The formation of our Club in 1902 was a direct result of war and the fear of war.
Although Britain had had a standing Army since 1665 together with local Militia, the general inaccuracy of guns had not encouraged competitive shooting. The days when opposing armies would line up opposite each other and courteously invite the other side to fire first ended with the improvement of weapons. No longer were volleys haphazard affairs generating a lot of smoke and noise, but making few hits. No longer was it to be considered cowardly to try and avoid being shot.
The American War of Independence showed the value of trained Riflemen and Wellington's beloved Rifles served him well in the Peninsular War of 1808-1814. The real impetus came in 1859 when a scare about the motives of France led to the raising of a large Volunteer Force in this country. 130,000 men joined in a year, each of whom paid about £20 to buy their own uniforms and weapons. These men took shooting not only as a Patriotic Duty, but also as a sport. The National Rifle Association was founded in 1860 and Queen Victoria opened the Bisley Ranges by firing a Whitworth Rifle with a silken cord.
Rifle Shooting as a sport had really arrived.
"Ready, be ready, against the Storm. Riflemen, riflemen, riflemen, form."
These words of Tennyson, published in the Times of 1859 may have contributed to the successful raising of the Volunteer Corps at that time. An eloquent appeal by Lord Salisbury in 1902, as the Boer War drew to a close, led to the founding of the Rifle Clubs. Few could have had a more auspicious start that the Deal and District Rifle Club.
Lord Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne Cecil, Third Marquis of Salisbury and a former Prime Minister was Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports at the time of making his appeal. His official residence was at Walmer Castle, one of the three castles in the Club's Badge.
On 29th March, 1902 a Public Meeting was convened and presided over by the Mayor of Deal, Councilor, V.J. Solomon, J.P. for the sole purpose of forming a Rifle Club, the Mayor having already obtained permission to use the Kingsdown Ranges.
Kingsdown Ranges C. 1909. Today it is an abandoned relic of it’s former days.
On 5th April it was announced that the Chairman would be Mr. J. Sparke of Clanwilliam Road, and the Secretary would be Edwin Noble of College Road. Subscriptions would be 5/- p.a. for Active Members and 10/- p.a. for Honorary Members.
On 26th April another Public Meeting was held at the Town Hall at which the Mayor launched a Public List for Donations. 68 Members were enrolled with a further 10 Honorary Members. It was decided to use the Lee Enfield Rifle (at 38/- each) as against the alternative Martini (at 64/- each).
Lieut. A.C.H. Pearson, R.N., agreed to act as Club Captain and Lord George Hamilton accepted Office as President. The Rt. Hon. Lord George Hamilton, M.P. a former Lord of the Admiralty, was the Secretary for State for India and was also Captain of Deal Castle, the second of the three castles on our Badge. The third Castle on the badge is Sandown Castle which is, unfortunately now only a ruin.
The object of the Club was stated to be that of "Encouraging Rifle Shooting and Marksmanship among all classes, as a means of National Defence."
Although formed as a full bore club, it was resolved that Morris Tube practice be arranged and ironically our first shoot was small bore practice at the Coastguard Station at Deal on 10th May, 1902. This was obviously not a successful venue as subsequent practices took place at the Royal Marine Morris Tube Gallery, South Barracks. This was every Monday and Tuesday from June 7th, 2.30 to 4.30 p.m. and 5.30 to 7.30 p.m.
The first shot on the Kingsdown Ranges was fired by Col. Dowding, the Commanding Officer of the Royal Marines at 3 o'clock on 29th May 1902 and was a Bull. The Mayor who was in attendance with the Town Sergeant then declared the Range fully open for the Club and despite the rain, 38 Members shot. Mr. W.L. Brook had previously announced that he would run Brakes from Deal Pier to the Range for a Return Fare of 1/-d.
The Boer war which was so largely responsible for our formation then ended on Sunday 31st May 1902.
The local paper at the time showed the importance the Rifle Club had in the town as it faithfully reported every shot fired and every word spoken in connection with the Club for many years. Thus we learn that in June 1902 the suggestion was made that the Club obtain a Covered Shooting Gallery where our young men can perfect their shooting in Winter Evenings. A Sandwich dealer also advertises the deadly accuracy and great penetrating power of his Martini and Winchester Rifles, killing rabbits at 86 yards and then informs the populace that they can be used in gardens for practice without the knowledge of neighbours.
