Riverside Centre, Maison Dieu Gardens, Lidice Plaque, Coleman’s Trust and Jack Hewitt

Riverside Centre

Riverside Centre

It was back in the 1960s that a local GP, Brian Ordish, expressed concern that although there were, at that time, 3,000 people in Dover over 60 years, they did not have a special centre of their own. Dr Ordish was particularly concerned about those living alone, not getting adequate nutritional food and the lack sufficient heating in their homes.

The cost of a building was calculated at £12,000 and a further £1,000 for furniture and equipment. In 1966 a trust was set up under the Chairmanship of Father Terence Edmund Tanner and consisted of James A Johnson (Town Clerk), Cllr. Arthur Edward Husk, Mrs Anne Jardine Pressley and Miss Winifred Ellen Young. The purpose of the trust was,  The provision upkeep and operation of a Community Centre for the use and benefit of old people being inhabitants of Dover … without distinction of sex or colour or of political religious or other opinions and the provision in such a Centre of facilities for social welfare recreation and leisure time occupation all with the object of improving the condition of life of old people to use the same.’

In 1920 Dover Corporation bought Brook House and was using the attractive building for offices. As a goodwill gesture, in 1966, they offered part of the grounds near the River Dour, for the Centre. They also agreed to give £5,000 towards the cost of the building, which had been designed by Borough Engineer, David Bevan. The Casselden Trust, a local charity, gave a further £2,750 and Kent County Council (KCC) made a 50% grant towards the expenditure on furniture and equipment. The remainder of the costs was met by voluntary subscription.

Local builders, R. J. Barwick and Sons Ltd, faced two major problems with the site. The close proximity to the River Dour meant that there was likely to be flooding and there was also an ongoing drainage problem due to badly constructed road surfaces in the vicinity. They overcame the danger of flooding by building an embankment, on the cofferdam principle, around the foundations and raising the floor of the building three-foot above ground level. As for surface drainage, this was dealt with by specially constructed soakaways in the vicinity of Brook House. These, ironically, were covered when Brook House was demolished and the car park that can be seen today was laid.

Present Manager, Karen Tranter with Marion Holmes Administration Assistant

Present Manager, Karen Tranter with Marion Holmes Administration Assistant

On completion, KCC agreed to pay the annual salary of a Warden, the first of which was  W. J. Farringdon. He was soon after supported by a team of volunteers. The Dover Old People’s Community Centre or Riverside Centre as it became known opened its doors on 1 November 1967. Although there was some scepticism as to whether the older folk of Dover would actually use the centre, the first year saw an average attendance of 150 people a day!

In 1975 the Friends of Riverside formed and by 1986, the Riverside Centre had approximately 600 paid-up members. In June that year, an agreement was reached between Dover Age Concern and the Trustees of the Centre for Age Concern to provide extra facilities. Renamed Dover Age UK, in 1989, the activities offered by Centre these days include art groups, a computer suite – with classes, weekend outings and numerous other activities.

The Riverside Centre also provides products and services from car insurance to minor hearing-aid repairs and batteries, from Wills and legal services to holidays. In 2012 the UK Dover Community Support Service was registered with the Care Quality Commission as a provider of Domiciliary Care. This enables vulnerable people to continue living in their own homes.
Useful Telephone numbers:
Riverside Centre: 01304 207268 or karen@ageukdover.org.uk
UK Dover Community Support Service – 01304 208662
Dover Age UK Charity Shop, High Street, Dover England: 01304 209711

Riverside garden from across the River Dour

Riverside garden from across the River Dour

It was in 1953 that the Rotary Club had suggested that a garden should be laid out especially for the aged and the blind and this was put to the Council in November that year. They agreed and suggested the old electricity works cooling pond site, now under part of Brook House car park, however, nothing more happened. With the possibility of the Riverside Centre being built, the Rotary Club renewed their request for a garden and at the time the Riverside Centre was opened the adjacent garden was laid out with special sweet-smelling plants for the blind to enjoy.

The garden was dedicated, on 23 September 1969, by the then Czechoslovakian ambassador, Dr M Ruzeka, to Lidice, a former mining village in the Czech Republic, near Prague. The ambassador was, at the time, on a goodwill visit to the then Kent Coalfield. The village of Lidice was destroyed on 10 June 1942 on the orders of Adolph Hitler and Reichsfurer-SS Heinrich Himmler as a reprisal following the assassination of Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich. All the men in the village over the age of 16-years, some 173, plus many others were executed. The women and most of the children were deported to the Chelmno extermination camp. Those children who were considered suitable were given to SS families. Following World War II (1939-1945) 153 women and 17 children returned to what had been Lidice but had been razed to the ground.

