Paper for Creek Forum
Dr Patricia Reid
Honorary Archaeologist for the Faversham Society
Dec 27th 2005
1. The historical importance of Faversham Creek
For the last two thousand years, Faversham Creek has been the reason for the existence of Faversham town and its southerly predecessor, Durolevum. The stream feeding into the Creek linked Roman Watling Street to the sea, with evidence for Romano-British occupation not only in the Syndale area but also down by Stonebridge and in other parts of the old town. During the rest of the first millennium, there is documentary evidence for important Saxon occupation along the creek, as well as the rich Jutish burial ground just southwest of the creek. By the 12th century the creek had a great abbey overlooking it on the east and a priory on the west. It was lined with wharves, warehouses and workshops, and busy with shipping. This sea-focussed activity continued into the post medieval period with the gunpowder works being established further up the valley.
By the early modern period, the coming of the railways took prime attention away from the sea but water transport continued to be used for bulky goods such as bricks. The creek side became dominated by industries such as cement, brewing and gas work. The centre of gravity of the town shifted southwest wards towards the railway and the A2 and the creek began to be seen as a smelly and decaying backwater, abandoned to industry, an embarrassment to the town. The closing of the shipyard in the 1970s and cessation of sea trade in 1990 completed the decline.
2. Particular points of archaeological interest
a. Stonebridge crossing to tidal sluices
Although no longer tidal, this is a very important part of the historic creek. Excavation on the gas works site in 1992 suggested that the properties along the north side of West Street backed onto the creek itself¹. The present non tidal arrangement dates only from the 18th century, with the revetting of the creek and the building of the tidal control sluices. Historically, Stonebridge, where an important ancient east-west route crosses the stream, is a more useful head-of-creek location.
Because of the interventions of the gunpowder industry in this area over the last four hundred years, establishing the chronological development of the town in this area is difficult². Nevertheless, there is little doubt that up to the 16th century this was a prosperous and active part of the town with important wharves. The famous 16th century drawing of the creek shows a tidal mill in this area³. Very little archaeological investigation has been carried out here – even the gasworks study was very limited due to contamination of the soil and water logging – and any development in this area should be preceded by thorough investigation under PPG16. (see section 3)
b. Tidal sluices to swing bridge
On the east, this area is at present occupied by the ex-gasworks site (now the Coop) and the Shepherd Neame brewery. Very little is known about this area, but it is likely that the original creek boundary was well back from the current position, probably following the line of North Lane /Conduit Street. As far as I can tell, nothing is known about the Weston’s site on the west side, although there is evidence for Roman, medieval and later occupation on the bluff overlooking the works⁴.
c. Swing bridge to Iron Wharf
Access to the creek down Quay Lane is shown on the earliest maps of the area and the survival of TS Hazard (15th century) shows the historic importance of this zone. In 1965, archaeological observation during the excavation of a new shaft for the pumping station next to Hazard revealed a deep layer of silt with a deposit of 13th-14th century pottery at around 2.5 metres down⁵. This seems to have been rubbish discarded into a creek much wider than now. Hazard was probably on a quay projecting into the creek – Town Quay? Downstream from this point, however, the medieval creek side was probably well back from the current position, at the break of slope at the end of the gardens of west side Abbey Street houses. Only at the north end of Abbey Street does the higher ground approach the creek closely enough to give good access at Standard Quay.
I have not been able to find any recorded archaeological evidence for the early history of the west side of the creek.
d. Iron Wharf downstream to junction with Oare Creek
Most of this ground has been drained only in the last 200 years, but to the east of the creek, higher ground approaches the Creekside at two points. At the point where Thorn Creek enters the main creek, documentary evidence suggests a wharf for sea going vessels from the Saxon period onwards⁶. At Nagden, there has been a good deal of speculation about the ‘Nagden bump’ a mound which existed there until recently⁷. On the west side, the former creek bed opposite Iron Wharf could be a source of archaeological evidence.
3. Strategies to maximise local benefit
Since 1991, under Planning Policy Guidelines 16 (PPG16) developers have been required to pay for archaeological assessment of the site to be developed and for further investigation and recording of any archaeological deposits which would be destroyed by the development. I understand that for Swale, the Kent Archaeological Service make professional recommendations on development projects, which Swale then apply. The final archaeological report is then sent to the Planning Department. Legally, finds and detailed records remain the property of the developer though in practice they are often taken away by the archaeological unit that carried out the work. Occasionally reports and finds are donated to the local community but this is rare. Of the three PPG16 investigations carried out by units on Creekside developments in recent years (for Provender Walk, Belvedere Mill and Ordnance Wharf) no information whatsoever has been passed to the town.
I would not in any way presume to interfere with the expert decisions of the Kent Archaeologists and Swale council. I do however feel very strongly that steps need to be taken to ensure that Faversham town is not left out of the circle as far as its own heritage is concerned. The proposal is that Swale Planning Department insert an additional clause in permissions that requires developers to:
a. Send copies of all archaeological documentation to the Faversham Society, to be archived in trust for the town.
b. Notify the Faversham Society as to where the finds themselves are to be archived.
With such a clause – which would involve no cost whatsoever to the Council and very little to the developer - the Society would be in a position to ask the developer to donate the finds to the town if he/she does not have other plans for them. It would then be the Faversham Society’s responsibility to archive them for the future. Should a Creekside Museum become a reality, then the relevant display materials would be on hand instead of scattered through an unknown variety of places.
¹ Allen,T, A.Ward & J Cotter 1992 Evaluation excavation at Faversham Gasworks C.A.T. Site Code FGW 92
² www.community-archaeology.org.uk Hunt the Saxons project, Test Pits 9, 22, 23A, 23B
³ c1530 pictorial map of N Kent coastline. British Museum
⁴ Burke J & L Young 2003 A History of Davington Priory Private publication
⁵ Philp, B. 2003 ‘Discoveries at Faversham Creek’ Kent Archaeological Review No 153 pp 57-69
⁶ Hasted 1798 History of Kent Vol III
⁷ Wilkinson P. & G. Mussett 1998 Beowulf in Kent Faversham Paper No 64: The Faversham Society p8
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