Kent Archaeological Review extract

The Faversham Gunpowder Mills.
by Brian Philp.

The preliminary excavation and clearance of the site of the highly important gunpowder mills at Faversham was completed as scheduled during the first two weeks in March (KAR Number 7, page 16). More than 40 volunteers took part in the operation including members of the Ashford, Faversham, Gravesend, Medway, Otford, Reculver, Sittingbourne and West Kent Groups. Considerable thanks are due to these volunteers who cleared more than 100 tons of soil and also to the Contractors and local police for their active interest.

The work dramatically revealed the complete outline of both the mill-houses and all four of the massive, circular stone milling-beds. When the lower part of the surviving water-wheel was uncovered no fewer than eleven of its float-boards were found to be intact. Lower than the two mill-houses, which were built during the 18th century, was the corner of yet another structure which probably belonged to the same complex. During the excavations pottery of early and late-Medieval date was recovered and it seems that the site must have been occupied for many centuries. The earliest records relating to the British gunpowder industry date back to about 1540 when incorporating mills were then being used. Certainly Faversham can claim to be one of the two earliest centres for the manufacture of gunpowder and it is just possible that it was being made here during the late-medieval period.

When the full extent of the site was revealed it was clear that here was a major industrial monument, but that three-quarters of it were due to be destroyed as part of a private housing-estate. The contractor concerned, F Parham Ltd, of Gillingham, had already agreed to dedicate the other quarter to Faversham Council and immediate negotiations were undertaken to secure the rest. Eventually, the Contractor generously agreed to dedicate one complete mill-house and gave an option to purchase the second for 750.

The initiative in the matter was taken by the Faversham Society with the full support of the KARGC Considerable help was also given by Sir Thomas Neame, Terry Boston (MP for Faversham and Sittingbourne), the Mayor and Council of Faversham and the Ministry of Public Building and Works (amply represented by Mr S E Rigold).

The problem of raising 750 remains. This must be done before the end of May. The site is the oldest surviving gunpowder mill in Britain and it is, therefore, unique. Our opportunity is also unique in that a complete industrial site can be saved. Please give the scheme your generous support for which every shilling will surely count. If we can raise the money in time this will be the first industrial monument to be saved in Kent.

Donations to:
The Faversham Society (Mr A J Percival)
42 Newton Road,
Faversham, Kent.

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