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Faversham in the 17th Century

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After the 16th century, which had seen so many changes in the town’s fabric and infrastructure, the 17th seems to have been one of consolidation. Testimony to this is the lack of much new building, though it should be borne in mind that a few of the timber-framed houses confidently dubbed ‘medieval’ or ‘Tudor’ in fact date from the early 17th century - like 25 Court Street, probably built for prosperous ship-owner John Trowts in about 1610.

A similar story could be told in some other old towns that belonged to the Cinque Ports Confederation, such as Sandwich, which was in process of being eclipsed by upstart ports on either side - Deal and Ramsgate. From the middle of the 17th century, both of these developed rapidly, with hundreds of new houses, all brick-built and many with curvilinear gables betokening trade links with the Netherlands. Faversham’s links were at least as close, thanks among other things to Dutch imports of local oysters, but all it could offer in this stylish new idiom were a couple of buildings at Oare on its outskirts (one since demolished) and 39 Preston Street, still standing but unfortunately butchered beyond recognition in the early 20th century.

The 17th century was not uneventful, however. One early landmark was the foundation, in 1616, of the town’s Mercers’ Company. Set up by the Borough Council to establish a form of quality control over those wanting to set up in business in Faversham, it eventually became a corrupt organisation that - to the benefit of shopkeepers but to the detriment of their customers - restricted trading rights to a chosen few. It was abolished in 1835.

Civil War

The Civil War passed peacefully in Faversham - at least if you were not a Royalist, or suspect in some other way. In common with many other ports and industrial towns, Faversham took the Parliamentarian side; and when members of the ‘County Committee’ arrived in September 1642, they were "met with much affection by the Mayor and other inhabitants". In the past, the town had sometimes put its loyalty to the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports before its allegiance to the Crown, so a republican stance came as no great surprise.

That same day, the homes of prominent local "papists" were searched by Parliamentarian supporters, and valuable plate was confiscated. Two years later, short of timber to build warships, Parliament ordered the felling of 500 oak trees belonging to local ‘delinquents’ Sir George Sondes (1600-1677), of Sheldwich, and Sir Henry Spiller, who owned property in Newnham. Sondes himself, was imprisoned from 1645 to 1650, but this did not prevent him rebuilding Lees Court on a grand scale, and in progressive style, by 1652.

Even on the Borough Council there was significant support for the Royalist cause. No less than six Jurats (Aldermen) had to be disfranchised in 1648/9 - John (?) Caslock, Boys Owre, Thomas Napleton, Nathaniel Besbeech, John Knowler and John Preston - all prominent, and wealthy, local figures. Another Council ‘delinquent’ was John Trowts (1607/8-1675). Probably a nephew of his namesake who owned 23 Court Street, he was a ship-owner. When Mayor in 1643, he was summoned to appear before Parliament. For his ‘treason’ he later (1652) forfeited his real estate to the Commonwealth (Cromwellian republic).

Witchcraft trial

In this totalitarian regime, an even worse fate awaited those who carried their political incorrectness to the point of (alleged) moral nonconformity. On 25 and 26 September 1645 four local women were arraigned before the Mayor and Jurats and accused of witchcraft. All confessed so readily, and indeed eloquently, that almost certainly they were under duress. Joan Walliford, the first to appear, said the Devil came to her in the form of a ‘little dog’. She had cast spells on several people who had wronged her, and they had all worked, as they had for her friend Elizabeth Harris. Her other friends, Joan Cariden and Jane Hott, reported that the Devil had appeared to them respectively as a dog and a hedgehog. The two Joans and Jane were duly convicted and executed in Faversham on 29 September. Doubtless Elizabeth suffered the same fate a few days later. That Robert Greenstreet, the Mayor, and his Jurat colleagues could have handed out death sentences for such ‘crimes’ argues that mass hysteria was at work. Certainly, as in Nazi Germany, the veneer of civilisation had worn very thin.

