The Faversham Society

‘Widening access’ and ‘access for all’ are two of the slogans that characterise today’s heritage practice, but the community-minded people of Faversham have been doing access for half a century. Open House, held almost every July since 1982, sees the doors of many of the Kentish town’s 500-plus listed buildings opened to the public. The Faversham Society, which organises the event, proudly suggests that their Open House scheme ‘may well have been used as a template for the national Heritage Open Days scheme’, founded in 1994 and now England’s largest community heritage festival.

Faversham is the only town in the UK to use the three gold lions of the royal arms of England as its own heraldic emblem, a reference to its origins as oppidum regis (‘the King’s town’) since AD 811.

Faversham is well worth visiting at any time of the year, to be explored on one of the Society’s two-hour Saturday guided walks, or with the aid of the Society’s Heritage Map & Guide, available in print from the Visitor Information Centre or as a .pdf from the Society’s website.

Admiring the gallery of timber-framed houses that line the tangle of streets at Faversham’s core, exploring the parish church with its extraordinary open spire, sampling the products of the historic Shepherd Neame brewery, or walking along the Creek that once brought trading ships to the town from all over the world, you will discover how well the 800-member Faversham Society has lived up to its promise 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’.

Faversham Guildhall: built as a market hall in 1574, the three rows of octagonal columns forming the open timber arcade are original, while the Council Chamber above dates from 1814.

The Society also acts as a repository for books, records, objects, images, and archaeological artefacts connected with Faversham’s everyday life and industrial and maritime past, and runs the Fleur de Lis Heritage Centre, where some of these can be seen. The museum houses the library of the Marlowe Society, consisting of works relating to the eponymous Elizabethan playwright, who might have been the author of the anonymous play (immensely popular in the 1590s) called The Tragedy of Master Arden of Faversham, a true-crime tale of the murder of the wealthy landowner Thomas Arden by his wife Alice and her lover.

In 1797, the medieval tower at St Mary of Charity, Faversham, was deemed unsafe and pulled down, to be replaced by this new tower and corona spire, originally built in brick, then encased in stone in 1855 by George Gilbert Scott.

Arden’s House on Abbey Street, the former guesthouse at Faversham Abbey, is one of the many historic buildings in the town that the Faversham Society, working with the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, helped to save from the fashionable wave of ‘slum clearance’ of the 1960s.

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Photos: C Catling.