Spotlight on: Faversham

KEN APR 14 Faversham

KEN APR 14 Faversham - Credit: Archant

Often referred to as Kent’s hidden jewel, this historic town has clubs and societies galore, idyllic Faversham Creek, open countryside – and it’s a real foodies’ paradise too

As one of the prestigious Cinque Ports of Kent, Faversham’s prosperous story includes the Romans, shipbuilders, brewers, farmers and pioneers of England’s explosive industry.

Today, Faversham is a notably friendly, historic town, with award-winning restaurants, a fabulous riverside area and a wide selection of things to do.

Much of the town is in a conservation area, there are almost 500 listed buildings, and Faversham’s hotline to its illustrious past is facilitated by The Faversham Society, the flourishing local amenity and history society that runs the heritage centre and other organisations.

A bit of history

Remains of a 2,000-year-old Roman theatre, able to accommodate some 12,000 people, were discovered within the town. The cockpit-style outdoor auditorium was the first of its kind found in Britain.

Along with the Romans, there is evidence in old tomes and texts to suggest that Faversham was the summer capital for the Saxon kings.

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When explosives manufacture took off in the 16th century the town began to industrialise - well before the Industrial Revolution – and the first gunpowder plant was established.

With a stream that could be dammed at intervals to provide power for watermills, low-lying areas on its outskirts ideal for the culture of alder and willow to provide charcoal (one of the three key gunpowder ingredients), Faversham was very well-placed for the industry.

The stream fed into a tidal creek where sulphur, another key ingredient, could be imported, and the finished product loaded for dispatch to Thames-side magazines.

It also became the leading port for the export of that much-sought-after commodity - English wool.

With prime hops and barley being grown on its doorstep, and an unfailing supply of pure water from its deep wells, Faversham became renowned for its beers; it still is today.

In the 18th century the Shepherd Neame brewery was the first outside London to install a stationary steam engine. Britain’s oldest brewery has 1698 as its official founding date, but there is clear evidence that its heritage pre-dates even this period.

Testimony to the town’s continuing prosperity in the 19th century are its roads of sturdy Victorian houses, many with unspoilt interiors; complementing these in the town centre are some unusual Victorian shopfronts

Did you know?

? Faversham boasts the oldest social club, oldest company and oldest village museum in the UK, and the oldest gunpowder mill in the world.

? The existence of electric current was first demonstrated in Faversham.

? Its masonic hall is one of the oldest in the world to be used as such.

? Faversham is the hottest place in the UK with a temperature of above recorded in 2003.

Not a second to spare

The semi-pedestrianised centre of town is dominated by the medieval green-painted Guildhall, beside Market Place.

Key town-centre roads are Market Street, East and West Streets, and parts of Court Street and Preston Street. The latter is notable for the excellent Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre (01795 534542, ME13 8NS), which incorporates the Visitors’ Information Centre, museum, art gallery, book and gift shop, and is run by the Faversham Society.

There’s a fine 1930’s Royal Cinema, and the Shepherde Neame Visitors’ Centre (01795 532206, ME13 7AX) offers guided tours, while Faversham swimming pools (01795 532426, ME13 8PW) are among the most prestigious in the south east.

Street markets are held three times a week in Market Place and Court Street, and there are plenty of fine specialist shops, including Barkaways Butchers and Macknade Fine Foods, one of the largest gourmet food outlets in Kent.

Faversham Creek, where you can see fine old sailing barges, is to the north of town, at the end of Quay Lane.

Faversham Food Festival

Six Faversham food enthusiasts are spearheading an exciting new venture called Faversham Food Festival. Starting with four ‘celebration of local food’ weekends this year, it will build up to a week-long event in 2016.

Four key aims are: encouraging visitors to eat in local restaurants and to buy local goods and ingredients, to inspire food lovers to actively seek out Faversham produce, to have Faversham farms recognised as pioneering producers, and to persuade food buyers and the industry to regard Faversham and its producers as their ‘first stop’ when sourcing produce. The festival entrepreneurs are: David Selves (landlord of the Phoenix Tavern), Stefano Cuomo (Chairman of Faversham Traders Group and owner of Macknade Fine Foods), Katy Cox (market trader who organises Best of Faversham markets), David Simmons (farmer and Mayor of the town), Graham Kane (market organiser) and Harold Goodwin.

Among the proposed activities will be greengrocery stalls and tastings at Faversham market, activities in local shops, restaurants and pubs, guided ‘food walks’ and ‘meet the producer’ events and public lectures.

