It’s that time of year again where we layer up and venture out into a cold and dark November’s evening to “ooh” and “ahhh” at the local firework display. A tradition that is based on the historic events of 1605 when Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators were found to be plotting to blow up the houses of parliament and kill King James I of England.
Whilst the history is well known, Faversham folk like to think they have a far stronger connection to the events that took place over 400 years ago.
People are often surprised to learn that Faversham was once the centre of the worlds explosive industry and had no fewer than six explosive factories, the oldest of which was The Home Works, dating back to 1573.
Whilst it is impossible to say for certain, many people believe that due to this and Faversham’s close proximity to London the gunpowder that was hidden beneath the houses of parliament that night was manufactured in Faversham.
What we do know for certain is that without Faversham’s gunpowder, Britain’s industrial revolution could never have taken place. Faversham gunpowder was used to blast routes for canals and railways and to quarry stone needed for bridges and other structures.
So, high was demand for explosives and with the invention of high explosives such as guncotton, cordite and TNT, two more massive factories were built in Faversham, alongside The Swale in 1847. It was at one of these factories that the largest explosion in the history of UK explosives took place on 2nd April 1916 killing 116 people. Many of the families affected by this tragedy still live locally and can recount memories from this time that have been passed down through the generations. Many of the victims were buried in a mass grave in Faversham cemetery, which is now marked a large memorial to all of those killed. As Britain was in the grips of World War 1 during 1916, the explosion was barely reported on at the time and to this day many people are surprised to hear of this tragic event.
With World War 2 looming, the decision was taken that having so many explosive factories so close to the Continent was not terribly safe so much of Faversham’s explosive industry was either closed or moved to Scotland in 1934.
Yet one factory survived and Faversham is still home to one explosives factory, which is still in operation today, so peaceful is the setting that many people walk past not even knowing it is there.
The legacy we have been left from all of this industry has had a positive impact on Faversham in many ways. To save the Chart Gunpowder Mills (part of the oldest factory, The Home Works) from being destroyed by developers The Faversham Society was formed, an organisation that has actively preserved many other parts of the town and its heritage.
One of the Factories has been transformed into Oare Gunpowder Works Country Park, a popular place to visit for people of all ages. The site of the great explosion is now a nature reserve and a particular favourite spot of ours, it’s from walks in this area that we came up with our company name Saxon Shore.
So, Faversham folk may be stretching the truth a little when they claim a connection with the gunpowder plot but much of Britain’s history over the last 400 years has been shaped by the industry that was taking place in our little sleepy market town.
And without Faversham, we wouldn’t have the fireworks that we set off to remember the 5th of Novermber.
If you would like to find out more or walk along Faversham’s gunpowder trail, visit the Fleur De Lis Heritage Centre which is home to The Faversham Society.