Keeping Faversham's gunpowder history alive

Image caption Gunpowder produced at the Faversham factory is believed to have been used in the Battle of Trafalgar and the Battle of Waterloo

Faversham in Kent has an explosive history.

For 400 years, gunpowder-making was central to the community and even though it claimed many lives, it also formed "the fabric of Faversham".

But one museum detailing its proud heritage may have to partially close.

The Faversham Society says there are not enough volunteers to keep Chart Gunpowder Mills - home to one of the few fully restored gunpowder mills in the country - and its museum open to the public, and it may now only be viewed by appointment.

John Breeze, former curator of Chart Mills, said: "There are so few volunteers - I was at the stage where I was almost living there - we just need more volunteers to help to open it.

"It was brilliant because you meet all sorts of people - they come from all over the world they are not just Faversham people.

"I would be very disappointed if it closed."

Great explosions

It is believed that the gunpowder produced in Faversham may have been used in the Battle of Trafalgar and the Battle of Waterloo.

"We have no documentary evidence but it must have been used then because it was made then and the only other place was Walton Abbey in Essex," said Mr Breeze.

The gunpowder industry was established in Faversham from about 1530, and it expanded over the years and spread to a number of sites.

The original site was called Home Works, home to Chart Mills which formed Faversham's first gunpowder factory and one of the first in Britain.

Problems with explosions in the Home Works site and the fact that it was situated close to the town centre meant the factory had to move out into the country. It moved into the Marsh Works site on the marshes towards the Swale estuary.

It was there, in 1916, that a huge explosion killed everyone who was working at the site - 109 men and boys plus a local fire crew.

Image caption Many of those who died in the explosion were buried in a mass grave in Faversham cemetery on 6 April 1916

The explosives industry in Faversham closed in 1934 because of the impending war. The manufacture of high explosives was moved from Kent to Ardeer in Scotland.

"The industry was of massive national importance and it was important for the people of Faversham," said Mr Breeze.

"A lot of the people of Faversham are descendants of people that were involved in the industry.

"Most of them survived, but a lot of them were injured and a lot of them were killed."

Impact of closure

The closure of the gunpowder factory had a big impact on the town as people had to look for work in other industries.

But according to Mr Breeze, it was a gradual closure which took place over a period of time. "All the sites closed and people had to get involved in other local firms such as boat building," he said.

With the partial closure of Chart Mills looking imminent, it is hoped the museum does not go the same way as the industry, which Mr Breeze said has been a "massive part of Faversham's history and is part of the fabric of Faversham".

On 2 April, 96 years since the great explosion, Mr Breeze will be at the Faversham cemetery with historic photographs and records for people to come and view between 11:00 and 15:00.

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