Event Reports for 2024

7th February: The Rise and Fall of Industrial Faversham. Speaker, John Blackford.

For 1000 years Faversham’s prosperity was based on wool which it supplied by sea to London and further. More wool went from Faversham port from 1650-1700 than from any other port. However, in about 1610 Faversham started to make “things”. The town was to develop the Big Five; Explosives, Bricks, Tiles, and Cement, Barge Building, Oysters, and Brewing [the last of which we recently had a talk about].
Explosives. Daniel Judd, born 1612, had a very good Civil War when he bought and sold muskets, and artillery, and began the mass manufacture of gun powder. This he sold to the Parliamentarians and became very wealthy. He built a large house at Syndale overlooking the town and his works. In 1660, sadly for him, Charles II returned and promptly confiscated Judd’s money. Hence the name used to this day of Judd’s Folly.  In 1685 the gunpowder works were restarted by 4 French Huguenot families fleeing persecution; the Gruebers, Azires, Tiphaines, and Lefevres. The Tiphaines subsequently became jewellers and emigrated to America where they became the famous Tiffanys! Grueber went on to found the Oare works the remains of which can still be seen. Saltpetre was imported from S America, and sulphur from Italy but the local area provided the carbon in the form of charcoal. Once the powder was made it could be transported much more safely by sea than road and had ready sales to the Medway fleet and Woolwich Arsenal. The processes involved were grinding, incorporating, dressing, corning, glazing, and drying. All are very dangerous with any shaking or sparks resulting in explosions, so the gunpowder was moved around on punts via a network of canals still visible today. Huge blast walls protected areas of the site, and there were always many trees to deflect blasts. In 1760 this vital asset was taken into government control as the Royal Gunpowder Factory increasing production from 40 to 364 tons per year by 1774 and in the Napoleonic Wars 580 tons per year. 400 men were employed - 25% of the Faversham work force. The 3 houses still at the bottom of Tanners Street were the Chart Mills foremen’s houses. In 1781 the corning mill, which was built on an island in Stonebridge Pond, exploded killing 3 men and obliterating the island along with one of the towers of Davington Church. The works were then moved onto the Oare marshes. The remnants of the blast wall for this works, and the pond where the mills were built on islands, can still be seen on the way to The Shipwrights Arms pub. In 1812 John Hall of Dartford bought the Oare works to make blasting powder for his civil engineering company. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars he also bought the Royal Gunpowder works which expanded rapidly due to demand for blasting explosives to build tunnels for the railways. His son William set up the first factory in the world to make guncotton, a much more powerful explosive, but a huge explosion killed 18 men and the works were shut. The Halls provided housing and pensions for all the men’s families. They also built the Brents Church, a school for girls, and the Cottage Hospital. In 1874 the Cotton Powder Company was established at Uplees well away from town! In the 1890’s they began making the even more powerful explosives of nitroglycerine and cordite for use in the Boer War. The works were over a mile long and boomed even more in WW1 when a new loading plant was built to the west. This loaded the explosives into the shells and bombs.

Bricks, tiles, and cement. The earliest known brick production in Faversham  was in the 15th century. The bricks can still be seen in the chimney of Arden House 1480. The bricks were made by Flemish immigrants. It was in the 18th century that brick production started at scale due to the brick earth deposits. The upper layers produced fine red bricks, as seen in Mall House, and lower layers the more recognisable yellow bricks. In 1700 Kentish stock bricks were invented in Sittingbourne when wood ash was added to the clay and burned during baking to cook the bricks from the inside. Coal ash worked even better and a trade grew up whereby barges brought coal ash from London and then took the bricks back to build the city. In 1780 a brick tax was introduced to pay for the American War of Independence. By 1880 the brick industry employed 50% of working men in Faversham and made 120 million bricks per year. The Front Brents was built to house the brick workers and the grand building at the bridge end was a temperance pub. It only stayed in business for 1 year!!! Increasingly fancy bricks were produced and fine examples remain in the grand houses on Newton Road. Mathematical tiles were also made to skin the old timber frame houses in more fashionable ways. An example can be seen on the first floor above the Spice Lounge. Septuarial stones used to be found on the foreshore of the Swale and Sheppey and these were ground up to make cement until they ran out. Posillipo’s is in the old works.

Barge Building. Cement, bricks, explosives and agricultural produce were all transported by barges until the railways arrived. Hence it was natural that Faversham developed a barge building industry. The explosives barges were loaded at Ordnance Wharf near the old Morrisons building and sported huge red flags. Copper nails were used to prevent sparks. At its height there were 5 barge yards, Goldfinches on Iron Wharf being the largest. Eventually ships of 2 and 3 masts were produced.

