don't read the menu options and go directly to the page content 
Click to view menu Click to search

History

Home / History

Faversham has attracted its fair share of historians - and no wonder! Its past is eventful and varied, it has always been close to the centre of the national stage, it has kept its own records since the 13th century; and its rich historic fabric constitutes a source just as informative (to those who can 'read' it) as documentary records.

Faversham Creek c1605
Navigable Faversham Creek (lower right) on 1608 map



Stone Chapel has
Roman and Saxon origins



Faversham Abbey
Faversham Abbey was founded in 1147


Abbey Barns
Barn at Abbey Farm, dating from c1487


Cinque Ports Charter
Cinque Ports Charter


Goodestone Church
Goodnestone Church dates from about c1100


Abbey Street today
Abbey Street today

Barge in Faversham Creek c1895
Port of Faversham, 1895


Victorian housing 1888
Faversham has a wealth of Victorian housing, such as these 1888 properties


Shepherd Neame Brewery's 1869 Court Street entrance

Old Grammar School
Old Grammar School, built in 1587

Chart Gunpowder Mills
Chart Gunpowder Mills, built c1760

For early settlers its site was enviable - superb soil at the head of a navigable creek,  quick and easy access to Europe, pure spring water readily available, a dry, temperate climate perfect for grazing, forestry and growing crops like wheat, barley and fruit.

We don't know when settlers first arrived, but by late prehistoric times Belgic farmers from nearby Europe prospered here, one with a home close to present-day Abbey Farm.

Part of the Roman empire

For nearly 400 years from 43 AD the area, like the rest of England, formed part of the Roman empire. This brought improved technology and infrastructure, not to mention a high level of civilisation and culture.
 
Immediately to the south of the main Faversham settlement a high-quality road was built linking it directly with the Channel ports, London and beyond. This still exists, and we know it as the A2.

Farming was more intensive, with villas (luxury farmsteads) spaced at roughly one-mile intervals along the coast and banks of The Swale between Seasalter and Sittingbourne. One of these was built to replace the Belgic complex near Abbey Farm.

Durolevum was the name the Romans gave to Faversham, and it's revealing: it means 'the stronghold by the clear stream' and though it's Latin (the language of Rome) it's derived from the Celtic (Welsh) language which was in use in the area before they arrived.

The Romans' legacy can still be seen, most impressively in the pagan shrine which forms part of the ruined church of Stone-next-Faversham, just a mile-and-a-half from the town centre.

Jutes and Danes

As Rome went into decline around 400, mercenaries from NW Germany - Jutes, Angles and Saxons - were recruited to help defend Britain from aggression. They found its climate better than their own, turned on their hosts and took charge.

Though the Romans despised them as 'barbarians', they were no savages - they simply had a different culture and language. So they re-named the town. But the English name they chose suggests that the town eased gently from the old culture to the new - the first component is a version of the Latin 'faber' (smith) and only the second, 'ham' (homestead), is Germanic.

An independent kingdom of Kent was established by the Jutes. One of its capitals may have been Faversham. The ancient name Kingsfield for part of the town suggests this, as does the beautiful and expensive jewellery unearthed there in the 19th century.

A Kentish king was here with his court in 699, and one of his successors referred to the town as 'oppidulum regis' (the king's little town) in 811.

The Danes harried Kent and held it to ransom in the 9th and 10th centuries. By now England was a united kingdom; and the royal response was to organise the fleets of ports on its south-eastern seaboard, from Brightlingsea in Essex to Seaford in Sussex, into an embryo Royal Navy on permanent standby.

In return these ports enjoyed privileges which gave them an autonomy similar to that of the Hanseatic Ports. This 'Confederation of Cinque Ports' included Faversham, and its privileges boosted its trade and economy.

England has a knack of adjusting to immigrants, benefitting from the innovations they bring, and absorbing them into its culture - though it takes time.

Normans arrive

New masters after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 were the Normans from Normandy - really 'Northmen' of Scandinavian origin. They brought with them a new language - French - most of which eventually sank under the weight of long-established English.

They also brought with them a gift for efficient administration which laid sound foundations for the future of English local and national government, and the robust Norman (Romanesque) style of architecture epitomised in the austere Davington Church (1153).

Faversham's huge Abbey (1147), had it survived, would have been an even more impressive tribute to the consummate skills of Norman architects and stonemasons.
 
They rebuilt almost all England's churches in more solid style (Goodnestone Church is another example), but as the population steadily increased in succeeding centuries most had to be rebuilt again. Hence the country has its superb legacy of medieval churches.

In the Faversham area just think of fine churches such as those of Boughton-under-Blean, Eastling, Graveney, Hernhill, Stalisfield, Teynham and Throwley - not to mention Faversham itself.

The town went from strength to strength in the Middle Ages. Witness to this are the hundreds of picturesque houses of the period that remain in and around the town centre, not to mention scores of handsome timber-framed homes in the surrounding countryside.
 
Well-built with expensive materials, they've never needed to be replaced. They're well-insulated, they're comfortable and some are cheaper to maintain than their late 20th century successors, which on the whole weren't as well built.

Industry

With the advent of explosives manufacture in the 16th century the town began to industrialise - well before the Industrial Revolution. It became the leading port for the export of that much-sought-after commodity - English wool.

With prime hops and barley being grown on its doorstep, and an unfailing supply of pure water from its deep wells, it became renowned for its beers. It was the Shepherd Neame brewery which in the 18th century was the first outside London to install a stationary steam engine.

Indeed the area holds several records of note. It boasts the oldest social club, oldest company and oldest village museum in the United Kingdom, and the oldest gunpowder mill in the world.
 
It was where the existence of electric current was first demonstrated. Its masonic hall is one of the oldest in the world to be used as such. And Faversham is the hottest place in the United Kingdom, with a temperature of over 101º recorded in 2003.

Testimony to the town's continuing prosperity in the 19th century are its roads of sturdy Victorian houses, many with unspoilt interiors and now much in demand for what estate agents call their 'character features'. Complementing these in the town centre are some unusual Victorian shopfronts.

Community

Unlike some other places, the town has never been into 'dependency culture'. When new amenities are needed, it has often provided them itself rather than go begging to the 'powers-that-be'. Examples are legion, from the original Grammar School building of 1587, put up by community effort, to the modern open-air and all-weather swimming pools.

History's bunk - or is it?

History's not bunk, as Henry Ford allegedly once said. It's the template within which we shape our lives and hope to improve life for our children and grand-children. It's also everything which has happened till this very moment. How could we manage without statistics and sporting records, for example?

It's a measure of the richness and variety of the area's history that many books have been written about it - over 90 alone in the Faversham Society's series of 'Faversham Papers'. And yet there's still plenty to be written, plenty of fascinating sources which remain as unexplored as the tropical rainforest.

You'll find much useful information on this site, but if you ever have time and inclination to add to knowledge and understanding of the area, your contribution will be most welcome!

To delve deeper into the history of the Faversham area, please use the menu on the left.

Acknowledgements

The content of our history pages has been supplied courtesy of local historian Arthur Percival and with the help of John Coulter.