A childhood recollection of the Queens Arms Inn and Lodging House, High Street, Deal

by the late Philip E Robinson

(slightly edited by the webmaster)

My grandfather was the landlord of this establishment from about 1835 – 1895; my father, E F Robinson, took it over from him and continued as the tenant from 1895 until 1916.

This was an Inn, and as such, bound to provide accommodation and refreshment.  Even on a Sunday, when the bar was closed for a few hours, as long as the traveller could prove he came from over three miles away, he could claim refreshment.

The Inn was of fairly small frontage but great depth, most of the rooms leading off a long central passage.  In the front was a bar and living room almost all in one with just a curtain between.  There was no seating accommodation in the bar.

On the other side of the passageway, also in the front, was the “tap room,” which had a large table and some chairs for the convenience of people who would like to sit down.  This was, however, seldom used by customers, and was later used as a sitting room when the family appeared. My mother and father were both in their very early twenties when they married and took over the Inn and, whilst there, seven children were born.

A small scullery, with no sink or water laid on, was at the back of the bar, although this omission was remedied later.  From the scullery, steps led down to a cellar, which ran under the two front rooms and partly under the pavement.  This was earth floored and contained the stock.

Moving towards the back of the house, on the left of the passage was the lodgers’ mess room.  This was at a rather lower level, two steps down from the passage.  The floor of this room was covered in sea sand.  Further down the passageway at the rear of the building were two dormitories, one on each side of the passage.

At the rear of the building was a big cobbled yard with outhouses and lavatories. In the outhouse was: a sink; a huge copper for clothes boiling; a big water butt and tap; and lockers for the lodgers to keep their perishable food items and possessions in.  There was also a coal and wood stove in the outhouse. Coal was then £1 a ton.  On the outhouse was a large growth of “house leek” or Sempervivum.

From the back yard an alley led into Duke Street, and also into the stables belonging to the Inn. The main entrance to the stables was in Duke Street.

During the tenancy of the family no horses were stabled, but the stables were let to Mr Harry Hayward; a boat-builder who lived in Middle Street.  The mangers and hay racks were still in position in 1916 as far as the writer knows.  Mr Haywood built good boats and was occasionally helped by his son.  The writer felt very proud when he was allowed to assist in “clinching” the copper nails.  The normal price for a 14 foot punt, as used on Deal beach in those days, was £12.

The living room of the family was adjacent to the bar, screened from it by a 3ft. wide matchboard partition and the rest by a curtain on a rod. All conversation in the bar could be heard in the living room.  This room measured 10 feet by 9 feet and in it the family lived.  Not much furniture because there was not much room.  And here some of us children were reared.  A table, a few chairs, a bureau and a couple of big cupboards in the wall was about the extent of the furniture.  A naked gas jet and a coal range, on which all the cooking was done and water heated.  In the evening when we were ready for bed, we washed in a big bowl on the table, and then, in our nightdresses, we had to walk through the bar amongst the customers into the passage, from whence a staircase led up to our bedrooms over the front of the house.  There was no other way up except through the bar.  It amused the customers, and we didn’t think it unusual, for we had grown up with it.

Lodgers’ Mess Room

As mentioned before, this room was at a lower level than the passage.  It was a large room measuring about 20 feet by 14 feet, with a wooden floor, which was kept clean with fresh sea sand.  In general charge of this room was my father's deputy; a man who kept order.  Also, he looked after the tidiness, tended the fire, kept the kettles filled with water etc.  He also at times would wash clothes for some of the lodgers and probably acted as cook if required.

The room was furnished with two big wooden tables made of elm; four wooden forms and a few chairs, utility, not comfort,  being the keynote. There was a huge cupboard in which the lodgers kept their stocks of tea, sugar and the like, and also the communal crockery.  Incidentally the tables and chairs were scrubbed every night by the landlord, after the bar was closed, probably around 11.15pm.

There was a huge open grate which burned coke and was generally kept well stoked up at all times, for on this the lodgers cooked all their meals.

