The story begins on 27 January 1910 when the Brents Roller Skating Rink opened on a site north of Faversham Creek, near the bridge. The building was an old barge chandler’s, with a skating area of 130 by 42 feet, a rock maple floor, gas lighting, and a gallery for spectators reached by a spiral staircase. The best ball-bearing skates were available for hire and skating lessons were provided without charge at three daily sessions. Entry was free in the morning, one shilling in the afternoon and six pence in the evening. Admission for those who owned their own skates was three pence. The Artillery Band played every evening and on Thursday and Saturday afternoons.
Rink hockey, later called roller hockey, came from America. Faversham took to it with enthusiasm, and in the first three months there were 10,000 admissions to the rink, an instant success. A year later, however, the rink was in trouble. There was competition from cinemas – the Empire Picture Hall opened in Tanners Street and the Gem Picture House in Preston Street. A fledgling aircraft industry was taking off on the Isle of Sheppey, the Faversham Institute for the Encouragement of Literature, Science and Art brought shows from London and there were 80 pubs, thanks to the industry of local brewers, for a population of 10,000.
Roller hockey, however, was a national craze despite or perhaps to alleviate the painful distractions of World War I, and by 1920 there were four roller hockey teams in the town and plans to draw on their prodigious talent to form a town team. Future England players were also emerging. And then, on a Sunday afternoon in July 1925, disaster struck – the skating rink was completely destroyed by fire, leaving only ‘some charred and smoking debris of timber and twisted sheets of corrugated iron’ (Faversham News 15 July 1925). The building was uninsured and all seemed lost. However, rising magnificently to the challenge, in the next five years Faversham rink hockey players achieved international fame and secured their place in sporting history.
Many of the most brilliant Faversham players had been ‘skate boys’, fixing the skates onto people’s shoes and earning tips of one or two pence a time. They also had the keys to the rink in the early morning so they could dust the barriers and balconies before the public arrived, and they used this precious time for practising and perfecting their skating and hockey skills. Following the fire, the town rallied and players and officials vowed to continue. A company was formed to raise funds, Herne Bay Pavilion offered the use of their rink and Faversham’s four teams, because of the loss of facilities, were reduced to two. This made them the ultimate striking force, winning ever more prestigious matches, and prompting from the International Rink Hockey Journal the view that: ‘This is the most important club in Europe: the players are all natives of the town and have won more trophies than any other club in England.’
In 1930 there came the ultimate honour, the international federation of roller hockey in Europe invited England to play for the Cup of Nations in Montreux, Switzerland from 29 March to 2 April. The players chosen for the England team were Cush Moon (captain), Bert Boorman (goalkeeper), Fred Curry, Perce Monk and Jack Cornford (all players). Not only did they all come from Faversham, they all lived in the same street, Front Brents, where the car park now is, next to the Albion pub, and had been friends since childhood. They first played hockey in the road using sticks cut from hedgerows.
A six-day charabanc trip to Montreux was organised for supporters by Herne Bay Press at an all-inclusive cost of £9. Local newspapers were excited about the tournament and reported on England’s matches – invariably referred to as ‘Faversham’s’ – with mounting excitement and hyperbole. Faversham News claimed that ‘Faversham, playing as the England team, has added fame unheard of.’ In the event, Faversham defeated all comers, winning their final game against a team chosen from the best of the rest by five goals to one. On their return to Faversham, the players were met by a huge crowd at the railway station. They were taken in a decorated car in a procession headed by the Gospel Mission band to the Market Place, where there was a speech by the mayor and loud applause.
The story resumes in 2015 when Geoff Sandiford, retired teacher and talented musician – he plays in five bands – went to an open day at the studio in Conyer of the distinguished graphic designer and printmaker, Hugh Ribbans. Studying Hugh’s street map of Faversham, which is rich in images of local history and characters, Geoff spotted two roller hockey players. Hugh promptly told him the story of the Faversham Rink Hockey Club, commenting: ‘This is such a great story, someone should make a film.’ Geoff went home and wrote a song about it, then another one and eventually 15.
At the time he was Head of Technology at Borden Grammar School in Sittingbourne, and was torn between teaching, which he loved, and his music. Music won and he retired three years early. Two years later, having set himself a deadline, Geoff finished his musical presentation, The Skate Boys of Faversham Town. He had remembered that 30 years before, when he first arrived in Faversham, he used to drink in the Mechanics’ Arms in West Street. Perce Monk, who was then about 80, drank in the same pub. Perce told stories about the Cup of Nations and how Faversham vanquished the eight rink hockey teams of Europe. Geoff recalls Perce as a funny man who had been landlord of the Albion. He had run a busman’s café in the town for a while and was the last person to close the Faversham Creek swing bridge. Perce had written three pages of memories of the fire and other events, which, along with newspaper cuttings and old photos, were in a trunk in the attic of Perce’s daughter Sue.
Sue had been a barmaid at the Mechanics’ Arms, and when Geoff got back in touch, she immediately said: ‘Would you like to look in my dad’s trunk? You take what you like and bring them back when you’ve finished.’ Geoff’s musical is a skilful and entertaining blend of narration (all Perce’s own words) and catchy songs with accomplished lyrics, written by Geoff and expanding on Perce’s own accounts. Period photos, some from Perce’s trunk and new ones supplied for the latest performance by those who have already seen the show complete this audiovisual feast. The talented five-man band includes Geoff on guitar and vocals, and his son Dominic on drums and percussion. A magnificent contribution is made by the narrator, Martin Long, who also plays the guitar and cittern. The Skate Boys of Faversham Town was premiered at the Gospel Mission Hall in Tanners Street on 17 November 2017. Hugh Ribbans donated a gorgeous linocut for the programme. One hundred and thirty people came and the hall was packed. ‘I’m a musician,’ says Geoff, ‘but I’ve never had a round of applause like it.’
Performances of The Skate Boys of Faversham Town made a rousing and popular start and finish to Faversham’s first literary festival. The Assembly Rooms were full and applause was long and loud. Among the audience at the final performance was 100-year-old Nellie Wade, who shared memories of her teenage years and whose recall of names was flawless.
A professionally recorded CD of the songs and a DVD showing screen and band will soon be available, at sensible prices, from the Hat Shop in West Street. Linocut prints of the Skate Boys by Hugh Ribbans are also available from the Hat Shop, price £45. All proceeds from sales of the linocut print (as did those at the first performance at the Gospel Mission Hall) go to Faversham Food Bank and the Tear Fund.
The full story of The Skate Boys of Faversham 1910–1933, by Fred Poynter, has recently been published as Faversham Papers 61 in a second edition 2018 by The Faversham Society, price £7.50.
The Hat Shop
110 West Street
Tel 01795 227071
The Faversham Society
10-13 Preston Street
Tel 01795 534542
Text: Sarah. Photography: Peter Kennet, Geoff Sandiford, Amanda Russell and others