Saturday, 14 July 2012
Deal in Kent
The small seaside town of Deal on the Kent coast still has for me today all the glamour it possessed when I was a child. My grandfather worked at Betteshanger colliery just a few miles inland, so we had many relatives in the area and made many visits to them, sometimes by boat from Southend Pier. I never could get over the contrast between the vast lowtide mudflats of the Thames estuary at Southend-on-sea in Essex (where I grew up) and Deal’s steeply stepped shingle beach where the difference between low and high tide isn’t more than a few yards. And Deal, blessedly, never did succumb to all the crass, conventional seaside amusements to which Southend has long since sold its soul.
So it is good to learn that, in a minor way, Deal is part of the William Morris family story too. In July 1876 Jane Morris was there with the children for an extended stay; Georgiana Burne-Jones took her daughter Margaret down to join them on 13 July; and Morris himself seems to have gone down later in the month to spend three days there. Given May Morris’s tomboyish proclivities (‘roof-riding’ at Kelmscott, for instance), I wonder if she ever thought of pinching a boat and rowing out with Jenny to the dangerous Goodwin Sands, as my father and my Uncle Stan did when they were boys?
Do the materials exist for a literary history of nineteenth-century Deal? Esther Summerson spends some time there in chapter XLV of Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (1852-3), pages which well capture the maritime importance of the town for Victorian England (‘Some of these vessels were of grand size – one was a large Indiaman just come home’); and John Ruskin evokes ‘this neat, courageous, benevolent, merry, methodical Deal’ in a few pages of his Harbours of England (1856). These are just preliminary starting points – I shall keep digging!