By the way, coke was 4d per bushel at the time of which I am writing. On the hob, 2 big iron kettles holding a couple of gallons each, were usually kept boiling.  There were two large iron oval cauldrons, which were used for soup making; there was also a huge iron frying pan with which the cooking was mostly done.  Basins for drinking, and also cutlery and crockery were supplied.  The lodgers cooked and ate all their meals in this communal mess room


The dormitory on the right of the passage held 12 single iron bedsteads: six per side, with a wooden table down the centre.  There were also chairs and chambers supplied.

Some bed mattresses were stuffed with oat chaff, and some with feathers and there were the usual number of sheets and blankets as required.

Incidentally when my mother and father took over, they increased the number of beds.  My father bought a sewing machine and my mother spent the first few days making sheets from unbleached calico.

The dormitory on the left of the passage had six beds, a big table and the usual furnishings.

Upstairs there were four bedrooms for lodgers.  There were double beds for married couples, and one with a single bed.  There were three bedrooms upstairs for the family over the front of the house, which were locked away from the lodgers quarters.  My father was mindful of fire precautions, for in my parents’ bedroom was a homemade rope ladder, which could fasten on to hooks on the wall under the window sill.

The rent of the Inn paid to the brewers (firstly Messrs Hills and then Messrs Thompson, the Walmer brewers) was £16 per year.  There was in addition an excise licence of £11 per year, as well as rates and taxes, to be paid.

Prices for lodging

A bed in a dormitory was 4d a night, the single room upstairs was 6d per night.  A double room upstairs for married couples was 8d a night.

Bar prices

Beer and porter drawn from the cellar by engine: 2d per pint. Old ale and bitter, which had to be brought up by hand from the cellar, were priced at: Old ale, 4d; and Bitter, 3d per pint.  My father was noted for his old ale, probably because he never tapped it under three months, and preferred to keep it longer before sale.  Some folk swore by it for stomach trouble, and he had folk who used to come at times from Kingsdown and Walmer.  Gin, rum and brandy was sold over the counter at 1/- per half pint.  The normal call over the counter was for two penn’orth of any spirit.

Very little bottled beer was kept except for a few customers, to whom my father delivered.

There was also a big stock of clay pipes ,which were given free on request to customers.  These pipes cost 1/- per gross and were made by Mr Harrison, who lived in Beach Street, just at the back of the Port Arms.  Shag tobacco was 4d per ounce; Woodbine cigarettes, 5 for 1d.  Brimstone matches were bought from the shops at 2d per dozen packets.

Opening hours

From 7am to 11pm on week days; on Sundays 12 noon –2pm and then 6pm – 10pm.  But if a traveller came along on a Sunday they could be served at any time.

There were some early morning callers on week days who came in for 2d of rum and a ha’porth of milk.  Also sold in the bar were big, round, hard but crisp biscuits. These were about 5” in diameter and were made by Mr Selth, a baker on the south corner of Coppin and Middle Street. These were of the texture of a ship’s biscuit and, eaten with a piece of cheese and a glass of bitter, were indeed very tasty.  This was often called for at the bar.

My father had a long day, and my mother always opened the bar at 7 in the morning.

By 9am all the lodgers would be up and then my father would turn down all the beds in the dormitories, open the windows and clean and sweep up.  My mother in the meantime would have got the breakfast and done the usual housewifely duties, getting the children off to school at the same time as tending the bar.  During the rest of the day my father would tend the bar.  My grandfather would sometimes come in from 10am until noon, whilst my father looked after his allotment, which was situated at the level crossing near the potteries.  We always kept a punt on the beach at the opening near the Pilot House, and sometimes he would go off fishing for a couple of hours when grandfather came down.  I generally went with him when it was school holidays or on a Saturday.  I would dig the bait the day before.  Of interest to a younger generation is the fact that one could always go opposite the Coastguard Station at low tide, whether at “springs” or “neaps,” and dig plenty of “common lug.”  No need to go further north, and the writer has, at the equinoxes, dug “lug” off  Farrier Street.

