A printable PDF version of this newsletter can be downloaded from HERE
The Faversham Society Board has not yet determined its view of the proposed development on Ordnance Wharf.
However, many are already objecting and talking about the proposed development. There is a list of reasons people are giving for objecting here.
The image above of Davington Priory taken on 18 July from the public footpath on Morrison’s Quay reveals that the proposed development would block this iconic view with a permanent obstruction.
The trees currently block some of the view but a) they are impermanent and b) seasonal. The developer has not provided the scale contextual drawings that would normally be expected and which would reveal this impact.
The application can be downloaded on pa.midkent.gov.uk/online-applications. Search for “Ordnance Wharf” or “20/502408/FULL”. Register or log in and post your comment.
Bookshop We have now successfully reopened our second-hand bookshop in Gatefield Lane, and the Fleur visitor’s information centre will be ready to reopen next week – when we open and for how many hours depends on the availability of volunteers.
Opening soon Wendy and Christine, and their teams, are working hard to open for as many hours as possible in the “new normal” of the coronavirus pandemic. If you would like to volunteer, please get in touch. We have completed Covid-19 risk assessments and changed some of the infrastructure and developed protocols for the safe operation of our shops and the office. The heritage centre and the Fleur hall present difficulties that will more time to address. You will have noticed that the roof is being repaired too. More details in the next edition.
Business as usual The society has continued its work during the lengthy lockdown. The board and the Planning Committee meets regularly, and the Environment Committee is now meeting regularly again. Using the Zoom video app, the board has been able to conduct its business. The minutes of meetings are now published on the society’s website.
Shocking decision The secretary of state’s decision to permit the Cleve Hill development with next to no constraints was shocking, and it sets a national precedent for large-scale solar power stations with new and potentially dangerous battery storage. Swale Borough Council sought a barrister’s view on whether there was scope for judicial review. We were not surprised that the barrister could not advise that there were sufficient grounds.
The society remains opposed to the development, and the campaign will continue. There are several elements of the development consent order that require approval from Swale including the batteries, traffic, screening and rights of way. The developers will also need to secure investment and insurance. The society will remain active in all these areas.
In July, The Times reported that green space the size of Cornwall has been lost since 1990. Kent, the Garden of England, had the largest increase in built-up area, with 136km 2 (52.5 square miles, 33,606 acres) developed between 1990 and 2015. I invited CPRE Kent to contribute to this month’s newsletter (see below). There is less and less local discretion about house-building .
Ordnance Wharf plan The board will determine the society’s view on the planning proposal for Ordnance Wharf when it meets on 28 July, and the board’s opinion will be published shortly afterwards on the policy blog on the website and Swale’s planning website. Please take a look at the developer’s proposal and write to express your opinion. I have posted the range of objections that have been mentioned to me on our website. The proposal for Ordnance Wharf omits a heritage statement and Ray Harrison has provided one. See below.
More housing We have been looking at the proposals for more housing sites in and around Faversham. Next month we shall be publishing our assessments of each of the sites being proposed by developers and asking for your help in adding anything that we have missed. National government requires that Swale find space for 10,000 more houses. Inevitably some of them will be in and around Faversham, but we can influence where and what kind of homes are built.
I contributed a piece to Faversham Eye on the background to the role of national government in demanding housing land. This is a personal view and is reproduced below.
AGM on Zoom When we postponed the meeting until 24 September, we hoped we would be able to hold a conventional AGM. Unfortunately, this is not possible. Understandably many of our members are shielding; many are reluctant to attend meetings; there is no hall available that could accept all those who may wish to attend with appropriate social distancing, and there could be another lockdown.
In these circumstances the society’s board has decided to hold our AGM virtually on the Zoom videoconferencing app. All members will be able to join from their computer or tablet or by phone.
Please support the society by “attending”. Of course, the virtual nature of this meeting enables those of you who do not live locally to participate. To register your desire to take part in the AGM please click here
Davington House We have had an Inquiry from a member about Davington House. Does anyone have information about it? See what Pat Reid has written about the Faversham Society Archaeological Rescue Group’s work on the site. See below..
Ted Seal For many years Ted was a stalwart of the museum. With an unassuming, whimsical and engaging manner he introduced many people to Faversham’s history. He communicated his knowledge of our heritage to visitors and residents alike. His death is cause for great sadness. It is also an opportunity to remember him and his contribution to so many aspects of Faversham life over many years.
