Faversham History

Faversham Times 21 January 2015

Last week we posed a question from Town Guide Antony Millett, “With nearly 500 listed buildings, Faversham boasts the second highest number per square kilometre in the whole of the UK. But who is in first place?

The same article carried a photograph of the Guildhall showing the wording “Rebuilt 1814”. This is not quite what it seems, but it does go towards explaining why the building has Tudor pillars supporting the Regency upperparts.  The original building predates the Old Grammar School by two years, and would have looked very similar to it. Imagine the Old Grammar School today, but without the refectory now built underneath. Why then was it necessary to rebuild the Guildhall?

1814 saw the surrender of Napoleon Bonaparte and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy with King Louis XVIII. After more than 20 years of almost continuous war, there was great rejoicing at the news and the prospect of our armies returning home. Faversham, like most places, held a street party to celebrate and the Market Place, like today, was the natural centre of the party. Faversham was also blessed with two major breweries and several licenced ale houses, (brewing for sale on the premises). It also had gunpowder factories from where the ingredients for fireworks emanated. The ingredients were obviously found as dust in worker’s clothing, because nobody would steal gunpowder, would they? Faversham was, therefore, well prepared for a party.  However, as any fireman will tell you, the mixture of alcohol and fireworks is not to be recommended and the result, in this case, was a firework landing on the roof of the Guildhall, causing a fire that burned the structure down to the pillars.

This doesn’t mean that it was rebuilt immediately. In his Faversham Paper No.5, (published by the Faversham Society), Herbert Dane records that in 1815, after Napoleon had escaped from imprisonment in Elba and had his “Glorious 100 Days” ended by Wellington at Waterloo, that “The declaration of peace after the Battle of Waterloo was marked by great celebration, almost every house in the town being decorated.

The Town Hall at the time had been pulled down to the floor line above the arches and the oyster dredgermen hoisted a large boat on to the floor and caroused within it.” The effort that that involved shows that they must have wanted to party hard.

So when was it rebuilt? Setting fire to it in 1814 was the primary cause. It probably needed making safe, (pulling it down to the floor line in 1815), and it probably took some time to agree on the design, appoint contractors and then get the work done, so some time after 1814, obviously, but we can agree that the destruction, albeit unintentional, was a part of the rebuild.

All of the pillars are original with the exception of the two at the northern end. These were added during the rebuilding and the building extended. From the inside you can see that some of the windows are blind, (false), provided on the outside to improve the design but on the inside are only a blank wall.

Inside the Guildhall are photographs of every mayor since 1840, a collection assembled and donated by Herbert Dane. Above them are panels with a complete list of Faversham’s mayors from the 13th century until the present day. Herbert Dane entered the office of the Faversham News in 1891. Several promotions saw him rise to become editor in 1896, retiring in 1949 after 58 years of service to the paper.  Incidentally, he gives his name to Herbert Dane Court in Newton Road, formerly the site of the Congregational Church, because of his position as a long-time elder in the church before it closed.

Now where is it that has more listed buildings, but are they as interesting? The answer is Chester.

This week, can you name Faversham’s youngest listed building? Don’t forget that the answer can also be found on a Faversham Town Walk. The next one is Saturday 7th February, starting at the museum at 10.30.


Faversham Times 28 January 2015

Last week we posed the question, “What is Faversham’s youngest Listed Building?” The answer is The Royal Cinema. Built in 1936, the auditorium is nothing more than a plain, windowless yellow-brick block. Inside it has been lovingly maintained and is still its original size, although the number of seats has been reduced. The foyer block, (entrance), is a disneyesque, medieval fantasy, with big-bosomed ladies supporting its canopy and spirelet.  Once one of 600 Odeon cinemas across the country, it is one of only about 100 surviving original big-screen cinemas in the UK.

The same article showed pictures of the Guildhall pillars and The Old Grammar School, advising that both buildings would have looked very similar but for the “accident” in 1814. The “current” Grammar School is actually the second and the QE the third grammar school in Faversham. The original opened in 1827 as a part of the Faversham Abbey of St Saviour and was closed, at the dissolution of the monasteries, in 1538. Following petitions from the townspeople to Queen Elizabeth, authority was given for the new school in 1576, (notice the date on the plaque!). As the new school was “owned” by Faversham Council, there are plenty of records available to show the design and costs, but little or no evidence about what the earlier school looked like. It is most likely that it was in rooms made ready for that purpose that already existed within the abbey.