During the evening my father was always busy at the bar until 11pm when the bar was cleared and the door closed. The bar would be locked up and my father would then scour the tables and stools in the lodgers’ mess room then to bed.  A woman came in once a week and washed sheets in the outhouse.  The blankets were washed in the summer.

About dinner-time quite a few people would come in for jugs of beer to take home, and there were some regulars to whom my father delivered jugs of beer or porter most days.

At 11am or thereabouts on most mornings, there were the regular customers for a “schooner” of bitter, in much the same way as coffee is now taken.  These regulars were mostly near-by tradesman.  I can remember two butchers coming with their aprons on; a greengrocer, a baker and a blacksmith.  Just a short chat, and away to their business again.  At the evening time the bar patrons would be the usual callers, with some of the lodgers.


These were a real cross section of the community.  Some were regulars who made their home there; amongst those were five Deal boatmen: Tom Kemp; “Chummy” Hayward; “Shoreham” Shelvey; “American” Dave Foster; and Tom Buttress.

Also among the regulars were four farm labourers and three fish hawkers.  Also there were those who made a living from the fields and the countryside in general, i.e.: watercress when in season; mushrooms; water lilies; and the different summer and spring flowers, such as primroses, cowslips and kingcups.  Also blackberries.  In the winter one man in particular used to get the sharp spiky thorns from the blackthorn.  In the evenings he would scrape off the black covering and would sell the white spikes to the local butcher, who used them for spiking the price tickets to the customers’ joints. The scraping of the thorns were used instead of leaves to make a palatable brew which they called “Jerusalem” tea.  The writer has many times watched these thorns being scraped and once tasted the brew, but after this passage of time cannot recall the taste.

The transient lodgers were of many kinds, amongst them being painters, who followed the towns around where there was plenty of work.  Also hawkers who peddled baskets of haberdashery, and probably stayed only a few days.  There were also travelling tinkers and china riveters, and they seemed to come round almost about the same time every year, and generally had a small hand-barrow.  It was as if they had a regular round in this part of the country.  Specially in the summer months there was generally an “organ grinder” staying there.  One Italian stayed for a year.  These again would come around yearly at about the same time.  There was a German string band which usually came in the summer; a sextet who played round the streets and must have gained a fair living.  These could often be heard practising in one of the upstairs bed-rooms.  Also a regular for one summer was a harpist named “Prospero”, who played in an orchestra at the time having a summer season on the Pier.  During the summer months there was an influx of travelling pea pickers and the occasional fruit pickers in the autumn.  There was the occasional saw-sharpener of which there were three different ones.

The lodgers, who were out all day, generally made a good breakfast and evening meal; mostly fried meals.  For 3d in those days one could get a fair amount of bacon or meat pieces, and these, with an onion or two in the pan, made a tasty meal.  With bread and a pot of tea they were well fed. In the autumn, herring and sprats were cheap and made a satisfying meal, when one remembers there were plenty of herring and being caught, they were hawked round the town at 48 a shilling.  Sprats were 4d a hundred, or often given away for a helping hand in heaving up the boat.  My father reckons at these times there would easily be 1,000 sprats a day being cooked.  Sometimes in the winter, when times were hard, a most excellent jug of soup could be had at the soup kitchen in Chapel Street.  My mother also made a huge cauldron of soup for the needy ones.

The lodgers were without exception orderly and hard working.

At the time of which I write Deal had four lodging houses, generally fairly well filled. The “Queens Arms”, “Noahs Ark” in Ark Lane, “The Jolly Sailor” in Western Road and the “Maxton Arms” in Weston Road.

In the beer cellar under the pavement was an arched vault or passageway leading both north and south. But after some eight yards either way this was bricked up, what lay beyond no-one seemed to know.