Until I became chair of the Faversham Society, I knew little of how the planning system works. The learning curve has been steep. Central government in Whitehall sets the housing targets and requires that the local planning authority delivers then within the National Planning Policy Framework. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government polices the targets through the Planning Inspectorate. It is essential to realise that Swale does not determine how many houses should be built.
Swale is developing a Local Plan within the constraints and demands of central government policy and Whitehall’s idea of how many houses are needed. Swale has to demonstrate that it has both an adequate supply of land for housing development and that the houses, for which it has given planning consent, are being built. So developers secure planning consent on sites, but will build only when they can sell at prices that enable them to achieve the return they want – often 20%. So land that has been allocated for housing may be locked up by the developer for years with no houses being built – a practice called land banking. A start has to be made within five years, but this often amounts to little more than laying some kerbstones.
Many people have asked me why the new houses do not have solar panels. Central government had a sustainable housing policy, but this was abandoned when developers objected that it would make building houses more difficult and that fewer homes would be built. Of course, builders will not build so many houses that prices will fall. Developers will not increase supply so that their profits fall.
Perry Court demonstrates how central government controls what happens locally. Under the previous administration, Swale was not meeting the targets being set for it by national government. The developer put in an application.
Had Swale allowed the developer to take Swale to the Planning Inspectorate we would almost certainly have lost, and costs would have been awarded against the council, we would have had to pay through our council tax. If Swale is judged to be failing to meet either its land supply or completions targets, the developers can appeal and are in a strong position to win. The Planning Inspectors are not neutral arbiters; they are the enforcers of central government policy.
The Faversham Society is reviewing the 20-plus sites that developers have suggested for development in Faversham to create an evidence base for deciding which are the least objectionable. And to identify sites that could deliver starter homes for local people or create opportunities for people to downsize late in life. We shall be sharing those assessments so that everyone can have an opportunity to improve them and engage through the Neighbourhood Plan in discussions about what should be built and where. Only by getting central government to reduce the targets it is imposing on us can we say no to more housing. We need to work together to make the best of what’s coming.
The Faversham Pools need all the support we can give them.
It was in 1878 that Faversham people began to talk about developing a swimming pool in the town but it was not until 1957 a public fundraising campaign was launched. In 1959 the target amount was set at £9,500, and the campaign began.
Leslie Smith, an historian and solicitor with offices in Preston Street, gave land in Cross Lane for the pools and the Arden Theatre.
The road in which they can be found is now named after him.
In 1962 the plans became more ambitious when part of the adjoining bowling green was acquired. The Faversham Society was founded in the same year. The first brick in the pools was laid in 1963 and the outdoor pools opened in 1964 and the indoor pools followed in 1993.
Covid-19 has closed the pools, and they will remain shut until 2021. If they were to reopen now, the pool would not cover the considerable costs of operating, even if the outdoor pool season was extended into the autumn.
Social and physical distancing requirements means that fewer swimmers would be allowed in at once. The pools need to work with schools to understand their needs once they go back in September. And normal lessons will be affected by the need to keep a distance from one another. All of these will severely restrict our income, but our fixed outgoings would remain the same.
Faversham Pools are run by a registered charity and nearly a quarter of a million swimmers visit every year, making them the town’s most visited attraction. I have met people who have travelled from Milton Keynes to swim there. They are really important to the town and provide facilities for all ages – support them if you can on www.favershampools.com/support
In 2012 a request (applicants unknown) to list Ordnance Wharf was considered by English Heritage, now Historic England, and was refused.
In 2019 the Faversham Society followed up with an application of its own, dealing with what were perceived to be gaps and inaccuracies in English Heritage’s assessment of the first application.
Specific attention was drawn to an inaccuracy there in dating; to the rarity of the wharf as part of what had been a unique historic infrastructure of mills, pools and wharfage; to its group value in relation to the nearby, above-ground, survival of the bed stones/bed-stone bases of 10 powder mills on the dam; to its special historic role as a place where the closed works world met the public world of the town; and to its crucial historic and functional importance as the import/export point serving the whole of the works complex – without it and the access it gave to water transport, the works would have functioned much less safely and the town would have been a more dangerous place.
This application, too, was refused, with the same reasons as advanced for refusing the first attempt. It was disappointing to find that it seemed that no account at all had been taken of our new evidence and arguments – the response failed to mention any of them. One got the feeling that officers were still working from their previous, partial, assessment material and would look no further. All subsequent efforts to get them to take the matter up again have failed.
