Economic and Social Changes in Deal and Surrounding Parishes in the Second Half of the 19th Century

Social and economic change in Britain during the nineteenth century was probably greater than at any other time in history. Communities in Britain at the start of the century were overwhelmingly agricultural while manufacturing industries tended to be small and scattered, more often than not in rural situations. As the century unfolded so steam power drove some of the most radical changes in our society. Not so restricted by situation as water and wind powered industries, and providing much greater power and flexibility in use, it could drive more industries in bigger factories placed at the convenience of the factory owner rather than the elements. Towns grew large around these newly developing industries and the coalmines sunk to satisfy their hunger for fuel. The revolution had stated in the previous century and in consequence the small rural iron smelting and textile industries in Kent had long closed down in the face of this unequal competition. New industrial processes led to the production of large quantities of cheap steel. Transport was revolutionised by the rapidly expanding network of railways. Iron clad, steam powered ships replaced wooden sailing vessels.

The new industries needed increasing numbers of literate artisans and clerical staff. Churches led the move towards educating more and more children, and the 1870 education act made education compulsory for all between the aArable vs Pasture Farming trends in Great Mongehamges of five and thirteen. New clerical and managerial positions led to the increase in size and influence of the middle classes. Increased literacy led to an increased demand for the printed word. Increasing wealth led to an increasing demand for consumer goods.

But not all shared in this new prosperity. The work of social reformers such as Charles Booth and Joseph Rowntree and the novels of Charles Dickens have made us aware of the plight of the urban poor. Much less has been written of the difficulties experienced in the countryside. Lucrative military contracts ended with the Napoleonic wars. The price of wheat fell. Repeal of the Corn Laws meant that farmers could not compete with cheap imported grain. Wheat prices would not recover for the rest of the century1. In consequence farmers would consolidate , diversify and economise or face bankruptcy2. Increasing mechanisation and changes in farming practices led to a reduction of the agricultural workforce. Much arable land was turned over to pasture and new crops were grown (figs 1 and 2)3.

With the growth of towns and increasing prosperity of the middle classes came an increased demand for meat and dairy products. The railways provided a rapid means of transporting agricultural produce across increasingly large distances. Farmers increasingly switched to livestock (fig 34). The demand for fresh fruit and vegetables also led to an increase in market gardening, the growth spreading from London with the railways.


In 1847 Charles Dickens was the guest at the opening of the extension of the line to Deal5. In 1881 the line from Dover to Deal was opened6. Thus the agricultural community of Deal and its surrounding parishes could also take advantage of these new markets. Deal was a town of the nineteenth century. It owes its existence to the silting of the Wantsum channel and the demise of Sandwich as a port. Ships no longer able to enter the port would anchor in the Downs, the strip of deep water between the shore and the Goodwin Sands, waiting for suitable tides and winds to take them on to the Thames or along the Channel. Boatmen from Deal would supply these vessels with fresh provisions. Thus Deal grew into a port and a town. At the opening of the nineteenth century the greater part of the parishes of Deal and Walmer were rural and agricultural. By the end of the century they were both largely urban. The growth and mixed fortunes of the new town were dependent on factors both local and national.

To investigate the extent of these changes for both town and country I analysed census returns for Deal and the contiguous parishes of Sholden and Great Mongeham. My first task was to examine changes in the composition of the agricultural workforce. These data would have to be related to population growth in the three parishes. The population graph for Walmer is included for comparison7.



ig 5. Graphs showing population trends during the nineteenth century in the four parishes.

Detailed discussion of these data will be undertaken when considering the fluctuating fortunes of the town. For our present purposes it is sufficient to note that the overlying trend is population growth at a time when the agricultural workforce was declining in numbers. In fact by 1881 there were nearly a third fewer agricultural labourers than there were in 1851. When the numbers in each parish are compared (fig 8), the greatest decline occurs in Deal. This would undoubtedly be a consequence of the increasing urbanisation of the parish, but, as can be seen from the Ordnance Survey map (fig 9), the greater part of Deal in 1877 was still agricultural. However while Deal was expanding as an urban centre, building development in Great Mongeham in the second half of the nineteenth century produced two more farmhouses and two dozen or more labourers’ cottages. This might explain the significant rise in numbers of farm labourers in the village. The fortunes of the four parishes were inextricably linked.


