Faversham Tourist Guide
Come and explore this fascinating Kent town!
Faversham is a town in the district of Swale, roughly halfway between Sittingbourne and Canterbury. The parish of Faversham includes an ancient sea port and market town, some 48 miles east of London, off the London to Dover A2 road, 18 miles east north-east of Maidstone and 9 miles west of Canterbury. With excellent transport links to the A2, M2, M20, Thanet and Ashford, as well as being on the mainline railway, it manages to balance its reputation as ‘The Market Town Of Kings’ with being a flourishing industrial centre.
Faversham is a market town of Saxon or earlier origin; the 6th and 7th centuries Kings Field cemetery has proved to be one of the richest uncovered in Kent. The settlement then was centred on what is now Tanners Street and West Street. Established as a settlement before the Roman conquest, Faversham was held in royal demesne in 811AD. Faversham was recorded in the Domesday Book as Favreshant.
Following the Norman Conquest Faversham grew to become a busy port and market town, and during the 11th century it joined the Cinque Ports confederation. In 1147 Faversham Abbey was established in Faversham by King Stephen, who with his consort Matilda of Boulogne, and his son, Eustace, the Earl of Boulogne was buried there. This encouraged further expansion of the town to the north-east. The port at Faversham grew and prospered following medieval times, along with other industries such as brewing, gunpowder making, and boat building. The abbey itself was demolished directly after the Dissolution of the Monasteries and much of its masonry taken to Calais to strengthen that town's defences against French interests. Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School has been built on the abbey site.
Faversham parish church - St Mary of Charity - remains. The church is all that is left of a previously much larger religious community around Faversham Abbey. It has an unusual 18th century flying spire, known as a crown or corona spire, which is visible for long distances. The church itself is much larger than might be expected and is alleged to be the second largest in Kent, after Maidstone. This gives the church an individual acoustic and, unusually among parish churches, makes it big enough to hold a symphony orchestra for concerts.
During the 17the century large quantities of agricultural and horticultural produce were shipped out through the port along Faversham creek and on to London. The railway arrived in the town in 1858 and further increased the town's affluence. By the end of the 19th century the creek was encircled with a hotchpotch of grain mills, gas works, barge building yards, cement works, timber yards and other industries. During the 20th century, however, traffic using the creek declined, at first slowly but then rapidly, so that now the creek is a comparatively quiet place where most of the creek-side uses have little direct link with the water.
The town of Faversham is known in Kent as a harbour and market community but is also at the centre of the county's brewing industry — home to Shepherd Neame, a brewery, acquired from the last heir of the Shepherd family by Percy Beale Neame in the 1840s. Abbey Street and the centre of the town include a notable collection of original medieval houses. The historic central area, especially the part-pedestrian section between the station and the creek, attracts visitors, who can learn about the town's history and features at the Fleur-de-Lis Centre, which provides tourist information and includes a museum. There is still a regular market several days each week in the market square where the Guildhall stands. In the same part of the town there is an old and mainly unchanged but functioning cinema and the modern Arden Theatre, named after Arden of Feversham, a domestic drama set in the town's Abbey Street. All the nearby streets feature old pubs, almshouses, shops and an increasing number of art galleries and restaurants.
Faversham was where the UK’s explosives industry started. The first plant was set up in the 16th century. The town was well-placed for the industry. It had a stream which could be dammed at intervals to provide power for watermills. On its periphery were low-lying areas ideal for the growing of alder and willow to provide charcoal — one of the three key gunpowder ingredients. The stream fed into a tidal Creek where sulphur, another key ingredient, could be imported, and the finished product loaded for dispatch to Thames-side magazines. The port was also near the Continent where demand for the product was often high. The first factories were small, near the town and alongside the stream, between the London-Dover road (now A2) and the head of the creek. By the early 18th century these had merged into a single plant, later to be known as the Home Works. Towards the end of the 17th century a second factory was started by Huguenots alongside another stream about 2km west of the town. This had its own access to the sea via Oare Creek and so became known as the Oare Works. The third and last gunpowder factory to open was the Marsh Works, built by the British government 1km northwest of the town to boost output at its Home Works and opened in 1787.
