One of Faversham’s best-known buildings, the Alexander Centre in Preston Street was built as a private house in the 1860s, on the site of a range of earlier structures demolished to make way for it.
Originally known as Gatefield House, from the eponymous lane next to it and large field behind it, the house was the purpose-built home of Henry Barnes, who had made his fortune from the local brickfields. Brick-making was an extensive and money-generating industry in Faversham in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The red-brick building dominates the central section of the street. Its prominent porch supported on pillars leads into the entrance hall with a fine, sweeping staircase; the south wing is slightly set back from the main house. A feature of the interior is light, generously proportioned rooms with ornate stucco cornices. It is a building that speaks of sturdy yet quietly tasteful Victorian confidence and wealth.
Gatefield House served as a private residence until the 1940s. Early in the 20th century it became home to the family of local doctor Sir Sidney Alexander, after whom it is now named, who used part of the house for his surgery. Sir Sidney is the longest serving of Faversham’s mayors; his 10-year mayoralty from 1910 to 1920 included all of the First World War. Sir Sidney was knighted primarily for his work as a civic leader during those war years.
Faversham Borough Council bought the centre from Lady Alexander in the early 1940s. The borough council used it for offices and meeting rooms until it passed to the then Swale District Council in 1974, a time of local government re-organisation nationwide.
The Gatefield Hall was added at the rear of the property later in the 1970s, built on what had been gardens and a tennis court. With a pine interior and its own bar and kitchen the hall provides a spacious venue for larger concerts, public meetings and major receptions.
In 2012 the freehold of the building was transferred from Swale council to the Alexander Centre Community Interest Company, a not-for profit-organisation. The C I C operates the building as a resource for the local community. Some rooms are used as offices while others can be hired for meetings and events. Since 2012 the C I C has undertaken a programme of works to renovate the building, restore important heritage features and improve its facilities for users.
Images courtesy of Faversham Life folk.