Faversham in the spotlight
PUBLISHED: 16:20 24 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:20 20 February 2013
With its origins in beer making and agriculture, the world's first gunpowder was manufactured here in this friendly town, which is the hottest place in Britain
Faversham in the spotlight
Faversham has almost 500 beautiful listed buildings, the oldest market in Kent, easy access to London and the continent and is surrounded by beautiful countryside and villages. The historical Market Place square is captivating, there are award-winning restaurants and a charming creek leading to the sea, yet what you notice more than anything is the friendly atmosphere on the streets, an almost tangible spirit of camaraderie. And for somewhere thats got so much going for it, property values are lower than you might expect.
There are plenty of car parks and theres also on-street parking, some of which is free at certain times. The going is mostly fairly flat, and for anyone disabled Starlite Taxis (01795 591066) has a fleet of wheelchair-friendly vehicles.
The semi-pedestrianised heart of the town comprises Market Street, Preston Street, Middle Row, Court Street, West and East Streets and Market Place, the latter being a grand arena, still used today for the weekly markets, as it has for hundreds of years.
Here the most notable building is the magnificent green-painted Guildhall, its upper storey supported by ancient timber beams to form an undercroft. The attractive Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre and Museum is in Preston Street, close to The Alexander Centre, a grand red-brick building.
Typical of the quirky historic architecture is the Stationery Shoppe with its Elizabethan-type carvings on the corner of Preston Street, while along one side of West Street are some ancient timber-framed cottages, but bear in mind that if walking is a problem, this is a slight hill. The Station end of town borders the A2; diametrically opposite is Quay Lane leading to Faversham Creek, where at Standard Quay youre likely to see some magnificent old sailing barges.
- Fleur de Lis heritage Centre (01795 534542), which incorporates the Tourist Information Centre. A historic museum, art gallery and meeting hall
- Shepherd Neame Visitors Centre (01795 542016). In a 15th-century building, alongside the original premises of Britains oldest brewery. Bar, shop and guided tours, including beer sampling
- Parish Church of St Mary of Charity (01795 532592)
- Abbey Physic Community Garden (01795 539915), a walled community garden selling home-grown produce
- Shrine of St Jude (01795 539214) is a national shrine and a site of pilgrimage.
- Chart Gunpowder Mills (01795 534542), rescued and restored by the Faversham Society. Displays include a scale model of mill machinery (closed until April)
- Thomas Ardens House (see below). Interesting historically, however it is not open to the public
- Faversham Creek, a scenic waterway with beautiful old sailing ships
- Faversham swimming pools (01795 532426), with heated pools and wild-water rapids
- Royal cinema (01795 591211). The only big screen cinema in Kent, one of two Tudorbethan style cinemas specially designed in the 1930s
- Arden Theatre, which presents productions regularly
- Mount Ephraim Gardens (01227 751496). See topiary gardens, a maze and arboretum and a lake set in orchards.
- Brogdale Collection (01795 536250) has the largest collection of fruit trees and plants in the world. Guided tours, mini railway and also Country Practise (01795 533666), supplying holistic health treatments.
- Farming World (01227 751144). A farm with displays, workshops animals and birds of prey.
- Doddington Place Gardens (01795 886101). Landscaped gardens in the grounds of a Victorian mansion.
- Maison Dieu (01795 534542) at Ospringe. The oldest village museum in Britain, housed in what was a 13th century priests house.
- Oare Gunpowder Works and Country Park (01634 855166) with the remains of the former gunpowder factory and a nature trail.
- Belmont House and Gardens (01795 890202) Georgian mansion housing the worlds largest private clock collection as well as mementos of the Indian Raj.
Bordering the Kent Downs, has scenery varying from chalk to downland to hills. Fascinating houses and architecture, and the Cavaliers Cricket Club play at a ground near the White Horse pub. The spacious church is St Mary the Virgin, with medieval glass in the great east window
First recorded in 784 as Scilduuic, meaning dwelling place on a low hill. Lies to south of Faversham, also on the edge of the downs. Its medieval parish church is St James
Home to Blean Woods Nature Reserve (a designated SSSI), with a village hall, the Red Lion pub, and a caravan park. Famous as the setting for the last armed rising on British soil, in 1838
A large settlement with the church of St Michael and all Angels, village green with houses dating from the 15th to 20th centuries; one hamlet has the quaint name Bells Forstal. Belmont House is nearby
Meaning grey coloured hill is on the edge of Blean woods, and offers a wide variety of landscapes, from beach, hill and dale, hop gardens to orchards. Has three fine pubs, the church of St Michael and an old manor house, all clustered around a village green. Spectacular views
Where to eat and drink
Ardennes (01795 590008) was awarded The Best Restaurant in Kent in 2006 in the Taste of Kent Awards, and Reids Restaurant (01795 535344) in a Georgian manor house, is one of only two Michelin-starred restaurants in Kent and was Which? Good Foods Guides 2007 Restaurant of the Year. For coffee or a meal try the Apple Coffee Shop (01795 590504), which shares space with a craft centre inside a beautiful oast house. Great pubs are The Anchor (01795 536471), The Bear Inn (01795 532668) and The Chimney Boy (01795 532007).
