DOVER KENT ARCHIVES
John Bavington Jones

Published in the South Kent Gazette, 7 November, 1979.

A PERAMBULATION OF THE TOWN, PORT AND FORTRESS.

PART 32.

 

ANCIENT DOVER LANDWARD BIGGIN STREET.

There have been, many suggestions as to the derivation of the name of this street which runs from the Maison Dieu to the site of the old Biggin Gate near St. Mary’s Church. The Rev. Canon Puckle ventured the opinion that the name was derived from the Beguines, a Sisterhood originated in Germany, who are supposed to have been associated with the Master and Brethren of the Maison Dieu. Seeing that there is no record of the Beguines having ever existed in England, the suggestion does not seem to meet the case. It is not necessary to go abroad for a derivation, for in our own country, and even in our own county, the name Biggin as fairly common. In Kent, there is Biggin Heath at Lenham, and Biggin Hill at Wrotham. In the north of England, there are four places called Biggin, and eight called New Biggin, as well as a street in York called Biggin Gate. Possibly, the origin of the names of all these places is the word “biggin,“ from a Saxon root, meaning “to build.“ Dover’s Biggin Ward was mentioned in documents as early at 1286. Biggin Street, when first named according to the deeds now extant, was margined more by land than houses, therefore, the idea intended to be conveyed might have been that that was the district where building was in progress, not only in the street, but also at the two great establishments in the Priory and the Maison Dieu.

 

BIGGIN GATE AND FORGE.

The ancient history of Biggin Street is mainly associated with the Maison Dieu at the one end, and Biggin Gate at the other, both built about the same period — in the early part of the 13th century. Incidental references to the Gate are made in several documents in the possession of the Dover Corporation, and, from a careful study of one of them, it appears that Biggin Gate was a little further down Cannon Street than is usually supposed, the site of the "Rose Inn" being outside it. This is made clear by a deed signed by Mr. Thomas Pepper, the Mayor, on behalf of the Corporation, on the 15th June, 1566, letting to Thomas Challice, blacksmith, on lease, part of the lane (namely, New Street) next Biggin Gate, with power to build on the town wall and on the lane to a width of 12ft., and to the length of 48ft., from the house of Thomas Challice, it being stipulated that a sufficient cartway of 7ft. should be left open. From the bearings, which the deed minutely gives, it appears that the house and forge of Challice stood where the "Rose Inn" was located — on the comer of New Street. The site is now occupied by the offices of a building society.

The forge projected further into the street than the "Rose Inn", the street being much narrower than it is today. This forge under the town wall, being the first house on the south-west side of Biggin Street, formed a curious link in a succession of town forges. There was, in 1342, the forge of William of Kenartone, adjoining the cemetery of St. Peter in the Market Place; then, in 1566, there was Challice’s forge adjoining Biggin Gate; about 220 years later we hear of Hatton’s forge, which remained at Priory Street corner until 1876. Later there was another town centre forge, that of Isaacson and Mason, in the little wayside chapel of St. Edmund, in Priory Road.

No one has ever thought it worthwhile to preserve any pictorial representation of Biggin Gate; but several isolated bits of information may be culled from the Dover records concerning it. In May, 1613, the following entry appears in the Corporation minutes: “Yt is now thought meete that the gatehouse over the Biggin Gate shall be converted to a prison wherein some of the better sort of fforreyners to be committed as in the descrecion of the Maior and Juratts for the time being shall be thought meete. And the present order be taken for the making of a pair of steares to the same, with such other necessaryes as shall foe needful.“ It appears that there were no better sort of “fforreyners“ to occupy the gate-house, for, in the year 1636, there was a Corporation minute, dated November 14th, granting the use of the gate-house to a Dover company of shoe-makers, glovers, saddlers, collar-makers, and cobblers. This company of workers in leather, of whom James Cullen was the Master, granted a lease of the gate-house for 21 years at a rent of one shilling a year, for their meetings on all occasions, and for no other purpose, and they were given liberty to dig down a part of the town wall to make a pair of stairs up to the room, hence it appears that the Corporation’s order for a “pair of steares“ to be made, in the year 1613, had never been carried out.

It also seems doubtful whether the Company of Leatherworkers ever thought it worth their while to dig down the town wall and make a pair of stairs, for in 1653, five years before their lease would have run out, the gate was restored by order of Mr. Edward Prescott, the Mayor. Thirty-six years later, the Corporation were in financial difficulties owing to their having to pay to the Crown £141 19s. 8d. for the renewal of their Charter; and to meet the liabilities, in 1686, they had “a sale by the candle“ — a 17th century form of auction — and, among other lots offered for sale, was the loft over Biggin Gate. Money was generally scarce in Dover during the dismal reign of James II, and it is probable that the candle burnt out before a bid was obtained for the gate-house, for it appears to have continued to be the property of the Corporation, who ordered it to be taken down in the year 1762.

 

ANCIENT BIGGIN STREET OWNERS.

Ancient records are almost silent as to the domestic history of Biggin Street. There are a few deeds in the possession of the Corporation which cast a little light on its condition. In July, 1286, Anabilla, widow of William at Hall, with the consent of her son John, devised to Nicholas Bevelond, merchant, a parcel of land in Biggin Ward, at a ground rent of 3/6 per year for her lifetime. The life of the widow only lasted ten years after executing that deed, for in the year 1296, the said John demised presumably the same piece of land, to Walter the Chareter, Christiana his wife, and Richard Sperhawk, at an annual rent of 5/6 for ever; and the land being parted with in perpetuity, the purchasers covenanted to perform the service of the Lord the King according to the custom of Dover.

 

Lefevre's Temperance Hotel

LEFEVRE’S Temperance Hotel and Coffee Tavern (left) faced public houses across two streets — the "Wellington" (right) and the "Rose Inn" on the opposite corner of New Street — when this picture of Biggin Street was taken In 1894, shortly before the road, only 18ft. wide, was widened. Two things made widening essential — increasing traffic and the forthcoming Dover Corporation tramway system, which opened in 1897. A six-day census made in 1893 showed that traffic through Biggin Street was made up of 9,440 ordinary light and heavy vehicles, 908 cycles and bath chairs and 446 horses. The problems which arose when carts travelling towards each other met up with a stationary wagon such as the milk cart outside the premises of J. Doyle in this picture can easily be imagined. The cart in shadow in the centre of the street bears the name C. C. Ruble.

 

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