As the reduction in the agricultural workforce followed national trends, so to did the change in the nature of agriculture. Market gardening is believed to have been introduced into England by Flemish religious refugees in the seventeenth century. They first settled in Sandwich,just to the north of Deal, so the tradition was long established in the areaIn response to changing markets Joseph Paramor changed a long established family tradition of mixed farming. Paramors are entered in parish records from the seventeenth century. A “widow Parramon Son” are the occupants on Lease of Great Mongeham Faraltm in 18219. According to an inventory in my possession, William Paramor died in possession of a typical mixed farm of the period. Crops of wheat, barley, oats, pease. beans and clover were sown. Livestock included bullocks, pigs and goats. The tithe apportionments of 1840 show his son, Joseph Paramor, in possession of a farm of about ten acres. He is recorded as a farmer in the censuses from 1841 to 1861. By 1871 his son Joseph is running the farm, but in 1881 he is recorded as a gardener, and in 1891 he calls himself a market gardener.




Less marked but no less significant is the increase in the number of dairymen. It is worth noting that, until a single dairyman appears in the Great Mongeham record for 1881 all are domiciled in Deal. Clearly the town provided their key market. Fig 6 shows the changes in the relative numbers of particular specialists.

Unfortunately the census returns do not give many clues for the move from arable to livestock farming. There are some hints that this may be the case, but clearer evidence must be sought elsewhere. Apart from the one bankruptcy in Great Mongeham referred to earlier (footnote 1 page 1) and Joseph Paramor’s change to market gardening I have found no clear evidence of declining fortunes of farmers in the area under investigation.

Not so for the townspeople of Deal. Their fortunes fluctuated widely according to changes both nationally and locally and have been well documented. Until the closing of the Wantsum Channel the village of Deal was no larger than Great Mongeham. At the time of Domesday in the manor of Great Mongeham resided eight villans and twenty two bordars. In the three Deal manors there were but six villans and twenty one bordars. However by the time Deal was given its charter in 1699 its population had risen to an estimated three thousand and by the time of the Napoleonic wars it had risen to more than five thousand10. The wars brought great prosperity to Deal. The Naval Dockyard, which had been in existence since the seventeenth century, was at its busiest. Large fleets were assembled in the Downs11. Lord Nelson was a regular visitor. The increased prosperity had caused the population to rise steeply in the late 18th century12. But peace was to lead to the fleets on which the Deal boatmen depended being disbanded or stationed elsewhere. The boom years were followed by a deep recession. Hundreds of houses that had been built during the war were now unoccupied, and many hundred families left Deal to reside elsewhere. Unemployment was high. Every three weeks “a poor rate was made of 1s in the pound on the then rateable value” 13. Bankruptcies became commonplace among the tradesmen14 Both Laker and Pritchard attribute the extremity of the plight of the boatmen to the Government clampdown on smuggling, the boatmen’s recourse in times of hardship15. Whether or not the situation was exacerbated, the depression started the decline of the port. The increasing replacement of sail by steam and hempen rope by chain saw the eventual demise of the Port of Deal and its related industries. In October 1881 the port was declared a creek16. In 1851 there remained just three rope-makers, one hemp-dresser and a twine spinner. There was no evidence of a rope industry at all in 1881. The ropewalk became Gladstone Road17.

This much information of the changing fortunes of the town can be gleaned from local history texts. Analysis of census data should provide evidence in support, and perhaps some extra detail. I examined the censuses for the town of Deal for the years 1851 and 1881 to compare occupations and patterns of employment. I only included those in work, excluding those who declared themselves unemployed or retired. I also discounted wives although their husbands might be normally resident in Deal, and away at sea, on business, or for some other temporary reason. The decline in population between 1820 and 1850 can be quantified by reference to census data which also shows it was reflected in Walmer and Great Mongeham (see graphs pg 3). Many would have been dependent of Royal Navy personnel and left with the fleet. Others would have accompanied soldiers who had been stationed in Walmer. However the majority would have been those who lost their livelihoods and departed, seeking their fortunes elsewhere. The Great Mongeham Poor Book records a detailed account of an expenditure in 1830 of £96 1s. 10d to assist the emigration of two pauper fishermen and their families to America. Laker also records the collection of money in the late 1850s for the Deal Boatmen’s Fund which enabled thirteen families of boatmen to emigrate to New Zealand. A London shipowner also provided free passages for six men and a whaleboat18. This could, however only account for a tiny proportion of those earning their living from the sea. The censuses record them variously as mariners, boatmen, watermen, pilots, fishermen and seamen. Each of these designations had a precise meaning, as the records for a single household could include a mariner and a boatman or fisherman.

























