DOVER KENT ARCHIVES
John Bavington Jones

Published in the South Kent Gazette, 5 September, 1979.

A PERAMBULATION OF THE TOWN, PORT AND FORTRESS.

PART 23.

 

AN ANCIENT ALMSHOUSE.

Before turning from ancient history, we have also to mention in connection with Bench Street the original Dover Almshouse. It abutted on Bench Street, and, according to a Dover deed, dated 6th September, 1564, is bestraddled the river, the passage referring to it being as follows:— "Et tenementum ex una parte comunis rivuli, vocati le Allmeshouse, et tenementum ex altera partem rivuli vocati le Allmeshouse.“ This hospital or almshouse is supposed to have been established for the relief of pilgrims and sailors arriving by sea. Possibly it was a receiving house for the Maison Dieu, for at the Reformation this almshouse was vacated, and the Charity transferred to the Old Seamen’s Hospital at the south end of Market Lane, and from this root sprang the Dover almshouse of the present day.

 

BENCH STREET WIDENING.

The great work of widening this main thoroughfare took place in the years 1836-37. The old frontage was left intact on the west side, but the houses on the east side were set back to develop the present wide street from a mere lane of 18ft. wide, footpaths included. Compensation for loss of business and giving up freeholds cost over £9,000, the awards being assessed by a jury which sat at Crabble House, River, in January, 1836. It was intended that Corbett’s Corner, opposite Queen Street, should have been set back to put that house in a line with King Street. It was also intended to widen Fishmonger’s Lane to open up to St. James’s Street, but after some lengthy legal proceedings, the opening eastward was abandoned, and that corner was left as a disfigurement of an otherwise fine improvement. At the other end, it was intended to widen the street further on the west side to improve the entrance into Snargate Street, but that, too, was bungled by the Improvement Commissioners, for although when Page’s Corner was rebuilt in 1840 the property was set back three feet in Snargate Street, as far down as the end of Hart’s former furniture establishment, now a wallpaper shop, the setting back in Bench Street was but nominal.

The financing of the widening was very unsatisfactory. The money was borrowed on the security of the old Coal Dues, for which the interest was regularly paid, but no provision was made for paying off the capital of the loan, and that was left unpaid until the last decade of the nineteenth century. The widened Bench Street, notwithstanding improvements elsewhere, became one of the finest thoroughfares in the town. The grace and dignity of its eastern line of frontage could not be surpassed. For over 100 years, from the time the properties were built, in 1837, until the Hitler war, there was little change in their appearance. The western side was more varied, as it consisted of the original fronts, which were altered from time to time. The corner (where for many years Page’s grocery shop stood), leading into Snargate Street, was rebuilt in 1840 and reconstructed as Hart’s Corner in 1935. It later became Walters the furnishers and subsequently a wallpaper shop.

The “Shakespeare Hotel“ was a well known feature for many years. In 1923 it was transformed into flats, with a restaurant and shop to replace the old hotel entrance. For many years after the 1939-45 war, until a tragic fire gutted the premises in March 1977, killing seven people, it was known simply as the "Crypt." The hostelry, being ancient, may once upon a time have formed the temporary sojourning place of some of Shakespeare’s strolling players, but the name of the hotel was originally “The George.“ It then became “The Vine,“ and was changed to the “Shakespeare“ about 1750, which might have been intended to commemorate some circumstance then known in the hostel’s history. St Mary’s Vicarage was in Bench Street (on the site of Messrs Lukey’s), from 1750 until the early part of the 19th century. It was rebuilt in 1830, and sold by order of the Vestry in 1859. The Queen Street corner property, during the 19th century, was a saddler’s, and next was the “Guildhall Vaults Inn“, which had historic connections, although not definitely known, with the old Guildhall, which existed before the one in the Market Place was built in 1607. The inn premises were rebuilt after the war.

 

SNARGATE STREET.

Old Snargate Street was very short, extending from Severus Gate, at New Bridge, down to the tower that stood at the Snargate Street corner of Wellington Passage, opposite the old printing works and offices of the Dover Express which stood near the corner of Snargate Street and Chapel Street and disappeared when the York Street dual carriageway was built. When the town was first walled, there was no Snar Gate in Dover’s defences. Severus Gate was the sea gate, and the tower at Wellington Passage stood to fortify the angle of the wall overlooking the sea, for the waves washed the base of the western cliff and the sloping shore outside the wall which slanted up from the before-mentioned tower.

In the course of centuries, the shingle accumulated and formed a shoal where Waterloo Crescent and the Marine Parade now are; and the River Dour, which was a fuller stream in centuries gone by, carried considerable sediment down the valley and deposited it against this shingle bank, thereby making the obstruction permanent. The shelter of the shingle bank caused the sea bed under the cliff to gradually silt up, leaving the undercliff above water. As the sea fell away, Snargate Street was extended far enough, about the year 1370, for the gate to be erected across the street where once stood No. 16 on the one side and No. 176 on the other. Below that point, at that time, the sea at high water continued to wash the base of the cliffs, but at low tide there was a large area where an enemy might land and easily secure a position “above wall.“ It was to prevent this that the wall was continued to where the gate was built in the position above indicated. From there the wall ran up the face of the cliff to join the older mural defences towards Cow Gate.

 

TWO STAGES OF GROWTH.

There were two stages of the growth of Upper Snargate Street — to Wellington Passage in Saxon times, and to Snar Gate in Norman times; but of what there was in the way of buildings in Snargate Street in those periods, with the exception of the tower, the wall, and the gate, very little is known. On the seaward side there could then have been no tenements at all, because the town wall was there, but on the land side, from Bench Street corner down to Chapel Street was, no doubt, an important part of commercial Dover at a very early period, and later all the way down to Snar Gate. The property on that side of the street appears to have had two ground landlords — the ecclesiastics of St Martin-le-Grand, and afterwards the Priory — from the top as far down as Chapel Street. From thence down to the gate the Dover Corporation were lords of the soil.

 

Market Place 1890s

Dover Market Place before the coining of the corporation tramway system, in the early 1890s. J. Stokes appeared to be landlord of the "City of Antwerp Hotel" on the left. A little further along was the diminutive "Garrick’s Head" public house, then Gregory the draper and Igglesden the baker on the corner of Church Street up which were the premises of T. W. Vallintine the upholsterer. The shop blinds on the right were those of Flash-man’s the furnishers.

 

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