Supporting material for the application mentions at the outset a heritage statement for the site – but then provides nothing in the way of one.
A detailed heritage statement should form part of this application since the wharf was identified as an undesignated heritage asset under the Creek Neighbourhood Plan, and it also stands within the designated heritage asset of the Faversham conservation area. Works that alter it will therefore have an effect for better or worse on its architectural/historic character and also on the character of the conservation area.
It seems from the tenor of the discussion (or lack of it) in the applicant’s supporting material, that a serious heritage statement is considered by the applicant to be unnecessary. One possible reason for this might be an assumption that it has already been dealt with within the Neighbourhood Plan process. It is the case, as noted, that the plan identifies the wharf as an undesignated heritage asset. But this is as far as it goes – the structure’s significance and the degree to which it might accept new “interventions” affecting its character, were not subject to examination in the plan. Nor were they examined by any of the many previous planning applications at the site.
Heritage statements for historically and visually sensitive sites such as this take time and involve careful evidence-gathering and analysis. They are an essential first step, intended to “inform” any subsequent proposals for change at the site. Unfortunately, as noted, there is no evidence that the Neighbourhood Plan proposal for developing the site for residential use was grounded in any such essential preliminary investigations.
A second consideration, also expected to have been rehearsed in the heritage statement, is the effect of the proposals on the character of the conservation area. Here this involves conservation area character at close quarters and over an historically and visually sensitive wider area. Again the Neighbourhood Plan appears not to have investigated these matters before recommending residential development at the site. Again it may be that the applicant has concluded that this work has already been done and that there is therefore no need to undertake it. This may be the reason why, while a few “close-to” freehand sketches looking at the site are provided, the application does not include any serious, to scale, contextual drawings of the proposals, either at close quarters or from further away.
Establishing the scale and mass of a new building accurately in relation to other buildings and landscapes/townscapes around it is essential in helping to gauge its effect, for good or ill, on conservation area character.
A rare reference to the character of the wharf-top in the applicant’s supporting material has this to say: “The site, in its current state, contributes little, if anything, to the conservation area in its own right.” By “site” is meant “the top of the wharf” which, even in its deliberately damaged and mangled condition, continues to contribute very significantly to conservation area character. One interpretation of the meaning of this comment might be that the historic/architectural character the wharf-top will be improved and its contribution to conservation area character will suddenly become visible, once its current superficial unsightliness is put to rights – and further to this, it might be added, when a large new visually dominant building is placed on top of it.
Below is a brief history of the site and its immediate historic environs – material that would have been expected to be included in a heritage statement. This is followed by assessments of the significance of the structure, the significance of its relationship to what survives of its historic context, and its place in the conservation area. Arising from this, the appropriateness of the development proposals at the wharf is discussed.
Ordnance Wharf owes its existence to Faversham’s historic gunpowder manufacturing industry – “ordnance” was exported from it. The town has had a long history of gunpowder manufacture. The earliest record dates from its 1579 muster list: “Thomas Gyll Gunpowder makers, William Byrde his servaunte.”
Stonebridge Pond, fed by the Westbrook Stream, is a key feature of the Faversham conservation area. Originally almost certainly a mill pond, it subsequently became an important part of the infrastructure of the Faversham Home Works gunpowder manufacturing site. An historic earth dam holds back the waters of the pond from the head of tidal Faversham Creek to the east, where Ordnance Wharf stands. Historic England notes in a report of January, 2015: “The site of Stonebridge Pond was originally the head of Faversham Creek (now moved to the east) and it is known that a tide mill operated here in the medieval period. At some point the pond was dammed to the east and the flow of water out to the creek was harnessed to drive subsequent water mills’.
The most recent agricultural water mill to have stood on the pond dam, known as Flood Mill, was dismantled by the town authorities in 1617. Flood Lane, which runs across the west side of Ordnance Wharf next to the dam, is doubtless named after this building.
The Home Works’ gunpowder “incorporating” mills, initially driven by water or horse, were in widely separated locations spread out to the west from the dam, along the Westbrook Valley, for a mile or more. From west to east they were the Ospringe Mills of 1649-50 followed soon after by the Chart and King’s Mills and finally in the early 1690s by the Lower Mills, sited on the Stonebridge Pond dam. Significant elements of these last, plus those of the later Bennetts Mills, still survive in situ on the dam. Of the rest only the scheduled, partly reconstructed, Chart Mills survive.
