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History of Davington

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Until post-war residential development connected the parish to Faversham, Davington was predominantly rural, its only truly built-up area being a cluster of houses around the medieval parish church and Victorian school.

Echoes of the parish identity and community still survive: its history, set out in more detail elsewhere in this site, is a fascinating story, connected with the fortunes of its neighbouring town and reflecting the ever-changing nature of the area.
Davington Church


Davington


Davington

Davington Hill - Origins and History

Perhaps the most unusual feature of the Faversham landscape, though its dramatic impact was impaired by housing development in the 1960s and 1970s, is the bluff which overlooks Stonebridge Pond on the east, Stonebridge Way on the east and south, and The Knole on the west.

Brent Hill, Davington Hill, Dark Hill and Bysing Wood Road all climb sharply up to it; properties in Stonebridge Way and elsewhere which sit at its base have back gardens with precipitous slopes; and Penshurst Rise drops very sharply down from it. 

With scarp faces on three sides, it is something of a geomorphological curiosity, unparalleled in the Faversham area.

A little research suggests that it may once have been an island in a mini-delta, bounded on the east and south by the stream (Westbrook) which till the 1960s rose at Whitehill and still flows into Stonebridge Pond and Faversham Creek, and on the west by another arm of the same stream.

This stream which diverged from the main channel a little north of the junction of Lower Road and Wallers Road to take a course northwards through the Willow Beds and across Bysing Wood Road and Oare Road to feed into a branch of Oare Creek just south of the Oare Road windmill.

Whilst the main channel remains intact, the course of the western arm (shown, not altogether accurately, on the map of the Hundred of Faversham in Hasted’s History of Kent) has been obscured by changes made mostly in the 18th century.

In the Willow Beds, a low-lying, consistently flat area, known in the 18th century as The Brooks, there are traces of an earth dam built probably by the operators of the Home Works to divert the waters rising there to run first south and then east to augment the supply to their water-powered gunpowder mills.

At least one old plan suggests that there was once a reach of Oare Creek which ran SE round the tip of the promontory on which the Oare Road windmill was built, and it was into this that the western arm of the Westbrook seems to have fed.

How come, though, that a mini-delta, and an island, should be formed in this particular position? The explanation is that the Davington bluff is capped by Woolwich Beds, more resistant to erosion by water-flows than the brickearth on either side, so the stream, in early times much more powerful than at present, had to find a way round it - and found two, one on either side

And why are the Woolwich Beds of the bluff more resistant to erosion than the brickearth on either side of it? Simply because instead of consisting of fine particles of easily-disturbed soil, they consist of coarse flint gravels, with much sand between, and the flints require more energy to move them.

These flints can clearly be seen in front gardens on the Davington Court estate, built in the 1960s on the strikingly level plateau, 50’ high, which crowns the bluff and stretches northwards as far as Davington Priory. Its continuity northwards has been broken by Dark Hill, excavated in cutting through it, but if you stand in the right place in winter in Stephens Close you can look across to the Priory grounds, ‘miss’ the cutting, and see the plateau as it was before the cutting was made.

North of the Priory the Davington ‘island’ slopes gently downwards till you reach its tip, about 15’ above present sea-level at Ham Farm. The slopes on either side also ease, though on roads on the North Preston estate those running SE in the direction of the Creek still sport significant gradients.

With its steep scarp slopes on three sides, the ‘island’ plateau on which Davington Priory stands would have made a splendid, and commanding, defensive site for early settlers. However no certain evidence of early occupation has so far been found. In fairness, though, it has never been systematically looked for. The only clue is that in the 18th century Roman burials are said to have been found on the N side of Brent Hill, somewhere near the entrance to BMM Weston’s office building, presumably while work was in progress on expanding the Home Works into this area.

Davington Court

What is certain is that by the 14th century in the middle of the plateau was a manor-house, Davington Court, and that by 1495/6 this had taken the form of a large mansion - luxurious enough for Sir James Walsingham to keep his shrievalty there.   The family later moved to Chislehurst, also in Kent but much nearer London (see www.tudorplace.com.ar/Bios/ThomasWalsingham).