Under the dormitories at the rear of the building was a huge cellar extending the width of the building. This had an earth floor and a chimney-breast at either end. This was approached by steps leading out of the lodgers mess room. Again I could never find out if this had ever been used.

In the alley leading to Duke Street was a rainwater well or tank, with a pump. Also in the yard was another well or tank, covered by a stone slab, with no pump.

In the opening between the Inn and the present garage was a coach-builder’s premises, the owners name being Burgess. In the days in which this is written, this building slowly deteriorated and the premises were taken over by a firm of mineral water manufacturers by the name of Souter Mackenzie.  In the adjoining cottage on the north side of the Inn lived old Mrs Nancy Budd and her invalid husband; the grandparents of those well-known Deal boatmen:  George (”Darky”), and Bill.

I suppose no mention of licensed premises at this period would be complete without some mention of “dutiable goods”.  Tobacco could generally be bought in our bar.  My father would buy cake tobacco at  2/6d per lb.  This was called “Yankee Cake” and, as the name implies, came in flat oblong cakes.  These cakes went 13 to the lb., and my father would sell them at 3d. each.  There was also shag in packets and cigars with 50 in a box.

My father well remembers a Canterbury man coming in one day with about half a bushel of tobacco and cigars in a sack. He was taking it back to Canterbury to raffle for Christmas presents.

My father joined the army in 1914 and, with some assistance and my eldest sister, my mother carried on until 1916. The job became more than they could manage and they gave up the tenancy.

My short history of this kind would not be complete without some mention of the family concerned with the old Inn.  The writer (Philip - one of the sons) is writing in the first person most of the time and, in this way, there should be no confusion over the generations.

Paternal Grandfather ROBINSON was born on 24th July 1845 to an old Deal family, which was closely connected with the ROBERTS of North Deal who was second coxswain of the lifeboat.

Paternal Grandmother was born on 5th October 1874 in Canterbury, in the old Woolpack Inn in North Lane.  Her maiden name was STROUD.

Grandfather had three brothers: Ted and Harry, who were bricklayers like himself; and Bill, who was in the Navy.  Bill needs some mention because his entry into the Navy was rather unusual even for those days.  At that time a public house called the Harp stood in Middle Street between Oak Street and Brewer Streets, where a fish and chip shop now stands.  The landlord of this was a Mr. Desormeaux, who combined with a barber’s business next door.  Young Bill started here as a “lather boy”.  One day a choleric old boatman was in the chair and annoyed Bill by his irritability.  Bill became so incensed that, at last, he jammed the lather brush in the old chap’s mouth and fled from the shop to the beach – straight into the arms of the Navy.  He served in the Navy at the siege of Sebastopol in the Crimea War.  He was eventually on the Australian station and deserted there.  He returned to Deal many years after and finished his active life as a boatman.  He was well known for his drinking powers.  In those those days money was scarce between “Hovels” and the men used to have their beer “on the slate”.  Bill used the Napier Arms and ran up tidy scores.  He knew how much he had though, and one day when he called for a pint said “Landlord that just makes a barrel!"

Grandfather stayed with us for a while when we were just married and told us that, as a young man, he walked to Guston and back each day to work but it was a twelve hour day.  He could also tell of the great gale of February 1870, when every ship except one was driven ashore.  He was also a good performer on the Jew’s Harp, an instrument never seen these days.  He and Grandmother were married in 1871.

My maternal grandfather BELSEY was born in Canterbury and was a coach painter by trade.  My maternal grandmother was born in Bury St. Edmunds in an army barracks. Her father, Barrett, was a Lifeguards’ man and was, at that time, the tallest man in the regiment at 6 feet 6½ inches tall. The BELSEYs moved to Bromley in Kent where he worked for Messrs. Chitty as a coach-painter.  In those days it was paint and rub down, paint and rub down, many times before it was a complete job.  He was an excellent and noted craftsman, and as such was entrusted with most skilful jobs such as lining the panels and executing the monograms.  Our young family spent many holidays up there when I was a boy.  The one thing I remember of him is of a short man surly and grumpy.

