DOVER KENT ARCHIVES
John Bavington Jones

Published in the South Kent Gazette, 21 November, 1979.

A PERAMBULATION OF THE TOWN, PORT AND FORTRESS.

PART 35.

 

It is recorded by Ralph de Booking, a co-temporary biographer of St Richard de la Wych, Bishop of Chichester, who died at the Maison Dieu in 1253, that three days before his death he dedicated at Dover a chapel to the memory of his friend St Edmund, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1234-45. It appears to have been the chapel for a cemetery, many human bones having been found nearby over the years.

 

MAISON DIEU HOUSE.

The old Elizabethan mansion at the top of the street, adjoining the Maison Dieu, is the oldest perfect sample of domestic architecture that Biggin Street contains. Maison Dieu House was built, after the Domus Dei was converted to a Navy Victualling Office, to serve as the residence of the Agent Victualler. Maison Dieu House was used as such from the reign of Queen Elizabeth until after the Battle of Waterloo; and, subsequently, it was occupied by the commanding Royal Engineer at Dover until it was sold as a private residence. Here resided the late Mr William Kingsford, and afterwards Mr R. W. Mummery, who was thrice mayor of Dover, and he died there in 1869. The old mansion was bought by the Corporation after the death of Mr W. G. Mummery in 1899 and became the offices of the borough engineer and medical officer of health, as well as of the rate collection department until re-organisation of the Corporation offices just after the second world war. The building was then extensively re-built, preserving its character as far as possible for use as the borough library.

 

BIGGIN STREET TRAFFIC CENSUS.

Photographic views of “Biggin Street before the widening“ will increase in interest as time goes on; but photographs have limitations, and need the supplement of narrative. Before Biggin Street was widened, it was described as “an 18ft. lane,“ and a miserable inadequate lane it was, considering the great amount of traffic which pours through it during the busy hours of the day. A census of the traffic, other than pedestrian, was taken on the six working days of the last week in May, 1893, when it transpired that there passed through Biggin Street, 9,440 ordinary light and heavy vehicles, 908 cycles and bath chairs, and 446 horses, making a total of 10,794. The whole of these passed through the narrowest part of the street, and 6,749 continued their journey up past the Maison Dieu, the remaining 4,045 turning up the Folkestone Road. This probably would not have caused traffic congestion if it had been distributed evenly through the twelve hours, but a large proportion was crowded into two hours.

The thoroughfare was so narrow that at some points even a hand-barrow standing in front of a shop would stop the traffic, and a van or cart loading or unloading would so obstruct, that a line of vehicles would soon be standing all up the street. Viewed from the pavement in front of St Mary’s churchyard, the entrance to Biggin Street seemed very narrow; the sideways were cramped, and proceeding upwards, the frontage bent forward, so that about half-way between New Street and Pencester Road, there was, notwithstanding the narrowness of the footpaths, barely room for two vehicles to pass, the presence of a third always causing a block. This was considered a sufficient justification for a widening scheme, and the street apart from its narrowness, was, on the western side, dilapidated and out of date.

 

OLD FRONTAGES.

The old frontages, however, were not devoid of interest; on the contrary, they were a shred of the old time, to which we look back with affection, and with an inclination to linger over details of their history. The "Saracen’s Head" had flourished under many well known hosts who dispensed the essence of barley-corn, but was, in 1881, taken in hand by the Dover Coffee Tavern Company which surrendered the licence and during that phase, its genial host, Mr Thomas Lefevre, was noteworthy for his cheeriness as a landlord, as well as for his real pride in his Huguenot ancestors. The "Saracen’s Head", though it somewhat barred the entrance to Biggin Street, presented a good front; but for the rest, it was a rambling, low-ceilinged place, suggestive of antiquity and ghost stories. At the rear, in New Street, where stood until recent years some very old flint-built cottages, was a farrier’s smithy. The hairdressing saloon of Mr William Masters stood next.

The name of Masters, although rather uncommon, is to be found in various parts of Kent, but it is believed that they all, whether spelt with a final “s“ or not, come from the common stock of James Master, of Sandwich, born in 1547, who afterwards built a mansion at East Langdon.