On January 20th 1903 the Club had its first Supper and Smoking Concert, the principal guest being the Home Secretary, the Rt. Hon. Atelas Akers-Douglas.
The covered range was originally the Malt House of the Deal Brewery and in October 1902 the brewery buildings were sold by Public Auction.
In January the Chairman announced that negotiations were taking place for a Miniature Rifle Range. The Range was duly opened on 6th June, 1903 by Col. J.F. Dunscombe Bridge, A.D.C., having been passed by Military Inspector Colonel Lloyd who informed the Committee that, "The Government does not possess a better one in the Country."
The evening concluded with a match between the Club and No. 6 Company, the Cinque Ports Volunteer Artillery, R.G.A which the Club won 404/394.
The range was open daily from 11 a.m. - 1p.m and 2-10p.m. Saturdays to 11 p.m. Monday, 6-10 p.m. was reserved for Members only. Ammunition was 1/-d for 50 or 3 for 1d. Non-Members paid 1d. at the door during June and 2d. during July, August and September. The range was fitted with both mixed and moving targets of all kinds, silhouettes and even snap shooting. During the evenings the targets would have been illuminated with gas lights as electricity was not then available. The entrance was from the High Street, Stanhope Road not yet having been built, indeed the first plans had only been laid before the Council a few months before.
The Club Captain, Lt. Pearson and 24 other Guarantors had taken a 14 year lease on the building at a rent of £25 p.a. from March 1903 Everything seemed set fair, but the Club has had to endure its share of lean times.
The Minutes from 1902 to 1906 are missing but from then on they show a continuous preoccupation with finance. The Mayors first Public List in 1902 had produced over £60 towards the Funding of the Club but the costs of running two ranges were heavy. The Kingsdown Range was making the Club a loss of several pounds a year and in some years this was not made up in the covered Range. It was the policy to make shooting as cheap as possible and depend on sheer numbers to make a profit. Although undoubtedly we had a very fine Range, it was by now not the only Range in the country. These had proliferated and we had lost a certain novelty value. We depended to a large extent on summer visitors and there were complaints that fine weather kept these visitors from patronising our indoor sport. Thus for several years the Guarantors had to pay the rent and in 1907 we had to ask the Mayor to make another appeal which fortunately raised another £60 and finally cleared our initial debt.
The Minutes show varied efforts and use of great business acumen to try and increase the Club's income. Every endeavour was made to attract customers. Sign boards were painted and erected in strategic positions in the town, indicating the situation of the Range and a Sandwich Board man was employed every summer.
Thousands of leaflets were printed and distributed to all Boarding Houses, etc. Notices were displayed in local shops and hotels and sometimes boys were employed to stand at the entrance to George Alley and call attention to the Club. A Flag Pole with two flags stood at this entrance and in 1914 this pole was repaired, repainted and furnished with two new halyards all for £1.
In 1913 Major and Mrs. Huntingdon kindly offered to give an evenings entertainment at the Theatre Royal as a Club Benefit Night and this raised £13.15.0d.
In 1916, the Club advertised it’s attractions on the screen curtain of the Theatre Royal at the cost of 6d per week. Weekly competitions were arranged and small prizes given to attract entries and entry fees.
During the early years, the Club owed much to the Range Superintendent, Sgt. Barnes. He was employed full time from the opening of the Range at a weekly wage of 15/-d. In October 1910 he was given permission to close every day from 5.00 to 5.45 p.m. so that he could go home for tea. In 1913 he was given two weeks holiday and in 1916 he was given permission to close the Range at 9 p.m at his discretion if the darkened streets meant that the Range was not likely to be used. In 1917 his wage was increased to 18/- and in 1919 a further increase took him to 22/- p.w. Sgt. Barnes retired in November 1919 and then became the Match Secretary.
The popularity of Rifle Shooting was reflected in the fact that 350 new Clubs were formed in 1913 and their value was realized in the Great War of 1914-18. By April 1915 it was reported at the A.G.M. that 14 Battalions had been raised from Rifle Clubs alone. 21 of our members were in the Forces; 7 Commissioned and 6 N.C.O's. Entrance fees had been abolished, ammo prices slashed to the minimum and thousands of men, including all the Forces stationed in the area had been allowed to shoot. The Range was damaged by enemy aircraft on Sunday 19th March 1916 at 2.15 p.m. but fortunately the damage was not serious. The Lease expired in 1917 and The Club then took a new Lease and made itself liable for the rent.