What to take away
Faversham Fudge comes in six flavours and is available at a wonderful shop called Birds Birds Birds (01795 532370), which also offers a huge selection of artwork associated with birds and wildlife, including original paintings, prints and figurines by wildlife artists and sculptors. At Ardennes restaurant (see above) you can enjoy Favershams Pork, one of its signature dishes.
Where to shop
Most of the shops are independents, though some chain stores are represented. Most are in the centre of town, and there are thrice-weekly street markets in the Market Place. Youll find art galleries, including Birds Birds Birds and Faversham Frames, plus all kinds of specialist shops, antique and bookshops, butchers, bakers and a blacksmith, not to mention the quaint Sweet Scene, an old-fashioned speciality sweet shop. Macknade Fine Foods (01795 534497), another taste of Kent Award winner, has two outlets in the town, and is one of the largest specialist gourmet food outlet in Kent. Surrounding the town centre are several rural craft shops, plus local and farm outlets and garden centres.
Darren Rickard is the proprietor of Iron Shoe Tattoo (01795 539590) a tattoo and piercing studio. I prefer it if people give me an idea of what they want, so we can draw something up thats truly unique and special to them, Darren explains.
Im doing it just once, for them, and that makes it special for me as an artist. Ive got customers aged 18 to 78, male and female, across the whole spectrum. Were in our third year here and I think Favershams a great little town, with great people. Id like it if there were more festivals, such as the hop festival, just to bring in a few more outsiders.
Sandra Pegler owns and runs Obidosh (01795 591405), a traditional toys, giftware, ladies accessories and card shop. Weve been trading three-and-a-half years now, and I like to think weve got something for everybody, she says.
Were a one-stop shop: you can come in, buy a present, get a card, plus something to wrap it in. The town hit an economic low recently but its coming up again, and the people of Faversham are absolutely lovely. Id like it if more coach parties came, and there were more initiatives to encourage tourism, such as the wonderful hop festival and the car show.
Rob and Linda Drew are the owners of Faversham Furnishing (01795 532227), which will be three months old by the time you read this. They sell fine quality British-made furniture of all kinds plus homeware, lighting and local artwork and paintings. Our advantage is that were local and wont be beaten on price, so why go into Canterbury when you can find the same choice on your doorstep? reasons Rob.
I love this town, I think its superb, and the people seem really friendly, but its too early for me to say what could be done to improve things. We lived in Whitstable for 23 years and been here for six months: the moment we discovered this shop was for sale we fell in love with the place and never looked back.
A booming town in more ways than one, gunpowder was first manufactured in Faversham in 1561, when the settlement was already prospering from its beer making, agriculture and its status as a cinque port and a prosperous trading centre. Access to the sea not only allowed the export of wool and gunpowder, but also spawned a thriving oyster fishing industry. In 1698 Richard Marsh took over the 16th century brewery which is now Shepherd Neame, and in the 1800s brickmaking was added to Favershams huge arsenal of talents, burgeoning after the arrival of the railways in 1858. Bust followed boom in the following century, when a series of accidental explosions in the gunpowder works, and the silting up of the harbour spelt the end of sea trading, gunpowder manufacture and brickmaking. However agriculture continued to flourish and now the area is the most intensely farmed in Britain.
DID YOU KNOW
- It was the first place in the world to make high explosives, in 1846, and Chart Gunpowder Mills are the oldest in the world.
- Maison Dieu is the oldest village museum in Britain.
- James Pimm, from nearby Newnham, invented the world famous drink Pimms no 1 cup, with a recipe known to only six people, referred to as The secret Six.
- Faversham has nearly 500 listed buildings.
