This article appeared in the Autumn 1976 (Issue #45) edition of the Kent Archaeological Review.
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Opening Soon -- Faversham's Heritage Centre, at the Sign of the Fleur de Lis.
Faversham's long and colourful history will soon be brought to life as never before. The builders are busy giving the Fleur de Lis its first thorough overhaul for 400 years, students at Canterbury College of Art are putting the finishing touches to displays and Faversham Society members are finalising plans for the opening ceremony due to take place in the summer. Faversham's Heritage Centre, the first in the south of the country, is expected to prove a 'star' attraction for everyone interested in archaeology and history, not to mention schoolchildren and visitors from Kent and beyond.
The main aim, quite simply, is to tell the story of the town by reference to its fabric -- its buildings, streets and natural features (such as the Creek). But the Centre won't just be didactic; it will try to illustrate the endless fascination of 'above-ground archaeology', the fun to be had from being able to decipher the evidence of a kink in a street, the line of a footpath, the name of a Victorian terrace, the slope of a roof, the course of a stream -- in short, the whole complex mosaic of a compact community which has evolved over the centuries to meet changing needs.
The first two Heritage Centres, opened in 1975, were in northern cath- edral cities -- Chester and York. Faversham small beer beside these two? Not a bit of it, particularly with a couple of breweries and one of the highest densities of ppa (pubs per acre) in the UK. CKA campaign veterans, reared on Faversham ales, will remember too that, with a Belgic farmstead, a Roman villa and a Norman Abbey, the town's history goes back at least as far as Chester's and York's. They say, too, that the Durolevum of the Antonine Itinerary was within a ballista-shot (Review Number 43), and that there was a glass-works here in the 6th century. Nobody quite knows where, but in most other respects Faversham wears its history on its sleeve, gracefully as well as conspicuously. This is why it will have a Heritage Centre.
Now for the details, or some of them. The Fleur de Lis itself, an old coaching inn, will be on display. Inside, modern display techniques will be used to highlight different aspects of the town's development. To begin with, and to set the scene, there will be a tape-slide show outlining the Faversham story. This will be followed by a 'frieze' of artwork, illustrating representative buildings in chronological order up to the present day. The heart of the Centre will consist of a series of thematic displays focussing attention on the various influences that have combined to shape the town's fabric -- the port, farming, transport facilities, religious observance, recreation and so on.
Already we in the Faversham Society tend to compare the Fleur de Lis with the other two Centres, both housed in redundant churches. Chester's is is mainly two-dimensional and concentrates on all the admirable work done in recent years to conserve the city's heritage. York's is a much more ambitious affair, with models, dioramas, murals and a hubbub of audio-visuals. Both are run by the City Council, both well worth a visit. Faversham's Centre, in a sense, will be a more modest affair and it will certainly be different. Unlike the other two, it will incorporate museum material, in order to give a third dimension (and perhaps a fourth, of time) to the displays. The Society has built up a large collection of old photographs, too, and these will be put to good use. Featuring colourfully will be many superb paintings of individual buildings, drawn to scale and with every brick and tile in their right place.
In one important respect, Faversham will be the most ambitious of the three. At the rear of the main building is a small Victorian hall, built originally for wedding receptions, club meetings and the like. During the day this will be available for parties of schoolchildren wanting to undertake urban studies projects, during the evening and at week-ends for meetings, exhibitions and similar events. The Society is particularly anxious for children to visit the Centre, look at the town in the light of what they have learnt, and jot down their impressions. It is equally keen to see the Centre used as much as possible 'out of hours', so that perhaps people who would not ordinarily think of coming, do.
Where has all the money come from? Well, the Faversham Society has been very fortunate. For one thing, individuals have been generous with their support and, for another, substantial grants have been given by the Arts Council, the Pilgrim Trust, the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust, the Historic Buildings Council and the two local authorities. The charity shop housed in the Fleur de Lis itself has proved so successful that it will be maintained even after the opening of the Heritage Centre.
The Faversham Society has many friends in the CKA and we hope that readers of the Review will make a bee-line for the Fleur de Lis as soon as the Heritage Centre opens. No, we don't know the exact date yet, but latest information is always available (during the day) from the Fleur de Lis number (Faversham 4542).