The state took over and developed the Home Works between 1759 and 1825 when it became one of a number of royal gunpowder factories. During this time operations extended across Brent Hill into an area north east of the pond known as the Hill Works. The Grade II listed security walls up each side of Brent Hill, as well as that alongside Flood Lane, date originally to this time.
Blocked gateways in the Hill Works walls at the foot of Brent Hill confirm its once close functional relationship with the pond site and Ordnance Wharf nearby.
Late on during this period, Ordnance Wharf was built to serve the barges that carried the barrels of gunpowder produced in the works down the creek for transshipment to seagoing vessels. Maps show that before this, less convenient, and more ad-hoc, arrangements for moving the barrels onto the barges had been in place at the creek head.
It is easy to assume on seeing it for the first time that the derelict and structurally threatened work of anonymous dock engineering that is Ordnance Wharf must have been connected with the town’s once-vibrant commercial port. The clue that it was something quite different is, of course, in its name. From its construction in the early 19th century it operated for some decades as originally intended – as the single point of entry and exit for raw materials coming into, and finished products leaving, the Home Works.
It stands a stone’s throw from the earth dam – now hidden under modern allotments – that still holds back the waters of Stonebridge Pond. As already indicated the dam fulfilled a second function as the site of the water-powered Lower and Bennett’s gunpowder mill groups.
Edward Jacob’s History of the Town and Port of Faversham (1745) shows four mills here. Today a total of nine variously degraded bed-stones or bed-stone bases survive in situ, in addition to some displaced runner stones, all within the allotments that surround the pond. These mills, plus one other now destroyed, represent the maximum production level achieved at the location. All 10 were present c.1860, by which time steam had succeeded water power at the site. In this form they seem to have continued working into the early 20th century when Ordnance Wharf itself had already been given over to shipbuilding and the like for some time.
When water-powered, the Lower and Bennett’s mill groups had separate mill pools for their outflows. These, filled in by 1907, extended from the downstream side of the dam to the back of Ordnance Wharf, making the latter an island – it was at one time known as Island Wharf. What is today the main entrance route within the allotments was once a causeway separating the two pools. The brick-arched culverts carrying Flood Lane on to the wharf from each side were originally brick bridges under which mill-pool outflows met the creek waters at the heads of the wharf’s twin gunpowder-barge docks.
The high brick boundary wall and allotment gates along the west side of Flood Lane separate and hide the workings of the site from the public route across the Creek head, and from the wharf itself. Thus the wharf was originally a place of special character within the town where members of the public might encounter works supplies being shipped or wheeled in, and barrels of dangerous gunpowder being shipped out.
The wharf seems to have ceased to be part of the Home Works at some time before 1851 when there is a record of it as a “shipyard”. Its use for this purpose, which appears to have continued into the late 19th century, benefited from improvements to the creek in 1843. These brought deepening, widening and straightening of the channel as well as the creation of the formerly lock-gated basin into which the wharf projects – its final setting.
In 1831 the Faversham Gas Light and Coke Company was established on the creekside across the south dock of the creek head from Ordnance Wharf. One of its later structures – the two-storey brick 19th-century Purifier Building – survives, its gable and flank close to and facing the wharf. The gas company extended its operations on to the wharf in 1901, having moved the two-storey timber shipwrights shed previously occupying a part of it to Ham Marshes.
The “Guisely Purifiers” (or their successors) built there, lasted until 1956 and later. By 1969 they had gone, with the wharf turned over to yards and storage – it may be from around this time that the recently removed oil tanks were placed there.
“Faversham’s role as a centre for gunpowder manufacture is of national importance – English Heritage report, May 2012.
The Home Works, once on the very fringes of Faversham, was the earliest of the town’s gunpowder works. Parts of two of the original four mill-groups survive – Chart Mills and Lower/Bennett’s Mills. Chart Mills, a scheduled monument, has lost its wider original context, and stands within a modern housing estate.
The nine-bedstone arrangements etc at Lower/Bennett’s Mills, without doubt worthy of undesignated heritage asset status, are still within an open, undeveloped context at the east end of Stonebridge Pond. Examples of the pre-20th-century workings of the local gunpowder industry, they are uniquely close-in to the historic town centre. They combine with:
The presence of any one element in the group contributes to an understanding, and a fuller experience, of the whole. Consequently the loss or alteration of any one element of the group has the potential to reduce levels of understanding and experience of the whole and in doing so to reduce its overall historic significance.
