This paper sets out to tell the story of one of Kent’s most important medieval buildings. Much has been written about the incident that brought great fame to the property, the murder of its owner Thomas Arden in 1551, including a play, opera and ballet of international renown; it is also well known for its original association with Faversham Abbey which had been conceived as a final resting place for the English Royal line. We believe it was visited by a King and has been owned by nobility. More recently it fell on hard times, stealing the headlines when the local authorities came within a hair’s breadth of allowing it to be pulled down for salvage and a new road access to a school. Today, restoration of its fabric and recognition of its significance should afford it a degree of prosperity and security, although threats in new and unforeseen ways remain.
The Benedictine Abbey of St. Saviour’s Faversham had been founded by King Stephen and Queen Matilda in 1147, and construction of an Outer Gatehouse commenced about 50 years later. A guest house for the Abbey was built in about 1480, attached to the Outer Gatehouse on the town-side of the outer walls of the Abbey. After the dissolution of monasteries in 1538, the buildings’ purpose changed; for about 30 years, the guest house was passed between the officers responsible for the act of dissolution. It became a private residence of Thomas Arden, Mayor of Faversham and a civil servant. Following his murder in 1551 and shortly after his family’s sale of the property in the late 1560s, it became a farmhouse. By the 18th century, it had become known to locals as the ‘Old Abbey’ or ‘Abbey Gate Farm'. It remained thus until around the time of the Second World War when the surviving buildings became re-associated with Thomas Arden. From the original complex of buildings, all that remains today is part of the guest house, divided into two properties: Arden's House and Arden's Cottage. In the 1960s the properties underwent refurbishment which prompted the restoration of the rest of the street.
No one is completely sure of the whole story of this complex of buildings, but there is sufficient evidence to piece together what is set out in this paper. Perhaps surprisingly, this is the first time all the history and evidence about this property have been brought together into a single source, to chart the life of this remarkable and significant building. The main sources of information for this are set out in a bibliography at the end, including books and magazines, maps, pictures and photographs, collections of archive materials and media, and reminiscences and personal archives from local people.