Hop Festival. Image: Pam Frey (geograph.org.uk)
The Ancient Market Town of Faversham
The legacy we see in Faversham is the home of Kent's oldest market dating back 900 years and recorded in the Domesday Book. The town has nearly 500 listed historic buildings and a creekside which still retains some of the original buildings, and where boat building and repair continue. It is a lively town and home to many successful festivals, walks, attractions, accommodation and music. It is full of independent shops and eating places as well as a thriving business community.
Domesday Book 1086 - folio for Faversham (opendomesday.org)
Faversham and its surrounding areas have a richness of history to discover - stretching from the Downs in the south to the coastal marshland of the East Swale in the north. At the head of a meandering creek, Faversham is a relatively unspoilt market town of significant historical and maritime importance. Dating from pre-Roman Times and mentioned in the Domesday Book, Faversham has over 500 listed buildings and significant associations with the Kings and Queens of England.
The town is often referred to as 'The Market Town of Kings', and for good reasons. There is archaeological evidence to suggest that Faversham may have served as a summer capital for the Saxon kings of Kent. Discoveries were made in the 1850s of rich finds of jewellery and glassware in a large Jutish cemetery that occupied part of the town’s Kings Field, possibly associated with the early Kings of Kent. Various examples are on display at the British Museum, such is their importance.
The Saxon king Coenwulf, the King of Mercia (who reigned from 796 to 821) issued a charter in 811 in which he described Faversham as 'Oppidulum regis' - 'the little town of the King' called 'Fefresham' - and that was because Faversham was already a Royal Manor. Subsequently in 930, King Athelstan (considered the first King of England and grandson of King Alfred the Great) held a king's council - a Witan - exemplifying Faversham as an area of particular importance.
Faversham is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as 'Feversham' with a population of 75 households, placing it in the largest 20% of settlements recorded in the Book - further evidence that Faversham was a busy and notable place. Faversham is also noted as one of only 42 places in England having a market.
Faversham was also granted certain rights by the monarchy, one of which states that a new market town could not be established within the distance it took to drive a herd of sheep to market in one day (probably around 6 miles). This distance is still law in England today! Faversham Market is over 900 years old and is the oldest in Kent.
A separate cattle market operated between 1864 and 1955, opposite to the Recreation Ground near to the 'Market Inn' pub, the name referring to the cattle market. Recently discovered in the pub's garden are examples of Anglo-Saxon pottery together with animal bones, in particular deer, wild boar and cattle - evidence of 'feasting meats' used for royal occasions.
Faversham's Royal Coat of Arms
Image: David Anstiss (geograph.org.uk)
Believed to date from the reign of King Edward I (around 1300), Faversham was granted the unique privilege to use the Royal Coat of Arms based on the three lions (on a red background with the right paw raised and their heads facing the viewer) the town's own coat of arms - the only town in the country entitled to do so. It was later advocated that the three lions’ hind-quarters should be in silver, not gold, and depicted as such when used on its own without the Latin inscription. They can be seen in various places around Faversham, notably at the entrance to the Alexander Centre (the Town's previous Municipal offices) and on the south face of the Guildhall.
The Latin inscription reads ‘since I wield arms for the King, I am a free port’ - a reference to the Town's Cinque Port connection.
The Coat of Arms of the Port of Faversham is different and can be seen on The Port page.
Faversham Royal Charters
Faversham is one of the precious few English towns to own an original medieval version of the famous Magna Carta. Magna Carta is one of the most celebrated documents of English history as it sets out basic rights and liberties which are considered fundamental in a just society. However, there is not only one version of Magna Carta, but 6 in total issued by 3 different kings. Written over 700 years ago, Faversham’s version of 1300 is on permanent display in Faversham Town Council’s new exhibition at 12 Market Place, opposite the Guildhall. It is presented along with other original royal charters granted to the town by successive English monarchs. It is a unique collection.
First issued in June 1215 by King John, Magna Carta was the initial document to put into writing the principle that the king and his government was not above the law; it sought to prevent the king from exploiting his power and placed limits of royal authority by establishing law as a power in itself.
