There are days when everything seems simple and straightforward enough but then goes haywire. Today was such a day but it ended well enough after all so we are not grumbling.
We awoke to a fine, sunny day, so of course we were going to go on a trip. But where? Well, it appeared that I had made a decision about this without realizing it:
You mentioned Romney Marsh the other evening,” said Tigger. “So let’s go there, shall we?”
If only all my decisions were that easy… So we caught a bus to St Pancras Station, where we admired the courtyard again and then went to the Camden Food Co cafe for porridge and croissants.
The plan was to take the fast HS1 service to Ashford International and change there to a bus for Romney. On reaching the platform, however, we learned that because of the endless railway engineering works, train services in the Margate area were paralysed, requiring rail replacement buses to carry people to their final destinations. As we understood it (though this later turned out to be incorrect), all HS1 trains were terminating at Faversham, where rail replacement buses would be waiting. Accordingly, we boarded an HS1 bound for Faversham.
Believing that we would have to take a rail replacement bus to Ashford and another from there to Romney and undertake the same journey in reverse for the return, we decided it was too much trouble and that it would be better to spend the day in Faversham instead. You cannot say we’re not adaptable!
From the station, we set off down Preston Street and soon discovered two interesting things. Firstly, Faversham retains many old buildings from various periods in its development, adding to the pleasure of the visit for history enthusiasts.
Secondly, the inhabitants of Faversham are very proud of their town and its history and have done a lot of work providing information boards and descriptive plaques explaining their historic buildings, as above in the case of the Drill Hall.
We stopped for refreshments at this intriguing pub. We thought at first that it might be an old cinema. In fact, I am not clear about the history of the building and Wetherspoon’s own Web site is not very helpful in that regard.
A panel on the wall does explain that workers, mostly from the gunpowder industry, founded Faversham’s first Co-operative Society in 1874 and that when it became successful, moved it to this site. It is not explained how much of the present building dates from that institution, though I suspect some of it does.
We were later told that this pub becomes rowdy in the evening though we saw no sign of this and it is certainly worth a visit for the décor alone.
Faversham bears witness to its long history that dates from before the Romans and enjoyed prosperous times in the Middle Ages. Every sort of street and building is exemplified here. The passing centuries have dealt gently with its fabric but the citizens of Faversham have cared for it and lovingly restored the best and most interesting buildings.
We soon discovered the Museum and went in for a look. Visiting the shop was an experience on its own as it has a wide selection of books covering the history of Faversham and the area and even of other topics (London figures among its titles, for example). The museum itself is obviously the work of historians and is almost overwhelming in its coverage and detail.
We asked if we could take photos in the museum and were amused by the answer: “Oh, no one’s ever asked that before!” After the query was passed up the levels, the answer came back that we could take photos as long as we didn’t sell them.
It is impossible here to give more than a superficial impression of the museum. It covers life in Tudor times, the Victorian era and more recent days, in peacetime, as above, and in war, as below.
Exhibits also pay tribute to the industries of Faversham, of which there was a surprisingly wide range for a relatively small town. Apart from the manufacture of gunpowder, Faversham, in the midst of the Kent hop fields, is famous for breweries.
In no other museum, have we received such personal attention. We were accompanied throughout and while I found this a little irksome, I have to admit that we were shown things and given explanations that we would otherwise have missed. The museum is truly an enterprise of enthusiasts.
After the museum, we set out to explore the town. It is impossible to do more than scratch the surface in the time we had available. To explore thoroughly would require a long stay. All we could do was catalogue points of interest that particularly struck us.
We walked the length of Abbey Street with its endless array of house designs, all beautifully looked after. The office above, belonging to Shepherd Neame shows the importance of the hop to beer making and to Kent.
The parish church is St Mary of Charity, whose crown spire was built in 1794-7. This was not the first spire and some parts of the church are much older.
There was a rich and powerful abbey in Faversham but it was closed down by Henry VIII, along with all the others. It was demolished and the stones taken away for other purposes, except for the eastern portion of the gatehouse that was incorporated into the house of local bigwig Thomas Arden.
How Thomas Arden met his end is described in the plaque attached to his house: ‘Here lived Thomas Arden (Mayor 1548, Comptroller of the port of Sandwich and Customer of Faversham) and herein on the 15th February, 1551, he was murdered at the instigation of his wife. This house is immortalised in the Elizabethan drama “Arden of Faversham”’
Faversham was a ‘limb’ of Dover, itself one of the Cinque Ports, and therefore has plentiful associations with the sea and with ships. Trade through its own port on the Creek gradually declined because only small ships could dock here. Today it harbours pleasure craft.
The present guildhall is the third building to bear that name. This one was built in 1574, not as a guildhall but as a market hall. The corporation, needing bigger premises took it over in 1603. The market still takes place at its feet and was in full swing when we arrived. In the above photo, you can just about see the town pump (the red shape). Here is a better view:
When we boarded the train back to London, we received a shock. The ticket inspector refused to accept our tickets. Not only that, but the way the conversation developed, it looked as if we would even have to pay a penalty. Our belief that all trains were going to Faversham turned out to be incorrect. Trains were running to Ashford as normal and so our tickets were not valid. The only thing in our favour was that the inspector on the way down had accepted our tickets without blinking when he should have warned us we were on the wrong train. In the end, we got off lightly: having to pay for tickets from Faversham to Ebbsfleet, where our original tickets would once more be valid.
Despite this upset and the fact that we had set out for one destination and ended up at another, we had had a good and very interesting day out. Faversham is a unique town and I am sure we shall visit it again.