What precise form it took is not known and one is left to speculate whether, in view of its naturally ‘moated’ situation, it may have incorporated an earlier fortified house.

On the west, beyond the Willow Beds, it overlooked an area called in the 18th century ‘Knights Field’, but whether this name connoted a former jousting ground, as suggested by Willement, or (perhaps more likely) an owner called Knight is not known.

Most of the mansion was demolished in the 1630s, perhaps because by then the gunpowder industry had been established immediately below it on the E and the resulting disturbance made a country house on the site no longer viable. The small portion retained, perhaps a service wing, remained known as Davington Court and was demolished in the early 1960s to make way for housing development. As a result of a successful campaign by the Faversham Society, a fine adjacent barn was saved by being dismantled and re-erected at Haxted Farm, Edenbridge by a sympathetic purchaser.

All that remains of the mansion now are the mannerist gateway of 1624 in Old Gate Road, thought to have been an entrance to a kitchen garden, and an older, medieval arch in a garden in Stephens Close.

If these are any guide, the big house may well have been stone-built, rather than timber-framed. Crow, writing in the 1850s, remembered other remains of the mansion and recalled that the ‘worn and ivy-clad walls were considered as one of the most interesting ruins of the neighbourhood’. There were pavements ‘of brick of a Roman shape’, possibly suggesting these had been salvaged from a Roman building if not on the site, at least in the vicinity.

Bysing Wood and Bysing Wood Road

Between the foot of Davington Hill and the Western Link (B 2045), along either side of Bysing Wood Road, the parish is now almost fully built up. Several pleasant housing estates were built in the last 40 years of the 20th century. This area has its own primary school, Bysing Wood School, opened in 1973, and community centre, in Wildish Road. The roads on the south side of Bysing Wood Road are named mainly after local brickmasters, since they were laid out on worked-out brickfields. One exception is Hazebrouck Road, named after the town between Calais and Lille with which Faversham was ‘twinned’. Those on the north side are named after figures who contributed to the town’s, or nation’s, welfare. Just short of the Western Link local brewers Shepherd Neame have a distribution centre.

Still in Bysing Wood Road, but on the other (W) side of the Western Link, is the Oare Gunpowder Works, for which a separate website will appear soon, and two private angling ponds. One was once a gunpowder works millpond, the other is a disused aggregates quarry. Beyond, on a ridge, lies Bysing Wood. Privately owned but readily accessible, this is an attractive area of managed woodland. Here again the Woolwich Beds outcrop, and in parts the ‘soil’ is fine sand.

Davington School

This well-supported  and highly-regarded county primary school is in Priory Row, close to Davington Priory.   Its attractive grounds slope gently down towards a private angling pond. 

It started life in 1882 after the formation of a School Board for the three parishes of Preston-next-Faversham, Davington and Oare.   It was known for many years as North Preston School, because its site, though so close to Davington Church, was in the detached portion of the parish of Preston known as North Preston. 

For children in the three parishes its position was more or less central.  Those living furthest away in the main (south) part of Preston would have had a two-miles walk through fields, and then Faversham itself, to the school.   Those living in the remoters parts of Oare, to the north, would have to walk a bit further.   East or west, distances were shorter.

The original school buildings, designed by Benjamin Adkins, the town's first qualified architect, remain in use. With them have successfully been integrated later buildings.

Further information:   Robert Hackford, The School in an Orchard (Faversham Papers No 16), available from the Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre, Preston Street, Faversham.   

Main sources:
Cassell’s Magazine, November 1899
Stephen Foster, personal communication
Edward Hasted, History of Kent, 2nd edition, VI.378
Kenneth Melrose, Davington: Parish & People (Faversham Papers No 52), 1996 (on sale at the Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre, Preston Street)
John Burke and Laurence Young, A History of Davington Priory, 2003 (on sale at the Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre, Preston Street)
Thomas Willement, Historical Sketch of the Parish of Davington, 1862