Region:South East England
Ceremonial County:Kent
Traditional County:Kent
Postal County:Kent

Template:GBdot Faversham is a town in Kent, England, in the district of Swale. It lies roughly halfway between Sittingbourne and Canterbury. The parish of Faversham (Feversham) includes an ancient sea port and market town, some 47 miles east of London, on the London to Dover A2 road and 18 miles east north-east of Maidstone in Kent.



Established as a settlement before the Roman conquest, Faversham was held in royal demesne in 811, and is further cited in a charter granted by Kenulf, the King of Mercia. Faversham was recorded in the Domesday Book as Favreshant. The town has regularly throughout its history obtained curious royal privileges, and charters.

In the year 1147 an abbey was established near Faversham by King Stephen, whom along with his son, Eustace, the Earl of Boulogne and Matilda of Boulogne, his consort, was later buried, thus acquiring a special status as one of only a few churches outside London where an English king was buried.

Sir Thomas Culpeper was later granted Faversham Abbey by Henry VIII of England during the Dissolution of the Monasteries about 1536. The abbey was demolished directly after the Dissolution and its masonry was taken to Calais to reinforce that town's defences against French interests. In 1539, the ground upon which the abbey had stood, along with nearby land was passed to Sir Thomas Cheney, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.

The town of Faversham is known in Kent as a harbour and market community but is also at the centre of the county's brewing industry — home, as it is to Shepherd Neame, a notable brewery, acquired from the last heir of the Shepherd family by Percy Beale Neame in the 1840s.

The years during the First World War saw an uncertain time for the brewery. In the first instance, was the scarcity of labour from 1915 which soon became evident, as a number of employees turned to offers of higher wages elsewhere, including the local ammunitions works.

The Faversham munitions works

The story of the town’s munitions industry is less well known, although it too saw a rise in trade, was also affected adversely by the events of the war. Like the brewery, munitions production was not new to Faversham, it was some time about 1753 that the first of Faversham’s gunpowder factories was established, leading over subsequent years to a growth in development, that by 1786 saw in total three such factories in and around Faversham.

The first real problem arose shortly after the introduction of a new material, with the discovery in Germany in 1846 of guncotton, the first high explosive that was distinct from the more usual forms of propellant such as gunpowder, in terms of its superior destructive effect. Under agreement with the innovator, a professor of chemistry at Basle, Dr Christian Schonbein, the first guncotton plant in the world opened at the Faversham Marsh Works later that year.

On 14 July 1847 an explosion killed 18 workers and injured others. The detonation was heard as far away as Maidstone and only 10 of the dead could be identified. With only one accident of a less serious nature in 1899, the Cotton Powder Plant continued to prosper and by 1915 had expanded to cover a 500-acre (2 km²) site including in its range of products along with guncotton, cordite, gelignite, nitroglycerine, detonators, dynamite and distress rockets.

The plant offered well-paid work to men as far afield as Herne Bay and Margate and Faversham had become for a short period one of the centres of the nations munitions industry.

To lessen the expense of production for the war effort a cheap but highly volatile chemical amatol was introduced into the process of bomb and shell manufacture at the Explosives Loading Company (ELC) site that had opened in 1912 next to the guncotton plant.

The Great Explosion at Faversham

The weather itself might have contributed to the origins of the fire that followed on the morning of Sunday 2 April. The previous month had been wet but had ended with a short dry spell so that by that Sunday the weather was "glorious" ... but provided perfect conditions for heat-generated combustion.

The munitions factory was in a remote spot in the middle of the open marshes of North Kent, next to the Thames coastline. Perhaps that is why it was chosen. It also explains why the great explosion at about noon on 2 April was heard across the Thames estuary as far away as Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Southend-on-Sea, where domestic windows were blown out and two large plate shop windows shattered.

The East Kent Gazette of Sittingbourne reported the explosion on 29 April. Although recognising the need for some censorship, it referred to the reply given in Parliament to the question as "mystifying and ambiguous" and called for the fullest precautions to be implemented to "prevent another calamity of the kind" occurring again.

Although not the first such disaster of this kind to have happened at Faversham’s historic munitions works, the April 1916 blast is recorded as "the worst ever in the history of the UK explosives industry", and yet the full picture is still somewhat confused. The reason for the fire is uncertain. And considering the quantity of explosive chemical stored at the works — with one report indicating that a further 3,000 tons remained in nearby sheds unaffected — it is remarkable, and a tribute to those who struggled against the fire that so much of the nation's munitions were prevented from contributing further to the catastrophe.

The secretary of state for war, Earl Kitchener, had in 1914 written to the management of the CPC, and it is presumed the ELC, instructing the workforce on "the importance of the government work upon which they (were) engaged". "I should like all engaged by your company to know that it is fully recognised that they, in carrying out the great work of supplying munitions of war, are doing their duty for their King and Country, equally with those who have joined the Army for active service in the field," Kitchener said.

Sources: The Great Explosion at Faversham by Arthur Percival MBE: also reprinted in Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. C. (1985). East Kent Gazette, Faversham Times

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