Area History

CASTLE STREET AREA SOCIETY

CSASLOGO BACK to HISTORY About the Author Leneys-Phoenix-Brewery-1890 castle street1829

From Upmarket to Up Market

 

Shortly after the Military Road was built in 1797, it was handed over to the Dover and Deal Turnpike Trust. The road, used by travellers on foot, horse, and horse pulled coaches and wagons, until that time had gone through Upmarket reaching the top of the hill by a series of zigzags. The country was embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars (1793 to 1815), and Dover's economy was buoyant. The town was a major victualling station for the Navy as well as an important army base. To meet the needs of both, mills opened, including Stembrook Mill in 1792, as well as breweries such as the Phoenix on Dolphin Lane. Western Heights, previously pastureland, was turned into a huge fort and defences were built along the bay including a canal along Townwall Street to Woolcomber Street.

 

Following the Napoleonic Wars, a deep economic depression hit the country and starvation was rife. Even Dover was in a dire state and due to changing Government attitudes, the old stand-by of smuggling was becoming increasingly hazardous. The old 'godfathers' of the trade turned to other forms commerce but to help combat these problems John Minet Fector senior, of Dover's Fector Bank and the leading figure in the East Kent smuggling trade, had Kearsney Abbey built to provide work.

 

Former swampland west of Woolcomber Street had been dried out by the Napoleonic canal and Madame Sarah Rice, a partner of Dover's other bank - Latham's, had a mansion built that she named Clarence House. She was said to have been one of the women on which Charles Dickens's based the character Betsy Trotwood in David Copperfield. Her son, Edward was the Liberal MP for Dover from 1837-1857 and was an early instigator of the Harbour we see today.

 

Henshaw Latham, the Chairman of Latham's, also had smuggling connections and invested £10,000 in the Dover Gaslight Company. Occupying the Trevanion Mansion estate, on the sea side of St James Church, it started production in 1822. At the time, Dover did not have a municipal water-works so water from wells sunk for the gas works was piped to properties in St James Parish

 

By this time, 1,680 out of an estimated population of 11,500 lived area and the flight of steps leading to the Canon’s Gate, on Castle Hill Road, were laid to provide work. However, for the poor, smuggling remained a favoured occupation even with the high probability of being caught, and either hung or transported. The meandering Back of Charlton Lane, barely 10-feet wide and not yet lit by gaslight, was particularly favoured on dark nights as the deep thickets on either side made it easy to hide from Excise-men.  In 1820, Dover gaol, in Market Square, was wrecked by smugglers and had to be rebuilt. The new gaol was designed by Richard Elsam who also had cottages built along Dieu Stone Lane. This was an ancient thoroughfare, known as 'D' Stone Lane, which was the boundary between the Maison Dieu lands and the town. In those days, it ran from Biggin Street to Back of Charlton Lane.  

 

It was a group of businessmen who had also made their money from organised smuggling that laid out Castle Street. Although the development did not require an Act of Parliament, it helped to overcome local difficulties by members of the consortium being part of Dover’s Paving Commission. Between 1830 and 1835, the street down to Stembrook was formed and the river Dour was arched in 1832. Following the opening of Castle Street, Castle Terrace and Eastbrook Place were laid out. The former was at the foot of the Castle Hill, and the latter was described in 1836 as leading to the fields - known as Maison Dieu Park.

 

An inn stood at the top of what became Laureston Place, this was demolished about 1836 and Laureston House was built for the widow of John Minet Fector senior. Their son, also named John Minet Fector, had inherited the bank and was also Dover's Member of Parliament. At the time, Dover had two representatives but he was of the opposite political party to that supported by Edward Rice. Laureston House was derived from his mother's maiden name and of note, it was the surname he adopted in order to become the chairman of the National Provincial bank.

