August 05, 2017

The Old and New of Faversham | A Weekend Walk #22

Town Centre Hall Kent

I first visited Faversham about ten years ago and marvelled at how beautiful the architecture was, how plentiful the charity shops were – rife with treasure – and what a pretty little town it was. “What are you going to Faversham for?!” cried Canterbury locals, much in the same way they had crowed when I set off to explore Margate, and both times I was glad they hadn’t put me off. Despite its rougher edges and shifty-looking seams typical of any small town, Faversham was (and is) nothing but wonderful.

Faversham Kent

A quayside town, just shy of the East coast (easily reached via a beautiful tidal creek-side walk the 'Saxon Shore'), the streets are lined with historical houses and buildings, knitted together with alleyways. Faversham is the suspected site of a Roman settlement called ‘Durolevum’ with Faversham itself meaning ‘stronghold by the clear stream’. This early Romanesque reputation and its layers were later woven with settling Normans, responsible for a legacy of robust architecture. Great prosperity came in the middle ages making it a centre for trade and industry. The UK’s main port for wool in the 17th century, it is now most famously regarded for the hops and barley that lead to Shepherd Neame brewery opening in the 18th century. The brewery still remains, having quenched the thirst of Victorian workers who worked hard in establishing further strong buildings, and has prospered all the way through to the current day. Of all the town's layers, there are over 500 listed buildings in Faversham.

Preston Street

They don’t call Kent the Garden of England for nothing and the land in and around Faversham is rich and fertile, producing crops not only for Shepherd Neame beers, but for a bounty of fruit and vegetables: shop and eat well here you certainly will. A market town, the central square is usually bustling with activity and stalls. It’s easy to lose a whole morning to simply strolling along, winding your way in and out of the main streets, stopping to chat to locals old and new about the town. 

Conversation is mixed but much the same as it is in Margate or any place in the midst of new wave of gentrification: fear, apprehension, as well as passion and excitement, are united above all with pride. Pride for a small town that has so much going for it, and so much history. As ever, it’s how the two are balanced that will ultimately seal Faversham’s next layer of fate in this century.

If you’re visiting, here’s how to explore the old and the new:

Apothecary and herbalist Kent

Shop for treasure

Antiques and curiosities are a-plenty here. A thrice weekly market has been operating since records in the Domesday book of 1086 - that’s over 900 years - and sits against a backdrop of beautiful Tudor and Georgian buildings, a scene that has largely unchanged over the centuries. As well as the market, there are a number of great charity shops and antiques businesses dotted down alleyways (you must visit Squires for a bargain) and there are many more along the recently developed quayside that saw much of old trade driven out for new business, receiving mixed feelings from the locals. What’s important to note here though, is that Faversham is an excellent destination if you’re after a curio or two. 

Faversham Kent

*Picture pinched from Trip Advisor because I'm always too busy browsing to remember to take snaps.

Macknade Fine Food

At a first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that Macknade Fine Food was just a large shed, so unassuming it is in its presence just off the Canterbury Road and on the edge of farmland running into Selling. However humble it might seem, it is a centre of over 170-years of food history and, upon stepping inside, reveals itself to be a large hall with unexpected nooks and crannies positively bursting at the rafters with produce varying from the fiercely local, to continental climes and beyond. The land was formerly award-winning farm estate – Macknade Farm – until the late 1970s when great-grandson Renato, returning from his birthplace in Ischia, Naples, pitched up a tent on the land and, with support from his wife Patricia – a local farm girl – began the evolution of what it is today: an emporium of taste, and a destination for your every foodie desire. Head here simply to wander the shelves and shelves of food, stopping in the café for one of the best lunches for miles. I’d go so far as to recommend spending your next staycation in Kent and stocking up on all of your supplies here. I did this once and spent a whole evening drinking local beers and wine and cooking up a huge feast, followed by a giant cheeseboard. It really is something else and a fabulous way to experience the best of Kent's food.

Be sure to research supperclubs and events held here if you're staying in the area a while. 

Things to do in Faversham

Sondes Tea House and General Stores, Selling

If you’re in Faversham, you must drive around the surrounding villages not only because you’ll find wonderful fruit stalls on the sides of the lanes, but because you’ll come across gems like the recently established Sondes Tea House and General Stores in Selling, which sees an old pub converted into a magical modern café and shop run by Claire and her daughter Megan (both related to the owners at Squires Antiques in town). It’s an unexpected but welcome location, just next to the train station. 
Upon reading into a little more of the history of Faversham I discovered that Sondes himself was the first Earl (hence the name I imagine) and what I found most interesting was that Sir John Masters – a pioneer of the Assam Tea Trade – was also local to the area. An ideal place for a tea house after all, then. Enjoy a staggering array of loose leaf teas here, as well as locally baked cakes and colourful salads made freshly each day. If you’re local, stock up on fresh Kentish fruits and pantry essentials in the store. 

The Yard, Favershame

The Yard

Good coffee is an important part of any trip for me and so the Yard was a sight for sore eyes in a town where third wave coffee hasn’t quite landed yet. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it’s reassuring to know that a hardened Londoner can get a decent flat white. And, it turns out, a damn good sausage butty. The Yard makes the most of Faversham’s abundance of food and local spirit (Faversham has long had a thriving and almost autonomous community) by creating fresh and exciting dishes, using these as a catalyst to bring groups of people together for different events, workshops and meetings. Tucked away down a small alleyway off Preston Street you might miss it. Only don’t. Don’t miss it. 

If you're looking for a place to visit for the weekend (or longer) don't miss Faversham. It's just over an hour on the high speed train from London St. Pancras. 

I'm on Twitter for further advice should you need it. 

Kentish buildingsExamples of Faversham historical buildings in the town
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