My father was born in Duke Street, Deal, on 8th June 1874 and my mother in Canterbury in the same year on 30th August, and they were married in 1895 in Bromley, Kent.

When father was about ten years old his parents moved to the New Inn at Canterbury, in Havelock Street.  He was extremely good at drawing in those days, so much so that he went for a time to the Canterbury School of Art without paying any fees.  However his parents showed no interest and he eventually left.  His drawings and paintings still in the house testify to his skill.  His parents returned to Deal and took over the Queens Arms.  He joined the Garrison Artillery and was at Dover Castle for a time.  However my grandparents wanted to retire in 1895, so father bought himself out of the army, married, and took over the Queens Arms.

There were eleven children of the marriage: six girls and five boys, of whom 8 are still alive, one boy dying in infancy.  As I mentioned earlier, some were born at the Inn and some at the Homestead in Middle Deal Road.  My father had this house built in 1902.

Father was a powerful chap in his young days.  When we came ashore from fishing he would pull the boat up the beach by himself with some slight assistance from me.  I was a lad of about nine or ten, and I would lay the greased “woods” and “tail” on the painter with him.  The boat was a normal twelve foot punt.

Father joined the National Reserve just prior to the 1914 war, which was composed of ex-army men.  Their job was to guard railway bridges etc. in the event of war.  He was called up when war broke out and served for a time round the Medway towns.  He transferred to Royal West Kents and was eventually posted to Lowestoft.  In the meantime Mother carried on at the Inn with help of my sister, Nora, but it was too much for a couple of women.  They relinquished the tenancy and went up to the Homestead.  Mother went eventually to Lowestoft to join my father and took a house near the High Lighthouse.  Father finished up as a Physical Training Sgt. at the end of the war.  Two sons were serving: one in the Navy and one in the R.F.C.  One daughter was in the W.R.A.A.C., one in the Land Army and one daughter–in–law in the Q.M.A.A.C.  The house in Deal had been let during the family’s absence.

Father now had to find work and took a job in a herring curing factory.  After a time the family returned to Deal and Father again tried a couple of jobs before being employed as a gardener by the War Grave Commission on the war graves in France.  Mother followed him over and took a house in Fricourt and Combles.  My sister Nora looked after the rest of the family who were working in Deal.  My two youngest sisters Joan and Mollie went to the village school in France.

My parents eventually came back to Deal where my father realized his ambition of working his own piece of land.

Some mention should be made of Mother’s activities during the first war after she had relinquished the tenancy of the Inn and gone back to Middle Deal.  Apart from looking after her young family she had soldiers billeted on her from time to time.  She still managed  to keep the kitchen garden in good order, and exhibited in the local flower show.  I remember coming home on leave and seeing the prize certificates on the mantle-piece, firsts amongst them.

The family did their share during the second world war.  Father was an enthusiastic voluntary air-raid warden throughout.  Mother escorted various parties of evacuee children to their South Wales destinations.  She assisted at the Borough Restaurants at Tormore  and Feed My Lambs in Middle Street.  All the four boys were in the Forces, three as professionals.  The two  daughters who served in the first war joined up again and served in the A.T.S.  It is interesting to note that these two women joined up again at the time of the Munich crisis.  Three sons-in-law, three grandsons, one grand-daughter and her sons all serving at the same time.  All the family and in-laws did well in their chosen branches.

Life has been good to the family.  Mother and Dad still with us but we feel the loss of a son, a son-in-law, a daughter and a daughter-in-law.  Father was a good raconteur and often kept us amused with his yarns of the old days.

One interesting point: I mentioned earlier on that Dad bought Mother a sewing machine when they married.  That machine is still in use over 70 years later and still in good order.

The family is scattered but united.  The last time we had a gathering was on the occasion of their 71st wedding anniversary.  We are all proud of our family, and here would like to record the admiration and esteem which we hold our Mother and Father.

Philip E Robinson