 

Back of Charlton Lane became of interest to speculators and plots were marked out on the east side where Stephen Johnson opened pleasure gardens. In March 1838, George Fry and Thomas Robinson wanted to develop the opposite side of the Lane but the country was sliding into another economic depression.  Nonetheless, Russell Street was laid out that year on land belonging to the Almshouse Charity. It was named after politician and Quaker, Lord John Russell. The magnificent archway, to what became Leney's bottling plant, can still be seen today. A chapel was built by the Congregationalists and opened for public worship on the 12 June 1838. Land adjacent to the ancient White Hart Inn - now Castle Inn - was sold for property development but the enterprise failed and builder, James William Clark, landed in the Debtor's Prison at the Castle.

 

For much of the 1840s the national economy was in a slump however, the most affluent of St James Parish managed to raise sufficient funds to open a school in 1849. At national level, it was the Great Exhibition of 1851 held in London that gave the impetus so desperately needed. To commemorate, on the east side of Woolcomber Street, old wool-combers cottages were demolished and Exhibition Place was built. Recognising the possible upturn in the economy, Charles Gorley who rented Maison Dieu Farm, decided to set-up a brick making business with a view towards development. The farm extended over much of the Castle hill slopes above Back of Charlton Lane. The land was owned by the government and administered by the Department of Woods and Forests. Local doctors and the Town Council vetoed Gorley’s proposal. The council, however, did endorse the proposal that St James' Rectory, built in 1786, be demolished in order to widen Woolcomber Street. A new rectory was built that later became the St James Hotel before it was demolished to make way for the doctor's surgery we see today.

 

In 1855, the Gas Company acquired the Fector mansion, near Dolphin Lane, which they had demolished in order to build new show rooms and a gasometer. On digging a 20-feet deep trench for the new development, four longitudinal beams about a foot square and about 100 feet long were uncovered. These and other ancient remains were identified as being part of the original Roman harbour.

 

St. Mary's Church, on the west side of the Dour introduced pew rents in 1842 - these pews can still be seen. As already noted there was an economic slump and many of the parishioners switched to St. James Church, where seating was free but making that church crowded. Following the death of the Lord Warden, Duke of Wellington, on 14 September 1852, the government lost no time in rationalising both pilotage and the Admiralty Court. The last of the pilots Court of Lodemanage was held at St James’ Church on 21 October 1852 after which the church was allowed to deteriorate for want of money. On Tinker's Hole was the makeshift residence of Widow Hopper, who had used an ancient right to erect her dwelling there. The site was purchased for a new church.

 

The new St James Church was built between 1860-1862. At the same time the council had Back of Charlton Lane straightened, following the line of the ancient Town Wall and it was renamed Maison Dieu Road in June 1862. That year saw Harold Passage, the ancient footpath, widened and stepped and also Harold Street (originally named Church Street) and Taswell Street were laid out. The first residences to be built on Castle Hill Road were Hubert Terrace. In 1864, the land between the road and the old road that traversed the hill was ornamentally laid out, planted with trees and named Victoria Park. Later, residences, with stables behind, were built with army officers in mind.

 

As the demand for gas increased, Dover Gas Company, in 1864, opened a new site in the then Union Road, now Coombe Valley Road. Trevanion house was restored and on the site of what had been Madam Rice’s mansion, Clarence Hotel was built to a design by John Wichcord - the architect of the Grand Hotel, Brighton. The owners of the hotel financially over-stretched themselves and in June 1865 leased the building to the Imperial Hotel Company. They completed the building programme and it reopened as the Imperial Hotel on 13 September 1867 having cost £75,000 to build and £25,000 to furnish.

 

The dreadful state of old St James Church was becoming a matter of public concern. A small congregation of French Protestants (Huguenots) had been allowed to use it but even they had move on. Mayor in 1885 and 1890 and builder of many of Dover's villas that can be seen today, William Adcock, restored the church under the architectural direction of Talbot Bury. It was rededicated for public worship in 1869. St Paul's Roman Catholic Church built in the Early English style by the famous architect Edward Welby Pugin (1834–1875) was started in 1867. It was the first permanent Catholic Church in the town since Henry VIII's Reformation.