The wharf is significant:
For its historic and functional importance as a single import/export point serving the whole of the works complex.
As evidence for the use of Faversham Creek as the means by which gunpowder was exported out to the Thames and onward to other government armament works.
For providing the volatile product of the works access to water transport. Without this, the works would have functioned less safely – and the town would have been a more dangerous place, with explosives moved by horse and cart.
For the plain early 19th-century “functional tradition” brick engineering of its slightly battered back walls with their organic, rounded, bull-nosed, leading corners.
For its integrated, purpose-designed, gunpowder barge docks to each side.
For the brick-arched culverts emptying into the head of each barge dock, formerly brick-arched bridges carrying Flood Lane.
For its wide, flat, open top, allowing ample space for the safe management of the barrels of explosive when loading the barges.
For the wharf top’s additional, unique, role as the place where the closed works world met the public world of the town in the form of people crossing the Creek-head by the public route of Flood Lane, and workers moving in and out of the works by its main entrance.
Of all the “contributing” group elements identified above, the wharf today has the greatest immediate visual impact on the surrounding conservation area by reason of its position and scale and – in spite of its current deplorable condition – its degree of fabric survival.
Particularly, but not only, at low tide, it stands with its docks to each side, as a dominating engineering feature at the head of the former creek basin. It has always done so, even at the point of the basin’s maximum development in the early 20th century, when both sides were lined by wharves, warehouses, gas works buildings, coal yards, shiprepair yards – and a few houses.
Of all these it alone now survives in its original form – derelict, seemingly mysterious, and evocative –the first, and now the last, of the town’s creek basin wharves. In this respect and as it stands it makes a significant contribution to the character of the conservation area.
As to any further contribution to the history of the Faversham Conservation Area, an understanding of the wharf’s original purpose brings immediate connection to the history of a dangerous local industry near the centre of the town for perhaps 350 years and continuing in the wider area for even longer. And that understanding when addressed directly to the wharf itself takes us back to the times of the Napoleonic Wars and to gunpowder packed in barrels on its wide top, being craned and manhandled onto gunpowder barges for dispatch down the creek to the open sea.
As noted earlier, the loss or alteration of any one element of the group has the potential to reduce levels of understanding and experience of the whole and in doing so to reduce its overall historic significance.
Any alterations to the wharf have to be judged by the degree to which they damage overall group value. In this case the nature of the place now, as a wharf per se, with its original scale and its relationship to its immediate surroundings to north, south and west untouched, will be severely damaged and confused by the large extent of the proposals.
All the spatial character it now has will be lost. This will heavily – and in the Faversham Society’s view unacceptably – damage its contribution to group value.
A ground-floor plan, one cross-section and an incomplete set of elevations appears to be offered as detail of the proposals. It is assumed that the first to third floors of the main proposed building overhang beyond or over its car park spaces on its south side: supports for any overhang are hard to see on the plan provided. Maybe there is no overhang.
The building cross-section provided does not help since it is not through the car parking area. Perhaps there are more drawings not seen by this commentator. If not, then the full set must be provided as it is impossible to fully assess the proposals without it. This is an absolutely standard expectation in situations like this – it is hard to understand why it has not been met.
Apart from the upper floor plans and a cross-section through the building at the car park, an elevation of the side facing the Purifier Building is essential.
It is noted that the Neighbourhood Plan states that no new building on the wharf “shall be more than three storeys in height”. The proposals are for a largely four-storey building – an unavoidable fact that remains so even with one of these storeys placed partly in the roof space. This disregard for the neighbourhood plan requirement should alone render the proposals unacceptable.
The proposal occupies much of the wharf area with a mean “fringe” of public walkway around the three sides – meeting the letter, if not the spirit, of what is required under the Creek Neighbourhood Plan.
The proposal’s tall four-storey form and bulk uncompromisingly blot out much of the historic wharf area below. None of it can any longer be experienced as an historic space. A good deal of one of its key historic character elements, its wide, open, top, disappears under new building. What open space is left, down one side only, is almost all given over to car park and access arrangements.
Within the wharf it is no longer possible to see across from one side to the other, to get a feeling for its scale.
