East Coast Cooler
It’s the last weekend of summer. As the train meanders past the chalky White Cliffs of Dover we come over all Vera Lynn. Altogether now: “There’ll be love and laughter; and peace ever after…” Although it’s hard not to dream of the cliffs as topography’s answer to Fanny Cradock’s powdered cheekbones. Past Priory (no, that one, although smuggling is involved), our sun kissed naval base looms into view. Maybe not quite looms. Deal isn’t big. Nor raw. Deal meal. Puns (mostly) over, we’re here for the domestic architecture.
A tale of two towns. Kind of. A higgledly piggedly jumble of centuries old topsy turvy Georgian or Georgian faced townhouses squeezed between the esplanade and High Street contrasts with voluptuous Edwardian villas strung out along the coast. Of course that’s a gross oversimplification but wherever there’s pudding to be egged there’s Lavender’s Blue. Britain’s only brutalist pier doesn’t fit our narrative. Nor do the Brightonesque Regency houses. Nor does the tulip shaped Tudor castle. Ours is a binary filtered storyline of sepia saturated prose.
Close of play is more like end of day as a cricket match on the pebbly beach unfolds unabated through an unforgiving sunset. It is, though, a spectacularly balmy evening. We stroll past The Black Douglas Coffee House. Named after a tyrannical 14th century Scottish ruler, the surname is more closely associated with his descendant Bosie. It’s owned by Dalziel Douglas. Her partner is closing shop. “Come for breakfast tomorrow and Lady Douglas will give you the full history! She’s the great great niece of Bosie.” Oscar Wilde called the Douglas family a “mad, bad line”. The aptly black painted shopfront is in a quintessentially Deal block. Four buildings – four window levels – four eaves heights – four colours. All perceptibly lopsided, living in fear of the perpendicular, clinging to each other like tipsy aged fishwives.
We dive into the orb speckled alleyways behind Beach Street. No minimum distances between dwellings; no wonder everybody knows everybody. Tiny windows peep above pavements and a dusting of Dutch gables graces the slit of artists’ sky above. Christmas House; The Paragon; Steadfast; Tally Ho. Some have planchette plundered passageways; others, secret hidden rooms. Collectively, a smugglers’ paradise of the past. And if you didn’t benefit from ill gotten gains back then, there was still plenty of booty to be had. A poster on a wall announces:
“Wreck sale on the quayside of this port at 10 o’clock in the forenoon on the 24th day of April 1796. Part of the cargoes of ships that have recently come to grief in these parts. Consisting of: 56 Bales of Wool | 124 Deer Skins | 37 Cases of Flour | 9 Casks of White Lead | 287 Oak Handspikes | 21 Barrels of Tar | 341 Pieces of Cloth | 67 Articles of Pewter | 23 Barrels of Potash | 154 Pieces of Firtimber | 1 Open Boat | 16 Hatchets | 20 Casks of Cudbear | 112 Cases of English China | 45 Pipes of Linseed Oil | 209 Spills of Cotton Yarn.”
A poster on a bow window advertises the clandestine sounding Dining Club. Temptations listed include potato and mushroom terrine followed by roast mullet and pea fritter. Leaving the twisted grid of ghostly cross lanes behind, we head south. Between the two halves of the town we promenade past an antiques shop named 1815 in a building that looks 1915. The mesmeric shop window displays chandeliers, piers and a stuffed seagull. The art of the deal.
Beyond, the Edwardian villas are unabashedly self important, acutely aware they can be viewed from all angles unlike their narrow northern neighbours. Widows’ and Juliet balconies galore. There are terraces and balconies and verandahs and terraces on balconies on verandahs. One especially memorable house is crowned with a gloriously top heavy coven of witch’s hat roofs. Their inhabitants aren’t self important: they even say hello on the street. Goodness, this really isn’t London-on-Sea. Shame that discovering The Black Douglas was on our last night. But it’s not a deal breaker. We’ve an excuse to descend on Deal again. Not that one’s required. Last pun (for now). It’s a deal.