At last, we have seen some sunshine, and the dawn chorus is back. Spring is in the air, and the ground is slowly drying out. Vaccinations have been delivered at pace in Faversham, a reminder of the importance of the primary care services provided by our two health centres and of their quality.
Children are back in school, and we have begun the slow and careful lifting of lockdown. As I write this a month before the government plans the second step out of lockdown, we have started planning to reopen the Fleur in the week beginning 12 April. Christine is working with our volunteers to see how many days we can open; the opening hours will go up in the window and on our website as soon as possible. Sadly, some of our volunteers have died; others are still shielding.
Wendy is working with her team to reopen the second-hand bookshop in Gatefield Lane. Remember that the Society is run entirely by volunteers, and if you would like to help in either of the shops please do get in touch with me. We shall reopen the bookshop and the Fleur/visitor information centre as quickly as possible after 12 April. It will be a while longer before we reopen any other parts of our buildings.
Swale has published the Draft Local Plan, and it is out for consultation until April 30th. There is a public meeting on 23 March – see the details below. The Faversham Society board will be responding on behalf of the society both with a statement and inserting comments in the text, which will be reviewed by the examiner. You can add your comments directly into the draft – for details of how to do this, see our website.
Dr Sheila Sweetinburgh has given a talk for the Kent Archaeological Society about the marvellous mediaeval painted pillar in St Mary of Charity of Church, Faversham. You can view it online here
Along with many other local charities, we have joined the new Faversham & District Community Lottery organised by Faversham Town Council. Take a look at the site you will be spoilt for choice – obviously, we’d like our members to support the society you can buy your ticket here. The society would receive 50% of your stake – and you might win!
Let’s hope that the government is able to stick to its road map/timetable out of lockdown and that we can enjoy the spring and summer.
I was intrigued a little while ago to see the courageous investigation work that has taken place on something many of us will have passed countless times and have taken for granted – the mediaeval doorway at No 5-6 Market Place, next to the old pharmacy, now the Yarn Dispensary.
The thick, smooth but inappropriate paints and decorators’ fillers applied over the past century or more have been removed from the doorway and surrounding area of wall. This process has not only reinstated a long-missing sense of age and authenticity in the appearance of the historic masonry but has revealed interesting information about its construction.
Pevsner’s Guide (Kent: North East and East) and Anthony Swaine’s Faversham Conserved agree that No 5-6 dates from the mid-15th century. The wall is of typical local mediaeval construction – a mixture of broken flint and stone rubble with neatly cut Caen limestone quoins at the corner, to the left of the door.
Yet the newly revealed profile of the door arch, which is of greensand stone, has an older, mid-14th-century moulding while the sides or jambs of the door opening are of much harder Kent Ragstone, cut to a mid-15th-century section.
This suggests that the curved stones of the arch were salvaged from an older building that was constructed around the time of the Black Death and reset during the Wars of the Roses. And to muddy the waters further, the wall has been patch repaired at least twice with bits of local brick. So here is a local building that, at a time of Covid pandemic provides us with a 670-year-old link to an earlier global plague that killed millions.
Many will have noticed the monstrous mast that has risen in Central Car Park. This has been put up by EE, the mobile network operator that is part of the BT Group.
The good news is that it’s only a temporary site – the licence is for 18months – but the bad news is that it’s ugly and a blot on our town.
Sue Davidson, who lives nearby, has written to Helen Whateley, MP for Faversham, complaining about it. She asks: How safe is it to walk around it? Who gave permission for it to be sited there?”
In a letter to the editor of the newsletter, Mrs Davidson says: “This is a conservation area, in the middle of a heritage town with much to offer to attract visitors. Bearing in mind many visitors arrive either by coach or car, they will now be greeted by the sight of an 80ft metal structure, which looks hideous.
“I hope the Faversham Society would strongly oppose the siting of the mast there.”
The rent EE pays for the space in the car park was agreed under the Electronic Communications Code and reflects the loss of income for the parking spaces affected.
There is no financial benefit to the council in permitting EE to occupy the space.
In September last year, the Faversham Society wrote to Kent County Council about its plans for the junction of the A251 and the A2 (Watling Street). Work has now begun on the junction. A 420-metre section of the A251 is to be shut for 11 weeks (5 April to 18 June) while traffic lights are installed. The closed section of the A251 will extend from the fire station and the new roundabout for Aldi and Premier Inn. The closure is to allow for earthworks and utility diversions.
More information on our website here.
How can you sum up Jacqie? Charming is perhaps the most apt adjective. And welcoming, sparkling and informative. No party was complete without Jacquie Hitchcock at its centre.
Jacqie, the former chairman of the Faversham Society, who died on St Valentine’s Day, aged 93, was excellent company, with a host of fascinating stories to tell from her adventurous life. Party-goers would congregate around her, their gales of laughter echoing around the room as another tale was told, another name dropped.