The wharf sides are visually reduced, transformed, to no more than a low, and when the tide is in, an almost nonexistent, brick podium – an architecturally secondary base to the tall, dominating new residential block above. It has been subsumed by and into an all enveloping “development opportunity”. It is no longer the central focus in the historic grouping of wharf and powder barge docks at the creek head – it is now very much a subsidiary element supporting a tall, very substantial, new residential building to which all eyes will inevitably be drawn.
For these reasons – which are additional to its disregard of the Creek Neighbourhood Plan advice on the maximum number of storeys – it is the society’s view that the proposal unacceptably damages the architectural and historic character of the wharf.
Since the proposals unacceptably damage the architectural and historic character of the wharf, it follows that in this respect they also damage the character of the conservation area.
On the wider front there is the matter of the setting of the building within the conservation area. As noted earlier, not enough reliable information of the relationship of the proposal to its immediate, and its wider, setting has been supplied. What we have is too sketchy. Required examples of the wider setting extend to and from the back of Morrisons and Davington Priory on its hill and the BMM Weston site across the creek, as well as to and from the allotments and Brent Hill. At four storeys it may be seen from the west side of Stonebridge Pond and certainly to and from the back of the houses on Court Street, Partridge Lane etc.
It is the society’s view that though more information is required here, the proposals are already in conflict with the council’s (unadopted) conservation area appraisal for this part of Faversham. This applauds the fact that there is still a visually low-key, unbuilt-up spatial connection between Stonebridge Pond and the creek head. These proposals would destroy that connection – right at its centre.
This is a short account of my childhood in Faversham from 1946-1962. I left school at 15 to start work as a biomedical scientist, first in London, and then I moved to Chesterfield in Derbyshire. Now retired, I will always have good memories of my early life in Kent.
I was born in Faversham in August, 1946, at 8 Davington Hill, opposite Stonebridge Pond, then a row of 12 dwellings: no electricity, no hot water and no bathroom.
Lighting in the two downstairs rooms was by a single gas lamp in each room. The attached scullery and lavatory were unlit. Upstairs, only one bedroom had a gas lamp. There was a chamberpot under the bed for use at night. In the scullery there was a single cold tap, gas cooker and a “copper” used for boiling water. It was not unusual to see mice scuttling across the kitchen floor.
Bath-night was on Saturday. The tin bath would be brought in off the back fence, filled with water from the copper and we would all take turns with the same water.
The only means of heating was from a coal fire in the grate in the kitchen. Coal was stored in the cupboard under the stairs.
Electricity did not arrive until about 1968 and a bathroom was built above the scullery about 1970.
My parents were Thomas and Beatrix Kirby. My dad came from the East End of London and worked as a labourer and then a drayman for Fremlins Brewery. My mother’s maiden name was Hogben and she was born at 7 Westgate Road, one of seven children. (Does anyone know the origin of the name Hogben, which seems widespread in Kent?) She had a part-time job cleaning at a posh cake shop in Court Street, but I forget its name.
Her parents were Percy and Rose Hogben and the other children were Ron, Charlie, Les, Bert, Donald and Gladys. They achieved fame during the Second World War because they all served in the forces at the same time.
I went to school at Davington Primary School where the children’s teacher was Miss Woodcock and the headmaster a Mr Masters. A Mr Sears was the school crossing patrol man. About 1955 a girl contracted polio and we all had to be vaccinated.
After failing the 11-plus exam I went to Ethelbert Road Secondary School for Boys where my form master was Mr Russsell. I subsequently passed the 13-plus exam and went to Canterbury Technical School for Boys. Some of my friends at school I can remember were: John Hawkins, David Parnell, Roger “Tich” Townsend, Ian Dawkins and Brian Monk. I wonder what became of them?
Out of school we had to entertain ourselves and would go to Bysing Woods, Oare Marshes and Harty Ferry or walk to Seasalter. Holidays were unheard of apart from the odd trip to Margate. Playing conkers was popular every autumn also egg-collecting and scrumping apples.
Every September we would look forward to go “hopping”. It was mostly women and children and we went to a hop garden at the bottom of Head Hill near the turn-off for Graveney. During dinner break we would go and watch the blacksmith shoe cart horses in the small forge. We were paid about 1s 3d a bushel.
I also worked as a butcher’s boy for Kingstons in Market Place. My aunt Gladys worked there as cashier and Mr Mitchell was manager. I would deliver parcels of meat all over town and the surrounding villages by bike for about six hours every Saturday for 12s 6d.
