Coastal Map (1796) with Annotations by Derek Cox (oldmapsonline.org)
Why Faversham is a A Port
The first written evidence to a port at Faversham was in 699 AD and said to be a Royal Port belonging to the King. In 811, the town was nominated the 'King's Town'. By the time the Domesday Book was compiled in 1086, it was already an established centre for trade and commerce. By 1229, or even earlier, Faversham was a member of the Cinque Ports as a limb of Dover. By 1676, the fully-fledged Customs Port of Faversham included customs control of a large part of the north Kent coast. It had it's own Collector of Customs and a Custom House and thus declared as a Port. Although there is no longer any commercial trade, Faversham is still officially a designated Port and it continues to register fishing boats and commercial vessels.
Cinque Port of Faversham
Confederation of Cinque Ports. Image: Derek Cox
The town and port of Faversham have been of some importance from very early times. The first written evidence to a port at Faversham (ie as a place to unload and load cargo) was in AD 699. It was said to be a Royal Port belonging to the King. In 811, the town was nominated the 'King's Town'. In 1148, King Stephen founded an abbey in Faversham and the town flourished as a consequence. (The abbey was dismantled in 1538 during the dissolution, but remains are still evident today).
Faversham was possibly a Member of the group of Cinque Ports as early as the mid-12th century as a limb of Dover as it's Head Port with whom it had an agreement to help Dover supply ships and men in times of war and for the defence of the realm. In return, it allowed Faversham to be exempted from many taxes, to trade wherever they wished and to hold their own courts. A Royal Charter of 1252 issued by King Henry III clarified Faversham's agreement with Dover as its Head Port within the Cinque Ports. Like other members of the Cinque Ports, Faversham functioned virtually as a ‘city-state', owing allegiance only to the Crown and not forming part of the administrative county of Kent. Eminent local citizens often gave the impression that the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, rather than the King or Queen of England, was their head of state. Today, the Cinque Ports exist as a ceremonial organisation with Faversham retaining its Corporate Membership.
The map is an approximation of the coastline as it would have been during the early part of the 13th century - before the the Great Storm of 1287, before many of the harbours and creeks silted-up, and before land was drained and reclaimed.
Coat of Arms of the Cinque Port of Faversham. Image: Derek Cox
Faversham had its own unique Cinque Ports Coats of Arms consisting of the Cinque Ports Coat of Arms with the addition of a crozier placed on the pale line, signifying the Abbey's association with the town of Faversham.
Customs Port of Faversham
Map North Kent Coast 1806 (oldmapsonline.org)
The emergence of the first national system of Customs occurred in 1203 when a duty of one-fifteenth on imports and exports was imposed by King John. At that time, the Customs Port of Faversham came within the customs jurisdiction of Sandwich. In the early 1500s, Faversham acquired its own Collector of Customs, signifying the town's growing importance as a commercial port.
By 1676, the fully-fledged Customs Port of Faversham included customs control of a large part of the north Kent coast - from Iwade in the west to North Foreland in the east and across to Warden Point on the Isle of Sheppey (including Milton, Conyer, Teynham, Whitstable, Herne and Reculver as well as Faversham itself).
It was responsible also for controlling illegal smuggling which was rife along the north Kent coast and later, for the supervision of quarantine of ships to combat the plague. It also administered two legal quays in Faversham for the unloading of foreign merchandise - Town Quay and Standard Quay.
Acting as a key thoroughfare, the Port of Faversham supplied London with essential foodstuffs from the surrounding area. In the 17th century, at a time when London was Europe's largest city and rapidly expanding, it was its main source of wheat - an essential staple grain. Indeed, in that century, more corn was exported to the capital from Faversham than any other English port. Faversham was also for a time the country's main port for the export of wool.
Custom House, Court Street. Image: Derek Cox
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the creeks at Faversham and Oare teemed with Thames sailing barges carrying goods, particularly to London. Cargoes of oysters, wool, agricultural produce, coal - and the bricks and cement from which swathes of London were built - were shipped from local quays.
Faversham was a major trading and industrial hub for several centuries. It was the main centre of explosives manufacture having six factories. Along its banks settlements grew providing homes for seamen, fishermen and brickfield workers and later, boat builders and shipbuilding and repair. However, as the railways came and roadways improved in the early 20th century, the shift of freight from water to rail to roads saw the Port's commercial importance slowly ebb.
The sale of 'Custom House' (24 Court Street) in 1899 marked the end of an era in Faversham where there had been a Collector of Customs for over three hundred years. What followed was a series of individuals who carried on the then limited Customs and Excise business from their residential homes in Faversham. Local Customs duty work ceased in 1963, but Excise duty work continued until 1990.
Today, Faversham is still officially recognised as a Port although now there is no commercial trade. Vessels continue to be registered with Faversham as their home port. And maritime activities continue with boat building, repair, restoration and training.
Why Faversham Can Register Vessels
Ships began to be registered from 1660 onwards as a result of a series of 'Navigation Acts'. These Acts were intended to make British trading merchants use British built ships using predominantly British masters. Registration was undertaken with the local Collectors of Customs - there were no centralised records. It was not until 1786 when general registration began under the 'Act for the Further Increase and Encouragement of Shipping and Navigation'. This required all British ships of more than 15 tons and with a deck area to register with Customs at their home port (such as Faversham). Registration of shipping was thus based on a network of statutory Ports of Registry around Britain and throughout her then colonies. Later, the extensive 'The Merchant Shipping Act (1854)' consolidated many matters relating to merchant shipping. It transferred overall responsibility to the Board of Trade and introduced the system of Offical Numbers for vessels. In 1857, the first generally available Mercantile Navy List was published covering all commercial ships registered in Britain. British registration is presently run centrally by the Registry of Shipping and Seamen (RSS) in Cardiff, which is part of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
Extract of Data of Registered Vessels at the Port of Faversham. Image: Derek Cox
For fishing boats, 'The Merchant Act (1894)' required every fishing vessel to be registered and to be lettered and numbered. As Faversham was, and still is, a Port of Register for any vessel, fishing boats can carry the letter F (where 'F' denotes they are registered at the Port of Faversham) and a number - giving, for example 'F57'. Similarly, other local Ports include Folkestone (denoted by 'FE'), Ramsgate (denoted by 'R') and Rochester (denoted by 'RR'). There are 78 such Ports codes covering England and Wales for fishing boats.
The example above shows the beginning of the list of fishing boats, merchant and commercial vessels known to have registered at the Port of Faversham at some stage in their existence going as far back as the 1570s. Totalling 2,000 or so vessels, it demonstrates the importance of Faversham as a maritime, commercial and manufacturing centre. However, not all of these vessels were operating out of Faversham. So, for example, vessels whose local harbour was Whitstable or Milton (Sittingbourne), registered their vessels at Faversham as this was their nearest official Port.