Saturday, July 21st 2012
The day started in some disarray as I had had a largely sleepless night and then, when I did get to sleep, the alarm went off an hour early. I was already up and doing before I realized this but then I went back to bed where I slept for 50 minutes or so and awoke feeling I needed to sleep on for a week. Nonetheless, I got up and continued the usual transactions (feed cat, wash dishes, wash self, get dressed…) and, a little blearier-eyed than usual, we set out, more or less at the time planned.
At this point we had no idea where we were going so we headed for King’s Cross and St Pancras, looking for somewhere where we could have breakfast and where there would be WiFi so that Tigger could look up maps, routes, and train times on her iPod. At St Pancras Station, we found Pret a Manger open and had breakfast there. Breakfast eaten, scanning done and a destination emerged: Faversham!
The last time we visited Faversham, it was by accident (see Accidentally in Faversham), and we had been thinking it was high time we went back there on purpose.
When we left London (aboard the 9:55 HS1), the weather was promising. During the journey, though, the clouds gathered and we stepped off the train into rain. However, the rain soon passed and the day gradually brightened. The day became sunny and warm and it felt like the first day of summer.
We walked towards the town centre by a roundabout way, following whichever route seemed to offer interesting things to see.
We passed along this lane of houses called Dorset Place. I don’t know for sure how old they are but the design of the boot scrapers suggests they are Victorian. One of the houses had turned a front window into a display for selling goods, including vegetables and jam. I guess these are home grown and home made.
I liked this house on the corner of Stone Street and Roman Road, with its patterned window glass on the front door and the terra cotta decorations.
Just across the road, this fine large building is set in beautiful grounds. It contains Faversham Almshouses and was built in 1863 with money from a bequest of Henry Wreight, sometime mayor of Faversham, and replaced a number of smaller groups of almshouses scattered around the town.
One of the charms of Faversham is the amazing variety of houses and other buildings that it contains. They are of different ages – some very ancient – and different styles. Some are better preserved than others and some show signs of a chequered career. As a collection, though, they make an intriguing display.
We were photographing this fine old house when the owner came along and we got talking. He was kind enough to invite us to see inside. The house is of unusual design, the rooms not being in the positions that would normally be expected. This has been put down to the house having been occupied by a craftsman who used the front of the house as his workshop and the rear for accommodation. Restoration has been an ongoing activity for many years and has brought the reward of a beautiful result. As well as a house that its present occupants can enjoy, an architectural treasure has been preserved for future generations.
From this gentleman we also learned about the existence of the Faversham Creek Trust which, in its own words, is “working to rebuild the Maritime Heritage of the Creek”. One of its current projects is to reclaim and restore the rather impressive Purifier Building – part of the old gas works now replaced by a Morrison’s supermarket – which will, when the work is completed, enable to people to learn the skills of shipbuilding which was once an important part of the town’s activity.
The Creek, deriving from the River Swale, penetrates to the heart of Faversham both physically and symbolically. It is lined with quays, and ships once came here to offload and take on cargoes. There was also a shipbuilding industry. Today, the waterside was all the more colourful because of the craft that had come to join in the two-day Faversham Nautical Festival.
We visited the quays on our first trip but today the scene was particularly animated because of the festival. There were stalls offering food and refreshments and live entertainment, and various local organizations were represented, including the Faversham Creek Trust.
Drawn by the smell of coal smoke, I discovered this fine small steamboat, the Barking, built at Faversham in 1928 and still going strong.
Nor would you want to miss the historically interesting and extremely photogenic town warehouse, built in 1475 to accommodate the goods being unloaded at the quays from the incoming ships. Today it is the headquarters of the local Sea Cadets and is known as TS Hazard, the name of the ship proudly supplied by Faversham in 1588 to join the fleet against the Spanish Armada.
Not far away is the massive presence of Faversham’s very own brewery which bears the famous and respected name of Shepherd Neame. Just walking around the perimeter gives an impression of the size and complexity of the site which, I guess, has an intriguing history of its own.
We continued on our way, exploring as we usually do, following our noses along whatever routes seemed to offer sights worth seeing. We crossed the end of Abbey Street, full of beautiful historic houses, lovingly restored. The plaque tells us that it is “ONE OF BRITAIN’S FINEST MEDIEVAL STREETS. SAVED FROM DESTRUCTION AND RESTORED IN 1958.”
