Faversham Creek History

Barges 6

Anyone who thinks that Faversham Creek is small and insignificant, and can’t understand what all the fuss is about, would do well to read this concise account of its long and distinguished history, written by Arthur Percival and published here with his permission.

Without its Creek, Faversham would not exist.

Without it, it would not have taken the form it has.

Without it, it would never have become an autonomous town and port within the Cinque Ports Confederation; and it wouldn’t have the Mayor and Town Council it has today, nor its priceless original copy of Magna Carta.

Without it, it wouldn’t have the highly-prized market we all enjoy today. This is the oldest in Kent, going back to before 1066.

Much of what we see in and around the town is the legacy of the Creek.

Geography, weather and climate have dictated Faversham’s shape and destiny

Its site was settled in prehistoric times. Successive waves of immigrants arrived by sea, and the Creek, from continental Europe.

Predecessors of the Romans were the Belgi. They recognised the importance of what we now know as Standard Quay for imports and exports and had a farm next door at what we now know as Abbey Farm.

The Romans replaced this with improved facilities, and after the Abbey was founded in 1148 it followed suit, building among other things the two fine barns we see today. At Standard Quay, picture vessels both loading cargoes of local produce for London and nearby ports in Belgium and France and unloading imports of wines and luxury goods.

The great Abbey Church was faced with stone shipped up the Creek from Caen in Normandy. When it was demolished much of it was shipped back to France to strengthen the defences of the pale of Calais, but some can still be seen in buildings like Arden’s House.

The Creek also saw stone imported for landmark buildings like Faversham Church and Davington Priory, only a few hundred yards from its present head.

The Creek made possible the establishment of a renowned oyster fishery, to which the town owed much of its prosperity. Witness to this are many of its fine medieval houses, the homes of dredgers, in Abbey Street in particular.

In the late 15th century flourishing Creek trade encouraged the Borough Council to build a town warehouse to provide transit storage for merchants who could not afford their own facilities. The building remains in existence as the T S Hasard, one of the few surviving examples of its kind in the UK.

The Creek bred fine seamen, good enough before the days of a Royal Navy to join with other ports (the Cinque Ports Confederation) in the south-east to provide a fleet for the defence of the nation. Without that fleet and the input from Creek seamen the nation’s history would have been very different.

One of the most successful admirals of the fleet was Faversham’s Henry Pay, whose early C15 grave can be seen in Faversham Church. He tormented both the French and the Spanish.

In the 16th century more wool was exported through the Creek than any other English port. This was the nation’s most valuable export and without it the nation’s history would have been very different. England’s economy would have been much poorer, and therefore also its people and its built fabric. It would have been a very backward offshore island.

Pioneering imports of hops were arriving in the Creek from at least as early as 1535. It was the use of hops that made possible the brewing of beer, as opposed to ale. Beer kept better, had better flavour, and was cheaper to produce

Thomas Arden was comptroller of Customs in Faversham when be was murdered in his own home at his wife’s instigation in 1551. He can be pictured striding down to Standard Quay and other town quays to check that his staff were doing their jobs properly. His own home, Arden’s House, can still be seen and the crime was immortalised in the play Arden of Faversham which remains in the repertory and is currently in repertory at the RSC Theatre.

The nation’s private-sector gunpowder industry may have been pioneered in Faversham. It was in existence by 1573. The product was exported through the Creek. The industry grew to large and eventually huge dimensions, and lasted till 1934. Without the product the nation’s history would have been vastly different. It made possible the growth of the British Empire and also the defeat of Napoleon. The growth of the Empire made possible the emergence of English as a world language.

The gunpowder industry was also one of the main engines of the Industrial Revolution, providing explosives for the blasting of routes for canals and (later) railways. Its physical remains in Faversham include Ordnance Wharf, at the head of the Creek, Stonebridge Pond, Chart Gunpowder Mills, Oare Gunpowder Works, Saltpetre Store on Oare Creek and the central complex of the Marsh Gunpowder Works.

Exported through the Creek to London in the 17th century were more cargoes of wheat than from any other English port. Without these the growth of London could not have been sustained.

When more transit storage space was needed in the 1650s the owners of Standard Quay dismantled the old Abbey refectory and used the salvaged timbers to create a big warehouse there – the building now known as the Monks’ Granary.

Close to some of Kent’s finest hop gardens, Faversham was a main supplier of the crop to London breweries at a period, from the later 18th century, when they were rapidly expanding. The large and commanding Creek-side building now known as Oyster Bay House was built as a hop store in mid-Victorian times.

Cement, a building mortar which would set under water, making the construction of docks and bridges much easier, was one of the great innovations of the Industrial Revolution. Without it the UK’s economy would never have forged ahead in the 19th century. One of the pioneer cement factories was established alongside the Creek in 1812 by Samuel Shepherd, of the local brewing family. In 1900 it amalgamated with others to form Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers (APCM, alias Blue Circle). It closed in 1917.

Shipbuilding on the Creek was an important local industry from at least the 18th century. Several yards were established, and many vessels built, including scores of sailing barges, without which London’s economy could not have survived. The most important came to be the yard at the far end of Standard Quay run by John Matthew Goldfinch. His sailing barges were some of the finest of their kind. He lived on site at the late Georgian Standard House (sometimes known as the Goldfinch House).

The exponential growth of Victorian London would have been impossible without the billions of so-called ‘London’ stock bricks which were made in brickfields on either side of the Creek and delivered from wharves alongside it to builders in the metropolis. Cooksditch – the stream – was diverted and widened to serve the Abbey brickfield and was originally known as Wythes’ Canal after the field owner: today it’s known as Chambers’ Dock.

The building of concrete sailing coasters and the use of Bolinder oil engines from Sweden were both pioneered in the UK by the Pollock shipyard opened alongside the Creek in 1917.

There can be few short tidal waterways which have contributed so much to Britain’s standing in the world and where that contribution is still reflected in its character, appearance and structures.