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
the same day.
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
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 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.
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.
One of the many resident squirrels, May 2001.