The World War II saw more serious damage to the Range from enemy action, this time necessitating a new roof.
The local Home Guard units formed during this War eventually merged with our Club after the War.
Born out of one war, our Club has survived two major wars, and what is much more pleasant to record is that we have continued through the years of Peace. However, like Kipling’s soldiers, in times of peace, the Authorities don't quite know how to treat us. In all fairness to them this is no new thing, and Shooters themselves are the first to acknowledge that Rifles and Pistols are not toys. They can unfortunately be used for other more nefarious purposes.
The first Firearms act dates back to 1542 at a time when Henry VIII was building our three castles. At a time when Archery was compulsory, Parliament considered that crimes committed by firearms were worse than those same crimes committed by daggers or swords, etc. and took note that "Diverse persons of malicious and evil disposed minds and purposes have willfully and shamefully committed, perpetrated and done diverse detestable and shameful, murders, robberies, felonies, riots and routes with Crossbows, little short handguns and little hagbutts, to the great peril and continual fear and danger of the Kings most Loving subjects..." and decreed that no-one could shoot any of these weapons or even keep it in his house unless he had an income of over £100 p.a., or lived near the border of Scotland or along the seashore. As at that time a place "called the Deal, beside Sandwich half a mile from the shore of the sea is a fisher village" the Act did not apply locally.
The Firearms Acts of today however do apply and in this respect the Club and the Police work very closely together and many Police Officers over the years have become members of the Club. Too often nowadays, with violence and terrorism encouraged by weak administrations in many countries, our Police are called upon to face firearms and themselves use experience and skill at arms.
The Club, using full bore and small bore weapons was a member of both N.R.A. (No. 253) and S.M.R.C. (No. 83). Today it is a small bore Club only, but when it gave up full bore I have not discovered. Separate Committees were elected in 1906 for the open Range at Kingsdown and the Covered Range and the original Minute Book and all subsequent correspondence on the Kingsdown Ranges have been lost.
The dramatic change in the value of money is reflected in the prices of Rifles and ammunition. Rifles were cheap in 1902 but they had hard use. Thirty one rifles were acquired between 1906 and 1921.
Old rifles were often given as prizes, two being offered for Juniors provided the entry fees amounted to 5s.Od. per rifle.
The Pistol Section started in 1956 and the first pistol was acquired for £4 in 1957. When I joined the Pistol Section, it was still in its infancy under its sole member Mervyn Morgan. It gained favour and during the twenty years that I was Pistol Secretary we often had as many as five teams of five competing in Postal Competitions with Clubs all over the U.K.
The cost of ammunition has also, sadly, gone up. In 1910 022 was sold for 2s2d. per 100 rising to 3s9d. in1912. Apart from a favorable period after the second War when we were able to buy for 22s 6d.per 1000 it has shown continual increases until today the cheapest is over £1.50 per 100. (Today Club Ammo is still only £150 but for 50)
During 1916 over 200,000 rounds were shot in the Range and during the life of the Club over 2 million rounds have been fired.
In 1910 in a Postal Shoot, Deal scored 999 out of a possible 1000 and in the same year won the Challenge Shield for Class "A" of the National Roll of Marksmen from the S.M.R.C. (It later became the N.S.R.A.). The Club also won this Shield in 1911, 1914 and 1921. Other shooting successes followed and Deal have always been able to show a high standard. Many members have shot for the County and we were particularly fortunate in our Diamond Jubilee Year when Kent won the Inter County Leagues for both Rifle and Pistols, a first time for each, and our Club Secretary (R.N. Bowring, Rifles) and Chairman (R.E. Handley, Pistols) were members of the County Teams.
The fact that the Club has survived when so many of its contemporaries have fallen by the wayside is due to the efforts of many Members during the years, from tolerant Landlords, fund raising Treasurers, hard scribing Secretaries, diligent Range Wardens, enthusiastic Captains, competent instructors and dependable Club Members who are the backbone of any Club. By one means or another the Club had struggled through to 1962 when our Landlord Member, Mr. Pilcher died and the Club was faced with closure as the Range had to be sold with a balance of only £47. The Club bought the premises on November 1st 1962 by the then Trustees of the Club, Norman Bowring; Colin Joyce and myself: Ron Handley. I was one of those responsible for buying the Range for the Club in 1962 and have been a Trustee ever since. The Club had no money and I managed to arrange a 100% mortgage.
