Why Is Faversham A Port?

Custom House, Faversham

Acting as a key thoroughfare, the Port of Faversham supplied London with essential foodstuffs from the surrounding area. In the 17th century, at a time when London was Europes largest city and rapidly expanding, it was its main source of wheat - an essential staple grain. Indeed, in that century, more corn was exported to the capital from Faversham than any other English port. Faversham was also the nation's main port for the export of wool.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the creeks at Faversham and Oare teemed with Thames sailing barges carrying goods, particularly to London. Cargoes of oysters, wool, agricultural produce, coal - and the bricks and cement from which swathes of London were built - were shipped from local quays.

Faversham was a major trading and industrial hub for several centuries. It was the main centre of explosives manufacture having six factories. Along its banks settlements grew providing homes for seamen, fishermen and brickfield workers and later, boat builders and shipbuilding and repair. However, as the railways came and roadways improved in the early 20th century, the shift of freight from water to rail to roads saw the Port's commercial importance slowly ebb.

The sale of 'Custom House' (24 Court Street) in 1899 marked the end of an era in Faversham where there had been a Collector of Customs for over three hundred years. What followed was a series of individuals who carried on the then limited Customs and Excise business from their residential homes in Faversham. Local Customs duty work ceased in 1963, but Excise duty work continued until 1990.

Today, Faversham is still officially recognised as a Port although now there is no commercial trade. However, boat building, repair, restoration and training continue. And every year in July, the town's maritime heritage is celebrated through its Nautical Festival Weekend. Barges, smacks and other traditional boats arrive at the head of the creek in celebration. There are nautical displays, stalls, food and drink, and entertainment around the Town Quay and Front Brents.


Custom House, Court Street, Faversham

Cinque Port coats of arms (Graphic)

Faversham's Own

Cinque Port Coat of Arms

The emergence of the first national system of Customs occurred in 1203 when a duty of one-fifteenth on imports and exports was imposed by King John. At that time, the Customs Port of Faversham came within the customs jurisdiction of Sandwich. In the early 1500s, Faversham acquired its own Collector of Customs, signifying the town's growing importance as a commercial port.

By 1676, the fully-fledged Customs Port of Faversham included customs control of a large part of the north Kent coast - from Iwade in the west to North Foreland in the east (including Reculver, Herne and Whitstable) and across to Warden Point on the Isle of Sheppey. It was responsible also for controlling illegal smuggling which was rife along the north Kent coast and later, for the supervision of quarantine of ships to combat the plague. It also administered two legal quays in Faversham for the unloading of foreign merchandise - Town Quay and Standard Quay.

In 1229, Faversham became a corporate member of the Confederation of Cinque Ports, one of the few towns granted privileges by Royal Charter in return for ships and men in times of war and for the defence of the realm. It allowed Faversham to be exempted from many taxes, to trade wherever they wished and to hold their own courts. Like other members of the Cinque Ports, Faversham functioned virtually as a ‘city-state', owing allegiance only to the Crown and not forming part of the administrative county of Kent. Eminent local citizens often gave the impression that the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, rather than the King or Queen of England, was their head of state. Today, the Cinque Ports exist as a ceremonial organisation with Faversham retaining its Corporate membership.

The town and port of Faversham have been of some importance from very early times. The first written evidence to a port at Faversham (ie as a place to unload and load cargo) was in AD 699. It was said to be a Royal Port belonging to the King. In 811, the town was nominated the 'King's Town'. In 1148, King Stephen founded an abbey in Faversham and the town flourished as a consequence. (The abbey was dismantled in 1538 during the dissolution, but remains are still evident today).

The first written evidence to a port at Faversham was in 699 AD and said to be a Royal Port belonging to the King. In 811, the town was nominated the 'King's Town'. By the time the Domesday Book was compiled in 1086, it was already an established centre for trade and commerce. In 1229, Faversham became a Member of the Cinque Ports, linked to Dover. By 1676, the fully-fledged Customs Port of Faversham included customs control of a large part of the north Kent coast. It had it's own Collector of Customs and a Custom House. Although there is no longer any commercial trade, Faversham is still officially designated a Port and continues to register fishing boats and commercial vessels.