Arthur Percival’s Bridge History

Key dates: 1533 -1996

1533 – Local businessmen Henry Hatch leaves Faversham Town money for installation of a sluice to flush the Creek of silt

1558 – Sluice is built at the north end of Stonebridge pond enabling big ships of the day to load and discharge their cargoes

1673 – Illegitimate Cargoes are exported via the Creek, Customs officers grumbled!

1680s – The Creek is second only to Newcastle upon Tyne for the export of wool

1798 – First bridge built and new sluice on site of the first one installed

1833 – Borough Council becomes responsible for maintenance of bridge and sluice

1843 – Faversham Navigation Commission replace the existing bridge with a substantial iron bridge and the sluice is rebuilt. A lock-gated, maritime shipping Basin stretching from Ordnance Wharf to the Brents bridge is formed allowing deeper draught vessels to reach the Creek head

1878 – Hydraulically operated swing bridge is installed

1917 – Gerald Hohler, MP gives his opinion that the Navigation Commission is responsible for maintaining the bridge, in event of destruction by the enemy

1976 – The Creek is now a busy trading waterway dealing in such commodities as timber, fertiliser and animal feeds

Late 1980s – There is a sudden, rapid decline in trading

1990 – The last commercial cargo leaves the Creek

1993 – The bridge is still swinging but problems with corrosion begin to develop

1996 – The bridge is out of action for 2 years and £43,000 is spent on repairs

In 1533, local businessman Henry Hatch left his valuable estate to the town of Faversham for three specific purposes. One of those purposes was the installation of a sluice to flush the Creek of silt. The sluice was built at the north end of Stonebridge Pond in 1558 and enabled the big ships of the day to load and discharge cargoes in, or close to, the town centre instead of further away at Thorn Quay, a mile away from the town centre.

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 the British Empire began to be built up in the 1800s there was an increasing demand for gunpowder. This was met by expansion of the Home Works, the 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 1830, Whitstable & Canterbury railway station was set up which was connected to a new harbour in Whitstable in 1832. This put the fortunes of the Creek in jeopardy. The Creek had a disadvantage in that its course from The Swale was difficult and slow to negotiate. With the creation of Whitstable harbour, trade began to ebb away. The situation was transformed by the Municipal Reform Act three years later which instigated a new initiative for improvements to the Creek. Enough money was raised and two of the worst meanders nearest the town – Powder Monkey Bay and one at the north end of Front Brents – were eliminated by digging new channels across their loops; the whole channel from the head of the Creek to Nagden was widened and deepened; and a new sluice, with a bridge over it, was built on the site of the present one.

If the sluice gates were closed at high tide, vessels serving the Home Gunpowder Works could berth close to ground level in a newly created basin; if there were no vessels in the basin, the sluice gates could be opened to flush out silt from the lower reaches of the Creek.

The bridge was only a footbridge and probably made of wood but for pedestrians it made access to and from Davington easier from the Abbey Street area. It is not clear whether the bridge was lifted, swung, or slid out of the way when vessels needed to reach the basin.

Until 1833 the Board of Ordnance was responsible for maintenance of both bridge and sluice, but in that year, after being paid £800 by the Board, the Borough Council became responsible.

By now, much new development had taken place on The Brents and while the new bridge must have been a boon for pedestrians the lack of direct vehicular access must have been very inconvenient. Carts and wagons had to go the long way round, via either Flood Lane or the Davington and Brent Hills.

This lack was remedied in 1878 when the present hydraulically operated vehicular swing bridge was installed. The £1,500 cost was shared equally between the Navigation Commission, the Faversham Pavement Commission (a body later integrated with the Borough Council) and landowners on the Preston (Brents) bank. The Navigation Commission kept the bridge under structural repair.

In 1917, during World War I, the possibility of damage by enemy action loomed. It was not entirely clear who was legally responsible for maintaining or reinstating the bridge, if necessary. The Navigation Commission, Borough Council and Faversham Rural District Council (then the highway authority for The Brents) clubbed together to seek Counsel’s Opinion on the matter, each agreeing to accept his Opinion, whatever it should be.  On 15th October 1917, Counsellor Gerald F Hohler KC MP, who had been fully briefed about the bridge’s complicated history, gave his Opinion that the Navigation Commission was responsible for maintaining the bridge, for reinstating it in the event of damage or destruction by enemy action, and for keeping the highway over it in good repair.

The bridge was swung open, when required, by a ‘bridge hand.’ By the late 1980s, traffic had dwindled to such an extent that this was very much a part-time job. In 1993, the bridge was still swinging, however problems were beginning to develop. One of the abutments had been rebuilt in 1989 and a temporary coat of paint put on the underside of the bridge. Topcoats were supposed to have been put on later, but they never were, and this led to metal corrosion which made operation difficult.

There were also problems with the basin. In the same year, a report commissioned by KCC, Swale Borough Council and Faversham Town Council reported that 25,000 cubic metres of silt needed to be removed. By 1996 the bridge had been out of action for two years and £43,000 was spent on repairs. The two sluice gates, each weighing 7 tons, were taken away for repair at Sheerness by the Medway Ports Authority, which had absorbed the independent Faversham Navigation Commission and is now a subsidiary of the Peel Group.

It seems that the Authority (now known simply as Medway Ports) may have overlooked its predecessor’s 1917 pledge to be responsible for maintenance of the bridge. Towards the £43,000 required in 1996 it ‘donated’ £23,000, the remainder coming in contributions of £6,000 each from KCC, Swale Borough Council and the Hatch Charity, and £2,000 from the Town Council.


Faversham Creek Trust