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.

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