“Kent is the Garden of England and is known not only in the UK but throughout the world for the quality of its produce,” says David Selves. “Faversham is at the heart of this.

“Our main aim is to create a local, regional, national and international awareness of Faversham’s important role in the food world, which will encourage tourism, and boost our economy all year round for all associated businesses.

“The six of us have a common goal: to improve the economy of Faversham while creating an international food festival that everyone can enjoy.

“Speaking personally, my pub The Phoenix Tavern (01795 591462, ME13 7BU) is a traditional English pub. We offer real ale, real food, real atmosphere and real tradition, with not a juke box, TV, or computer game in sight! We’re the beating heart of Faversham.”

Celebrations of local Food

3-4 May: Asparagus weekend

12-13 Jul: Seafood weekend

16-17 Aug: Fruit Weekend and Food festival

18-19 Oct.Game and Apple Weekend

The Mayor’s viewpoint

Mayor David Simmons was born in the town, and in addition to running a thriving town, he is a farmer who runs a market stall selling local produce.

“Faversham is very much a ‘can do’ place, because of the positive attitude of the residents and the opportunities that localism is bringing,” he says.

“The best aspect of life for me is the open countryside within a mile of the town centre. To the north are the Graveney and Oare marshes, to the south the North Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, while to the east and west is the north Kent fruit belt.

“Reads’ Restaurant is perfect for special occasions, and I love my local pub, The Alma (01795 533835, ME13 0DU).

“Faversham is a great place to live and work, with old and new buildings well blended together, and lots to do for all ages and interests.”

Out and about

The Faversham Society has done a magnificent job of restoring (and managing) Chart Gunpowder Mills (ME13 7SE) and it also manages the Fleur de Lis centre and the ancient museum Maison Dieu at Ospringe (the oldest village museum in Britain: 01795 534542, ME18 8TW).

Oare Gunpowder Works (ME13 7UD) is now a country park and nature trail. Abbey Physic Community Garden (ME13 7BG) is a peaceful, welcoming, walled community garden.

Faversham Music Club

Norma Baxter is Secretary of Faversham Music Club (FMC), which promotes four or five professional classical concerts a year.

President Trevor Pinnock is especially interested in opening up the world of music to local children and in helping to develop and encourage the talent of Kent’s young musicians. He helps to support Faversham Music Club’s YouthWorks initiatives – for young music makers from all across Kent.

Norma, who lives nearby, is a retired scientist who also taught in the area for 25 years; she plays the piano and clarinet. “The music club runs an annual workshop for local primary schools, funded by money raised by our concerts,” she explains.

“As part of our Gala concert we provide a course for talented young Kent musicians, giving them the opportunity to perform with top professional musicians – for example, this year Alison Balsom will be giving a class for five young trumpeters, who will then perform with her during her concert with David Goode.

“I support the national environmental charity CPRE and am also a member of the RSPB, Kent Wildlife and BTO (British Trust for Ornithology).

“Faversham is a charming, friendly, picturesque historic town, providing a wealth of interesting things to do – there are lots of different groups and organisations covering a wide range of interests.”

10 April: Trevor Pinnock Gala concert, FMC, presents the Canteloube Wind Trio (10 April).

Where to eat and drink

Top-rank restaurants include Reads (01795 535344, ME13 8XE), Posillipo (01795 590580, ME13 7LD), The Three Mariners (01795 533633, ME13 0QA), Ardenne’s Restaurant (01795 590008). For good pubs, try: White Horse Inn (01227 751343, ME13 9AL), The Sun (01795 535098, ME13 7JE), The Bear Inn (01795 532668) and The Phoenix Tavern (see above).

Coming up

18-20 April: Easter at Brogdale: at Brogdale Collections (01795 536250, ME13 8XZ) you’ll find the world’s largest collection of fruit trees and plants.

17-18 May: Faversham Transport Weekend: including Faversham Car show: classic and vintage buses and cars.

23-24 May: Phoenix Beer Festival: at the Phoenix Tavern, see above.

Thinking of a move?

Property is almost as costly high as in the London area, with one and two-bedroom flats costing around £127,000 and £160,000 respectively, a three-bedroom semi about £255,000. A four-bedroom detached house could be yours for around £480,000.

Getting there

Faversham is near the north Kent coast, below the Isle of Sheppey, half a mile from junction 6 of the M2, reached via the A2 from the M25. The station has rail links to London and the Continent and also to Ebbsfleet, with the HS link to London and Continent.

Satnav: ME13 8NS (town centre)