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A History of Faversham

Faversham has a long history. There has been lots of activity in the area, dating back to 200,000 BCE with tools left by Neanderthal man, traces of Romans villas, visits by medieval, Tudor and Stuart Kings and Queens. It has one of the best researched histories of any comparable sized town with numerous papers and archives held in our Heritage Centre. We are undertaking a project to digitise some of this information, in order to make it more readily available for everyone.

Faversham Timeline   

Covering the town’s history from the earliest times, explore more on this interactive timeline

We have publications for sale with History trails to guide you around the town, FP10 Town History Trails and a FP 131 A Victorian Trail. Also FP 130 Faversham in the 30s and 40s, memories of life in the town.

Or we have free papers to download here FP5 1000 years of Faversham History or an appreciation of the pavements under your feet Faversham Stone Trail

Mayors of Faversham

The first mayor of the town was documented in 1256 and most names are listed on panelling in the Guildhall around the council chamber. On the linked pages below, we have collated an astonishing amount of information and have some fascinating photographs of the mayors, from these earliest times up to the Faversham Society’s foundation in 1962.

This information is based on the very first Faversham Paper ever produced, back in 1964. But has also additions from papers 54 Chronicles of the Maison Dieu and 56 Faversham Biographical Register from 1100 – 1650 and any other interesting snippets we have been able to find.

Faversham mayors and jurats were expected to attend meetings or ‘brodhulls’ of the Cinque Ports.  See The Courts – Cinque Ports for more information. The minutes of these meetings were documented in the White and Black Books of the Cinque Ports where records date back to 1432.

There are also links to some of the National Archives online records and we have included extracts from the town books, noted as Chamberlain’s accounts, to show what was happening in the town and all the everyday things that the mayor was involved in.

Electoral declaration in the Market Place, 1935

We have the Tudor and Stuart muster rolls and the 17th century Hearth Taxes which provide contemporary information of the addresses, wealth and status and occupations of our townsfolk.

We’ve also included photographs of church inscriptions and some superb sideburns sported by our flamboyant Victorian mayors!

1250 to 1449 - Trouble with Faversham Abbey and the earliest Faversham charters

1450 to 1499 - Connections with the other Cinque Ports

1500 to 1549 - Life under the Tudor Kings

1550 to 1599 - Merchant adventurers and Queen Elizabeth visits

1600 to 1649 - Wealthy merchants and the town prospers

1650 to 1699 - King Charles II visits his friend in Court Street but King James II is arrested and held

1700 to 1749 - Our most famous historian, Edward Jacob

1750 to 1799 - The Rigden and Shepherd brewing families

1800 to 1849 - The threat of Napoleon and some of the town’s greatest benefactors

1850 to 1899 - Businessmen and some fabulous facial hair

1900 to 1950 - Wartime mayors

1951 to 1962 - The first female mayor

More general information about the mayors and their ancient emblems of office

We stopped this list in 1962, the year that the Faversham Society was formed. But the names of all the more recent mayors can be found at  www.favershamtowncouncil.gov.uk/past-mayors/

Coronation Honour

A very great honour and distinction which can fall upon a mayor of Faversham derives from the town’s membership of the Confederation of the Cinque Ports. For centuries the Barons of the Ports and their members have possessed and claimed the right to attend the Coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey. Originally their right was the holding of a canopy over the Monarch. The canopy has, however long since been dispensed with, but the Barons have continued to claim their right to attendance.

On these occasions, the Barons appointed by the Ports and their members to attend are usually the mayors.

The original picturesque dress was worn up to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, comprising scarlet cloak, embroidered waistcoat, black velvet knee-breeches, black silk stockings, silver buckled shoes and velvet cap.

For the Coronation of King Charles III this changed to Morning Suits for the male Barons and suitable dresses for the Ladies. All wore the badges of the Mayoralty of their respective Towns.

Cinque Port Barons

The Barons of the Cinque Ports 06 May 2023

Abbey Street

In the 12th century a highway was laid out as a grand approach to the Abbey which had survived Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries to become a residential area popular with anyone who owed their livelihood to the Creek, whether as merchant, craftsman or seaman.

Toward the end of the 19th century its middle-class residents started moving to new houses elsewhere in the town, and many of its properties became tenanted. The new occupiers were often much poorer than their predecessors. Landlords neglected the properties and so the street came to look 'down-at-heel'. Determination to build a 'brave new world' after the end of the Second World War encouraged local councils to sweep away houses that lacked modern amenities. Most of those in Abbey Street qualified, but they were also historic buildings of importance.

