Looking at this calm scene of ducks and allotment gardening at Stonebridge Pond it is hard to believe that this was the cradle of the explosives industry in Britain.
Gunpowder had been invented by the Chinese but its use in warfare was developed by European countries from the sixteenth century. In Britain this new explosive powder helped to expand the Empire through warfare and building works.
There were a number of geographical reasons why Faversham became an ideal site. The willow beds to the west of here at Bysing Wood grew renewable alder. Alder was converted into charcoal, an essential ingredient for gunpoweder manufacture. Another vital ingredient, sulphur, could be extracted from copperas found in nearby Tankerton. Later on sulphur was imported by ship from a volcano in Sicily. The third component, saltpetre, was sourced from urea-soaked straw beds that were transported by ship at the eastern end of the creek.
Crucially, Faversham also had a good source of water to power the mill to grind and blend these ingredients into explosives. The Westbrook stream emerged at a spring two miles outside Faversham and flowed down into Stonebridge Pond here. The islands you can see within the pond were part of an internal transport network built to convey barrels of gunpowder to Ordnance
Quay. Ships would then transport the gunpowder along the creek and out via the Medway and Thames to the royal arsenals at Chatham or the Tower of London. You could even argue that the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 was won in the gunpowder factories of Faversham. Nelson’s ship, HMS Victory, carried 35 tonnes of powder to supply its cannon.
This entire area has of course been changed greatly since by human intervention. The islands are used today as allotments but you can see some of the last remaining evidence of Faversham’s gunpowder industry further up the river at Chart Mill which we’ll visit shortly.