Faversham’s Magna Carta of 1300 is an original document complete with the royal seal and is a confirmation of the re-issue of the Magna Carta of 1225. At the foot of this document, it states in Latin that it is for the 'Barons of the Port of Faversham'.
As an established seaport by this time, Faversham was already a member of the Confederation of Cinque Ports and experienced privileges of its association with Dover probably by the mid 1100's, or even earlier. The Faversham royal Charter of 1252 ratified Faversham's membership as a corporate limb of Dover. This charter and a number of other charters on display relate to Faversham's association with the Cinque Ports.
In the 21 minute YouTube video, exhibition volunteers Catherine Lee and Antony Millett take you through the history of Faversham charters.
The Market Place
The iconic Guildhall stands at the very heart of Faversham and dominates the Market Place and Court Street, but is not Faversham's first Guildhall.
Image: John K Thorne (flickr.com)
The early Anglo-Saxon settlement of Faversham is thought to have developed around the vicinity of Tanners Green (near Tanners Street and Lower West Street) and likely to have continued into the medieval period as the main site for the town. At that time, vessels sailing up the Creek could reach the area.
The first Yeldhall was constructed as a medieval meeting place on the east side of Tanners Street (the site of what is now the Gospel Mission Hall). It would have been the venue for the local markets mentioned in the Domesday Book and the centre for gossip, trade and business. It would have served also as the place for festive occasions and for entertainment by local and touring players and minstrels of that time.
With the dissolution of the Abbey by King Henry VIII, Faversham entered a new period and the central layout of the town started to emerge as we know it today with the Market Place and Guildhall the main centre. An earlier Guildhall was built on the east side of Court Street in 1547, only to be replaced a few years later in 1574 by a new permanent Guildhall on the present site with an open market arcade on the ground floor and a freeman's meeting room above. But following a disastrous fire in 1814, the Guildhall was rebuilt and enlarged with additional features. Fortunately, the original arcading survived. This impressive Guildhall now dominates the Market Place. Inside, on one wall of the Council Chamber, is an extensive timber panel listing all the mayors of the town dating back to 1292. The panel has a title 'The Mayors of the Town and Port of Faversham from the year 1292 to the present day'. The clock on the tower was made in 1814 by Francis Crow of Faversham (clockmaker, inventor, and geologist) who invented the first liquid compass for marine use in England in 1813.
The covered ground floor, with its timber arcades and octagonal oak columns bulging out at the bottom, has been used by market traders for more than 500 years since it was built. It continues today with markets held on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays every week, with other special markets, entertainment and events throughout the year.
In medieval and later times, fish and shellfish were an essential part of people's diet. The local fish market needed plenty of fresh water and eventually moved next to the Market Place after the first hand pump was installed in 1635. Oysters were particularly important in the diet of local people even in Roman times. The Swale, with it's relatively shallow and warm waters and favourable salinity, provided ideal conditions for indigenous oysters to grow. For hundred of years, the local oyster industry was one the mainstay's of Faversham's maritime economy.
The Market Place and Court Street and nearby streets are surrounded by many fine buildings built by wealthy merchants whose fortunes were made through local trade, maritime commerce and questionable activities. So many intriguing stories to tell about this unique market town - a town of Kings.
Walking with History
There is a great deal of history to be found in the streets and alley ways of Faversham. What appears to be a quiet market town is steeped with intrigue, mystery and maritime ventures.
The Faversham Society was formed in 1962 as a Charity organisation to preserve the best of the heritage and fabric of the historic town of Faversham and its surrounding parishes. Created in response to modernization and the loss of historic buildings in Faversham, the Society aims to ensure that Faversham’s individual sense of place and outstanding heritage features are not lost and to ensure it is there for our children and our children's children to enjoy.
Among their many initiatives are self-guided and guided walks of the town as well as podcasts which cover aspects of the town's heritage. More details can be found by clicking on the image to link to their website.