After intervention by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, an ingenious pioneering scheme launched by Faversham Borough Council in the late 1950s saved them from the fate that overtook many of their counterparts elsewhere. Apart from Arden's House (No 80), none of the properties is of outstanding national importance, and so they were not eligible for historic building repair grants. However, collectively they are of national importance, and so the first 'town scheme' was introduced to make them eligible. Most of them were bought by the council under slum-clearance powers, and their occupants re-housed elsewhere.

However, instead of being demolished the properties in Abbey Street were sold to sympathetic owners who covenanted with the council to restore them under the supervision of an architect with experience of historic building care. To cover its costs, the council made a slight profit on each - buying the smaller houses for about £250 each and then selling them for about £300.

In other historic towns, streets were being brutally widened, but in Abbey Street the carriageway was actually narrowed - the first in the UK - to reduce traffic nuisance. At the same time, the street was planted with trees.

Abbey Street is sometimes said to be the finest medieval street in southeast England. It is certainly a wonderful "gallery" of old buildings, mainly timber-framed. As already noted, the ace in the pack is Arden's House, one of the few surviving buildings of Faversham Abbey, and possibly its guesthouse. With 81 (Arden's Cottage), it originally formed a big "open courtyard" house. It dates from around 1450-1500, with remains of the Abbey outer gatehouse of c 1200, which spanned the street here.

We have a new Faversham Paper that gives much more detail and has some fabulous photos of the transformed houses. It is available to buy here FP 133 The Story of Abbey Street

An interesting article about Abbey Street can be found on the Faversham Life web site

We also have a Faversham Paper available to download for free. FP2 Faversham Abbey

This paper is a very useful guide for those looking for an introduction to the history of the Abbey and two of its most influential Abbots. It was prepared for a reading to the Faversham Society membership in March 1964 and includes a very useful overview of the history of Faversham Abbey from its beginnings in 1147 up to its Dissolution in 1538. The paper also lists the key historic sources for further research. Following a historical overview, it focusses on the work of Walter Gore, the penultimate Abbot, whose authority gave way to John Caslock, the Abbot in post up until the Dissolution. The paper sheds interesting light on the characters of the ambitious Gore, and of Caslock who may not have fitted the image we have today of a pious and humble religious leader. The paper was presented shortly before the important excavation of the Abbey site by Brian Philp in 1965. The paper contains some reflections by Philp for additional context, although readers would be recommended to read Philp’s book Excavations at Faversham Abbey, 1965 for a fuller picture of the site and the findings.

Arden of Faversham

In February 1551, Thomas Arden, a native of Norwich who like many others made a fortune out of the dissolution of the monasteries, was murdered in Arden's House. The crime was instigated by his wife, Alice, granddaughter of the shipwright who built the Mary Rose. In his single-minded pursuit of wealth, Arden had neglected her, and she had a boyfriend with whom she planned the crime.

It inspired the play Arden of Faversham, anonymous but still in the repertory. Shakespeare is thought to be at least one of the writers and he visited the town himself.

Every few years the play is performed in the garden of Arden's House - perhaps the only place in the UK where an Elizabethan play can be performed in its real-life setting.

We have an updated Faversham Paper that gives much more detail about both the buildings and the play and is available to buy here FP 114 Arden's House and Arden's Cottage

We also have a couple of Faversham Papers available for free. FP90 Looking for the Painter and FP7 Arden of Faversham

Faversham Paper 90 - Looking for the Painter. This fascinating paper explores who was the mysterious and unnamed character called the 'Painter', or supplier of poison, a key player in the murder of Thomas Arden in snow-covered Faversham in February 1551. The Painter was believed to have been an artist with a knowledge of mixing poisons, a likely connection given the need to mix paints from various source ingredients, natural and chemical. The Painter has not been named in the play 'Arden of Faversham' or any of its source texts, and the identity and character of this person or their role has not been fully explored in previous research documents. As well as the Painter, the paper considers in particular the character of Alice Arden, her position in the town and relationship with local people in what led her to conceive the plot to kill her husband, and how she wove into this scheme the other conspirators she identified and recruited to commit the crime. A picture is drawn of social Faversham, local politics and Arden's political allies in the first half of the 16th century; fresh ideas are presented into the circumstances and intrigues leading up to Arden's death. The Painter is likely to have been resident in the town; the Apothecary at no. 6 Market Place is seen as a likely place where a connection between art and science may have existed. The paper includes a rationale why the Painter's identity remained undisclosed despite the subsequent interrogation of the murderers and Alice Arden. The author traces his own family tree in North Kent back to the 1300s and speculates that a distant relative may have been the mysterious and unknown Painter.