At twenty minutes past two on Sunday 2 April 1916, a huge explosion tore through the gunpowder mill at Uplees, near Faversham, when 200 tons of TNT ignited. 105 people died in the explosion, and many were buried in a mass grave at Faversham Cemetery. The munitions factory was in an isolated position in the middle of the open marshes of North Kent, next to the Thames coastline, which explains why the great explosion at about noon on 2 April was heard across the Thames estuary as far away as Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Southend-on-Sea, where windows in houses were blown out and two large plate-glass shop windows disintegrated.
All three gunpowder factories shut in 1934. ICI, then the owners, sensed that war might break out with Germany, and saw that Faversham would then become vulnerable to air attacks or possibly invasion. They moved production, together with key staff and machinery, to Ardeer in Ayrshire, Scotland.
The Marsh Works then became a site for mineral extraction, as it remains today, and almost all its buildings were destroyed. The Oare Works is now an appealing Country Park, open to the public free of charge all year round. Remains of process houses have been carefully conserved.
About 500 buildings in the town are listed by English Heritage, most of them in the very large conservation area. In streets like Abbey Street, Court Street, Tanners Street and West Street it is easy to imagine how the town looked 400 years ago. So many of the timber-framed buildings which were there then are still there now, and in good condition. There are some particular outstanding structures, like the pair of medieval barns at Abbey Farm. The smaller (Minor) Barn dates from 1425 and is one of only 6,000 Grade I listed buildings in England. The larger (Major) Barn dates from 1476 and is listed Grade II. Together with Arden's House in Abbey Street these three were once part of Faversham's Benedictine Abbey. There is also the striking Guildhall, part-Elizabethan, part-Regency; Davington Priory, founded in 1153; and the Chart Gunpowder Mills, oldest of their kind in the world, and scheduled as an ancient monument. There is the unusual - Dunkirk's World War 2 century radar tower, scheduled as an ancient monument; Ospringe's Maison Dieu, a 13th-century priest's house, now a museum and a thatched 18th-century lodge at Hogben's Hill designed in rustic style.
The Almshouses consist of 70 units, most of them in the wonderful 1863 building, which is considered one of the largest and finest schemes of its kind in the UK. It superseded several smaller groups of almshouses scattered about the town. Rebuilding to such an impressive extent and to so high a standard was made possible by a bequest to the town by Henry Wreight (1760-1840), a local solicitor and former Mayor of Faversham.
Faversham's Guildhall commands the Market Place and forms the town’s central point. This is Faversham's third Guildhall. The first was on Guildhall Green in Tanners Street, more or less where the present Gospel Mission Hall stands. The town's early heart was in this area but later the centre moved to Court Street. In about 1547 the Corporation built a new Guildhall where the single-storey section of the Shelter Shop now stands, on the east side, at the north end of Middle Row. Sometimes known as the ‘White House’ (most likely because it was lime-washed white), this was where Queen Elizabeth I was entertained on her visit to the town in 1572. Evidently the new building was not a success because in 1603 the Council moved to the present, third, Guildhall. This had been built in 1574 as a Market Hall by community effort by the people of the town and 13 nearby parishes.
Jireh Cottage is a 15th Century medieval building in Hugh Place. Hugh Place is a passageway off Market Place, opposite the Guildhall in the centre of Faversham, noted for the number of listed buildings. The atmosphere of the original medieval building has been recreated using authentic clothing and tools.
The Maison Dieu is a medieval building on the corner of Ospringe Street (the main A2) and Water Lane, Ospringe. The Maison Dieu formed part of a larger group consisting of a Royal Lodge, pilgrims' hostel, hospital and almshouses for retired royal retainers. Its main buildings were on the opposite side of Ospringe Street and were in the parish of Faversham, not Ospringe. Its foundation in 1234 has traditionally been credited to Henry III. However recent research suggests that it went back further and that the King simply claimed to have founded it. It was run by monks, covered a large area, and was virtually a small monastery. Its consisted of the hospital buildings, two small churches (one above the other), a Royal suite, and the domestic quarters of the master and brethren, with adjoining barn, fish-pond, water-mill, and stables. Of the two churches, one was for the use of the monks, the other for the use of pilgrims and people living in the neighbourhood. For some years in the 16th century a school was also provided for local children.
