Saturday, 25 June 2011

Deal's secret ...

Deal’s hidden treasure
By David Chamberlain

By the year of 1853, the popular tavern Hoop and Griffin had been demolished. This hostelry was situated in Beach Street and comprised of coach houses and stables. The site went up for sale along with thirty feet of capstan ground opposite on the foreshore. The building land was purchased and 12 coastguard cottages were erected upon it.

Reverend Thomas Treanor (author of ‘Heroes of the Goodwin Sands’ and mission chaplain to seamen) purchased the properties in 1882. Within a few years, new coastguard premises were built along at the Marina and the men and their families moved into these in 1890.

Captain George Coleman, then Mayor of Deal, purchased the 12 vacated cottages from Reverend Treanor for the sum of £525. He decided to offer the cottages to old and infirm Deal boatmen and their families. Setting up a charity with a few other worthy folk who were willing to maintain and pay the rates and taxes, he then presented them to the town in ‘trust’.

The spinster Mary Hougham came from a long distinguished family who could boast that their descendents had fought with Richard the Lionheart in the Crusades of 1191, becoming lord of the manor of Hougham (near Dover), Constable of Rochester Castle and Mayor of Sandwich. Her father was an apothecary and surgeon at Deal and she ran a preparatory school for young gentlemen from the years of 1862 till 1882. When her parents died she inherited an estate of £3055 -16s - 2d. Being of benign and generous nature she contributed a large amount of money into the trust; and was honoured with the charity and properties being called the ‘Mary Hougham Almshouses’. Mary had deep religious beliefs and also paid for the oak panelling in St George’s church, in the High Street.

The interiors of the cottages were spartan and there was no running water, therefore, all slops were emptied into a central gulley. A communal washing house was separate from the buildings and lighting was aided by candles or oil lamps. Some improvements were made when the trust sold the capstan ground for street development. In 1956 electricity was installed and water was laid on to kitchen sinks, along with six extra outside wash houses and WCs.

Eventually the buildings became empty and derelict, being vandalised and holding squatters. The charity was at odds, in 1983, over what to do with the property as the cottages were becoming unsustainable. After consultation, the sale of the boatman’s reading rooms and help from the council they were rebuilt. The main entrance was now near the top of Griffin Street with a small car park fronting. A plaque depicting the famous three life boatmen, Laming, Roberts and Mackings was placed above the main entrance to the flats. Unfortunately, they are pictured facing and pointing to the west and not to the east … seaward.

On the twenty-first of December, 1987, the then chairman of the trust, Councillor Richard Whiteside, reopened the Mary Hougham Almshouses as modern accommodation. There are now four one-bedroom and four two-bedroom cottages together with four flats. The charity is still very active and the needs of the residents well looked after. From 1974 it was decided that with the demise of the local boatmen, the trust would extend the opportunity of occupancy to Deal residents over the age of 60.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Death in the Channel

The Dover Straits was shrouded in fog on the night of the 19th of November, 1887, and the 720 ton West Hartlepool steamer Rosa Mary was anchored up near the South Sand Head Lightvessel. Her anchor light was shining from the masthead and a few of her 16 hands were keeping a look-out from the bridge in the cold night air.

In the swirling mist the Red Star passenger ship W.A.Scholten approached the anchored vessel. On board were 156 passengers and 54 crewmen. She had sailed from her home port of Rotterdam earlier in the day and her destination was New York. Many of the passengers were seeking a new life in America and the 2,569 ton Dutch steamship had families and children in the steerage class cabins of the vessel. On a steady course and slow speed of six knots the W.A.Scholten continued towards the Rosa Mary.

At ten-thirty Captain Taat saw the anchored collier ahead of the passenger ship and at the last moment ordered full astern on the ship’s telegraph. In the cold night air the sound of grating steel and wrenching plates were heard as the W.A.Scholten ripped off the bow of the Rosa Mary to her inner bulkhead. An eight foot gash was also torn along the port side of the Dutch ship as she disappeared into the mist.

When the forward way of the W.A.Scholten ceased, the strong ebb tide was to carry her on for another four miles. The sea was gushing in through the hole and pandemonium broke loose as the immigrants realised that the ship was sinking. Screaming passengers careered about the deck as the crew attempted to get the lifeboats away. Only two were launched before the sloping deck plunged below the cold waters of the Channel. Within a mere thirty minutes all that remained of the ship were her masts protruding from the sea.

It was the heartbreaking screams of the drowning families that alerted the crew of the British steamship Ebro, who managed to rescue 78 people. The other ship involved in the collision, Rosa Mary, limped into Dover Harbour with her bow watertight bulkhead still intact.

As many bodies washed up on the beaches of Deal it was deemed that the town should hold the inquest. From the findings some startling statements were made. A Hastings fishing boat’s skipper stated that the Rosa Mary had been underway prior to the collision and had ploughed through his herring nets. Parts of his nets were found on the mangled remains of the steamers bow. Some of the survivors accused the W.A.Scholten’s Captain Taat of keeping the steerage passengers away from the lifeboats. The captain could never defend himself as he and the first officer perished with their vessel. There were enough lifejackets on board for all, but many of the passengers had put them on incorrectly (as some of the recovered bodies had later shown) so inadvertently adding to the death toll.