Page Updated:- Tuesday, 20 November, 2018.

John Bavington Jones

Published in the Dover Express, 16 November, 1979.


PART 34.


How the Gunmans obtained their wealth is not known but as they do not appear to have been engaged in anything commercial except land holding, it is presumed that it was inherited, their armorial bearings indicating that they were connected with some of the principal families in Dover. They seem to have husbanded their substance in a prudent way, not squandering their money, as many of the local families did, in political contests, but being content to live among their own people in the enjoyment of a local reputation.

In Christopher Gunman’s time the family mansion was at its zenith. It may be pictured as abutting on Biggin Street, occupying not only the top of Pencester Road, but a considerable portion of the frontage round the corner in Biggin Street going towards the town hall. The site was later occupied by Coulthard and Wilson and Mence Smith's. A gateway to the mansion fronted onto the street and the lawns, gardens and grounds eastward occupied the whole of the Dourside land from Park Street to Dieu Stone Lane. Christopher Gunman left a son, James Gunman, and he also was mayor of Dover three times, in the years 1776, 1784 and 1789. In addition to possessing the Buckland Manor, he purchased, in 1786 the manor of Shepherdswell. The Rev John Lyon dedicated his History of Dover to James Gunman in 1813. After his last mayoralty, James lived 38 years in Dover, dying at Biggin Street on the 29th of June, 1824, in his 76th year.



After Gunman’s mansion disappeared, about 1860, the handsome modern frontages, built facing the street, set back on each side of Pencester Road, partially relieved the cramped state of Biggin Street, but between that and St Mary's churchyard, crookedness and narrowness still prevailed. The big ironmongery establishment of Messrs. Fletcher (now gone), which was opened in 1824, eventually occupied the three properties numbered 29, 30 and 31, also in line with Pencester Road; but as late as 1877, the premises of Mr Bourner, printer and stationer, jutted out across the pavement. There was, at an earlier date, another projection, consisting of a quaint little cottage, occupied by a Mr Stone, with a passage thereby leading to the dwellings of two Dover characters of pre-Victorian days, “Goody Tune“ and “Old Hogg, the scissor grinder.“ The site was later to be occupied by T. E. Barnard’s Central Stores and, more recently by Boots the chemists.



When Worthington’s Lane was the only outlet to the west. Priory Street had not come into being, but Hatton’s forge was there long before, and when Priory Street was made, the penthouse, where the horses were shod, was turned round the corner. A picturesque old projection was Hatton’s forge, and as “the children going home from school“ lingered “to hear the bellows roar,“ they had not many paces to go across the street to get to North Brook House, the residence of Mr Edward Poole, where, in a space fenced by an iron palisade (now part of the street), there was a particularly gay flower garden. At this spot an accomplished Dover photographer, Martin Jacolette, built a photographic and art studio which later became the showrooms and offices of the Gas Board. Adjoining was the "Queen's Head", a quaint old inn — with a step down into it from the street. It was rebuilt in 1873 with a much admired facade, and demolished 100 years later along with the adjoining Salem Baptist Church, to provide a site for Boots’ new store.



There was another early widening of Biggin Street opposite the big grey brick house next above Priory Street. That was the residence of Mr Joseph Webb Pilcher, who was mayor in 1823 and in 1833; and in his day there was a fence in front, the extent of which was for many years marked by the letter “B“ in the footpath. The property was sold in 1838, affording another instance of the breaking up of a large domestic establishment in Biggin Street, and its conversion to trade purposes.



On the opposite side of the street, where the extensive frontage has been absorbed by the Co-operative Society, about the year 1860, were the private dwellings of Mr W. R. Mowll, JP, and the Rev John Puckle, Vicar of St Mary’s parish. Forty years earlier these residences were not far removed from the unsavoury vicinity of a tanyard, a Biggin Street industry which has long disappeared. The “Prince Albert Inn", at the top of the street, and some houses below were re-built about 1880, prior to which there was, at the corner, a weighbridge used by farmers bringing loads into Dover! The pre-existing buildings were very old, belonging to the Wellards, a family that flourished in Dover as early as the 17th century. Probably those were the first domestic buildings that occupied that site.



Hidden at this spot for many years by building development around it and revealed to view again by war damage to property in Priory Road stands a very old ecclesiastical building — small in size, and damaged by many years’ use as a workshop but in recent years restored and re-consecrated — which has attracted the interest of all writers on Dover. The name of this old chapel was for many years in dispute, but there is evidence on the subject in the Egerton MSS, relating to Dover Corporation affairs between 1365 and 1558, which are in the British Museum, and of which transcripts were kept in the Dover Corporation’s Muniment Cabinet. Amongst these papers is a list of the wards of Dover in 1520, with the names of holders of land. The list for Bekyn Ward contains an entry of land “sumtyme Weller’s, next Seynt Edmundes Chappell.“ The next entry is of land near the postern gate of the Priory, which is known to have been at this spot. (The full list is in “The Records of Dover,“ by J. Bavington Jones, published in 1920, two years before his death and, like all his books, now out of print).


Biggin Street early 1890s

A VIEW of Biggin Street in the early 1890s before the extremely narrow lane in the centre was widened to create Worthington Street. At that time it was called Worthington Lane. C. M. Wood’s butcher’s shop was demolished and the business transferred to the opposite corner — now Timothy Whites — about 1895. Posters on the Central Bakery windows announced details of the widening and transfer of businesses to new premises.


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