 

Local iron founder and builder, Philip Stiff, bought the land from the Catholic Church authorities in 1866 and built Maison Dieu Lodge, for a local doctor, and the adjacent villas. Lower down, he built the Paddock and ‘Uniacke', where Stilwell & Harby solicitors are today.  About 1861 the Department of Woods and Forests sold six acres of land to the Cottage Building and Improvement Society to build Castlemount cottages. As part of the deal, the Department undertook to provide a 40-foot approach road from Maison Dieu Road that was completed in 1870. That year Alfred Matthews gave notice to lay out Godwyn Road and build 38 houses.

 

Off Laureston Place, in 1876, Adcock was commissioned by Robert Chignall to build a grand school. After its completion Chignall had the extensive grounds terraced with lawns, plants and trees and invited the public to promenade. So popular was this that he became the driving force behind the laying of Connaught Park that opened in 1883. Later, Taswell Street was extended up to Castlemount providing a second entrance.

 

By 1881, villas along Maison Dieu Road and Pencester Road had been built. Clark’s took over the land on which Stephen Johnson had his pleasure gardens as a nursery. The Department of Woods and Forests offered what had been Maison Dieu Farm for development.  Called the Castle Estate, the site was eventually taken up on a 99-year lease by William Crundall senior in 1881 and includes Park Avenue, Salisbury Road and Castle Avenue. The proviso was villas with ample grounds and wide roads planted with trees to form pleasant avenues.

 

In August 1883, having escaped anti-clerical laws in France, the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent and St Paul settled in a small house in Dieu Stone Lane. They cared for needy children and taught in the Roman Catholic School attached to St Paul's church that can still be seen. After WWI, they bought property in Eastbrook Place and extended their care to the sick. About 1956, following major refurbishment of the premises, they confined their care to the elderly. In 2005, with only five sisters left, they sold their premises and the nuns left the town but the care home remains.

 

Thomas Blackman established the Gordon Boys’ Orphanage in St James Street in 1885.  The orphanage band became a national institution and, on leaving, many of the boys joined the armed forces. The school continued after Thomas Blackman’s death in 1921 until the outbreak of WWII.

 

The land above Laureston Place remained uncultivated until 1886, when the council transformed it into a ‘walk’ and bridle path to provide work for the unemployed. A zigzag path was laid and ornamental shrubs and trees were planted along with strategically placed seats. To ensure that horse-riders used the bridle path, Corporation ‘Leopard Head’ bollards were erected along the zigzag path. In recent times, Dover District Council has replaced some of these bollards.

 

By the last quarter of the 19th century, Castle Street had become the heart of the professional district serving Dover's wealthier residents between there and the Sea Front. Wollaston Knocker, Town Clerk since 1868, resided at Castle Hill House.  In 1894, he sold part of his land in order to widen Woolcomber Street making a better access to the seafront. Ancient houses, at the top of St. James Street, were demolished and in one, a large stone was found bearing the inscription H.I.M 1666. Believed to come from St. Helen’s Gate part of the town walls it was built into Knocker's new garden wall. However, it was 'lost' when the junction was remodelled some years ago.

 

At the same time, in order to straighten Maison Dieu Road, numbers 8 and 10 Castle Street were demolished along with the ancient King William pub. The full cost was £28,153 but reduced by the sale of land on which it was envisaged a ''grand theatre' would be built - but never materialised. The Imperial Hotel, that had remained empty for sometime, was purchased by Sydney, Richards & Co and extensively restored by the Fredericks Hotel Company. Opening as the Burlington Hotel on 24 July 1897, there were 380 rooms on eight floors served by a ‘handsome lift'. To finish off what, at this time, was described as the ' Up-Market’ part of Dover, an ornate wrought iron urinal was erected in the centre of the road. Sadly, it disappeared after World War II.

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