Accidentally in Faversham

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.

Jurys Inn, Islington
Jurys Inn, Islington
We awoke to a fine, sunny day

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 courtyard at St Pancras Station
The courtyard at St Pancras Station
It would once have been a-bustle with Hansom cabs but is now a residents car park

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.

Faversham Station
Faversham Station
The presence of rail replacement buses convinced us that we had understood the situation correctly

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!

Limes Place
Limes Place
A Victorian (1863) terrace in Preston Street, Faversham

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.

The drill hall Descriptive plaque
The Drill Hall
It has seen better days as the Faversham Assembly Rooms (1848)

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.

The Leading Light
The Leading Light (Wetherspoons)
This pub is founded on the site of Faversham’s original Co-operative Society

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.

The strangely organic interior
The strangely organic interior
There is an “organic” Art Nouveau feel to the interior décor which is pleasant as well as striking

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.

Front entrance
Front entrance
The glass at the entrance is very elegant and has a Thirties feel to it

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.

Cross Lane
Cross Lane
Faversham possesses narrow medieval lanes, broad thoroughfares
and everything in between. Tudor frontages with overhang,
come as standard.

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.

Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre
Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre
The picturesque Centre houses Faversham’s museum and a shop with a remarkable selection of books

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.

18th century bell from the Oare factory
18th century bell from the Oare factory
Gunpowder was one of Faversham’s main industries until relatively
modern times

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.

Hard work for the maid
Hard work for the maid
The maid cleans the grate in the Victorian kitchen, one a set of tableaux of that era

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.

Memories of wartime Faversham
Memories of wartime Faversham
These figures were eerily lifelike, especially the St John Ambulance lady

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.

Faversham has a strong brewing tradition
Faversham has a strong brewing tradition
Shepherd Neame is the big name here but there have been, and are, many others

Brick making
Brick making
The local clay enabled the manufacture of high quality bricks of all kinds that were sold widely including in London

Pottery
Pottery
The potteries are still going strong today

Barge building
Barge building
This detailed scale model, with roofs that lift off to see the activities within the sheds, illustrates Faversham’s long history of boat and barge building

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.

Abbey Street - a restored (1958) medieval street
Abbey Street – a restored (1958) medieval street
This fine street contains a stunning array of different designs of houses and the keynote might be “the harmony of variety”

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.

Shepherd Neame, the brewers
Shepherd Neame, the brewers
Their building is decorated – naturally – with hop branches

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 spire of St Mary of Charity
The spire of St Mary of Charity
The spire was built in the 18th century but much of the church
fabric is older

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.


“Two-headed” tombstone
One of the several curious gravestones in the churchyard of
St Mary of Charity

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.

Thomas Arden's house
Thomas Arden’s house
Thomas Arden’s house incorporates part on an abbey gate but Arden himself came to a violent end

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”’

The Creek
The Creek
The Creek was for long a source of wealth to the town because sea-going vessels could come here for purposes of trade.

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 Guildhall
The Guildhall
This spectacular building was built as the market hall but became the guildhall

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:

Faversham town pump
Faversham town pump
This pump dates from Victorian times and would have replaced an
older one

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.

Holding up the canopy
Holding up the canopy
One of a pair of figures supporting the canopy of the Royal Cinema

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.

Quilted wall hanging
Quilted wall hanging
One of a pair of wall hangings showing Faversham’s history made by Quay Quilters (Faversham Library)

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
This entry was posted in Out and About and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Accidentally in Faversham

  1. More towns should follow Faversham’s example and use descriptive plaques to explain the history of their old buildings – very informative for visitors to the town.

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    • SilverTiger says:

      It takes a cooperative effort as well as time, money and research, and not all communities have much of these to spare.

      What about your own town, Carmarthen? Have they followed suit? Have you perhaps offered to provide the odd plaque or plate for this purpose, seeing as you are in that line of business?

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  2. So glad you enjoyed your accidental day in Faversham, and so glad the Society was able to contribute a bit to it. (Patronisingly – sorrry) splendid text and photographs too. Yes, Favershamians (whether natives or incomers) are very proud of their town, and rightly so.
    The Leading Light, which you visited, was put up as three separate shops by the Faversham Co-operative Society. Rather a splendid 30s facade and front, as you noticed. Almost next door at Cherry Computers, is what used to be one of our first-generation cinemas, The Gem. The other first-generation cinema (originally an 1850s girls’ school and armoury) is now the town’s Catholic Church and well worth a visit. Our surviving second-generation cinema (1936, Andrew Mather) remains alive and well, one of the few single-big-screen cinemas left in the SE.

    Best wishes

    Arthur

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    • SilverTiger says:

      Thanks for the additional information. I have the impression (supported by your comment) that we missed almost as much as we saw! That at least provides material for a return visit at some point, all being well on purpose!

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  3. Yes, do come back. Lots more to see, as you surmise.
    Near the Catholic Church the Chart Gunpowder Mills, oldest in the world, which we (Fav Soc) rescued from the jaws of the bulldozer in 1967 and then restored. In the same explosive vein, the Oare Gunpowder Works Country Park (different factory) about 20/25 minutes’ walk from town centre, but very pleasant for undemanding country walks.
    What I really should have puffed is our (Fav Soc) annual Open House Scheme, always on the first three Saturdays in July, and getting you into many small (and not so small) historic houses not normally open to the public. Heritage Open Days is modelled on it.
    Tomorrow, classic bus show in the town centre, Sunday classic car show ditto, with some street entertainment.
    No need to acknowledge!
    Best wishes
    Arthur

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  4. WOL says:

    St Pancras station is quite a large building. Interesting architecture. I wonder if those little passage ways with the overhangs like Cross street are passible for tall folks, considering that in those days, the average height of men was around 5’4″. The Heritage Centre looks like a very interesting place. Lovely spire on St. Mary of Charity. Are the “two headed” tombstones for married folks? Looks like you had quite a happy “accidental” visit.

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    • SilverTiger says:

      I think the overhangs are high enough for modern people. On the other hand, doorways are often lower and in places like old pubs I have to be careful not to bank my head on low beams.

      St Pancras is a beautiful building and has been restored in a fitting manner.

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  5. From recollection that twin-headed gravestone marks the burial-place of two children.
    Another interesting headstone in the churchyard is over the grave of Michael Greenwood, an Abbey Street resident who was press-ganged, ship-wrecked off Morocco, and then, with other survivors, enslaved by the Moors. It took about 18 months for the UK to fix a ransom for them. One tends to forget that slavery worked both ways – the Moors used to raid parts of England and Ireland for slaves.

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    • SilverTiger says:

      I do remember reading about that – though whether on the tombstone or wall plaque I don’t now recall, thinking what a colourful life Master Greenwood had led, like something out of a historical novel.

      Thanks for answering the question about the two-headed tombstone.

      Details and mapped locations of Faversham’s (and I think other towns’) plaques can be found on the Open Plaques site, a very useful source.

      Like

  6. Bill Croydon says:

    Great to see you noted the “Drill Hall”. The specially formed Faversham Buildings Preservation Trust has, with a loan from the Architectural Heritage Fund, just bought the hall from the Ministry of Defence after 150 years of military occupation. Our plan now is to raise the money to restore the hall back to its 1850 splendour as a Community hall and a great example of a Victorian Assembly Room.

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    • SilverTiger says:

      Thanks very much for telling me this. I wish you every success with your plans and look forward to their triumphant conclusion. If you would be kind enough to let me know when the Hall reopens, I might manage to come down and take a look (and blog about it!).

      Like

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