Jacqie – sometimes it was Jacqi, sometimes not, but never with the usual u after the q. Every time she tried to tell me why not, she was sidetracked into another story, which normally ended with: “Now where was I, darling?” Most people were darling. Such was Jacqi(e).
Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Honor Blackman, a Spanish Count here, a French club owner there, even British royalty – the characters populating Jacqie’s early life as a young socialite in Paris in the 1950s were the stuff of black and white movies. And no one was the least offended by the name-dropping.
So how did a London girl – the daughter of a cockney bobby and a French seamstress – become pillar of life in Faversham? It’s a long and extraordinary story, which Jacqie would recount at the drop of a hat (or at the drop of a name) whenever I visited her home in Davington.
Jacqueline Makepeace was born at Queen Charlotte’s hospital, west London, in March, 1927, and within nine days met royalty. Queen Mary was visiting the maternity ward and the matron, wishing to find an “interesting” new mother to present to the queen, steered her in the direction of Jacqie’s mother’s bed to ask her baby’s name and compliment her, in French, on her beautiful child. It was the first of many brushes with celebrity that patterned Jacqie’s life.
Jacqie started as a reporter on the Wembley News at the age of 16 and spent three years keeping the community informed. A fellow reporter was John Timpson, later presenter of the BBC Today programme. Then she got itchy feet and moved to Paris to pursue her French heritage, brush up on the language, do some modelling and film dubbing and enjoy the excitement of 1950s society. This included morning coffee with Jean-Paul Sartre and sipping cocktails with film stars of the time.
“I got on very well with Jean-Paul,” she told me. “But Simone [de Beauvoir, writer, intellectual, and Sartre’s lover] . . . no, she didn’t think much of me.” It was while she was in Paris that the next important chapter of her life opened – a journey to Spain that led to the man who was to become her husband and father of their four daughters. And, of course, it involved a member of the Spanish nobility. You can read that here.
In 2012, I was asked to write the history of the Faversham Society to mark its golden anniversary and Jacqie was one of my first ports of call.
One cold night in 1962, she recalled, she was asked to discuss the formation of a group to preserve and nurture the town she called home.
She said: “I had arrived in Faversham four years earlier and, since then had been fully occupied with children, pigs and chickens in our lovely old home in Davington. I knew very few people and little about the town — apart from the fact that I liked it.”
Jacqie was invited to the inaugural meeting by neighbour Arthur Percival, who had told her of the importance of preserving historic buildings threatened with demolition.
As those present at the inaugural meeting murmured their agreement for electing a committee, Jacqie found herself proposed by Arthur Percival’s mother. She said: “Someone said it was a pity there weren’t any women being put forward. To my surprise – and those present – I was proposed, seconded and elected before I’d really had time to think.
“Having chosen to live in an old house, I was eager that similar homes would be preserved. Becoming part of a society set on saving the condemned buildings of the past was more than satisfying.
“It was a pleasure being on the executive committee, which met monthly in Arden’s House in Abbey Street, home of Jim Doak, the society’s chairman. I had joined a group of people from different backgrounds who were worried about impending plans for the town. It opened my eyes to the wealth of Faversham’s history and the lengths society members were prepared to go, to ensure it was protected."
At the first executive meeting, working committees were formed. Members volunteered for roles they felt able to undertake and, with her journalistic background, Jacqie plumped for press officer.
Her contacts ensured more excellent publicity for the society in the BBC, The Daily Telegraph, local radio and newspapers. “I was in my element, doing what I knew how – and enjoying it.”
As the society grew and developed, Jacqie took on the role of chairman in 1997, agreeing to hold the post for six months. She stayed 11 years.
Jacqie gave Christine Rayner this account in 2016. She said it could be a chapter in her memoirs and contains footnotes explaining some of the characters.
In 1951, aged 23, I was living in Paris and had made friends with the American socialite Leonore Lemmon.1 One day, Leonore’s mother said “Come and have lunch. I’m a bit upset, Leonore’s run off to London to marry Hamish2.”
We went to the Plaza Athénée, a top Paris hotel, and while we were there, a little man came up and asked: “Where is Leonore? She is supposed to come to Spain with me.” He then turned to me and said: “Are you a friend of Leonore? Come to Spain with me.”
It turned out to be the Count of Sierra Gorda, a small, dapper man wearing a good suit. I told him I couldn’t go to Spain with him, because it would take too long to get the papers [visa documents]. He told me to go home to get my passport and meet him at the Spanish Embassy. I did so and waited in a room with white satin settees. The visa arrived in about 40 minutes.
The Count then said: “You come with me. We go to Biarritz, then to Bayonne.” It turned out he wanted to get his big American car through into Spain and needed a translator to help cross the border from France. He spoke Spanish and English, but not French.
We set off straight away, driving down through France. This was not long after Lalande had been destroyed by fire. Blackened fingers of trees were sticking up from the ground.
