Cannon Street Biography
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Cannon Street is a short street running from Market Square to the Church of St Mary the Virgin, after which it becomes Biggin Street. Its name is not very old, it was probably not differentiated from Biggin Street in the early modern period.
In the early modern period, Cannon Street fell within the medieval Canon Ward, connected with the Canons of the Collegiate Church of St. Martin's. The fact it was not known as Cannon Street then implies its name is more likely to have derived much later from the Cannon family who owned property in the street in the late seventeenth century.
The area that became Market Square, together with the land on both sides of Cannon Street was once the property of St Martin's Priory. The weekly market itself was held in the open space beneath the walls of the Priory on Saturdays until the time of Charles II and the annual fair of St Martin was held there on St Martin's Day in November. The eastern side of Cannon Street must once have been occupied almost exclusively by the churchyards of the parish church of St. Peter, which stood on the north side of Market Square at one end of the street, and of St Mary's, which stood at the other end.
St Peter's was the parish church where people of high status often chose to be buried and where the annual mayoral elections took place. In 1581, this practice changed and it was decreed that the elections must be held elsewhere because the church was "now fallen down." (BL Egerton MS 2095 f. 225)
It was already in decay at the time of Henry VIII. Following his disollution of the monastries in 1536, St. Mary's Church was sealed up. Perhaps because the church was decaying, Henry VIII submitted to the wishes of the Dover residents and allowed them to use St Mary's thereafter as a parish church.
Parishioners elected their own priests at St Mary's until the nineteenth century and the church became strongly identified with the Corporation, who held their elections there once St. Peter's became ruinous. Special seats at the East end of the church, above the altar, were allotted to members of the Corporation for many years.
St Mary's Church still dominates Canon Street. It is probably Norman in origin, although it has been added to and changed a good deal over the years. At the instigation of its then-minister, the Reverand John Puckle, the whole church, apart from the Norman tower, was completely rebuilt in 1843. The tower was subsequently restored in 1897.
Cannon Street had been relatively rural when the business of the town was concentrated chiefly on the harbour and the market. As the population increased, particularly during the nineteenth century, it became "the very heart of Dover and centre of its commercial activity" according to an Agent's Guide of about 1890.
In 1893 it was found necessary to widen the street to accommodate the congested traffic there. The rebuilding of St Mary's had already provided some extra space for a footway and in 1858 some frontages had been set back in line with those on Biggin Street.
In 1893 the Town Council bought some of the property on the west side of the street, including the Royal Oak Hotel, but left untouched the Wright Brothers' ironmongery business, which they had rebuilt themselves a few years earlier.
The Council bought all the property on the east side of the street from St. Mary's Churchyard to Market Square. They demolished all the buildings on that site, including the elegant colonnade in front of Standen's upholstery premises. Local photographers and artists subsequently took the opportunity to take views of the previously obscured south side of St. Mary's Church.
Nine shops on the east side were rebuilt to designs by Stenning and Jennings, winners of the competition for designers, in 1894. On the other side of the street, Havana House, designed by Creswell and Newman, was built for G. N. Chidwick, a tobacco importer and salesman, in 1893. Shortly afterwards the Metropole Hotel was also built on the street.
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