Out and about again
The three Greenwich history boys met up with their Gravesend op on their second outing to view maritime and architectural landmarks.
Taking coffee at Macmade’s remarkable farm shop cum delicatessen at the junction of the A2 and Selling Road (just opposite the Shell filling station) we decided to search for the home of one Nelson, sea captain. It is reputed that a battle ensign is to be found at Selling Parish Church which is set amongst the fruit farms and hop fields. Alas, there was a funeral in full swing so we set sail for Standard Quay in historic Faversham which has for centuries been a port for the coastal trade. Bricks and gunpowder were the main exports, with imports from France and Holland and rubbish from the capital to build and conserve the tortuous dyke lined creek running in from the Swale – memories of Thames Sailing Barge matches and outings came flooding back.
Gentrification of the once industrial warehouses and provender mills have provided homes for maritime orientated pensioners who also admire the handsome period houses lining Abbey Street. Foiled for the second time, we were unable to investigate the interior of the largest parish church in Kent. St Mary of Charity boasts a graceful sword spire, almost identical to St Dunstan-in-the-East, one of Wren’s City churches which was badly blitzed in 1941, the shell beautifully transformed by the Gardeners Company to provide a haven of tranquillity, located close to the Customs House and adjacent to the present City offices of the Port of London.
Gunpowder manufacture was established in Bermondsey around 1536 and at Faversham 20 years later. Our search for the site of the renowned gunpowder works was sated by a visit to Oare marshes, where a disastrous explosion at the Extrasure shell filling works killed over 1,915 workers who commuted to and from the town. Nowadays the once forlorn marshes are a haven for commuting wild fowl. What attracted early gunpowder pioneers was required water and the extensive locally grown alder and willow for charcoal and a network of channels between powder mills for safe transport. The remains of naval bases at Chatham, Sheerness, Woolwich and Deptford, as well as the Tower of London provided plenty of demand. The site of an earlier Government Powder Depot here in Greenwich in 1680 is less than a mile from where I write.
The Kent family have owned a tiny cottage for some fifty years overlooking Oare Creek and Faversham beyond. St Peter’s Church close by enjoys a majestic view across the creek and on towards Whitstable – always worth a visit. The church also has a memorial window dedicated to Alan Beckett, a civil engineer who masterminded the ‘Mulberry Harbour’ built on the Normandy beaches to support the D-Day landings.