The Faversham Society is celebrating 48 years of Open House which takes place in Faversham on the next three Saturdays, 1, 8 and 15 July. Thirty-seven properties, including a Thames barge, private houses and a secret courtyard, will be opening their doors to reveal architectural and historical details usually hidden from curious eyes.
Faversham Life previews three of the fascinating properties which will be opening this Saturday. We visited George House in The Mall, one of six new properties opening for Open House this year, as it prepared to open to the public for the first time since it ended its 211-year tenure as a Rigden Brewery public house in 1969.
Stepping through the solid double doors into a small panelled vestibule, one is faced with a narrow vertical window, just wide enough to extend a hand holding a jug of beer. Colin Rushton, present owner of the house, explains that this would probably have been for the off-sales. On either side are wooden doors: one to the saloon bar, now a comfortable sitting-room, and the other to the Public Bar, now the kitchen.
As you move through to the back of the house, you step back a century to George House’s original construction as a farmhouse in the 1600s. A door on the first floor, now reached by a spiral staircase, would have led to the sleeping quarters of the farmworkers, with box beds and straw mattresses. Colin has uncovered a vertiginously deep well; no water now, but beautifully brick-constructed with a smart slab inscribed ‘Well’.
It is a delight of Faversham houses that so many have had such long and adaptable lives. Sixty-one West Street, a Grade II listed timber-framed house, has Tudor bricks in the cellar; most of the doors date from the 17th century, with the original hinges, latches and door furniture, and there is an elegant sunny extension at the back of the house overlooking the charming garden, built in the 1970s. Old and new rub shoulders cheerfully. The kitchen has been extended and the high ceiling means that you can look down from a 17th century window in the bedroom to see what Karina Bateman (current incumbent) is cooking for supper.
The house was originally part of a larger property comprising numbers 59-61, with hop grounds behind. It was first recorded in the manorial records of 1532 and its first known inhabitant was Reginald Edwards Esq who lived there from 1621 to 1638. As the 18th century progressed, West Street became a less desirable part of town. The property was divided in 1785 into three separate houses, and subsequent tenants of 61 West Street included a soldier, a tanner and a fisherman.
Perhaps the most fascinating door to be opened in Faversham is that to The Old Pharmacy Courtyard in the Market Place. In plain view, this low arched doorway is only too easy to miss as you are distracted by Richard’s plant stall under the Guildhall on one side and the bright sumptuous window displays of The Yarn Dispensary on the other. Yet there it is – a stone gothic doorway, 13th or 14th century with an original oak door.
Open it and you are confronted with a long passageway lined with old timbers. Passing through, you see doors strapped with ancient iron hinges, but where they went has long been forgotten. Now they go nowhere. You emerge into a light airy courtyard fronting a remarkably complete mid-15th century timber-framed town house.
It is to Faversham’s great credit that the Faversham Society’s Open House event was the first of its kind when it started almost 50 years ago. It was used as a template for the National Heritage Open Days Scheme, now in its 28th year. One of the highlights of Faversham Open House 2017 is the opportunity to view Faversham’s Magna Carta at 12 Market Place on 8 and 15 July.
Open House properties can be visited with the purchase of an Open House handbook from the Visitor Information Centre in Preston St for £8.50. For groups of two or more, one handbook should be bought and each additional group member pays £5. It has to be said that the Open House handbook is stuffed with erudite and enthralling information and worth £8.50 in itself.
Text: Posy. Photographs: Alexandra Campbell