Following the lost frontages, without keeping strictly to numerical order or to the period of dissolution, the old features appeal in imagination, Geddes’ boot shop, Bushell’s fruit store, Mrs Gray’s pork shop, Southey's basket store, Buckland’s boot stop, and 47 and 48, which for many years formed the place of business of Mr G. C. Rubie. A very characteristic old place came next, Gillman's butcher’s shop, with slaughterhouse in the rear, which, in 1840, was the place of business of Mr Alfred Pepper. Next came the quaint old gable-front of Mr Ezra, the lithographer, which had previously been the public house which, in the days of the Crimean War, flourished under the name of the "Lord Raglan", and previously as the "Folkestone Arms" (perhaps, I think it was previously the "Three Tuns." Paul Skelton.) Adjoining, was Mr Pine's interesting old bookshop. No. 53 was, in 1870, in the occupation of Mr C. N. Becker, then newly installed in his office of town crier. It is a coincidence that in earlier times, Town crier Marsh resided next door, at No. 54, which, at the time of the widening, was the pharmacy of Mr W. J. Barnes. No. 56 was Mr G. C. Ruble's for some years before the widening, but previously Alderman Richardson had that business, and earlier still, Mr William Wood had a butcher’s shop there. There had been a previous rebuilding of this frontage in the first half of the 19th century, prior to which Mr Wood, butcher, was at 56, and Mr John Norcock, grocer, at 57, subsequently occupied by Mr T. Pain, stonemason. Beyond the lane was Mr J. H. Morris’s, baker, and previously Mr Thomas Norman had that bakery. Mr Brissenden's cycle store, and Mr Walter Hard, draper, were at 65 and 61. Cave’s jewellery shop was a marked feature before the widening, jutting out into the footpath. No. 63 was divided, Mr E. W. Mount (and previously Mr Joseph Palfrey) having the one part, devoted to grocery, and Mr John Davis the other part as a furniture store. Earlier, Mr Palfrey had the whole.

 

A MUSTARD MANUFACTORY.

Mr Palfrey's premises had large double doors like a manufactory, and, originally, it was built for one. In the year 1840, Messrs. John and Flavius Kingsford had a mustard and groat manufactory there, but their business in that line was a failure, and in October, 1941, their steam engine and machinery were sold. Subsequently, Mr Richard Gay restarted the manufactory, and enlarged its scope, having mills to grind mustard, coffee and spice. On the 2nd August, 1848, these mills were burnt down. Mr Gay, who had invested £1,000 in the plant and machinery, had the whole destroyed, and the total damage to the property was valued at £3,000. The Forge adjoining the old mustard mill site was removed by the Corporation in January, 1878.

 

UPPER BIGGIN STREET FEATURES.

"The Salutation," a very old inn, was until recent years an interesting feature of the upper part of Biggin Street. It was demolished along with adjoining properties for redevelopment of the entire length of this side of the street from the library to the Co-operative Society supermarket, in the early 1960s. The old "Salutation" was at No. 5 Biggin Street.

 

Tramcar 2 & 3 1890s

Tramcars 2 and 3 (the latter one of the few trailer cars ever used) of the Dover Corporation Tramway system on one of the inaugural runs in the late 1890s. The picture was taken at the Biggin Street junction with Worthington Street and Pencester Road. Coulthard and Wilson’s old shoe shop is on the right and opposite was the prominent sign of the Oddfellows’ Club and Institute.

By 1898-99 trams were already providing a service from Buckland terminus, via London Road, High Street, Biggin Street, Market Square and Snargate Street to the railway stations at the Western Docks, together with the "Lord Warden Hotel", and from the Maxton terminus down Folkestone Road to Biggin Street, joining the main line at the end of Worthington Street. It is interesting to note that in those early days of the system daily income from fares ranged from £50 to £100. Profits made actually enabled the Corporation to reduce the rates by two old pence in the pound. Power for the trams, via overhead lines, was provided by the Dover Electric Light Company power station, then in its infancy, in Ladywell.

 

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