August 2016 Town Crier magazine
The National Playing Fields Association was set up as a charity in 1925 by Brigadier-General Reginald Kentish. The first President was the Duke of York, later King George V, and the aim was, and still is, to preserve green spaces. Following the death of King George V in 1936, the charity set up King George’s Fields Foundation as a memorial. The Foundation’s objects were “ to promote and to assist in the establishment throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland of Playing Fields for the use and enjoyment of the people every such Playing Field to be styled ‘King George’s Field’ and to be distinguished by heraldic panels or other appropriate tablet medallion or inscription commemorative of the King.” The Trust defined a playing field as ‘any open space used for the purpose of outdoor games, sports and pastimes’.
In Tunbridge Wells in 1930 Cllr E. J. Strange, a local businessman, bought the lands belonging to the Dorking Charity, and then donated a large amount of this land to the council to become Hilbert Recreation Ground. So it came to be in 1937 that some of this land was dedicated to be a King George V Playing Field, with the heraldic panels on the entrance at Hilbert Road. Work on this ‘lower football pitch’ was conducted by local unemployed men, engaged on the Tunbridge Wells Council of Social Service scheme.
These men were working on Thursday 23rd June 1938 when an official visit was made by HRH Prince George, The Duke of Kent (4th son of King George V and Queen Mary). The Duke of Kent had come to Tunbridge Wells for the official opening of ‘Homes for Old Folk’ (sic), Sherborne Close, Dorset Road, Hawkenbury. Driving his own Rolls Royce, the Duke was held up by traffic in Tonbridge, and arrived 25 minutes late in Hawkenbury. Met by then Mayor, Cllr C. E. Hillman, a dedication service was held for the Homes. The Duke, Mayor and Duke’s Equerry Lord Herbert then drove via Ferndale to Hilbert Recreation Grounds.
For the visit temporary gates had to be erected, and the actual gates and pillars weren’t installed until 1940. These have just been renovated as part of the recent Heritage Lottery Funded work. The Duke was greeted by crowds of enthusiastic children, passed between a Scouts’ Guard of Honour, and was presented to local dignitaries including Cllr Strange. The Duke took a short walk around the ground, before returning to his car. The Royal visit carried on around villages of The Weald, including a visit to another King George Playing Field in Hawkhurst. For the day in Tunbridge Wells the Mayor paid the wages of the men at work, and a total of £3,500 had been raised by the council to pay for the whole playing field, with some grant money provided by the Foundation.
The royal link to the playing fields continues today, The Queen has been Patron since 1952, and in 2013 The Duke of Cambridge took over as President from his grandfather The Duke of Edinburgh. In 2007 the charity changed it’s name to Fields in Trust, and has continued to campaign for preserving green spaces. The current scheme, launched by the Duke of Cambridge is Centenary Fields which aims to secure recreational spaces in perpetuity to honour the memory of the millions of people who lost their lives in World War I. Through this new programme landowners across the UK will be encouraged to dedicate at least one recreational space as a Centenary Field. These spaces can include war memorial parks and playing fields given in memory of those who lost their lives, or other significant green spaces.
Information collected from Fields in Trust website and Friends of Grosvenor and Hilbert Park history, additional history collected from Kent & Sussex Courier 1938 (©Local World Ltd courtesy of The British Library Board) via British Newspaper Archive.