I joined the 6th Faversham Cub and Scout group, and we net in the tin church hall opposite the Rec. Mr Addy was scoutmaster and he lived at 1 Davington Hill. I then moved on to the Sea Cadets at TS Hazard near the creek. I recall watching boats launched into the creek sideways because it was too narrow any other way.
Supermarkets had not been invented and so my mother would shop almost daily for fresh food. Groceries were bought from Taylors on the corner of West Street and Caslocke Street. Mr Taylor would smack butter into shape with wooden paddles and weigh sugar into brown bags. Meat was bought from Kingstons and vegetables from a greengrocer at the bottom of Preston Street. We bought shoes from Freeman, Hardy and Willis.
There was a fish shop near the corner of West Street and South Road were we bought rock salmon and chips for about 1s 6d. Along West Street was Currys, an ironmongers and Gullivers, who sold tortoises for 2s 6d. My brother, David, worked at Morrisons in West Street as butcher until quite recently.
We had milk delivered daily and a baker called twice a week with bread, I think it was Faggs who had a bakery at the top of St Mary’s Road.
I have returned to Faversham a few times and have been amazed at the changes. Housing estates have sprung up where I used to play and independent traders have vanished. A Kentish accent is difficult to pick out among the new arrivals. Perhaps it is best not to return but retain the old memories.
On the hill overlooking the upper creek basin stands a handsome early 19th-century property called Davington House.
It was inhabited in the late 19th century by the Wildashes, a familiar surname in Faversham. What became of it?
Actually, it’s still there, exactly where it was built. Look carefully at the main image, taken in the 1980s. Prominent in the foreground are the white-painted offices of Westons, high up on the creekside. There, sandwiched between the two modernist flat-roofed blocks, is Davington House.
In 2012, the Faversham Society Archaeological Rescue Group had the privilege of carrying out keyhole excavations near the office block. One of these pits yielded what was obviously a clear-out dump from Davington House when it was taken over by Westons.
If you want to know more, go to community-archaeology.org.uk/investigations, then to “The Davington Mysteries”. Here you will meet 17 bottles of “Harlene for the Hair” among other insightful objects left by the Wildashes of Davington House.
Planning permission has already been granted for the upper part of the Westons site that involves demolition of the office block. So Faversham will once again lose one of its fine buildings, along with St Ann’s, the Institute and the Faversham Union Workhouse.
Yet the conversion of the Rigdens Whitbread Brewery and The Mount show that creating apartments in interesting buildings works very well indeed …
More than 350 megawatts capacity, 880,000 panels, almost 1,000 acres … the fantastical figures, although they don’t quite roll off the tongue, have become familiar over the past 12 months.
They add up, of course, to Cleve Hill Solar Park, the largest planned development of its type in the country and one that, should it come to pass, will sit slap-bang on Faversham’s doorstep.
The announcement in May of the decision by Alok Sharma, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, to grant a development consent order for the solar park (we’ll just refer to it as Cleve Hill from now on) marked the conclusion to a public examination that had begun almost exactly a year earlier.
It was an examination that had drawn together an impressive range of organisations and individuals speaking out against a scheme that would have a devastating effect on what so many considered a special area for people and wildlife alike.
A petition against it gathered more than 3,000 signatures, while the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Greenpeace, Kent Wildlife Trust, CPRE Kent, Kent Ornithological Society, Swale Council and Faversham and Mid-Kent MP Helen Whately all voiced their opposition to such a destructive scheme.
The Swale branch of Friends of the Earth, on the other hand, seemed to think it a good idea.
What was striking was the near-unanimous condemnation by environmental groups of a scheme trumpeted as an exemplar of green energy. They were not adopting a blanket approach of “all green energy is good energy”. All projects should be judged on their merit.
And the merit in Cleve Hill was hard to see.
Lying within the North Kent Marshes, which are internationally important for bird populations, Cleve Hill adjoins two Kent Wildlife Trust reserves – Oare Marshes and South Swale – and is near chunks of Seasalter Marshes managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
The area targeted by developers Hive Energy and Wirsol borders an extensive site of special scientific interest, special protection area and Ramsar-designated site (wetlands of international importance), making a mockery of what Hive Energy had stated on its own website:
“In order to proceed with a [solar farm] site we would usually ask that the land is … not in or next to a designated protected area such as an area of outstanding natural beauty [or] site of special scientific interest…”
Further features the developers “would usually ask” included the site being “well screened from visibility to people in the local area” and that it was “well drained, with no flood risk”.
