This article appeared in the Summer 1966 (Issue #4) edition of the Kent Archaeological Review.
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No Museum in Your Town?
NO MUSEUM IN YOUR TOWN? -- then read on:
A town which was for over 350 years one of the leading centres of the gunpowder industry; where there had been both Abbey and Priory in medieval times; where brick-making was a flourishing trade; which was the scene of a murder immortalised in an Elizabethan melodrama; whose beers have been popular for centuries; which has been an important agricultural centre for several hundred years; whose Charter was granted 714 years ago; which has a long history as a port; which (without going into any more detail) is steeped in history; but which has no museum of local history. This, all too believably in the UK, where we care less about local museums than they do in some Continental countries, was Faversham in 1962.
The Faversham Society, formed in that year, and aiming (among other things) 'to stimulate public interest in, and care for, the beauty, history and character of the town and its surroundings,' saw that one of its top priorities was the establishment of a museum of local history. Tools, photographs, examples of local craftsmanship, maps, trophies, shopfittings -- all manner of objects that would have been valuable and interesting -- had been discarded or lost, because there was nowhere local for them to be kept. The wastage could not be allowed to go on. Just as much as buildings or documents, museum-worthy objects are part of the memory of a community and explain its identity.
The Society issued an immediate appeal to the townspeople; and the response was first-class. Within seven months of the Society's foundation so much material of local interest had been given or lent that it was possible to mount a temporary display in the windows of a vacant shop. This itself resulted in a fresh influx of new material. People were really glad to see that someone cared enough about these things, and many touching gifts of private 'treasures' were made. The problem was now to find permanent accommodation. Here the Society was fortunate. One room in the Maison Dieu at Ospringe (held under guardianship by the Ministry of Public Building and Works) was vacant, and was made available to the Society at a peppercorn rent. Here the permanent Museum was opened in September 1965 by Mrs Margaret Boston, wife of Faversham's MP, and herself an Australian who appreciates perhaps better than most of us the importance of preserving objects from the past. With an ever-growing collection of material, displays are changed frequently by the Society's Honorary Museum Officer, Mrs Gwen Cruikshank. The Museum is open almost every day of the year and is easy to reach as it stands on the main A2 (corner of Water Lane).
In one field we are especially active. Neglected, but important, this is ephemera. Handbills, leaflets, posters, printed wrappings; if these, and things like them, still survive only five or ten years after they saw the light of day, they are already rare. After 25 years they are 'quaint'. After 40 they are 'fascinating'. After 50 they 'shed a new light on contemporary society." However old, in fact, they add a new dimension to history they focus on everyday life, remind us that the people in the old prints, the people whose tools or clothes can be seen in the Museum, were human like you and me - had to buy their flour, or vote Liberal, or hunt round the shops for the bargain offers (oh, yes, they had them fifty years ago!). Anyone who has ever seen a good collection of ephemera (like the Constance Mead at the OUP) will remember being stunned by the real significance of what was other people's rubbish. So the Faversham Society collects present-day ephemera originating in the town. Our collection of printed paper bags is unrivalled. Funny now, perhaps the BBC thought it was when they decided to interview one of our members about it but wise in the long run, as the BBC man conceded.
Enthusiasm is no substitute for skill, of course, and small non-statutory museums like this can be the bane of the professional curator. We in Faversham have tried to dodge the usual pitfalls. We don't privateer on other Museums' pitches; we document objects as they would be documented in a museum run by paid staff; and, though the Society has over 300 members, we have arranged for the transfer of the collection to the Borough Council in the (we hope, unlikely) event of the Society's demise.
Plans for the future? We would like to see specialist sections on important local industries, particularly brick-making and gunpowder-manufacture. We are hoping to restore the last surviving powder-mill in the Town -- an edge-runner mill in a bosky thicket only ten minutes from the Guildhall. It dates from about 1810, and is probably the only mill of its type to survive in the UK.
The cost of the project so far? In time, many hours on the part of many willing helpers. In cash, not more than £25 at the outside, all met without help from any outside source. Now that we have something to show for our efforts, we are applying to the Carnegie Trust for a grant towards the cost of display materials, etc.
Where there's a will, there's a way -- and enjoyment and satisfaction besides.