The demise of Deal as a port is reflected in the almost halving of the numbers of seamen and pilots. The small number of boatmen in 1851 is because the pilots would operate alternatively as boatmen. Pilots are recorded as pilot, Trinity House Pilot or Cinque Ports pilot, even as late as 1881, even though the Cinque Ports pilots were brought under the jurisdiction of Trinity House in 1835. In port on the day of the 1881 census were three luggers with a total of 22 North Sea pilots aboard, and 13 Trinity House Pilots were aboard a fourth vessel. No other people were recorded aboard ship, possibly reflecting the absence of sea going vessels, even coastal vessels in port. There were no vessels recorded in the Deal Census of 1851. According to local information boatmen would also use their boats for fishing19.

There was much consternation among businessmen about the plight of the town. Some could see Deal as a possible watering place20. In 1836 a committee was organised to improve the town. They raised funds to build the sea wall at the south end and widen Beach Street21. In 1844 the “want of suitable dwellings for a higher class of visitor” led to the building of five houses along the sea front22. The railway also increased the accessibility of the town. Visitors were beginning to discover the “so-called resort”23 The number of lodging houses increased from sixteen in 1851 to sixty-two in 1881, a large proportion of these along Beach Street. The iron pier was opened in 1864.

The old Naval Dockyard was demolished to make way for houses. Slums were cleared. This renewed building activity was reflected in the growth in the building industry.

























In 1851 one tradesman was plumber, painter and glazier. A plumber in 1881 was also a painter, employing six men and two boys and one of the painters was also a glazier. A small gasworks was erected in 1832 so two of the plumbers were also gasfitters. The increased building activity saw the rise of larger building contractors. In 1881 George Denne employed 100 men while James Wise had nineteen men and three boys working for him.

The provision of retail goods showed an increase of sophistication. Retailers found in the 1881 census not appearing in 1851 include two fruiterers, a florist, three watchmakers, a china shop, a cigar shop and a tobacconist-confectioner. Lower Street had been renamed High Street, and took on the appearance of one, with (among others) tailors and outfitters, a fancy bazaar, two cigar shops, a draper-milliner and watchmaker.





Boot and shoe makers














However clothes were still predominantly hand sewn, although two machinists are recorded in the 1881 census24. In 1881 the 115 dressmakers in Deal catered for a larger and more prosperous clientele than the eighty-seven in the 1851 census. In an age when everyone wore hats there was business for milliners, hatters and straw bonnet makers. Boots and shoes were also hand made. The term cordwainer for a high quality boot and shoemaker gradually disappeared.

Another significant change apparent in the comparison of the two censuses is the increasing importance of education. Pritchard notes the founding of the National School in Middle Street in 179225. Among other schools the Parochial School was built in 1853 and the Wesleyan in 186526. As a result of the 1870 act all children were required to attend school. This resulted in increased literacy as is shown in fig. 8. Names in theGreat Mongeham marriage register were either signed or represented by a mark.The table below shows the number of names entered for each ten year period and the number of those represented by a mark. The proportion was calculated by dividing the number represented by mark by the total number of names. Although not a perfect indicator ofliteracy it does suggest that illiteracy fell from about forty percent to around ten percent between the 1840s and the 1870s.

Great Mongeham

Number of marriages

Total names

Represented by mark

July, 1837 - Dec., 1849




Jan. 1850 - Dec.1859




Jan. 1860 - Dec.1869




Jan. 1870 - Dec.1879




The increasing number of schools demanded an increasing number of teachers. Of twenty-five teachers in 1851 six were employed in private boarding schools, one a teacher of drawing, another a teacher of music and one was a ‘teacher of Latin and English at home’. In all there were four private boarding schools. The census alone cannot indicate whether any of them took day pupils, although that information may be available from newspaper advertisements or directories, such as those of Kelly or Bagshaw. Whether any of the remaining sixteen ran private day schools might be gleaned from the same sources.

By the 1881 census the number of teachers had risen to fifty-three. They were variously called teachers, schoolmasters, schoolmistresses or governesses. To assert their status two identified themselves as certified elementary teachers, and a third was a national school mistress. At the Parochial School for boys, girls and infants William Howitt was a certified schoolmaster and his wife a certified schoolmistress. Also living at the school were the sisters Mary and Elizabeth Harrod, schoolmistresses. In Victorian schools there operated a system whereby the academically more promising pupils between the ages of thirteen and fifteen would assist the teacher in teaching the younger children, while receiving a secondary education from the teachers. There were twenty-seven pupil teachers in Deal in 1881.