The Old Grammar School in the Shooting Meadows, is one of the few surviving purpose-built Elizabethan school buildings in Britain. Faversham Grammar School was founded in 1527 by John Cole, who endowed it with property of which he made Faversham Abbey trustee. The property was confiscated by Henry VIII when he dissolved the Abbey in 1538, and the School had to close. In 1576 the Borough Council successfully petitioned Queen Elizabeth for the return of the endowment, and the School re-opened. However it had no permanent premises of its own till 1587 when as a result of community effort purpose-built premises were put up on the western edge of the Shooting Meadows, where archery was then practised and where the School’s modern buildings and playing fields are now situated.
For the whole weekend commencing Saturday 1st September 2007 the town of Faversham will be home to the annual Faversham International Hop Festival. A traditional, fun festival set in the picturesque medieval town's square and surrounding streets, celebrating the olden days of hop picking in Kent. With music to suit eclectic tastes, children's entertainers, professional street theatre, stilt walkers, Morris dancing, craft fare, and ceilidh, it's a weekend for family and friends to enjoy! The Faversham hop festival was started 16 years ago by a small group of enthusiastic volunteers. They believed that the old-world town would lend itself to this type of tradition and celebrate its heritage. In the hop picking heyday of the 1920s and 1930s, Faversham was at the heart of the Kent hop growing area and for a few weeks from late August through most of September each year local labour was supplemented by almost 100,000 Londoners, who travelled by rail on the ‘Hoppers' Specials’. The Festival runs over a whole weekend and is regularly patronised by, it is estimated, over 20,000 people.
Farming World at Boughton, Faversham is set within the Victorian kitchen garden of Nash Court. Farming World has over 100 farm animals including rare breeds, heavy horses, a pet centre and a bird of prey centre. There is a bee exhibition and also a sensory garden within the Victorian fernery. Horse and cart and tractor and trailer rides can be taken. There are 2 large adventure play areas, an indoor softplay and play equipment for children with special needs. In addition you will find Mini golf, many daily activities and displays, a museum and farm trails together with a new fitness and therapy centre.
A lively local museum, Fleur De Lis Heritage Centre at 10-13 Preston Street was recently upgraded thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, and the building reflects Faversham's long and colourful history from prehistoric times to the present day. Features include fine costumes, old-time shops, a gunpowder experience, an Edwardian barber's saloon, a working village telephone exchange and displays illustrating brewing, brickmaking and Faversham Creek. The museum is housed in listed buildings together with Faversham's Tourist Information Centre and a bookshop. Tel: +44 01795 534542.
Stone Chapel, off London Road, Stone, is a chapel which has been in ruins since the 16th century, and is the only church to include visible remains of a pagan Roman shrine. It is open all year during daylight hours.
A 10-acre garden noted for daffodils, Mount Ephraim Gardens also has fine mature trees and an herbaceous border. There is a topiary and rose terraces which lead to a small lake. In addition there is also a water garden, a Japanese style rock garden with pools, woodland and arboretum. A craft centre is also on site and a grass maze is an exciting new addition. Visit Mount Ephraim Gardens here
The Apple Craft Centre, Macknade, Selling Road is housed partially in a quadruple square oast house that was converted to an apple store at around the turn of the previous century. Numerous instructional courses are run throughout the year on wood- turning. The craft shop displays and sells the hand craftwork of Kentish craftworkers. The very attractive first-floor coffee shop and restaurant specialises in home-made food with a predominately English menu. Tel: +44 01795 590504.
Brogdale Horticultural Trust has the National Fruit Collection of 4,000 varieties of fruit in 150 acres of orchards including pears, apples, plums, cherries, currants, quinces, medlars and many other fruits. There is an apple exhibition and cider making and a plant centre, tea shop and gift shop. Daily guided tours are also available. Check out www.brogdale.org.uk
Take a guided tour of Shepherd Neame - Britain's oldest brewer. Start from the newly-refurbished visitor centre; see the traditonal mash tins; taste natural mineral water from the brewery's well; try some malted barley, smell locally-grown Kentish hops; see bygone delivery vehicles and step into a recreated cooper's workshop. Finally there's a fascinating tutored tasting of Kentish ales and speciality lagers. Tours run most days but advance booking is recommended. The brewery shop is open Monday - Saturday. Visit www.shepherd-neame.co.uk
Faversham Cottage Hospital, Stone Street Tel: 01795 562066
Faversham Tourist Information Centre is located in the Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre at 13 Preston Street, Faversham ME13 8NS. Tel: 01795 534542 Fax: 01795 533261
Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015