Saturday, August 25, 2012

Faversham, Kent

             Faversham is a fascinating port town in Kent.  Some years ago, my husband and I had the pleasure of attending the Hop Festival there, and the town appears in my work in progress.  It’s a lovely town, compact and walkable.   Its known history goes back to before 811, and was known to be settled by the Romans, among others attracted by its location. 

The mouth of Faversham Creek

              Part of the ancient royal demesne, Faversham is mentioned in the Domesday Book, and it also possesses an early Cinque Ports charter (considered to be the oldest in existence) and was linked to Dover.   King Stephen founded Faversham Abbey in 1147, and was subsequently buried there with his wife, Matilda, and son, Eustace.  The abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII, and nothing remains but ruins.  The beautiful parish church, St. Mary of Charity, still remains.
The ruins of Faversham Abbey by Stukeley 1722

As a port city, Faversham had a customs house and fishing was an important industry.  (The oyster beds were particularly important.)  The town has an association with medieval queens, and a fascinating history.  Queen Elizabeth I endowed a grammar school here.  However, I am going to focus on a specific point of interest: gunpowder.
                Advances in weaponry and military activity created a need for gunpowder, and Faversham was peculiarly suited to meet this need.   The ingredients for gunpowder, especially charcoal and sulpher, were readily available.  The site was perfect for factories, with a stream for watermills, and the continent was easily accessible from the port.  The earliest gunpowder works was established in the 16th century.  The original small factories were joined together as the Home Works. 
Home Works was ultimately nationalized by the British government in 1759.  Another factory, Oare Works, had been built very nearby in Davington parish in Kent in the 1680’s.  A third factory, Marsh Works, was built by the government in 1787.  These mills provided gunpowder to the East India Company and the military, furthering the war and expansion efforts.  It is interesting to think of the powder from these factories possibly being used by Nelson’s ships at the Battle of Trafalgar, and by Wellington’s troops at Waterloo!
Gunpowder from these factories was also used for blasting for canals and tunnels (especially important for railway expansion).  These plants continued in operation, and produced explosives during World War I.  In 1916, a horrible explosion killed over 100 employees.  In 1934, the gunpowder factories were closed due to fears that the area would be vulnerable to invasion or attack if war with Germany was declared. 

The site of Home Works was  redeveloped in the 1960’s except for Chart Gunpowder Mill, which is an historic site.  The Marsh Works became a site for  mineral extraction which is still in operation.  Oare Works is a county park, featuring conserved process houses, trails and a visitor center.
Chart Gunpowder Mill-Mill Wheels
 SOURCES
Percival, Arthur.  OLD FAVERSHAM.  1988: Meresborough Books, Rainham, Kent, UK.
Turcan, Robert.  FAVERSHAM THROUGH TIME.  2010: Amberley Publishing PLlc, Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK.
British History Online. The Parish and Town of Faversham.  (From THE HISTORY AND TOPOGRAPHICAL SURVEY OF THE COUNTY OF KENT , Vol. 6 by Edward Hasted, 1798.)  http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=62974
Kentfind.Co.UK website.  History of Faversham.  (No author or date shown.)  http://www.kentfind.co.uk/about/faversham/history.php

Photographs from Wikimedia Commons.

Lauren Gilbert lives in Florida, and is the author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lauren, I live about 10 miles from Faversham. I assume you know about the infamous sixteenth century murder and the play, written by an anonymous contemporary of Shakespeare "Arden of Faversham?" The mayor was murdered by his wife in 1551 and the house where it happened still stands today !

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