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Image:  The pond, Connaught Park, c.1900.
The pond, Connaught Park, c.1900.

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.

 

Image:  A fine example of the lost art of the municipal gardeners from the 1930s.
A fine example of the lost art of the municipal gardeners from the 1930s.

 
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.
 

 

Image:  The whale's jaw bone arch.
The whale's jaw bone arch.

 

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.

 

Image:  Spring 2001.
Spring 2001.

Image:  One of the many resident squirrels, May 2001.
One of the many resident squirrels, May 2001.

 


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