Snargate Street alterations and improvements c.1930.
(from the Dover Telegraph 12 March 1864)
In “Temple Bar” for the present month, Mr Sala has an article about Snargate Street, being one of a series on the “Streets of the World ”. It would be too great a tax on our space to reproduce the whole of it, and as Mr Sala laughs at the exceedingly severe on that much maligned portion of our townspeople, the lodging-house keepers, we all the more readily confine our extract to what is, after all, the only part of the article in which Snargate Street is alluded to:-
“The invalids, old maids, sea-dipping families, and other loungers, who come to Dover in the bathing season and take houses, or lodgings, in the green-verandahed houses, do not necessarily see anything of Snargate Street; and he who knows not Snargate Street cannot be familiar with Dover. It is reckoned as not quite a genteel thing to explore the interior of the town. The police bathers, do not choose to come in contact with the miscellaneous multitude of travellers bound to and from the Continent. The “railway people” they hold in abhorrence. Then there is a rout of engineers, contractors, quarry-men, masons, divers and navvies employed in the construction of that harbour of refuge, which is to be brought to a termination some time on this side of the Greek Kalends, and all these form a society too heterogeneous – leaving out the sailors and pilots and mail-agents, and steamboat-captains – come between the wind and the nobility of a watering-place. The bathers, therefore, keep to their parades and their esplanades, their green verandahs, and their Bath-chairs; to the placid contemplation of the “sad sea waves” to placid gambolling on its sandy or shingly bed, or to the scientific inspection of the common objects of its shore.
“Dover I studied, years ago, in a very different spirit. We came to the town from the South of France and elected to stay there six months. We stayed a whole year – from October 1839 to October 1840. We lived in Snargate Street, and affiliated ourselves to the manners and customs of the Dovorians: – a proud race, very self-sufficient and, from long habitude to passing tourists – who are overcharged, who grumble, who swear, but who depart and are never seen again, – much given to extortion.
I can recollect with minute fidelity the little first-floor in Snargate Street we occupied; the good old widow-woman who kept the lodgings, who used to tell my little sister and myself heartrending stories about the missionaries in Quashibungo, also soliciting small pecuniary aid from us towards the funds of the Anti-Slavery Society, but who at the same time would bestow upon us those appetising but too luscious delicacies known as “Fleet Cakes” (*) – thin, brown, crisp parallel-opipeds, into the composition of which hog’s lard enters somewhat too largely. Over the way – as the immortal historian of the Pickwick Club has so graphically put it with reference to Goswell Street – was “the other side” of Snargate Street; but above the houses of that other side towards the “Heights ” – the chalk cliffs, their pallid sides engrailed with wild herbage and their summits clothed with a serrated-edged mantle of grey-green. Nestling among the acclivities – little nests of snug enjoyment among the precipices – were the summer-houses of the Snargate Street shopkeepers – tiny pavilions and kiosques and cabins no bigger than the huts of railway signal-men, but often fantastically decorated whither on summer evenings and Sunday afternoons they would blithely amber, to smoke the pipe of peace, to sip the tankard of contentment or the bohea of Bourgeois beatitude, unmindful, or tranquilly supraspective, of the bustle and clamour, the carking business troubles and anxieties of the street and of the world below.
“I remember one day walking in Snargate Street, Dover, that we met the great Duke of Wellington, arm-in-arm with his beloved military secretary, Lord Fitzroy Somerset, afterwards as you are aware, Constable of Walmer Castle: and as he liked to do some work and earn his money in whatsoever post he was appointed to – if they had made him a policeman, he would have gone cheerfully on night duty – he was frequently at Walmer (where he died some fourteen years after I first beheld him) and at Dover fulfilling in his usual earnest, methodical, straightforward way, the mysterious functions of Constable. What those functions really amounted to, I have not the remotest idea, nor, I imagine, does the present holder of the charge, Lord Palmerston, trouble himself much about them. Once seen, all will agree with me, the Duke of Wellington could never be forgotten. It was impossible to erase from your memory that slight, spare, and yet squarely-built form; that eagle beak; that blue surtout and muslin neckcloth, with his silver buckle behind; that shiny-napped, narrow-brimmed hat; those buckskin gloves of which a couple of fingers were punctually conveyed to the front of the hat at every salute of the passer-by (the action became mechanical, for every passenger, gentle and simple, took off his hat to the Great Duke); those well-fitting boots and snowy duck trousers, white and straight and smooth as though they had been made of bois de Spa. My dear mother happened to be acquainted with the Duke of Wellington – at which announcement Hircius and Spungius will doubtless sneer and cavil. I merely state a simple fact; but I may add that his grace never asked me to dinner, and that I am not on sufficient intimate terms to ask the present Duke to present me at court – ticket of leave and all. I remember however that Duke Arthur patted me on the head, and said something short and kind, as it was his wont to do with little boys. I went home immediately delighted, and forthwith proceeded to indite a compendious biography of the Duke of Wellington on a slate, and to draw him on a fly-leaf of a copy-book mounted on a fiery charger and in the act of winning the Battle of Waterloo and personally defeating Napoleon Bonaparte.
“The last time I was at Dover I purposely missed the last mail-train to London, and walked up and down Snargate Street for a good hour and a half, to see whether the old place was changed. Well, I did find it altered. The old house whose first floor we occupied, and where the landlady used to make us the Fleet-cakes had been gutted, transformed, metamorphosed, transmogrified, and was now a staring haberdasher’s shop. The post-office had been enlarged and beautified. The summer-houses nestling in the chalk seemed to have wonderfully diminished in numbers; landslips had, perhaps, been frequent since my old cap was new, or the citizens had grown too prosperous and too proud to take any pleasure in the simple amusements of their sires. The theatre was a theatre no longer. It had been changed into a dancing and singing saloon, a “music-hall”, dignified with some out-of-the-way name; and as I am prejudiced enough to have a horror of music-halls, I began to rub my eyes and, deploring the mutability of all sublunary things to assume the glories of Snargate Street to be for ever fled.But when I saw the entrance to the Shaft, and the red-jacketed soldiers lounging about – the officers wore bull-frogged surtouts, and not scarlet shell-jackets, in my time – I felt reassured, and recognised, in all their pristine freshness, the beloved scenes of my youth. For in Snargate Street I was but one among a happy family; and of that family I am the only one left alive now, to tell the tale.
On Tuesday afternoon, some workmen employed in digging the foundation for two houses in course of erection at the top of Snargate Street, on the site of some older ones lately pulled down, discovered a curious subterraneous passage in a remarkably perfect state of preservation. The passage which appears to have formed a communication of the Old Town Wall with the Monastery, led to the cellar of Mr J.S. NEALES, Chemist, containing about 3 dozen of wine, with which some of the lucky finders made pretty free.”
(Dover Telegraph 23 May 1840 back page col.3)
THE DUKE VISITS SQUIER’s BAZAAR:
“His Grace the Duke of Wellington, who is likely to remain some time at Walmer, takes frequent rides or drives to Dover.The Duke, who is well known to be fond of children, on Monday last came over to Dover accompanied only by the children of his noble visitors the Earl and Countess Wilton, and took them to Squiers’ bazaar where, after remaining a considerable time for their amusement and to purchase for them, the party returned to Walmer Castle.”
(Kentish Gazette Oct 8 1839 p.3 col.3, ‘Dover’)