Faversham Paper 7 Arden of Faversham. This paper, about the play ‘Arden of Faversham’ (1887 edition) was written in 1970 as a thesis for a higher education degree. It details the following: the historical background to Thomas Arden and the circumstances of his murder, a plot synopsis, the factual basis - sources of the plot and treatment, themes, atmosphere and background to the play, an outline of the main characters in the play, style - the playwright’s use of diction, imagery and other literary devices, a discussion on the authorship of the play, Arden’s house today. The paper concludes with a bibliography and indexes and also includes several useful pictures and diagrams.

World War I

Refugees from the Great War - A Belgian Family living in Faversham

In a story that resonates today, we have a Faversham Paper tells of the plight of Belgian refugees from World War I who arrived in Faversham in 1914 and the collective efforts of the town to support them.

Emiel Vandenabeele lived with his family in Nieuwpoort, a small town on the Yser River in the Belgian province of West Flanders. In 1914, the town counted 4,700 inhabitants. It had a fishing port, but also a small commercial port.  There was some small industry: timber yards, brick-works, fish preserves. And it was a market town.  Emiel ran a small shipyard. In 1914 Emiel was 57 years old. He was married for the third time with Marie Vlieghe. Marie ran a liquor store. Together they had two children: Jules, 15 years old, and Hélène, 10 years old.  From his second marriage there was another daughter, Marie, 21.

On the 15th October Emiel started a war diary. The first event he recorded was the flight of his family and some other relatives on board one of Nieuwpoort's fishing boats:

“On Thursday, 15th October 1914, at 9.30 a.m., my wife left with Marie, Jules and Hélène, accompanied by Irma Vandenabeele-De Poot and her children, on board the fishing-boat of Louis Lenders, fisherman in our town, in a fine, calm weather.”

Irma Vandenabeele-De Poot was the wife of a nephew of Emiel's. Louis-August Vandenabeele. At the outbreak of war, he was employed in Persia on engineering work, which prevented him from joining his wife and five children: Anna (18), Julien (17), Adolf (12), Maria (10) and Ernest (7).

“In the afternoon I noticed that a little, soft breeze came up from the east. Around 6th November, I learnt from Louis Lenaers's wife that they had been able to make use of the ebb and succeeded in reaching Gravelines around 10 p.m. and entered the harbour. I was also informed that my wife and her company went ashore there, took the train to Calais and then crossed over to England. On Sunday 18th October 1914 at 11.45 a.m., I received a telegram from my wife coming from Faversham in Kent with the message that she and our children, with Irma and her children, had arrived well. That reassured me a lot.”

The Vandenabeele family on the fishing-boat consisted of ten persons. The family of fisherman Louis Lenaers himself consisted of five persons, while there were three other crew members. Possibly there were other persons on board of the small fishing-boat, which weighed only 16 tons and must have been packed. It took her about twelve hours to reach Gravelines, a fishing-harbour between Dunkirk and Calais.

On 17th October the ten members of the Vandenabeele family boarded the mail boat in Calais and crossed over to Folkestone. The next morning, Marie wired to her husband in Nieuwpoort that they had arrived well in Faversham. Marie and her three children were given hospitality by Edward Pepper, who lived with his wife and four children at 35 Norman Road.

Irma Vandenabeele-De Poot and her five children were the guests of Alfred Henry Smith at 10 Queen's Road. Captain Smith was the skipper of the Shamrock, one of the Thames sailing barges.  Captain Smith had a trade contact in Nieuwpoort, Gustaaf Vandesompel. On 8th November 1914, Emiel wrote in his diary that Gustaaf Vandesompel, who was still sailing back and forth between England and the continent then, had brought him news from his wife and children in Faversham via Captain Smith. They were very well off there, so he was told.

A lot of refugees arrived with only the clothes they were wearing. This was the case for the two Vandenabeele families, who had not been able to take along much luggage on the fishing-boat. Groups of women, so-called working parties, collected or knitted clothes for the refugees. Apart from accommodation, lighting and heating, and clothing, the refugees received a small capitation allowance to maintain themselves. Medical and dental treatment were usually given gratuitously or at a very low cost by the local practitioners.

In Faversham Emiel’s children already went to school in November 1914. Hélène went to the Council School in Ethelbert Road. His son Jules received a free education at the Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School in St. Ann's Road. While there, he passed the Oxford Senior Local Examination with first-class honours in 1916. He did not start any further studies after that, since he would soon become of military age. The elder daughter Marie, 21 in 1914, stayed at home and helped her stepmother with household tasks.