Oysters. The Oyster Company, whose old building is still on the creek, was the first to mass produce oysters with 110 families being supported at its height. They were exported as far as Germany with Kaiser “Willie” being particularly fond of Faversham oysters until he got food poisoning off them!!!

The End. Pollution from all the industry killed off the oyster fishery and probably a fair few of its customers!
In 1916 under huge pressure to increase production for the Somme offensive a massive explosion of TNT set off a chain reaction and destroyed the Uplees works.
The brick industry just ran out of clay.
Barge building withered as the other industries declined.
Brewing is the only industry surviving and continues to thrive, as we have previously discovered!

Wednesday 27th March 2024 - "Making Deep Cuts – the Barber/Surgeon of the Medieval and Post-Medieval Period"

Despite it being his birthday, the inimitable Dave Lamberton returned to give us another highly entertaining talk – albeit one that made the audience glad to be benefiting from the medical advances of the 21st century! Dressed in period costume, Dave explained how in medieval times the barber had the necessary instruments to branch out into dentistry and minor surgery. This including bloodletting – the standard treatment for various conditions and one that incidentally continued right up to 1925! Interestingly, the red and white striped pole that even today can still be seen outside the typical barber's shop is thought to go back to the bloodied bandages used by the medieval barber-surgeon.

20th April - Society Quiz Night

Lloyd Bowen delivered another excellent quiz for the enjoyment all. All tables were filled, fish and chip supper enjoyed, raffle prizes distributed. The Quiz night raised £1118.48 (which includes a very generous donation) raised for the Swale Voluntary Cars and Befriending Scheme.

8th May - Archaeology of the Teynham Triton.

Presentation by Dr Richard Helm of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust.
The archaeological site of interest lies just north of the A2, opposite the junction with Claxfield Lane [NGR TQ 945627]. The site is currently owned by the housing developers Chartway and Moat.

Earlier excavation (in 2017 by Wessex Archaeology) discovered two Roman-period burials. These were graves with the post-cremation bones stored in pottery urns, along with glass phials, metal and pottery jars and other grave goods. Wessex found little else at the time.

The Canterbury Archaeological Trust, working in 2023, found that the site was a funerary complex. This consisted of a square mausoleum enclosed by a precinct wall, 30metres square. There was also an outer boundary wall. These structures dated from 1st to 3rd centuries AD. There were also later, Saxon, burials across the site.

The mausoleum.
The mausoleum had been demolished. This thorough process had occurred at some time after 333 AD. A coin with this date was found in the in-fill material. Constantine was Roman emperor at this time.

Excavation revealed the floor of the demolished mausoleum had a crushed-chalk base 7.5 x 7.5 metres square. This was sunk 50cm below ground level. Steps down to this level were positioned centrally on the south side wall – i.e. facing the main road, the A2, Roman Watling Street. Examples elsewhere have featured further layers on top of the chalk, some finished with a patterned mosaic. There was no evidence of animal bones or pollen within the building under study. The stone of the building’s wall, and that of the precinct wall, had been ‘robbed’ – taken away to be used elsewhere. There were post holes, indicating the position of partitions within the room. Fragments of lead were found, indicating that lead coffins (sarcophagi) containing the bodies of deceased members of the local aristocratic family, were stored in the mausoleum. The masonry fragments remaining showed that the walls were mainly of sandstone from the Folkestone beds, but other native stone was involved. There was also a proportion of dense chalk, and other stone, from the coastal area of northern France. The speaker said that the Roman navy – the Classis Britannica – would have been active at the time, both in a military role, but also in transportation of goods, including building stone, by water.

Similar mausolea from sites on the continent had a portico of four columns across the front that supported a triangular pediment. A visitor would walk up (or in Teynham’s case, down) some steps and pass the columns to enter the windowless cell via a central door. Some continental examples stood tall, depending on design. Some were 20metres high. The Teynham one was probably not of this tall, ‘pillar tomb’ type, but rather a lower, ‘temple’, design.

These were meant to be imposing structures, reflecting the social standing of the occupants and their living representatives. It is possible that the high-status family were the occupants of the villa at Bax Farm, one kilometre to the north. The walls of the mausoleum and precinct wall would have featured bands of coloured stone: green, white and red. They would have constituted a striking landmark, definitely to be noticed by travellers along the nearby arterial road.
There was also evidence of votive offerings and of feasting, together with fragments of statuary in oolitic limestone. The last was probably linked with the Classis Brittanica and its base at Portus Lemanis (present-day Lympne).

