This article appeared in the Autumn 1966 (Issue #5) edition of the Kent Archaeological Review.
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The Gunpowder Mill, Faversham.
(NGR 6010 1613)
Faversham was one of the leading centres of the British gunpowder industry for over 300 years. The earliest factory in the town was founded in the 16th century and indeed Faversham may have been the birthplace of the British industry, though similar claims have been made for Waltham Abbey.
The Faversham works was nationalised circa 1760 and the Government at once initiated a programme of rationalisation and rebuilding. After the peace of 1815 Government manufacture was concentrated at Waltham Abbey for security reasons. The Faversham works was first let and afterwards sold to Messrs. John Hall and Sons.
Space at the original (Home) works proved insufficient and during the 19th century new factories were built to the north (Marsh Works) and west (Oare Works) of the town. Messrs John Hall and Sons were absorbed by Messrs Curtis and Harvey. Towards the end of the 19th century and during the Great War, there was further expansion in the vicinity of Uplees (about two miles north of the town). After the Armistice a further process of rationalisation took place and the various works were acquired by Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd. In view of their vulnerability in the event of war the factories were finally closed and transferred to Ardeer in Scotland in 1934. The town's association with the gunpowder industry is perpetuated today by one firm which manufactures detonators on a site about half-a-mile north of the town centre.
Power for the Home Works was provided initially by the nameless stream which feeds Faversham Creek; power for the Oare Works was provided partly by another nameless stream which feeds Oare Creek and power at the Marsh Works was provided by steam engines.
The most recent works, at Uplees, has been razed to the ground. Marsh Works is given over to gravel-extraction and little survives except an artesian well, the remains of some glazing-houses and some office buildings. Except for one magazine and some office buildings, little survives at Oare Works, where some gravel extraction is also taking place and more is scheduled. The original Home Works (now known as St Ann's Estate, from St Ann's House, which was built for the manager of the factory circa 1780 and demolished recently) is now being developed as a private housing estate by Messrs F Parham and Co. Ltd, of 173 Pier Road, Gillingham, Kent. Little of these works now survive except for some cottages and the mill which is the subject of this report.
The water-powered mill (on St Ann's Estate) is the last survivor of the many that once existed in the town. It is situated in what was until very recently a secluded position about half-a-mile from the town centre. A 19th century plan of the works, a photostat copy of which has been supplied to the Society by ICI, shows that it was the middle of three incorporating mills known as Chart Mills.
At the request of the Society, it was inspected in 1963 by Mr Rex Wailes the Consultant to the Industrial Monuments Survey sponsored by the Ministry of Public Building and Works in association with the Council for British Archaeology. He was of the opinion that the bulk of the machinery dated from about 1815, though he considered that some components might date back to the beginning of the nationalised phase (circa 1760). A similar view was expressed by Mr D G Justham, Nobel Division Secretary, of ICI, whom the Society also consulted in 1963. Though some of the grinding gear is now missing, it is doubtful whether another mill of this type and date survives elsewhere in the British Isles.
The Society has made constant efforts to secure the preservation of the mill which it feels is an important document in the history of the town, if not of the national gunpowder industry. Following its representations, the developer has now expressed his willingness to dedicate to the Borough Council the plot of land on which it stands. The Borough Council, like the Society, is anxious to see the mill preserved and restored, but cannot afford to carry out the necessary work. It has therefore asked the Society to seek to raise funds for the restoration of the mill and superstructure. It is agreed that preservation should preferably take place in situ, as in this way the significance of the mill will be much more readily grasped and its removal to a museum (assuming accommodation to be available) would be costly. The Society intends to do all in its power to secure the retention and restoration of the mill.