As part of Open Faversham we have got together with some of the resident artists based here at Creek Creative to put on our very first outside pop up art exhibition to celebrate some of the people and stories from Faversham, past and present.

Pop Up Art Exhibition

Bessie and Bert

The story of Bessie and Bert was taken from Leslie Smith’s book “Stories of Faversham” set against the backdrop of the demolition of Faversham Abbey.  John Caslock, the last Abbot of the Abbey had been visited by Cardinal Wolsey and his then solicitor Thomas Cromwell in 1528. Wolsey was rapidly falling out of favour with King Henry VIII and Cromwell was fast becoming a rising star in the royal court.

The King was at this time seeking to divorce his wife Katherine of Aragon to enable him to be free to marry Anne Boleyn. Henry appealed to Pope Clement VII, head of the Catholic Church for an annulment of his marriage, the Pope refused, sparking King Henry to devise a plan to separate the Church in England from Catholic Rome and establishing the king as the head of the Church of England. Then, Henry could grant his own marriage annulment.

As the King and Cromwell devised this plan, the popular belief that the Catholic Church was corrupt was promoted, and it was on this basis that Wolsey and Cromwell visited the Abbey on this occasion.  Cromwell had one agenda in mind, and this was to prove that Faversham Abbey and other religious houses were corrupt and prove to support the kings wishes of wholesale destruction of monasteries throughout England.

And so, as the trio toured the Abbey and it’s grounds Cromwell sought to rant and criticise everything he saw.  Except, just as he got going, he was cut short, feeling that he was being watched, looking about he could only see a pair of carrion crows.  Yet, every time he started one of his tirades against the Abbey and the Abbot, the birds sat close by, watching him.  Eventually the Cromwell snapped “What are those carrion crows doing here?’

The abbot cheerfully replied that they were Bessie and Bert, friends to the abbey monks.  Cromwell incensed declared that they were “birds of evil omen”.  Wolsey, an old friend of the abbot, and feeling somewhat uncomfortable at Cromwell’s behaviour took this opportunity to whistle to the birds, who responded instantaneously, jumping up and down, fluffing their feathers, clicking and clacking in excitement.  Laughing Cardinal Wolsey turned to Cromwell and instructed him to whistle at the birds.  Reluctantly he did, and Bessie and Bert turned around to present him with their backs!

Insulted, Cromwell cut short the visit, but Thomas Cromwell would get his revenge.

By 1539, the reformation was in full swing, and Cromwell had been handsomely rewarded for his part in creating and passing through Parliament The Act of Supremacy meaning that Henry, and all subsequent English monarchs, only had one higher authority: God himself. One of these many, many titles and honours was “Master of Jewels” which please him very much as he had a great passion for them.  However, it was in his role as vicar-general, that is the king’s vicegerent in Church affairs that he was able to get his revenge on Faversham Abbey.

And so, one hot day in 1539 Abbot John Caslock and his monks received a surprise knock on the Abbey gates, with a demand to surrender the keys.  As the commissioners entered, Caslock was surprised to see Cromwell himself was among them. A rare occurrence, as he usually left the dirty work to others.  He was clearly dressed to impress, and show how far he had risen from a lowly solicitor, wearing a cloak, dressed with the very special diamond and ruby, which he had purchased in the previous November for the eye watering price at the time of £2,000!

Cromwell dismissed the monks, instructing them only to take what they could carry and then he and his men, began demolishing the Abbey.  Cromwell was clearly enjoying getting his revenge and wholeheartedly joined in with the demolition. Being a hot day, he removed his cloak and worked most of the day, smashing walls, windows and doors.  As evening fell, the work was finished for the day, Cromwell reached for his cloak and found his precious diamond and ruby missing.  In a panic he looked about, only to see the carrion crows that had mocked and insulted him all those years before, Bessie and Bert, holding in their beaks one jewel each.  Cromwell rushed at them, but the birds merely did a little dance, and then took to the skies, and flew off, as they did, Cromwell swore he could hear them laugh.

On the 28th July 1540, John Caslock, the last Abbot of Faversham was enjoying the sunshine streaming into the window of of the Tudor cottage where a friend had given him refugee.  When his eye caught something glinting on the windowsill.  To his amazement there glinting in the summer sun, was Cromwell’s precious ruby and diamond.  As he looked about, he spotted in the old oak tree, Bessie and Bert going about their usual business of pruning their feathers and taking no notice of John, who was, by now, offering up a prayer of thanks to God.

What John couldn’t have known at this time, was that on this very day Thomas Cromwell was beheaded on Tower Hill, charged with high treason.

In due course, John sold the precious gems, distributing the massive proceeds to the poor and needy of Faversham.  A great day for the town all thanks to Bessie and Bert.

Meet The Artists

Heidi Schaffner

Local resident and award winning Artist Heidi, paints animals from her travels. With fun pops of colour and texture her passion lies with supporting endangered animals and local communities, so Heidi was happy to get involved in Faces of Faversham.

Selling out at exhibitions has been amazing for Heidi but this year she turned her attention to teaching art so that others might find a mindfulness and enjoyment in creating. You can find her classes paint parties and workshops for all abilities online as well as commission inquiries.




Meet more Faces of Faversham

John Ward

Bob Geldof

Arthur Percival

Gulliver Immink