Canterbury is a place of exceptional heritage, both natural and human. The Great Stour, which passes through the entire length of the parks, is the longest chalk stream in Kent, representing a type of ecosystem better represented in England than in any other region of the world – for which natural heritage we all have responsibility to protect from its many threats. FoWP is actively engaged in recording the natural history and animal and plant diversity of both the parks and the river, (see pages under 'Wildlife' from the drop-down menu).
In terms of human history, the parks include archaeological deposits going back to the middle Neolithic, about 5000 years ago. The main archaeological interest, however, relates to the Roman heritage of the area, which includes the footings of a major section of the city’s Roman wall, which runs just beneath the surface almost the whole length of the Gardens. In 2016 the Friends group were involved in a community dig which revealed much new information about Roman Watling Street, which crosses the river close to the Rheims Way overpass. In 2021 preparatory work, led by Canterbury Archaeological Trust and funded by KCC, was undertaken to extend this work to investigate remains of Roman riverside buildings.
Tower House (read more) built in about 1850 over a section of the Roman Wall, was gifted to the people of Canterbury by the Williamson family, together with various other buildings (e.g. Ivy Cottage), the Gardens and Tannery Field. The notable Williamsons included Catherine, the first woman to be city’s mayor (read more on Wikipedia).
The whole parks area has many connections with the past. FoWP not only plays a part in recording this rich and diverse heritage, but it is also involved in adding to it – such as by design and installation of the Tannery Field Bull in 2016 (read more), maintenance and improvement of the physic garden, the creation of murals celebrating the parks and their history, and more ephemeral cultural activities such as support for the first open-air theatre in the Gardens (in 2021: read more ), and our now annual involvement in Canterbury’s Mediaeval Pageant.
The Friends of Westgate Parks are thus committed to both chronicling and preserving the areas' natural and human heritage, and adding to it – such as with a new riverside living sculpture project in collaboration with Canterbury College (watch this space!).