- Crispian and Crispianus, brothers who are the patron saints of shoemakers, lived and worked on the site of the Swan Restaurant, 1700 years ago.
- John Wesley stayed at the Ship Inn in 1743; sadly the premises have now been converted to shops and apartments, but the original entrance remains.
- Arden of Faversham is an Elizabethan drama perhaps written by Marlowe or Shakespeare, and was performed in the garden of Thomas Ardens (the protagonists) house in 2001, the place now referred to as Ardens House.
Faversham is just north of the M2 (take junction 6) and the A2, and is about 53 miles from London, 25 from Dover and 10 from Canterbury. Its on the main railway line from London Victoria to Canterbury, Dover and Ramsgate, and the journey takes about 70 minutes, with a twice hourly service, plus there are good bus services. Theres also a high speed service to St Pancras. Contact Traveline for details 0871 200 2233.
Satnav postcode: ME13 8NS.
CONSIDERING A MOVE?
Property is relatively low priced for the south of England, with one-bedroom and two-bedroom flats at around 109,000 and 137,000 respectively, and a two-bedroom house slightly more, at 164,000. A three-bedroom semi is likely to be in the region of 218,500 and a four-bedroom detached property upwards of 407,000.
Dr Arthur Percival, local historian and Honorary Director of the Faversham Society
Tell us about the Faversham Society
The society, which is a charity, owns and runs the museum and operates the village museum at Maison Dieu, Ospringe, looks after the Chart Gunpowder Mills and operates the Tourist Information Centre and bookshop. Since taking early retirement in 1992 most of my spare time has been spent working for the Faversham Society as a volunteer. Im not alone in my endeavours; more than 120 volunteers work for us tirelessly, and without them the Society wouldnt survive.
Any anecdotes about the town?
John Wesley arrived here in the 1740s after a failed love affair in the American colonies and attempted to preach in the open air. He described the crowd of locals as more savage than the wildest Indians he had seen on the other side of the Atlantic. James 11 was imprisoned here briefly in 1688.
What do you like about Faversham?
There can be no better places in the UK to live. Its largely unspoilt, with hundreds of picturesque historic buildings, within easy reach of varied countryside and the open sea is nearby too. And its a very friendly place. The main amenities are all close together and it is the hottest place in Britain.
What would you change about Faversham if you could?
The Creek, the original raison detre of the town itself, is silting up, and rapidly needs rescuing before it becomes a lost cause.
Your favourite view?
Yes, the vista across Stonebridge Pond to the Norman Davington Priory Church. Its incredible that theres such beauty only half a mile from the Guildhall!
Your favourite place?
Faversham parish church, its bigger than some of the countrys smaller cathedrals, and it encapsulates the towns story. It has incredible acoustics for concerts.
Your favourite pub?
The Bear in the Market Place, most of its structure dates from the 15th century.
Sum up Faversham for newcomers
Youd be crazy not to move here if you have the chance. Apart from anything else, theres never a dull moment.
MY TOWN 2
Hannah Rogers, teacher and Deputy Head, Lorenden Preparatory School
Tell us about Lorenden School
Were a small community of eager and happy children, their committed parents and a staff of dedicated and inspiring teachers who have the freedom to create lessons specifically suited to our small class sizes. Our children are encouraged to be independent thinkers, and most are working above and beyond what is expected at their age.
What do you like about Faversham?
I like the community feel that you get at the Hop Festival, Christmas and during other festivals, such as the Illuminated Carnival and Classic Car Show. There are an increasing number of local independent shops, rather than chain stores. And everything is close enough to walk to.
Your favourite place in town?
The cinema! Its big enough for you to always get a seat, but small enough to have a wonderful atmosphere of times gone by plus its nowhere near as expensive as other cinemas. In fact I love that whole part of town, it looks and feels so full of history.
What would you change about Faversham?
Id like to encourage more small businesses to open in the town centre. And Id bring the beach closer! I grew up in Whitstable, and one thing I miss is being able to walk to the seaside.
Your favourite walk?
I enjoy walking down near the creek to look at the boats, and also up to Painters Forstal across the farmland and through the Lorenden Trustlands, near our school.
Your favourite restaurant?
The Albion Taverna (01795 591411), near the creek. The food is great, reasonably priced and it has a lovely atmosphere.
Sum up Faversham for newcomers
Theres something for everyone and its so accessible to London and the coast. Its a historic town with a growing number of good quality independent businesses, plus regular community events, which the whole town can get involved in.