The people involved in establishing the original school were interesting characters, as were some of the people who re-founded the school. Reverend Ioannes (John) Cole is usually credited with being the founder, although without the support of Abbot Caslocke he couldn’t succeed. Born and raised at the Manor of Ewell, (near to Goodneston and Graveney), he entered All Souls Oxford in 1488 and was ordained in 1493. For a short while he was Rector of St Blaise, Calais and subsequently Rector at Merstham, Surrey and Towyn, Merionethshire. In 1509 he became a Royal Chaplain to Henry VII. At the time of his death he held seven, separate clerical appointments as well as being a Royal Chaplain to Henry VIII, (two rectorships in Devon, Canon of Wells, Prebendary of Combe, Dean and Prebendary of Pontsbury, Hereford, Vicar at Stone-in-Oxney and Sub-dean, Kings Chapel, St Stephen’s. Westminster). From the Latin sine cure (without care) we derive the word sinecure “a position requiring little or no work, but giving the holder status or benefit”. Cole certainly could not have done much work for each of his positions, except for his Royal Chaplaincy, but would have been well rewarded and thus a rich man.

On the other hand, Abbot Caslocke was in charge of one of the largest buildings in the land. Its size of 31,240 square feet was a third bigger than Rochester Cathedral and three-quarters the current size of Canterbury Cathedral. A building of that size requires a lot of maintenance and successive Abbots had found it difficult to raise sufficient money from the Abbey lands and fisheries. The offer from John Cole to provide further land, and its income, would therefore have been gratefully accepted.

In 1576 Faversham Town Council and All Souls Oxford were given permission to open a Grammar School, but one proviso was that Faversham provided the land and building.  The building costs were met by a levy on the towns-people but the land was a gift from William Saker. Living in a medieval house in Abbey Street, Saker was a wealthy man who owned what today would be termed a conglomerate. He owned several farms and orchards, he owned the carters and the drovers, and he owned the warehouse. He therefore kept all of the profit in the chain from growth to sale. By giving away his garden he avoided having to employ a head gardener, under gardener and servants, saving him even more money. Today, the garden is the Abbey Physic Community Garden.

The building components were built off-site and transported to Faversham and put together like a flat-pack. The mayor at the time the building was erected was Nicholas Upton. Instead of a plaque commemorating the opening, as we would today, Upton’s initials are carved in a door frame inside the building and can be seen when the building opens as a part of the Faversham Society Open Houses on the first three Saturdays in July.

We have mentioned Faversham Abbey, and Abbey Street, but where was the Abbey and where is it now? The answers can of course be heard on a Town Walk, (next one Saturday 7th February, 10.30 from Fleur De Lis heritage Centre Museum), or wait until next week.

Faversham Times 4th February 2015

Did last week’s questions “where was the Abbey and where is it now?” provoke more questions? When was it built, and why? It was built in 1147 for King Stephen and was intended to be a royal mausoleum for himself, his Queen, Matilda of Boulogne, and his children. Their belief in heaven and hell was similar to today, but they also believed that there was “a get out of jail card” for sinners in that you wouldn’t go to hell whilst someone was praying for you daily. By building an abbey and granting it lands and rights to enable it sufficient income to survive, you could have a building full of people praying for you. King Stephen certainly needed the prayers as his life could hardly be described as godly.

His predecessor as king was Henry 1st who decreed that his daughter, also called Matilda, but known as Maud, would be his successor, because his son perished when the White Ship foundered. She and Stephen were cousins and grandchildren of William the Conqueror. On the death of Henry, Maud was in France giving birth to her first child. Stephen took the opportunity of convincing the Bishop of Winchester that he would be a better monarch, arguing that the preservation of order across the kingdom took priority over his earlier oaths to support the claim of Henry I’s daughter. His coronation took place at Westminster in December 1135. Did the fact that the Bishop of Winchester was his brother have any bearing?

Naturally, Maud didn’t take kindly to not becoming Queen of England and civil war was the result, although usually referred to as “the Anarchy”. It began in 1139 and lasted intermittently until 1152. Eventually, both sides in the civil war tired of the fighting and accepted a truce, with the agreement that Henry, son of Maud, would be the next king. This was an uneasy truce as there was no expectation that Stephen would die soon. However his Queen died in 1152 and he died in 1154.