In Bayonne, the Count gave me money for food and I went to the casino, but it was February and it was empty. Later, I walked the Count’s small dog along the beach.
I was there a week, acting as go-between with the Count and the lawyer, to organise the documents to get the car through into Spain.
At the casino one night, the Count told me: “I have some friends here.” He introduced me to a large man, who looked exactly like King Farouk3, and lots of princes and VIPs.
Finally, we got the papers to export the Count’s car and drove on to Madrid, where he booked me into the Hotel Emperidor and paid the bill for me to stay five days, saying he would then pay for me to travel back to Paris on the Talgo4. I settled in and went to the restaurant, where I ate dinner alone.
Next morning, the Count rang to say he was arriving with his cousin Felipe. He left me with him and we spent the time sightseeing. Felipe was a big drinker and had been thrown out by his family. He lived in a pensione [apartment].
Felipe was fond of socialising and said: “Let’s go and have a drink in the Palace Hotel”, a noted hotel in Madrid. It was lunch time, so we went up to the bar and Felipe introduced me to Edgar Neville5 who was married to Conchita Montes.6
Edgar looked like Alfred Hitchcock, sitting on a bar stool, drinking jerez [sherry], which was what everyone drank at that time of day. He asked me what I did and I said I was a journalist. He complimented me on my accent and asked where I had been to drama school, I said Rene Simon (the drama school in Paris). I also said I had done some dubbing [reading scripts for films, to translate from another language] at the De Lane Lea studios7.
I told him I wasn’t doing anything at that time, but had just helped the Count to get his car into Spain. He asked me to dub a Spanish film into English and French and suggested I went to the studio the following day. I said I could, but would have to make alternative arrangements about accommodation. Edgar said I could stay at his place and the sound director would pick me up next morning.
Felipe said I could stay with him and we went to the hotel to pay the bill and keep the rest of the money left by the Count. Next morning, I was picked up and taken to the studios.
I went every day and realised I was being paid very well, so thought I should get myself some clothes. I bought some yellow material and had a two-piece made, as well as four or five other outfits. So cheap!
I was told the Anglo-American Club allowed women into the bar on Thursdays and the sound director said: “Let’s go down there!’
In the bar was Philip Jacobs8, who was on the management at Rank, with Honor Blackman9. She was very pretty – gorgeous, I have to say.
I was lining up the cognacs, thinking: “I’m never coming back here, so I can be a bit outrageous,” when someone came up and said: “You’ve been saying you want to meet a bullfighter. Well, here is one.” And there was this smart man, dressed in a grey-pinstriped suit, with beautifully cut hair, very debonair. I put my arm on his shoulder and said: “Hello poppet, how are you?” thinking he was Spanish. He answered in a posh English voice: “I’m very well, thank you.” In astonishment, I said: “You’re English!”
We got talking and I found he was born in Forest Gate, then moved to Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex. He went to Brentwood School, but was expelled for setting fire to TNT, then went to Chigwell School. At first, he wanted to be a doctor, then to go in the Navy, but he didn’t pass the colour test. He spent three years in the Merchant Navy on national service, but had been dropped off his ship in Spain, suffering with appendicitis, and got into bullfighting. He was nine months younger than me.
We were married 18 months later, in December, 1952. At first, we rented a home in Westcliff, then moved in with my parents in Sudbury. Then Vincent said he fancied running a smallholding, so we bought The Smallholder magazine and saw Davington Farm in Faversham was on the market for £1,900.
Vincent was far from perfect. He went to jail twice, once when he was worse for drink and watching the Changing of the Guard, he was arrested for saying a soldier at Buckingham Palace had a dirty button.
1 Leonore Lemmon, daughter of Arthur Lemmon, successful Broadway ticket broker. In 1941 she married Jacob “Jakie” Webb, the great-great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. She left him after eight days, later married Hamish Menzies and finally became engaged to George Reeves, who played Superman in the 1950s American TV version. Reeves was found shot dead in his Hollywood apartment in June, 1959 – an apparent suicide that has been subject of constant speculation, including the 2006 film Hollywoodland
2 Hamish Menzies, musician. Formed a Scottish dance band in the 1950s
3 King Farouk of Egypt and (to use the argot of the obituarist) an incorrigible ladies’ man
4 The Talgo is a fast train between Spain and France. In the 1950s, it provided a comfortable, high-quality service popular with the rich
5 Edgar Neville was a Spanish playwright and director
6 A Spanish actress who starred in Neville’s films, but does not appear to have been married to him
7 Studios in Soho founded by Major Jacques De Lane Lea, a French intelligence attaché for the British Government, in 1947, to dub English films into French
9 Honor Blackman (1925-2020), English actress, who played Cathy Gale in The Avengers TV series and Pussy Galore in the James Bond film Goldfinger
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