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Oare Gunpowder Works

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Oare Gunpowder Works, pictured in 2005, is set amid woodland and waterside trails

Oare Gunpowder Works, the best preserved of its kind in the UK after Waltham Abbey, was one of three such factories in the Faversham area, the others being the Marsh and Home Works (see Chart Gunpowder Mills).

The Oare Gunpowder Works is now open free of charge to the public.

Located 1 mile west of Faversham, just off the B2045 and close to the M2, the newly-restored site offers glimpses into the past art of making gunpowder.

Following signed woodland and waterside trails, you will see narrow-gauge canals once used by powder punts, a mill-pond, an 80-year-old powder mill repatriated from Ayrshire, danger houses, and at weekends a visitor centre, with displays explaining how gunpowder is made, how the site has developed, and what is its wildlife interest.

Open 9am to 5pm weekdays, 10am to 4pm weekends

All three factories closed in 1934, because their situation close to Continental Europe made them vulnerable in the event of war. Production, and some machinery and staff, were transferred to Ardeer, near Saltcoats, in Ayrshire, Scotland.

The site remained neglected for many years but is now about to open to the public, free of charge, after conservation and landscaping work. A visit will be a ‘must’, whether you live locally or are a visitor to Kent.

The Oare Works is in the parish of Davington, about 1 mile west of Faversham, and less than 10 minutes’ drive from junctions 6 or 7 of the M2, via the A2 and B2045.

It takes its name from the village of Oare, and stretches nearly as far as the head of Oare Creek, below Oare Pond and Meadow (a nature reserve), from Bysing Wood Road, Davington.

Founded in about 1690 by Huguenot refugees who were encouraged to settle in Faversham because French gunpowder production technology in the 17th-century was more advanced than English, the Oare Works (originally known as Davington Mills) slowly expanded, and was progressively modernised, throughout its working life. What can be seen today reflects the changes that took place during its life of nearly 250 years.

Without its output many great civil engineering works of the Industrial Revolution would have been impossible. Like almost all gunpowder factories, it was a place of great beauty, even when its full complement of 300 staff were at work.

It remains so today - a place for delightful waterside and woodland strolls, with the bonus of fascinating survivals of its industrial past. Further detailsThe Works is scheduled as an Ancient Monument, having been recognised by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (now amalgamated with English Heritage) as one of only three sites of prime national importance in the gunpowder industry.Swale Borough Council acquired a 175-year lease of the site so that it could be conserved for the benefit of the community. A decontamination survey was undertaken by experts to check that no dangerous explosives remained. In association with consultants Broadway Malyan, the charity Groundwork Medway Swale drew up detailed conservation plans. A bid for £885,500 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund was successful, the rest of the money required being found from other sources.Work on the project started in November 2003 and was completed in 2005. Included woodland management provision of roosts for bats (for which the site is important) reinstatement of the narrow-gauge canals once used by powder punts dredging of the main mill-pond consolidation of masonry repatriation of an 80-year-old powder mill from Ardeer (one of only two surviving in the UK) laying of signed trails (including one for wheelchair users) interpretation of danger houses (like the glazing and corning houses) origination of worksheets for school parties provision of car parking creation of a Visitor Centre, complete with displays explaining how gunpowder is made, how the site developed over the centuries, and what are its features of wildlife interest.