We had already “done” Abbey Street on our previous visit so this time we left it aside and continued along Court Street. Faversham is one of those towns where you have to keep a steady nerve or risk feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number and quality of the beautiful old houses. Like this one, for example, on the corner of Court Street. National Heritage says it is “early C16 refronted in C18” but another source suggests that it is later than that, more like early 17th-century. Leaving the experts to argue among themselves, I will admire and photograph the house and move quietly along.
We were heading towards Market Square but we already encountered market stalls in Court Street, presenting a lively display, especially now that the sun was shining brightly, picking out the colours. Faversham is an ancient market town and the tradition is surviving well.
I was hoping against hope to get a picture of Faversham’s unusually colourful mid-19th-century town pump though I know that on market days it tends to be hidden by stalls and displays – as it was again today. The trick is to come back after the market has closed. (Here is a picture taken on our previous visit.) Faversham has had a market since ancient times and whereas most towns these days feel lucky to maintain a weekly market, Faversham manages no less than three (on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday).
Market Square is also where we find the Guildhall, the seat of local government. The building was not originally intended for this purpose, having been built in 1574 as the Market Hall: inclusion of the open ground floor, intended to provide cover for market stalls, gives the game away. However, the corporation, having tried out two other accommodations and not found them to its liking, took over the Market Hall for that purpose in 1603. There was something of a contretemps in 1814 when the building was set on fire and damaged – apparently by unruly folk as a way of celebrating one of Wellington’s victories in the Napoleonic war. The Guildhall was repaired and slightly enlarged and continues maintaining a robust presence up to the present day.
We continued into West Street, a pleasant street of shops of all kinds. Here too we saw the smallest coffee outlet that I have ever seen!
It is called, reasonably enough, “The Mobile Coffee Shop”, as it is driven by pedal power. Small it is, though complete in every detail, as far as I could see. There was a stool associated with the coffee shop but I think this was for staff, not for customers. The business model is strictly take-away.
We now began to feel peckish as it had been some time and quite a few miles since breakfast. We started crisscrossing the town looking for an eatery that would serve interesting vegetarian dishes and wouldn’t be crowded. In Preston Street we came upon the Spice Lounge. We had a good and filling Indian lunch, laced with lassi. This was served in wonky glasses, as you can see.
By now, the clouds and rain of the morning were a distant memory, and the conditions were sunny and warm – almost uncomfortably warm. We debated what to do and the choices seemed to be go on a bus ride or sit out the heat in a tea room or pub or coffee house. We decided to try a bus ride and stood for some time at a bus stop in Stone Street, opposite the building pictured above. This has not one but four foundation stones, all dated November 1906. But what was it – a chapel or a church hall? There are no clues, though I have noticed before that buildings with several foundation stones have often been built by small religious groups in need of the place of worship.
After a while, having tried this bus stop and another one, we gave up on the bus ride idea because, either the buses were not going anywhere interesting or if they were, that service didn’t run on a Sunday.
So we sought a rest and a refuge from the heat in the Leading Edge, a pub we had visited the last time we came to Faversham. It seems a pleasant enough pub and well run. On the previous occasion, we mentioned this pub to a local who opined that it was sometimes rough. That somehow seems unlikely. Was he perhaps trying to impress two Londoners?
We began to work our way slowly back to the station, “slowly” because there were things to see and admire at every turn, as, for example, the above ornate doorway with beautiful glass work, belonging to a Victorian era house in Newton Road.
Across the road were two Edwardian houses with the date “1908” on their lintels. I was photographing them both as a sort of “Before-After” pair. (To be honest, I prefer the one of the right which looks more “lived in”.)
This is where we encountered what I call the “Faversham Effect”: a passer-by, seeing what I was photographing, stopped and exclaimed “Hasn’t he made a good job of the house!” The inhabitants of Faversham love their town and are proud of it. What is good about this is that they are welcoming of anyone who shows interest in the town. In some places we have visited, photographers are treated with suspicion, as if the neighbours think we are casing the joint. Not in Faversham, though. If you show enthusiasm for their town, they are delighted and ready to tell you all about it. Such conversations enhance your enjoyment of your visit.
We shall certainly return to Faversham for further visits.
Here is a collection of decorative figures seen around Faversham. If you are yourself from Faversham, you might like to amuse yourself remembering or guessing where they are to be found.