Well screened? The impact on the low-lying landscape would be devastating, while views from the surrounding higher ground would be ruined, a fact exacerbated by the planned east-west orientation of the panels with barely any space between them. And forget any ideas you might have based on solar farms you have seen elsewhere – the panels at Cleve Hill are planned to be up to 4.3 metres high. That’s nearly the height of a London double-decker bus.
No flood risk? An Environment Agency map states the “proposed development is in an area with a high probability of flooding”, although benefiting from flood defences.
And so it went on and on. Even the developers’ own criteria counted for nothing, while it was next to impossible to see how such a staggering land-take and drastic environmental impact could be justified in powering only 90,000 homes.
Many involved in the public examination had a growing belief the case against Cleve Hill was stacking up so heavily that consent would be refused.
But not a bit of it.
Wide-ranging – and exhaustively researched – observations, criticisms and objections were dismissed wholesale. For the examining authority, and subsequently Mr Sharma, it was full steam ahead for Cleve Hill.
Even safety concerns over the battery energy storage system (Bess) to be built on site cut no ice. Technologically, this is still uncertain ground and there have been explosive battery fires at sites across the world. One at a battery-storage unit in a sparsely populated area of Arizona was so severe and so concerning that it led to the state authorities refusing to approve any more such schemes.
The Cleve Hill plans include the world’s largest Bess (it would cover 25 acres) on the edge of a small town and close to a village of some 600 people.
Not a problem for Mr Sharma. Nor was granting Wirsol and Hive Energy consent to dump plastics and synthetics, among a host of other waste materials, from Cleve Hill at sea. And there were we thinking marine conservation was at last being given the consideration it should be.
That last nugget came from Private Eye magazine, which also noted concerns over human and environmental rights relating to extraction of the minerals necessary for batteries. It added that Wirsol had “been castigated by regulator Ofgem for its safety and construction standards elsewhere, and is being sued in the High Court over some smaller UK solar farms it built and sold”.
Doesn’t that give you a warm glow?
Given the strength of argument against Cleve Hill – and we can only skim the surface here – some view the granting of the development consent order as grounded in politics rather than in responsible planning.
To them, it smacked of an underlying drive to boost energy-generation of any sort.
Perhaps it was evident in Mr Sharma’s backing of a 158-turbine wind farm off the Norfolk coast against planning inspectors recommending the scheme be refused due to potential impact on protected habitats.
Maybe we also saw it when government approved a new gas-fired power station in North Yorkshire, again against recommendation for refusal by the Planning Inspectorate, which had climate-change concerns. That project also survived a High Court challenge by environmental charity ClientEarth.
Back at Cleve Hill, the developers’ claim that their solar farm was subsidy-free sweetened the offering, as did its gift to government of a chance to shout its green credentials.
Should all ultimately go to plan, the bellow from Downing Street is likely to be along the lines of “You wanted net-zero carbon – we gave you net-zero carbon.”
Such a tack would sound more convincing if housing developers were obliged to include solar panels in the roofs of new homes – something of particular pertinence to Faversham, which is preparing for huge levels of house-building in coming years.
Despite the promotion of Cleve Hill as a green-energy project, it is difficult to view it as anything other than a developers’ cash cow. Anything that destroys countryside and harms wildlife on this vast scale is not green energy.
There are issues wider than we can cover here, but we’ll end on a positive note.
The Solar Power Portal website quotes Finlay Colville, of Solar Media, as saying that whether Cleve Hill is actually built is “still an open question”.
Mr Colville says: “Governments around the world are granting unsubsidised projects planning approval all the time, especially if there is no commitment on subsidies being paid for 20-plus years. Only some of these ever get built, and the large projects can be delayed often by a few years compared with original plans.”
Keep the faith – the Cleve Hill fight is not over yet.
David Mairs is campaigns and public relations manager with CPRE Kent, the countryside charity. CPRE Kent is the only charity that fights for the county’s wider countryside. It does not just protect trees, birds, wildlife or open spaces, it protects all of the above and more. If you love the countryside as much as the members and staff of CPRE Kent, please join and help make a difference: cprekent.org.uk/join-us/
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