HistoryKent Towns

The Faversham Charters and Magna Carta

In May 2022 Faversham’s unique collection of medieval and later charters will go on display, for the first time as a permanent exhibition. A spectacular selection of manuscripts and other artefacts has been prepared by an all-local team in a dramatic new exhibition drawing on the town’s rich historical legacy.

Faversham is one of a tiny handful of English towns which can boast a medieval version of King John’s famous Magna Carta. The charter is one of the most celebrated documents of English history, revered the world over as one of the foundation documents of liberty and democracy. Faversham’s version, made over 700 years ago, is one of the best-preserved of all. It takes centre stage in Faversham Town Council’s new exhibition, presented alongside its other royal charters which have been carefully preserved in the town for centuries. Also included in the exhibition are:

  • Faversham’s custumal book ― a unique medieval manuscript retaining its original binding.
  • The earliest surviving example of Faversham’s seal, bearing the image of a ship and dating from the year 1295.
  • the town’s medieval moot horn ― a mysterious artefact used for centuries to summon meetings of the town government, and one of a very few surviving examples.
  • a lifetime portrait of Henry VIII painted into an illuminated initial on the King’s charter of 1544.
  • two superb early-seventeenth-century manuscript maps of Faversham’s Creek and the Swale Estuary ― already casting new light on the town’s coastal geography.

There is much here for enthusiasts of local history, but since these artefacts have been relatively little studied in the past, it is hoped that they will also attract a national and international audience via the exhibition and supporting website favershamcharters.org (which will go live when the exhibition opens). They help tell story of the town’s medieval prosperity and its place in the forefront of developing local government through the ages.

But the exhibition is not just for historians. Artists and makers will find much to inspire them ― illuminated manuscripts, ornament, calligraphy, bookbinding, metalworking, leatherworking, mapmaking and silkwork. Children will enjoy identifying materials and having a go at medieval handwriting, perhaps even making their own illuminated manuscripts and decorated seals. 

The aim is to share Faversham’s extraordinary treasures and to inspire new insights into the town’s rich and unique heritage. The exhibition was conceived during the lockdown periods of 2020-21 by a small team of local historians and archivists working with the town council, meeting almost entirely via Zoom. Local experts Darius Wilson Associates were the natural choice for the design and construction of the exhibition itself and they have used state-of-the-art museum technology to ensure the highest standards of security and conservation and to present a dramatic and inspiring environment for these precious artefacts.

This project has been achieved entirely through funding provided by local organisations, Faversham Town Council, The Edward Vinson Charitable Trust, Faversham Heritage Fund and Henry Hatch Charity of Faversham Municipal Charities, Bensted’s Charity, Queenborough Fisheries Trust and Swale Borough Council

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Justin Croft has nearly thirty years’ experience in the rare book trade and holds a PhD in medieval bibliography. Since 2006 he has been a regular contributor to the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow.  

Justin Croft says “Having known of the artefacts in the exhibition for many years I am excited to have been part of the team bringing them to a wider public. We are tremendously fortunate to have such a wealth of expertise to draw upon locally and it has been a pleasure working with local historians, archivists and museum specialists to bring this project to this point.”

Darius Wilson Associates was established in 1993 in Faversham and has been based at Upper Brents Industrial Estate since 2000.  The business specialises in the design, development, and construction of art exhibits, interactives, and interiors for exhibitions and museums.

DWA works nationally and internationally but have greatly enjoyed and appreciated being given the opportunity to bring their expertise to support an important installation in their home town.

Darius Wilson says “It has been particularly gratifying to design and build a permanent exhibition to house and display the important charters and maps that belong to Faversham and help to illuminate the history of the town and its community. It has been very rewarding to work with Faversham Town Council and local experts including Justin Croft to bring something of great quality for everyone to enjoy and be proud of. 

 

The Mayor of Faversham, Cllr Trevor Martin says “Faversham has a rich history and a unique collection of medieval municipal charters of which Magna Carta as issued by Edward I to the barons of Faversham is probably the most well known. The Town Council has for some years been working to enable the display of them and I am proud that everyone will be able to see them.”

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