After his family had left Nieuwpoort in a fishing-boat, Emiel and the other remaining inhabitants witnessed the Belgian army's preparations for the approaching battle of the Yser. On 17th October, the military engineers blasted the towers of the church and the guildhall and an old lighthouse, because these would have been easy aiming points for the German artillery. On Sunday 18th October, the town was shelled for the first time. 

Most refugees from Nieuwpoort found shelter in the budding seaside resorts between Nieuwpoort and the French border. Emiel and a company of relatives, consisting of eleven adults and three young children in all, stayed together in a villa in the coastal resort of Coxyde.

On 7th December Coxyde was bombed for the first time. One of the bombs fell close to the villa where Emiel and his companions were staying. They packed in a hurry and took to flight. After a night's stop in a village close to the French border, they were able to reach Rosendael, a suburb of Dunkirk, where they could stay the night with a relative. But the French authorities refused them permission to stay: refugees were not allowed in the region, because too many troops had to be billeted.

Emiel decided to cross the Channel via the mail service in Calais and join his family in Faversham.  He arrived in Faversham on Monday, 21 December, where he stayed at the above- mentioned address 35 Norman Road. The female members of his family were moved to 32 Norman Road. In March 1915 Emiel's family left their hosts in Norman Road and moved into a house at 13 Albion Terrace, now 35 South Road. 

On 7th February 1915  Emiel Vandenabeele registered at the local Labour Exchange. He had already worked as a barge repairer to Charles Cremer, bargeowner of Faversham, at his repair yard at the Faversham Creek. He had given up after 15 days, because he did not have the necessary tools and he could not understand or speak English. On 14th August 1915, Emiel was at last employed as a carpenter by Whiting, the builder at Ospringe. On 12th January 1916, he started to work for T.A. Whittle & Co., another timber supply company in Faversham. Emiel must have been able to manage in English by now.

 On 18th June 1917, Emiel moved with his family to Sittingbourne, where they occupied a house at 99 East Street. He had found a job in his own trade: he was employed as a shipwright by Wills & Packham's shipyard at Milton Creek. Louis-August Vandenabeele remained in Persia for the duration of the war. Owing to the disturbed conditions of affairs in the East, he was not able, either to come to England or to send money to his wife Irma, who was still staying at 17 Stone Street with her family. Anna, the elder daughter, entered domestic service in Hastings. Julien, 18-years-old in 1915, voluntarily enlisted and joined the 12" artillery regiment of the Belgian army. The other children went to school in Faversham. 

At the end of 1916, Jules Vandenabeele had terminated his secondary education in Faversham. On 24th May 1917, he volunteered at the recruiting office of the Belgian army in Folkestone. He was sent to the front on 27th December 1917. After the armistice, he participated to the occupation of Germany. He was discharged on 10th September 1919.

The inhabitants of Nieuwpoort could not immediately return to their hometown after the armistice, because the town was in ruins and had to be rebuilt from scratch. It took until 1923-24 for most of the houses to be rebuilt. Those who came from Britain or France had to find new temporary homes in neighbouring towns and villages. Emiel and his family moved in with a sister of Emiel's wife in Bruges. 

Emiel's wife died in 1924. The three children all married in the 1920s and had children themselves. They all lived to see another war, in which most of the inhabitants of Nieuwpoort had to take to flight again.

Emiel died in 1948, 91 years of age. Jules died relatively young in 1954, his sister Hélène also in 1955. Marie died in 1968. Four of Emiel's grandchildren are alive in 2014, 100 years after the catastrophe of 1914.

It is available to buy in full from our online store FP 119 - Belgian refugees in Faversham in the great war

World War II

In our museum collection, we have an amazing diary. It is a fascinatingly detailed account of the life of a Faversham resident during the war years. From the mundane details of everyday life to the excitement of watching the Battle of Britain in the skies above the town.   Harold Austin's War Diary covering the years 1940 to 1944

Opening Times

12 Market Place
ME13 7AE
10am to 4pm - Monday to Saturday
10am to 1pm - Sunday (opening hours may vary)

12-13 Preston Street
ME13 8NS
Open Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11am to 3pm
Also open on the first Sunday of each month

11 Preston Street
ME13 8NS

10am to 3.30pm - Monday to Saturday

Off Stonebridge Way
ME13 7SE

Open on Saturdays only 2pm to 5pm

Registered Charity  Number 1135262 - Company No 07112241
The Faversham Society - Registered Address: 10-13 Preston Street, Faversham, Kent ME13 8NS
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