The Club then went into a whirlwind of fund raising activities. The N.S.R.A. kindly gave us £100 and the Vendor generously left £200 on a two year interest free mortgage whilst we organised Raffles, Raffles and Raffles. Indeed at one time we could almost have been called the Deal and District Raffle Club. With Member’s loans, Jumble Sales, one armed bandits, etc., we gradually cleared our overdraft and all debts by 1973.
The Range however is an old Georgian building that still needs considerable monies to bring it into repair after which there are some desirable and highly expensive improvements to be made.
I think however one can say that after 75 years The Club can look back with pride and forward with confident optimism.
Members as of June 1977: 52 of which 4 remain to this day.
75th Jubilee Dinner held at The Clarendon Hotel Deal on 17th June 1977
Grapefruit & Orange Cocktail Honeydew Melon
Prawn Salad Egg Mayonnaise
Grilled Dover Sole
Roast Duckling, Sage & Onion Stuffing, Apple Sauce
Sauté of Chicken Marengo Grilled Sirloin of Steak Garni
Whole French Beans, Diced Carrots, Peas, New and French Fried Potatoes
Blackberry & Apple Pie
Cream Sherry Trifle
Fresh Strawberry Melba
One Glass of wine supplied with meal.
During the intervening years the Club has grown and flourished. Ron, being the Club Surveyor, has supervised many building works and improvements including the enlargement of the Range in 1988. This included extending the length of the range and adding a corridor enabling the entrance to be changed to it present site of George Alley. Also installed were new baffles and a steel plate bullet catcher. Wheelchair ramps were installed to all the steps within the building. The club obtained permission to use it for full bore pistols.
The original Kent Peg roof that the Luftwaffe managed to blow off in 1944 was replaced with an asbestos one which itself had to be replaced again in the 1990s. The installation of the massive new Gun safe meant that the doors and door fames had to be removed to get it into the building. The old ships ladder type staircase was replaced with one to current building regulations and was repositioned, enabling most of our able bodied members access to the kitchen. (We do bring tea and biscuits down to anyone who can’t manage it!)
The range was shut for a short time in 2001 after the Technical Advisory Section (TAS) - the body within the Army responsible for all UK ranges - came to inspect the club. We used the visit as an impetus to do major restoration in the club.
Work was carried out inside and out. Drainage was put in to stop the walls getting damp. New baffles were added, target frames renewed, new lighting and a new ventilation system that could coup with the Cap and Ball Revolvers billowing the foul stench of pyrodox & triple7! Eight years on and we are at it again redecorating the club room only to discover that the roof beams had rotted and needed to be replaced.As always, members have come and gone over the years, with the changing fashions of public opinion and the dreaded political correctness towards guns and the people that use then. We are still here despite all that the successive Governments have thrown at our sport. We as a sport have been hit by major political changes concerning the private possession of firearms brought about by tragic acts of violence. This has resulted in the Firearms Act being amended twice as a result of Police licensing failures and Government knee jerk reactions.
A major blow to our sport and to the club was the banning of all handguns after the Dunblaine murders. As always we had to adapt, using our meager compensation money to re equip with Pistol Caliber Rifles like the trusty old Winchester 1894. The .22 rimfire sporting rifles like the Ruger 10/22 and Remington 597 become very popular. Cap and ball revolvers remained exempt. Long Barreled Revolvers and Pistols have gained more ground as more and more manufacturers develop them for the UK market. In the mid 2000s, turning targets were re-introduced into the club after we commissioned a new electronic controller. Finally, coming right up to date, we moved into a whole new area of Cyber Space: the final frontier…. No, only our new web site!!!!!!!!!!
This History is accurate as far as I know. We would be grateful to any member old or new who has any additional information or old photos that can be added. Please let us know.
We also have 3 newspaper articles. Two from 1981 are about what a great club it is for the Ladies. Is it me, or is it just a little patronizing in this day and age? We pride ourselves as being an extremely welcoming club to all regardless of race age or gender. We have juniors member as young as 12 and seniors well into there 80’s all competing as equal on the firing point.