Until 1898, the land on which Victoria Park and Watercress Fields are now situated was a mixture of arable, pasture and orchard fields. The farmland also acted as a droving route from neighbouring farms through to the market in the town centre.
The Kentish Express newspaper published an illustration in July 1898 of what ‘Beaver Fields’ looked like c.1848-58. St Mary’s Church, in the town centre can be seen in the background.
The Victoria Park land was owned by the Jemmett family, a well-known Ashford family who were responsible for a number of changes in the town and contributed significantly to its development.
In 1898, William Francis Bond Jemmett sold the first 17 acres of land to the Urban District Council for £2,780.00 to build the town’s municipal park. The surrounding residential streets which emerged through later developments are named after the Jemmett family as a result.
The park was formally designated as Victoria Park in October 1899. The park featured a bandstand, recreation ground, pond, extensive new trees and shrubs, shelter and changing rooms, and became a key place within the town to play sports matches and host public events.
The park was enclosed by cast iron fencing, of which only the gates on Jemmett Road survive. This was the main entrance to the park. The gates were made by a local firm, J U Bugler & Co, who had their foundry in St John’s Lane Ashford.
The Kentish Express newspaper records regular activities taking place in the park, including Sunday afternoon services and bands playing every Wednesday evening during the summer months.
The ‘Hubert’ Fountain was commissioned for the International Exhibition of 1862, the successor to the 1851 Great Exhibition.
A French production, the fountain is of typical mid-19th century design, with a pyramidal arrangement of cast iron gods, goddesses and cherubs, rising out of a surrounding basin.
The visitors to the exhibition in 1862 would have also been entertained and delighted by the fountain’s original water operated organ, which contained sixty-four whistle pipes set at different pitches.
After the exhibition, the fountain was purchased by John Sawbridge Erle-Drax, along with two cast-iron stags, to sit among the gardens of his family home, Olantigh Towers in Wye. Unfortunately Olantigh Towers burned down in 1903. It was at this point that the Earl-Drax family began selling the house’s contents and assets, and the fountain became available.
After the fire of 1903, the Chairman of the Urban District Council, Mr George Harper, made a request of the council to purchase the fountain and place it in the recently completed Victoria Park. However, the Council were dissuaded by the purchase, transportation and installation costs, and refused.
Eventually, in 1911 George Harper decided to make an anonymous offer to purchase the fountain and the two accompanying stags. This was under the condition that it be turned on every year on July 23rd, his birthday.
The Council finally agreed, and on the 24th July, one day after his 71st birthday, it was presented to the park by Mr Harper’s niece, Miss Miles. Mr Harper was unfortunately too ill to attend the unveiling, and tragically some three weeks later, committed suicide.
The fountain is listed Grade II*.