The water feature.
There was a ditch running north-south, outside and parallel to, the eastern wall of the inner precinct. At the southern end of this ditch, that is at the approaches to the entrance, is a well. Associated with this was a water tank, or cistern, dug into the soil. This was lined with clay and then oak planks supported by corner posts. The purpose of this is unclear, but Romans held springs and wells in awe as spiritually revered places. It is possible that functionaries at the mausoleum temple, and visitors, used the facility for a cleansing ritual before entering the sacred areas.

The triton statue.
The stone statue is of a sea-god, or triton. It appears to be associated with, or riding, a sea monster or serpent. The right hand is missing. This would have held the triton’s symbol – a conch shell. The conch is a large mollusc, its shell-shaped like an elongated cone. By using the conch shell as a bugle, the triton was believed to have been able to control storms and gales at sea. The left hand held a flaming torch. This item is also missing. The statue is approximately 70cm wide and 70cm tall. The front of the figure is more finely carved than the back, indicating that the statue occupied a position with its back to a wall, or in a niche. The flat edge of the plinth to the statue’s lower left hints that it was one of a matching pair, as is the case in parallels elsewhere. The head had been separated from the body. The statue shows little sign of weathering, so was probably positioned inside a building – probably the mausoleum. The statue is carved ‘in the round’ out of high-quality hassock, a sandstone [that occurs between strata of limestone (ragstone) in the Maidstone area]. It is known that the Classis Britannica mined stone from quarries along the River Medway. The carving is careful but naïve. It was probably executed in Britain, ‘in the British style’ rather than by a master-craftsman from Italy.

At the time of the demolition of the mausoleum, it seems that the water tank was emptied and set on fire. Only charred remains of the timber lining were found at the time of the 2023 excavation. The statue appears to have been beheaded and had its conch-bearing arm broken off at this time. It was placed, face-down in the burning timber. The belly of the statue shows some evidence of heat damage.

The community at the time of the demolition was very careful to cover up the remains of the funerary site. The treatment of the statue was evidently a ritual ‘killing’ process. The removal of the conch shell-bearing arm took away the power of the sea-god, [and the beheading parted the soul from the body]. The plunging of the torso, front first, into the flames, would have been another act of extermination. It spelt the end of one culture and the beginning of another. [The demolition occurred after 333AD. Emperor Constantine (r. 312-337) was sympathetic to the Christian faith. His Edict of Milan (313AD) granted freedom of worship to the Christians. I wonder if we are dealing here with a ‘takeover’ of the site by a Christianised Romano-British community. There are also many, later, Saxon period graves across this ‘repurposed’ funerial site, most of them dug on an east-west orientation and therefore probably Christian. These were not discussed much by the speaker.] The severed hand could not be found during the excavation. The head was discovered close by.

There may have been a period of time between the mausoleum falling out of use, and the demolition.

General conclusion.
The excavations revealed what would have been an imposing group of structures centred on a tall, strikingly high quality, mausoleum. Other studies have shown that there was a series of such structures along the length of the Roman road from the Channel ports of Dover and Richborough through Canterbury and Rochester to London. The one at Teynham would have drawn attention to the status of the local dominant family, whose ancestors would have been kept [for worship], in the mausoleum. Other mausolea in the area existed at Syndale and Newington, both also situated close to Watling Street.

This is a particularly important site. After full analysis, it will shed considerable new light on life in the area in the early centuries of the Roman occupation of Britain, and beyond.

What next?
The material presented was preliminary. It is not yet recorded. [I presume it will be published eventually in the archaeological literature. In the first place I imagine the report will go to the developers who paid for the archaeological work to be done.]
The triton is being conserved. It is rare, and of international importance. The developers and the British Museum are in discussion as to its eventual location. The idea of a placing a replica in a museum near the site is something that the British Museum could consider, if requested.

The assemblage of building masonry and fragments of statuary is of national importance and is undergoing analysis.

I understood that excavation will continue on the less promising (‘brickearthed’) areas of the development site. The developers are naturally keen for all archaeological work to be carried out as quickly as is feasible.

The mausoleum and precincts will be carefully covered with spoil, so that roadworks and the roundabout can pe placed on top, yet the archaeological evidence will remain preserved for future archaeologists to examine if needed.

There is a plan to exhibit interpretation (explanatory) material close to the site and readily accessible to the public. [I assume this means text, maps and pictures on boards].

Further progress of the archaeology can be followed on the Friends of Canterbury Archaeology Trust website: www.canterburytrust.co.uk/fcat

By Bob Baxter [notes in square brackets are RB’s comments]



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