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Dover: Lock and Key of the Kingdom

Connaught Park

Around 1881 a number of influential local people started  pressing for a public park in the town and it was decided to  provide one by voluntary subscription. The Department of  Woods and Forests, on behalf of the Crown, agreed to lease the land to the Corporation for 99 years, and the townspeople  subscribed £2,700 for fencing, planting, and forming lawns and  terraces. The key to the park was officially handed over to the Mayor on  1 May 1883 and the park was open to the public from that day  on. The park was formally opened by the Duke and Duchess of  Connaught on 14 July 1884. The Duchess planted a tree near  the pond, and the tree is still there with a plaque, on the fence  that surrounds it, commemorating the event. The park takes its  name from the Duke and Duchess, who also named the  Connaught Hall in the new Town Hall the same day. As originally built the park covered 25 acres extending from the  lower entrance opposite Park Avenue, to what is now the middle entrance, half way up Connaught Hill. Shortly after the park  was opened it was enlarged taking the whole of the hillside up  to the Deal Road, and making a third entrance opposite the  Castle. This extension added another five acres to the area of  the park, and although not very wide it greatly extended the  upper promenade.   A famous landmark in the park was an archway formed by the  jaw bones of a large whale. They were presented to the town in 1866 by a Mr W.T. Tourney and later erected in the park. By the early 1960s there was concern that the bones were decaying  and the Council thought that the structure was dangerous and  beyond repair. They were loath to do anything for fear of public  outcry but the problem was solved for them when, in March  1967, vandals entered the park one night and cut it down using  a saw, leaving the Council to just remove the debris. The park remains more or less unchanged in its main structure  since Victorian times. On the lower level the park is terraced to  make formal lawns with flowerbeds and an ornamental pond.  On the next level there are tennis courts and a children’s  playground, above this the lawns slope up the hillside to the  upper promenade. The trees planted by the Victorians have  now matured into fine specimens adding to the beauty of the  park.  A more recent addition is the aviary, close to the main  entrance, full of budgerigars, finches and other small birds. One  change is that the number of formally planted beds has been  much reduced, partly due to changing tastes but mainly due to  the cost of the intensive gardening required to maintain such  formal displays. In spite of there being less colourful annuals  and more shrubs and lawns, the Connaught Park is still a very  pleasant spot and the upper promenade commands spectacular  views over the valley.
Connaught Park c.1900.  The pond and view of the castle. Connaught Park c1955. The Whale's Jaw Bone in the 1950s. Connaught Park, February 2014.  The upper promenade. Connaught Park, February 2014.  The lower lawns. Connaught Park, February 2014.  Crocuses in bloom by the upper promenade.