Faversham Abbey was huge. Its dimensions show that it was three-quarters today’s size of Canterbury Cathedral, but probably equalled or exceeded it when built. At the time of the dissolution of the monasteries in 1438 it was not well maintained but was, nevertheless, one of the largest buildings in the land. This posed a problem for Henry VIII. Having acquired the monastic properties Henry set about their disposal, (analogous to Nationalisation and subsequent Privatisation). The trouble with Faversham Abbey was who could afford to buy it and, because of its strategic position beside the Swale and close to France, who could you trust to occupy it?

Henry’s solution was to dismantle, (not demolish or destroy), the whole estate. This was done and the blocks of stone were floated down the creek and across to Calais where they were used to strengthen the defences. Calais was the only part of France remaining under English rule.

There is a tale that, during the dismantling of the site, the bodies of Stephen, Mathilda and their son Eustace were found. One thousand musket balls were made from the lead sarcophagus and their bones thrown into Faversham Creek, subsequently to be fished out by the people of Faversham and reinterred in the Parish Church. There is no evidence that Henry had any malice towards the abbey or its occupants, indeed the last Abbot received a pension of 100 Crowns per year. The abbey was located in what are now the playing fields of the QE School. If the bodies were found, they would certainly have been treated respectfully and, with the Creek several hundred yards away and Cooksditch adjacent to the property, it would have been there that they would have been dumped. Who would have jumped into a creek to rescue bones from someone who had died three hundred years earlier? A more logical explanation is that the catholic priests in the abbey requested the catholic (yes, still catholic), priests in the church to care for the sacred remains. There was no documented evidence as to what actually happened but today, in St Mary of Charity Parish Church, is a grave with a plaque, dating from Victorian times, commemorating King Stephen. Is Faversham therefore the only Parish Church in the country where a monarch is buried?

The Parish Church is famous for its spire. From which church in London is this one styled, and how many similar ones are there in the country? The answers can of course be heard on a Town Walk, (next one Saturday 7th February, 10.30 from Fleur De Lis Heritage Centre Museum), or wait until next week.

Faversham Times 11th February 2015

We asked in an earlier article “What was Faversham’s youngest listed building?” and gave the answer as The Royal Cinema. Visitors on Town Walks then usually ask “What is the oldest?” There can be two answers with the most likely being the Stone Chapel, near to the A2 at Syndale. It was a Roman shrine that later was reused as a Christian chapel. Its rival as the oldest is our Parish Church, St Mary of Charity.

Many of our current religious sites have been sacred sites continually since pre-Christian times, such as the Stone Chapel. The geographical location often has an influence on why a sacred site has been chosen, usually height, (look up to it), and running water, (ritual cleansing), and our local church has both. It is hard to see with so many buildings around today, but there is a ridge running along Court St/Abbey St, alongside the creek and the church sits atop this ridge. Springs (and wells), abound in this area and there was an old Roman Villa, to the northeast, that would have had both water and a shrine.

The earliest written record of a church here is 1070 when the avowson, or living, was given to the Abbot of St Augustine by King William 1st, (the Conqueror). This donation, within four years of his accession, also provides evidence that Faversham was the King’s Town, i.e. The King was Lord of the Manor. Earlier, Faversham was probably the summer capital of the Anglo-Saxon Kings. During the building of the railway in the 19th century, the Anglo-Saxon Kingsfield cemetery was discovered in the area where Saxon, Roman and Norman Roads now reside. The finds recovered were very valuable and are now in the British Museum, (although not displayed). The quality and quantity of the finds suggests that this was a very prosperous and important area that would certainly have had a church. If so, it would have been timber-framed but, if on the site of the current building, its foundations will have long since been buried under the present structure.

In today’s building you can see many architectural styles, beginning with the Norman, visible at the west end. The progression is most visible in the changing shape of the door and window arches as the church was extended or updated over the centuries. The size of the church represents the importance and wealth of the town and symbolised the independence of the townspeople from the huge Abbey, that was only about four hundred yards away, geographically, but miles away in their devotions.

Today’s size and shape was achieved by the 14th century. The shape is cruciform, i.e. in the shape of a cross, but originally had a tower in the centre, above the crossing. This was dismantled in 1755 because, after a few accidents in the gunpowder works, it was deemed unsafe. The architect responsible for the removal, and the new, fine Georgian nave, was George Dance the Elder, who was Clerk of Works to the City of London and, amongst many fine buildings, was responsible for the Mansion House. The final 18th century change was the building of the tower and spire at the west end. The architect for the tower was Charles Beazley and the builder was Charles Drayson.

