Arthur Percival’s History of Faversham Creek – Part 8

History of Faversham Creek by Arthur Percival – Part 8

In Part 7, we recorded how in 1878 the £1,500 cost of the new (present) Creek bridge was shared equally between the Faversham Navigation Commission, the Faversham Pavement Commission (a body later integrated with the Borough Council) and land-owners on the Preston (Brents) bank. The Navigation Commission kept the bridge in structural repair.

In 1917, when the possibility of damage by enemy action loomed, and it was not entirely clear who was legally responsible for maintaining or, if need be, reinstating the bridge, 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 15 October 1917 Counsel, 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. The late George Gregory, of pedigree dredger stock, took the post after taking early retirement in 1974 and remained in office till 1987.

With his ancestry he was very attached to the Creek and was sad when he had to retire for a second time. “My duties include looking after the gates, maintaining the lifting mechanism and hydraulic pump house, swinging the bridge, recording arrivals and tonnages, notifying wharf owners of arrivals, and ensuring that the waterway is kept clear.”

The bridge was still swinging in 1993, when Bill Handley had taken over. 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. Top coats 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 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.

The Peel Group of which it now forms a part operates several big ports, as well as a number of regional airports. “Engaging with the communities in which we operate,” it says, “has always been central to our approach to sustainable growth.” One example of its “charitable and community engagement” has been a donation of £12.5 million to the Imperial War Museum North in Trafford Park, Manchester, to help it provide the area with a “world-class visitor attraction of great historical significance housed in an architectural masterpiece.” Perhaps a little of its largesse might one day extend in the Creek’s direction? Through Medway Ports it does own the navigation, after all.

This week’s photograph, taken by a reader in April 1960, is of a motor barge easing through the Creek bridge to discharge cargo in the basin.

Faversham Creek Trust