Kings in town

England’s experience of a republic, and then dictatorship, came to an end with the restoration of Charles II in 1660. The moment could not come too soon for John Trowts, who it is said was not just a Royalist but a close ally of the King, who had shared part of his exile abroad and had ensured through his shipping interests that money and essential correspondence reached him.

The story goes - and it is probably true - that Charles had promised that, if and when he was restored, one of his first ports of call would be Faversham, to thank Trowts personally for the services he had rendered. This promise he promptly kept in 1660, calling at Trowts’ house at 23 Court Street. He was received by John (Mayor again) but Mrs Trowts was in the kitchen, and Charles insisted on seeing her there. There she was, making pastry for a royal reception later in the day, and up to her elbows in pie-crust. Imagine her surprise when the King burst in. As she mopped her brow with her blue apron, he gave her a "hearty salutation" - a peck on each cheek in turn perhaps?

Charles’s memories of the town must have been happier than his brother’s. Aware that he had outstayed his welcome as monarch and conscious that his father had had his head lopped off, James II decided in 1688 to leave quietly. At about three in the morning on 10 December, in disguise as the servant of the close friend who was accompanying him, Sir Edward Hales, he boarded a "miserable fisher-boat" in London to take refuge in France.

On the evening of the following day this was intercepted off Sheerness by local fishermen, who were looking out for Catholic priests and other ‘delinquents’ seeking to make their escape. They recognised Hales, well-known as a Catholic and of local stock, but not his ‘servant’. They took them prisoner, treated them ‘roughly’, and landed them the following morning (12 December) near Oare. From here they were taken to the Queen’s Arms (12 Market Place), where Hales’s ‘servant’ was recognised as the King by Richard Marsh, owner of the brewery which is now Shepherd Neame’s. James II was now held in custody at Marsh’s house (19 Court Street) while the authorities decided what to do. William of Orange (William III), the new King, was already on English soil. In the event he was released on the morning of Saturday 15 December and eventually allowed to make his way to France.

A musician and a pirate

Finally, Wilson and Ward, two of the town’s celebrities. John Wilson (1595-1674), who was born near the corner of Abbey Street and Church Street in 1595, was a noted composer whose career spanned most of the 17th century. A lutenist who gained an Oxford doctorate in 1645, he was musician successively to Charles I (1635) and Charles II (1661). As a young man he may have worked with Shakespeare. Several of his songs remain in the repertory, among them ‘Take, oh! take those lips away’.

John Ward, by contrast, was a pirate. He was born in Faversham but exactly when and where is not known. A fisherman to begin with, he later joined the Royal Navy and then, in 1603, seized the ship on which he was serving and took to piracy. He made Tunis his HQ and built up a fleet, skippered by fellow-English captains, which in the early 17th century was the scourge of the Mediterranean, and of Venice and Spain in particular. Ironically in 1619 the Borough Council had to contribute to a levy raised from the Cinque Ports for suppressing pirates in Algiers and Tunis - but perhaps these were not English pirates?

Sources and further reading

Sources and further reading (* on sale at the Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre):

Michael Laithwaite, A Ship-Master’s House at Faversham in Post-Medieval Archaeology Vol 2 (1968)
Arthur Percival, The Dutch Influence on English Vernacular Architecture, in Blackmansbury, 1966
* Raymond Godfrey, Faversham Freemen 1766-1835, Faversham Historical Research Services, 2000
Historical Manuscripts Commission, 5th Report: Appendix
Parliamentary Proceedings during the Commonwealth Period
House of Commons Journal
, July 1643
The Examination, Triall and Execution of Joane Williford, Joan Cariden and Jane Hott
..., Printed for JG, London, October 2, 1645
Gilbert Burnet, History of his Own Times, 1723
* Francis F Giraud & Charles E Donne, A Visitor’s Guide to Faversham, 1876 (Faversham Society reprint, 1988)
Dictionary of National Biography

* Arthur Percival, An Anthology of Faversham Verse, Faversham Society, 1999
Faversham Borough Records 1619