A brief dive into the History of Standard Quay on The Swale

Standard Quay has a rich history in maritime trade. The first written reference to a port in Faversham comes from King Wihtred in AD 699. It is highly likely, though, that the port was used throughout the Roman occupation (AD 43 – AD 410). Archaeological investigations since the late 1990s suggest the existence of various Roman buildings which may have been associated with Standard Quay. In 1683, London imported more cargoes from Faversham than every other English port except Newcastle. The Confederation of Cinque Ports has over 14 members, including five ‘head ports’ which are attached variously to seven ‘limbs’. Faversham is a ‘limb’ of Dover. The word ‘Standard’ is probably associated with units of measurement. This suggests that Standard Quay was a place where goods were weighed in the process of both importing and exporting cargo.

Topographically, Faversham Creek lends itself to trade. Jacob wrote that Faversham is situated on a ‘navigable arms of the Swale’ (1774). This brought Faversham vast wealth, particularly when roads were impassable. Until road conditions improved, and vehicles rendered suitable for longer journeys, the sea was the main trading highway. The cost of transporting cargo by road from Faversham to Canterbury cost twice as much as the voyage by sea from Faversham to London. In turn, products became considerably cheaper and therefore more accessible. Produce such as corn, grain, hops, fruit, oysters, and fish could be cheaply and efficiently transported to London. Produce exported from Faversham contributed to the success of the London food market. Oysters, for instance, became so cheap by the late 18th century that Defoe recounts giving them to his dog. Many oysters were exported each year, mostly to London, but also the Netherlands with whom Faversham Oystery had a rolling contract.

The trade in gunpowder from the mid 16th century also made Faversham particularly prosperous. When the gunpowder hoys, carrying up to 100 barrels of gunpowder, were anchored in Faversham creek awaiting departure, town officials became concerned. In 1776 the Faversham Corporation presented a petition to the Ordnance Board observed that those ships carrying gunpowder passed so close to houses, storehouses and other flammable structures and objects that may result in the lower part of the town ‘receiving very great damage’.

The developments carried out in the late 19th century to Faversham Creek are testament to the continuance of its commercial success. For instance, in 1872, a large Coal Wharf was constructed, followed in 1884 by the construction of timber and corrugated sheds. As early as the Tudor period, work was completed to render Faversham Creek conducive to trade. For instance, sluices were built to control the flow rate and water level.

Standard Quay’s success meant that it was a busy port. This required rigorous administrative oversight. In the late Tudor period, 73 officials administered the port. The porter system was efficient and there existed a standardised list of charges for every commodity. A list from 1560 shows that ships were allowed to leave and enter only at the times prescribed to them. Aside from administrative officiating, menial labour was in high demand. Ships entering and leaving Standard Quay would have to be towed by men called “hovellers”. Ensuring the tide was on their side alleviated the physical burden that hovellers would otherwise feel.
Schedules were strict and arriving in London punctually was critical to the operation of the entire trading machinery. The most favourable tide was dubbed the ‘west tide’. Tides were liable to changing direction, and so mooring at various river mouths on route to London was necessary. Those ships entering Faversham from London would stop at the Shipwrights Arms. Sailors could rest and buy refreshments whilst awaiting admittance to Standard Quay whereupon they would unload the ship’s cargo. Prostitution services were also available at the Shipwrights Arms. The Shipwrights Arms is situated at the bifurcation of the main Creek before it splits into Oare Creek, flowing south west, and Faversham Creek, which flows circuitously into the heart of the town.

Standard Quay is still a working quay. Downstream, Iron Wharf is an important centre for boat and barge repairs. Boats and barges come from France and the Netherlands to use Standard Quay’s facilities each year. Aside from acting as an essential port, Standard Quay has historically been a centre for shipbuilding. This legacy has lived on: from the 1970s onwards, historic ships were sent to Standard Quay to be restored and repaired by local shipwrights. These projects are highly technical and can take years to be completed.

Researched & Written by S.T.