The tower and spire is styled on St Dunstans in the East, a Wren church in London, built after the Great Fire in 1666. The style is known as a Crown Spire and the church is one of only nine in the UK to possess one. The most famous examples are St Giles on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, Newcastle Cathedral and Christ Church Aberdeen. The “crown” style was chosen because it provided less resistance in the case of another accidental “blow” from one of the gunpowder factories. This is the answer to last week’s question. The spire was also the inspiration for the Waterloo Tower at Quex Park, near Birchington, which was built in 1819 in cast iron.

The exterior appears to be entirely Gothic and this, with the addition of flint cladding, is the result of Victorian updating, when many other, interior changes were made. The architect for most of the Victorian work was Sir Gilbert Scott, the architect of many iconic buildings, including the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial.

The arched gateway at the entrance to the church has the date 1533 on one side and 1862 on the other. Do you know why? Find out the answers in next week’s paper, or on a Town Walk. Winter times for the walks are 10.30 from the Fleur De Lis Museum, Preston Street on the 1st and 3rd Saturday’s, coinciding with the Best of Faversham Markets. The next walk is Saturday 21st February.

Faversham Times 18 February 2015

Do you remember the merchant venturer in Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” whose ventures successively failed and who sought the assistance of Shylock? When Faversham’s very own merchant venturer is mentioned on Town Walks, a number of people immediately think of pirates, as if Faversham would have any truck with piracy! It was Antonio in Venice who had all of the bad luck, but it was good luck, or sound judgement, that brought Henry Hatch to Faversham.

Hatch retired here in 1522, with his young wife Joan, and lived in Market Place, (we’ll show you where on a Town Walk). His Treasure Chest is on display in The Fleur De Lis Heritage Centre Museum, which is also home to a large arch or doorframe from his house that was removed when a well-known chemist’s chain redesigned the premises to incorporate concessions and create more retail space. The Guildhall houses the over-mantle that Hatch had had made. It contains twelve panels; the upper six contains the arms of the Cinque Ports; the Aragonese pomegranate, (representing Catherine of Aragon); St George and the Dragon; Hatch’s merchant mark; the Garter and the Tudor Rose, (representing Henry VIII). Very patriotic. The bottom six panels show Medea and Jason; Helen and Paris; and Judith and Holofernes, all couples renowned for infidelity.  This was a very brave piece of furniture to have commissioned and displayed.

Hatch died of the plague in 1533, (one of the two dates in last week’s question). He left a will leaving all of his fortune to the town, with the proviso that his wife was looked after for the rest of her life, or until she remarried. The Parish Church was to receive one third, for the continuing beautification, but not extension, of the building and the Town Council received the other two thirds for the maintenance and improvement of the highways and byways, (easier for merchants to get their wares to and from the port by road), and the same for the Creek, facilitating movement in and out of the port by water. This was a bequest that the town was very pleased to accept.

I am sure that you won’t be surprised to find that Mrs Hatch was not so pleased and she duly produced another copy of her husband’s will; this one leaving all of his wealth to her. There being no room for compromise, it was necessary to go to court to decide which will was genuine and which was a forgery. We know that law takes its time and I am sure that neither party expected a quick solution, but both persevered until the case was finally decided, in Faversham’s favour, in 1574. Yes, it took thirty nine years, which is a long time to outlive your husband, especially in the sixteenth century.

There is no record of what happened to Mrs Hatch afterwards, which explains why there is no date of death against her name on the memorial brass, the largest in Kent, in the parish church. The brass is on the south side of the nave, in front of the Council pews, but is covered to prevent damage. (Ask us nicely and we’ll uncover it and show you.). It shows Hatch with his wife Joan in a long gown wearing an ornamental girdle and headdress, both under a canopy.

The Hatch bequest was invested and the endowment still provides an annual income. In 1862 it was used to build the stone gateway entrance to the churchyard which explains why, see last week’s question, that there is the date of his death on one side and 1862 on the other. The northern, shaded side shows 1533 and his merchant’s mark and the south side shows the three lions of Faversham and the date of completion.  In addition to the gate and the brass, Hatch is remembered through Hatch Road being named after him. The other roads near Hatch Road, in the vicinity of the Almshouses, are all named after benefactors to the town. These include Napleton, Fielding, Caslocke, Mendfield and Becket. The Parish Church records a larger list of benefactors on the Charity Boards above and opposite the South entrance to the church.

One important visitor to Faversham was convinced that we were pirates and his opinion was shared by a 17th century author. Who was the VIP and who was the author?