Driving my son to our house in Canterbury for Christmas I took a detour off the main road (A2) into the centre of Faversham to have a short walk so he could see the Christmas lights there. Faversham is an attractive market town built on a creek on the edge of the Swale on the north coast of Kent, west of Whitstable. It’s 48 miles to London and less than 10 miles to Canterbury.
AN OVERVIEW: an abbey was established there in 1147 by King Stephen and his wife, Matilda, until the dissolution of the monasteries, hence the name Abbey Street, the road that runs from Court Street in the centre of town down to Standard Quay on Faversham Creek. Abbey Street is lined with many beautiful medieval houses, most of them timber framed, plus Georgian and Victorian homes. Davington Priory on the northwest side of Faversham was founded in 1153 and the Grade II* listed building is now owned by Bob Geldof. Faversham became an important area for hop-growing and brewing – the Shepherd Neame Brewery, founded in 1698, is still a major employer in the area with its offices on Court Street and the brewery behind it. The town (and areas outside it) a major centre for the explosives industry from the 17th to the 20th centuries, until a bad accident in 1916 killed over 100 workers. A shipping industry grew up on Faversham Creek and this area is now home to Standard Quay, rapidly becoming a `destination` – home to antique shops, art galleries, food stores and cafes. There is a picturesque Grade II* Guildhall in the centre of town around which Faversham market now operates on 3 days a week. The Guildhall was originally built in 1574 as a market hall but converted into a Guildhall in 1605 but there was a fire that destroyed the top part, which was rebuilt in 1814. The town has many independent shops, cafes and pubs and there are several historic churches. The Grade II listed Royal Cinema was built in 1936 and is one of only two still remaining Tudorbethan cinemas in the country; it is still independently run (by a friend of mine). A heritage museum, theatre, swimming pool, grammar school, cottage hospital, library, walks along the Saxon Shore way, nearby pretty villages, plus having good rail and road links to London and Dover make this a very desirable place to live so many writers, artists and media people have made it their home.
OUR WALK: I parked at the bottom of The Mall (free for up to 2 hours), practically outside Mall House and Wreights House (pronounced `rates` and with no apostrophe). Just north of here the road, which had been part of Preston Street, ends, cut off from the other part of Preston Street when the railway line was built. Wreights House, originally 50 Preston Street and now 1 The Mall, was owned by Henry Wreight (1760 to 1840) who was a solicitor and three times a mayor of Faversham whose bequests were responsible for provision of the recreation ground, two schools and rebuilding the magnificent almshouses in South Road. Then we went through the subway under the railway line to continue our walk down Preston Street to the town centre. Preston Street has the usual mix of pubs, take-aways, a bakery, estate agents, charity shops and a Wetherspoons called The Leading Light – a reference to Henry Wreight again – but just before the turning into Stone Street on the left there is the Assembly Rooms, a recently renovated 1840’s events venue and further down, on the right, is the Alexander Centre, another Victorian events venue. At the bottom of Preston Street, we turned left towards the Market Place and Guildhall where at Christmas time there is always a tree and a display of lights. We continued down West Street, past a lovely butcher’s shop and The Sun pub, (which I’ve reviewed) people sitting outside a bar/cafe, more antique shops and galleries and then right into North Lane, the location of the Shepherd Neame brewery. We turned right into Partridge Lane and that took us through the walled middle of the Shepherd Neame site, past the Shepherd Neame Visitor Centre, where conducted tours of the brewery begin, and then right again to the Market Square, by which time the light was fading and it had started to rain, so we went back to the car – but this time turning right at the end of Preston Street into Forbes Road, then Aldred Road and Ticklebelly Alley! This narrow alleyway runs between Mall House and Wreights House and was a bit more pleasant than walking through the damp, slightly smelly, subway again. We enjoyed our short wintry walk and it set me thinking, and regretting, that we didn’t buy a house there 20 years ago; we certainly can’t afford to move there now.