Its story from smallholding to heritage centre
The superb timbered front of 10-11 Preston Street, Faversham, reveals that the property was built towards the end of the reign of Elizabeth I, in about 1600. It occupies the site of an earlier building, but what form this took is not known. It was built as a house, not as a shop, and the owner probably intended the close-studded facade, with its lavish use of oak, to make clear that he was no pauper.
10-11 Preston Street, Faversham, today
As the town expanded in the 18th and early 19th centuries, more shops were needed and ground floors were converted for the purpose. The proprietors and their families lived "over the shop" and usually there was space behind the shop for storage and a "parlour", where office work could be undertaken and the daily takings be counted.
So it was in 1811 that the ground floor of 10-11 Preston Street first became a shop. If there was any space for storage and office work, it was not enough, so an extension was built at the rear. The first tenant was John Clay, who arrived from Kidderminster to start a hatter’s business here.
For at least 80 years before then the property had included at its rear a two-acre plot of land known in the early 18th century as Brinkhurst’s Orchard. A bit surprisingly, the first known owner, till 1733, lived not in Faversham but in the small Huntingdonshire town of Somersham.
The whole property extended east as far as the ancient footpath that led from Preston Church to Church Road and most of which still survives between St Mary’s Road and Newton Road. Its southern boundary was Gatefield Lane, so called because it led into Gate Field, which formed part of the farm run from Cooksditch in East Street. Its northern boundary was marked by the present 4 Newton Road (next to the Post Office yard) and continued straight across to the footpath, running roughly through the middle of the present Faversham Library. At least two of the 18th-century occupiers of 10-11 Preston Street, William Sparkes and his son John Sparkes, described themselves as ‘gardeners’, so it looks as though they were using the plot as a market garden.
William, who was born in 1709 or 1710 and whose 1780 headstone can still be seen in Faversham Churchyard, came to 10-11 Preston Street as a tenant, but made such a success of his business that in 1748 he was able to buy both house and land for £250. His son John, who died in 1811, had no children and so left the property to his sister, Sarah Howard, who lived in Hythe. She had no use for it and promptly sold it for £1,250 to William Smith Murton, the prosperous owner of a tailor’s and draper’s business in the Market Place.
Having let the house to John Clay, Murton indulged in a bit of smart asset-stripping. Alongside the Gatefield Lane frontage of the former Brinkhurst’s Orchard, immediately behind the yard of the Fleur de Lis inn, he built a pair of cottages. These are now 7-8 Gatefield Lane, converted some years ago into a single dwelling.
A small triangular site behind the cottages he retained, but the rest of the 2-acre plot he sold to Catherine Gillow, who lived at Cooksditch and no doubt found it a useful addition to her farmland. There was no Newton Road then, and this and the roads parallel to the east were only to be laid out in the early 1860s after Catherine’s sister Elizabeth Simpson had sold them to a local developer, William Maile. Murton died in 1832 and when his executors sold the triangular plot off Gatefield Lane for the building of a chapel in 1833 the last of the 2-acre plot had been disposed of. Disused by 1884, the chapel was converted into the Faversham Club.
John Clay’s son, Charles, followed in his father’s footsteps at 10-11 Preston Street and was able to buy the house and shop for £550 in 1828. After he died in 1853 the hatter’s business came to an end. The property was split in two, his widow Caroline operating as a grocer at No 10 and his son Frederick opening a butcher’s shop at No 11. By 1862 Albert Pay had taken over from Caroline.
Frederick took a son into partnership and by 1895 was probably able to retire, as in that year he was living at 85 Ospringe Road. Within a year or two the business was taken over by Walter Vallance, who re-united No 10 with No 11. Frederick remained owner of the property till his death in 1905 and four years later it was bought as an investment by Maria Jane Brockman and Louisa Katherine Brockman, two young sisters living in Anerley, Surrey.
Use of the shop changed in 1918, when it became a "hygienic dairy" run by John Henry Pollock. The business was taken over eight years later by a newly-wed local farmer, William Clark, born in 1899. As well as selling milk and cream, he began selling other fresh farm produce, including eggs, poultry, fruit, flowers and honey. All this was delivered every day from farms run by the family at Hansletts and Scotts (Ospringe), Ravenscourt (Davington), Ham and Luddenham.
For £1,400, William became the owner of 10 & 11 Preston Street in 1930. In 1952 he sold it to his wife, Connie, for £2,400. Twelve years later she sold it to John Edward Scutt, of Badlesmere Court, whose daughter Joy Scutt (now Mrs Joy Janes) continued the Clarks’ floristry business. Many of us remember her delightful shop and she proved a good neighbour when the Faversham Society bought the Fleur de Lis in 1971.
She gave up the business in 1987 and the property was bought by David Craggs, a Surrey psychiatrist. Till her death some years later, his wife sold ladies’ fashions in the shop, now named Ragstone, while she and her husband used the flat above as a week-end home. Two or three years after she died, David decided to wind up the business and sell the property. Kindly he offered first refusal to the Society. We lacked the purchase price and so in 1996 arranged for Swale Borough Council to buy it "protectively" so that we could try to raise the necessary cash. We leased the premises from the Council, using the shop to raise funds, and sub-letting the flat for the same purpose.
A scheme for major expansion of the Heritage Centre into 10 & 11 was drawn up. This found favour with the Heritage Lottery Fund, and it offered 61% of the total cost, including purchase of 10 & 11. The Society had to raise the other 39% - about £320,000. A colossal sum, yet it was raised, thanks to huge efforts on the part of many of our members. In 1999 the Society became owner of 10 & 11 Preston Street and in January 2001 its Tourist Information Centre and shop was transferred from its cramped accommodation in the Fleur de Lis into 10 & 11.
Subsequently single-storey buildings at the rear of the premises were converted for use as extensions of the Society's Museum, housed at 13 Preston Street. Displays in these, now known as the Long Gallery and the Big Shed, focus on the area's early history and trades and crafts respectively. The Big Shed also features one of the few surviving Strowger electro-mechanical telephone exchanges, which visitors can use and see working. The relays climb engagingly up and down as you dial a number on one of the handsets.
Beyond the Big Shed is a small, sunny garden. Installed here for visitors to admire is a superb late Georgian shopfront that was spirited away from the town's Market Place in 1930 for display at the Art Institute of Chicago. It has been repatriated by the Society and restored with the generous support of many donors, including descendants of the confectioner who originally commissioned it. To complement it, the garden has been planted in late Georgian style.
Most of this information comes from the property’s title deeds. The Faversham Society, owner of 10-11, 12 and 13 Preston Street has a small team of members who are happy to summarise local title deeds free of charge. There’s no catch in this ‘free offer’. The reason for it is that title deeds invariably contain precious information, unavailable from any other source, about the history of the area. For this reason, if you still have the title deeds of your own property, it is very important to keep them and hand them over to anyone who may buy it from you. Never destroy them, or allow them to be destroyed on the basis of ‘professional’ advice that they are no longer needed. They are no longer required as evidence of legal title (the Land Certificate suffices), but as evidence of your property’s ‘pedigree’, they are irreplaceable. Bear in mind that because of the need to prove sound legal title, deeds often go back farther than the property to which they relate. One Faversham property built in about 1840 has deeds tracing the history of its site back to 1690.
Arthur Percival, July 2008