This expansion of the State Education system was accompanied by a similar expansion in the provision of private boarding schools. There are ten recorded in the 1881 census, employing twenty-five teachers. The largest was the one at St. Alfred House in the High Street. The schoolmaster was Alderman James Lush, J.P. He had eight assistant teachers to help him with the sixty-four boys and one girl who came from Europe and India as well as many parts of Great Britain. A staff of housekeeper, cook, kitchen maid and three housemaids catered for their physical needs. The Queen Street Convent and orphanage, with ten nuns (seven from France) accommodated nine girl boarders and seven orphan scholars. Whether this expansion of private education represented a national trend or was related to Deal’s new image as a watering place warrants further investigation.

Increased literacy created a demand for the printed word. The 1881 census reveals a substantial increase in printers with associated trades of compositors, bookbinders and stationers. There is even a journalist. On the 27th January 1858 the Deal and Walmer Telegram made its first appearance. It was followed in 1865 by the Deal Mercury. Stephen Pritchard’s A History of Deal was published and printed in Deal in 1874.

Census material provides a useful adjunct to history books recording the local history of an area. In the case of Deal, Pritchard’s A History of Deal provides a near contemporary account of the 1840s, 50s and 60s. Laker’s was first published in 1914, so provides a near contemporary account of the last three decades of the nineteenth century. Their insights help in the interpretation of the census material. However the detailed information from the censuses helps to give colour to the broad history. It reflects the events played out on the local and national stages, and shows their influence on ordinary lives. There is much more to be gleaned, such as the gipsy encampment in 1851 and the entertainers lodging in the High Street in1881. The censuses also give evidence relating to the expansion of the railways and development of waterworks, gasworks and brickworks. An analysis of the censuses of Walmer would add to our knowledge of changes in agriculture and the increasing urbanisation of the parish. Analysis of information from Bagshaw’s and Kelly’s directories would add more to the picture, as would newspaper stories and advertisements. The written history of our land has traditionally concentrated on the wider stage. By investigating the particular and relating it to the general helps personalise that history.


1 Michael Winstanley Life in Kent at the Turn of the Century pp 18-9

2For example Edmund Charles, a wealthy farmer of Great Mongeham was declared bankrupt in 1873. London Gazette 28th March 1873

3 Data for fig 1 taken from Michael Winstanley Life in Kent at the Turn of the Century p20 and for fig 2 from Charles Whitehead, A sketch of Agriculture in Kent p2

4 Whitehead ibid p2

5 Stephen Pritchard A History of Deal p281

6 John Laker History of Deal p 404

7 Data taken from the Victoria County History of Kent Vol. 3 Page 358, 359

8 Gertrude Nunn A History of Deal p 162

9 From an advertisement advertising the sale of the farm in The Times 11th July 1821.

10 Pritchard op cit p 41 estimates “a population under 3,00” in 1640. The population in the 1801 census is given as 5,420.

11 In this context ‘Downs’ refers to the relatively deep water on the landward side of the Goodwin Sands which provides some protection from all but the roughest seas. The effect can be experienced when crossing the English Channel today. Once past the Sands the water becomes decidedly more choppy.

12 Pritchard op cit pp 245 -6 wrote that the declaration of war in 1792 resulted in “a most extraordinary rise in the value of house property..... Trade became so extended and demands for all kinds of goods so large, that fortunes were realised in some cases in seven years......”

13 Pritchard op cit p 246

14 Laker op cit p340

15 Pritchard ibid Laker op cit 376

16 Laker ibid p 405

17 Nunn op cit p 161.

18 Laker op cit p398

19 also see Laker ibid p 340

20 ibid p340

21 Pritchard op cit p273.

22 ibid p280

23 Nunn op cit p176

24 Isaac Singer started marketing his sewing machines in the 1850s

25 Pritchard op cit p299. This was a charity school supported by voluntary contributions and under the direction of the Rector of St Leonard’s Church and the Curate of St. George’s. Its name was changed from ’Charity’ to ‘National’ in 1842.

26 Laker op cit p344



John Laker History of Deal T. F Pain & Sons 1921

Gertrude Nunn A History of Deal Hovellers Press 2006

Stephen Pritchard A History of Deal Edward Hayward 1874

Charles Whitehead, A sketch of Agriculture in Kent. Spottiswoode & Co 1899

Michael Winstanley Life in Kent at the Turn of the Century. Wm Dawson & Son, 1978

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