The complex of buildings in Faversham on the
site known as "Whitefriars" consists of:
- Carmel Hall (parish meeting room under the church)
Who are the Carmelites?
The Carmelite friars (brothers) are known
as "Whitefriars" because of the white cloaks they wear
as part of their religious habit for religious occasions. The
Carmelite Order started with a group of hermits living on Mount Carmel in
the Holy Land. Sometime between 1206 and 1214 they asked Albert, the Latin Patriarch (Roman Catholic Bishop) of
Jerusalem for a Rule, or way of life, to follow. In 1242 they
were driven out of the Holy Land by the Saracens, and came to
Europe. One group settled in Hulne, near Alnwick in Northumberland,
and another at Aylesford in Kent. There were Carmelites in this
country from that time until the Reformation. The Carmelites came
back to England in 1926, and took over responsibility for the
parishes of Sittingbourne and Faversham in the southern English county of Kent.
The Carmelite friar community at Faversham consists of the Prior of the house (senior brother of the community), the Parish Priest of the Church, and Shrine Chaplain.
Friars outside the Carmelite community house at Faversham.
There are also a number of lay members of the Carmelite Order active in the parish at Faversham.
The Carmelite friars serve the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Faversham.
Parishioners worshipping in the parish church.
present church was opened in 1937. The building that is now the
Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel has had a chequered history.
It was built by William Hall in 1861 as a Quaker school, which
explains its church-like appearance. Faversham was the centre of a gunpowder
making industry that was largely controlled by Quakers. The directors
and foreman of the company were Quakers and they built a school
to give their children a religious education in accordance with
their beliefs. The original layout included a courtyard under
the building, now enclosed to form the parish hall (Carmel Hall). On the outside
of the pillars supporting the building (now the wall of the Hall)
on the North, or car park side, can be seen the grooves and marks
where the children used to sharpen their slate pencils.
The Carmelite community house (left) adjoins the parish church (centre)
on Tanners Street in Faversham.
What happened to the Quaker school?
The school continued in being until 1907 when the girls moved
to amalgamate with a boys' school and so form a new school in
new premises (The Ethelbert Road Council School). During the First
World War, on 2nd April 1916, there was an enormous explosion
in the local powder works down on the marshes. The gravestone
of some 150 victims of the tragedy can still be seen in the local
cemetery, where they were only afforded a communal grave. When
the war was over, powder making moved north into Scotland.
In 1910 the building was acquired
by East Kent Cinemas, and after some alterations opened its doors
as the Empire Picture Hall. The screen occupied the place of the
main windows in the Church, and the projection shed was in the
garden behind the present Calvary. Eventually a new cinema was
built in the centre of the town and the building became vacant
In 1926 the Carmelites were given
charge of the parish of Faversham, with the Church in Plantation
Road (built in 1906 to accommodate 65 people!). In 1937 the disused
Empire Picture Hall was purchased together with the house and
the land and, after conversion, dedicated as the Church of Our
Lady of Mount Carmel superceeding the Church in Plantation Road.
Brother Anthony McGreal, O.Carm., (d. 1965) who for over 30 years
helped to develop the Carmelite presence at Faversham.
The old church, until its demolition in 1963, served as a chapel
for the Convent (Plantation House) from which the Notre Dame Sisters
conducted a primary school. The cost of the house and the redundant
cinema was a mere £900, and so the new Church and Priory
of Faversham came into being. That is not to say that the Catholics
of the town liked it. They thought that Tanners Street was a bit
down market as an area, but as time went on they began to see
more sense in the proposition.
Friars greeting parishioners after Mass.
fine Georgian house next door to the church is the priory where the Carmelite friars live. Known today as "Whitefriars", it is the oldest building
on the site and rated as an ancient monument. It stands on
the steep slope that drops from the level of Tanners Street down
to the banks of the West Brook (on which stand the newsletter office
buildings, the remains of an orchard and the car park).
The entrance to 'Whitefriars', the friar community house.
From the deeds of adjoining properties it appears that the house was
build about 1740 by John Gilbert, who died in 1746. He was a tanner by trade,
so the name of the street is no misnomer; evidently his business
was prosperous to afford such a splendid new home. His tan yard,
it seems, was originally where the church car park now is, but
was moved elsewhere, and the site became a kitchen garden. The
house was extensively remodelled inside for use by the governesses
(teachers) when the School (now the church) was built in 1861,
but outside remains as it was. It is built to a plan. A good,
spacious, well lit sitting room in front, with a small bedroom
at the back. It is interesting to observe that for sleeping purposes,
school teachers, in those days, did not require over much cubic
Parish Hall (Carmel Hall)
Underneath the forecourt leading
to the house is a vaulted space that used to be a sort of armoury
for the local musketry school. It was later devoted to the more
peaceful pursuit of making habits for the friars, and Brown Scapulars
for members of the Brown Scapular Confraternity. In 2005 it was renovated to serve as the parish hall and is used for a wide variety of activities and local groups.
The entrance to Carmel Hall.
The interior of Carmel Hall.
Kitchen facilities at Carmel Hall.
The buildings which house the newsletter office and other outlets were built between 1935 and 1960. The facing building that served as a printing works was renovated in 2009 to provide new office space for the Carmelite Prior Provincial, Saint Albert's Press, and a meeting room for pilgrims.
Today, we have in Tanners Street
a pleasant little church (that is gradually growing too small for
our needs!), a fine Priory and garden, as well as the National Shrine of St. Jude.