler's Haunt to Tourist Town
Official Deal Tourist information number : 01304 369576
A Smugglers Den
Deal really started to flourish in the mid 1600s. In the age of sailing ships the sheltered Deal coast was a haven for ships. At times there would be hundreds of ships anchored off the coast bringing business and prosperity to the area.
The ships would reset their chronometers by the timeball tower before sailing to the far flung corners of the globe.
The book Longitude by Dava Sobel gives a brief but fascinating insight into the problems faced by mariners and the importance of the time ball towers.
The town also became infamous for smuggling. The Deal Maritime museum has many relics from the smuggling era.
In January 1784 the rampant smuggling prompted Prime Minister William Pitt to send soldiers to Deal. Due to a storm all the boats were on the shore and the soldiers set light to them all. The prosperity of the smugglers meant that this was only a temporary inconvenience.
Many of the houses in the seafront conservation area have the remains of old tunnels and secret hiding places used by the smugglers. The Rattling Cat in Walmer, an old coaching inn, is said to get its name from the fact the owner kept many cats with pieces of bone attached to their collars. When strangers appeared in the area the cats would run home and the rattling of their collars would alert everyone that there might be Excise men in the area.
From Smuggling to Tourism
With the advent of steam ships in the 19th century ships no longer needed to take shelter at Deal and the importance of the town as a port began to wane.
During the Victorian era Deal began to emerge as a tourist resort. The first wooden pier was built in 1857, this was later replaced by an iron pier in 1864. The current pier was opened in 1957 and had a new end of the pier restaurant in 2008.
Looking back at the town from the end of the pier gives a snapshot of Deal's varied past. The beautiful old houses along the seafront form the backdrop for the vibrant bustle of the town.