The history of Faversham Creek by Arthur Percival – Part 4

When he died in 1533, successful local businessman Henry Hatch left the town money for (among other things) the installation of a sluice to flush the Creek of silt.    This was built at the north end of Stonebridge Pond in 1558, and its working enabled the big ships of the day to load and discharge cargoes in, or close to, the town centre rather than a mile away, at Thorn Quay.
Hatch would have been delighted with the outcome of his foresight and generosity.   The town prospered as never before.    Wrote William Lambarde in 1570:   “This town flourisheth in wealth, for it hath not only the neighbourhood of one of the most fruitful parts  of this shire (or rather, of the very garden of Kent) adjoining by land, but also a commodious Creek, that serveth to bring in and carry out by the water, whatsoever wanteth or aboundeth to the country about it.”

The fruits of Faversham’s late 16th century wealth we can still see today.    Old houses were rebuilt, sometime on a grand scale – think of 1 Market Place (Purple Peach), 25 Court Street, 19 Abbey Street, and 81-83 Abbey Street (one house now split in two).    As one journalist recently put it, the port had become the ‘larder of London’ at a time when the metropolis was rapidly expanding.   For at least a century the city imported more wheat from Faversham than from any other port.    Doubtless also its breweries had a big appetite for local hops.

While the harbours of some other members of the Cinque Ports Confederation silted up, Faversham remained open to traffic.   England had always been renowned abroad for the fine quality of its wool, and by the 1680s the Creek was second only to Newcastle upon Tyne for the export of this product.

As a British Empire began to be built up there was an increasing demand for gunpowder.   This was met by expansion of the Home Works, first of the town’s three factories.    From its original nucleus around Chart Mills it spread upstream as far as the old Maison Dieu corn mill, and downstream as far as Stonebridge Pond.   In 1705 the Borough Council transferred the working of the sluice at the Pond’s north end to the factory operator on condition that he widened it.    In due course a dedicated Ordnance Wharf was built.   Long disused for its original purpose, it now stands vacant, and its future is under discussion.

At the head of the Creek is the basin, seen in the photograph as it was in about 1890, when it was occupied by a shipwright and block- and mast-maker.

The Basin at the head of the Creek, circa 1890

Increasing powder cargoes were exported via the Creek, though not all legitimately.    “Large quantities are being smuggled out of Faversham without coquet or security under pretence of His Majesty’s goods, but what it is or where it goes we are unable to give any account,” grumbled local Customs officers in 1673.

Smuggling in fact was a major local industry.   The town was “notorious” for it, reported Britain’s first great investigative journalist, Daniel Defoe, in 1724.   In the “arts of that wicked trade the people hereabouts are arrived at such a proficiency that they are grown monstrous rich,” he went on.

Fifty years later local surgeon and historian Edward Jacob attempted to redeem Faversham’s tarnished reputation.    No-one who knew “the site and course of our Creek, which runs not less than three miles within land, would need to be convinced of the ridiculousness of the repeated assertion of this town’s being notorious for smuggling. …   There is not one vessel belonging to it that is known to be employed in that iniquitous trade, or even suspected of it.”

This was carrying loyalty to his adopted town a bit too far.    There are such things as blind eyes and deaf ears.   Why else would no less than three coastguard stations later be set up along the local coastline?

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