Bare board where one the Lidice Plaque was situated - behind urn in Riverside Gardens

Bare board where one the Lidice Plaque was situated – behind urn in Riverside Gardens

The plaque has since gone missing and regardless of repeated requests, no organisation appears interested in replacing it. On the original plaque the following was engraved:
‘This small garden was planted in 1967 as a Local Contribution to the International Recognition then given to the 25 Anniversary of the Destruction of the Czechoslovakian
Mining Village of Lidice in June 1942 and to those High Qualities of Flash, Mind and Spirit exemplified in the rebirth of Lidice And the great International Rose Garden Planted there…’
With the added legend: ‘the qualities of flesh, mind and spirit exemplified in the rebirth of Lidice and the great international rose garden planted there.’

The nearby urn, according to local historian the late Joe Harman, is probably a relic of the once beautiful Brook House gardens.

Seat dedicated to Richard Vincent Coleman (1831-1900) - Riverside Gardens

Seat dedicated to Richard Vincent Coleman (1831-1900) – Riverside Gardens

The special garden laid out by the Rotary Club is no more, but the area is neatly kept and is a delight for anyone who wants a quiet repose. Two of the seats are of particular interest. The first is dedicated to Richard Vincent Coleman (1831-1909). The Coleman’s were an old Dover family who up until 1843 leased Priory Farm, now the site of Dover College, from the Archbishop of Canterbury. About that time the family purchased the ‘Shrubbery’ on Crabble Hill / Brookfield Avenue.

The original house was probably built for Vice-Admiral Sir John Bentley (died 14 December 1772) but was demolished some years later by William Horne of the Buckland Paper Mill family. His new house was set further back from the road and was noted for the style and elegance of the gardens and it was this that the Coleman’s bought. From 1828, when the Dover Dispensary was founded in Market Square,  the Coleman’s took an active part in the provision of hospital care for locals.

Coleman Convalescent Home 1930s, Brookfield Avenue. Dover Library

Coleman Convalescent Home 1930s, Brookfield Avenue. Dover Library

Eventually the Royal Victoria Hospital on the High Street was built and under the Will of Richard Vincent Coleman the estate was put into the hands of Trustees of the Hospital to provide a Convalescent and Nursing Home for the poor of Dover. Richard’s estate included the Shrubbery, nearby Jasmine cottage and three houses on Crabble Hill. The Trustees took the decision that the Shrubbery was not suitable as a Convalescent home and the house was demolished in the 1920’s. The materials and the other three houses were sold and Lady Northbourne opened a new, purpose-built, Convalescent Home in March 1925.

Initially, the Coleman Convalescent Home was successful but in the mid 1930s the number of patients started to fall and in 1938, with the consent of the Charity Commissioners, the Home was leased to the Royal Victoria Hospital as a nurses’ residence. It remained a nurses’ home under the post war South East Kent Hospital Management Committee within the newly formed National Health Service. In recent years the house has been completely refurbished and is now part of the community care programme particularly for mental health patients. The Coleman Trust still exists to provide relief of need to the ‘sick, convalescent, disabled, handicapped or infirm’ by way of ‘items, services or facilities.’ The Clerk of the Coleman Trust is solicitor Father Peter Sherred.

Mayor, Sue Jones and members of the Dover Society when the seat to Jack Hewitt was dedicated - Riverside Gardens 11.02.2011

Mayor, Sue Jones and members of the Dover Society when the seat to Jack Hewitt was dedicated – Riverside Gardens 11.02.2011

The second seat is dedicated to Jack Hewitt (1912-2004), another great benefactor to the people of Dover. A character, Jack was well known for his salutation: ‘Greetings’, which he always used, so he said, because of his poor memory for names. The son of a Crafford Street baker, for most of his life Jack was heavily involved in the St John Ambulance and the Boy Scouts movement. For the latter he received, in 1996, a well-deserved M.B.E. for his lifetime work.

However, it was felt by many that he should have received the honour some 56 years before. On Monday 11 September 1940, during World War II, Dover was bombed and simultaneously shelled. At 1 Townwall Passage, 20-year-old Lena Amos, threw herself over her five-month old baby daughter Jean as the house tumbled down on them. Jack was the Leader of the First Aid Party that tunnelled through debris and rescued the baby Jean. Tragically, Lena had been killed. Others involved in the rescue and similar rescues carried out that day were given awards for their bravery, but not Jack. Years later it was said that he had been left out because the others had been part of the official rescue squad while Jack was just ‘a First Aid man.’ The town honoured Jack by naming the newly laid road near where his parent’s bakery had once stood – Hewitt Road.

On his death, Jack left a legacy to St Mary’s Church. Appropriately in view of Jack’s keen interest in youth work, the Parochial Church Council (PCC) decided to use part of the money to set up a Youth Scheme in his name which offers grants to young people and youth organisations in the Dover area. Applications can be made to:
The Secretary – Jack Hewitt Youth Fund
Parish Office
St Mary’s Parish Centre
Dieu Stone Lane
England CT16 1BY

  • Published:
  • Dover Mercury: 25 January 2007

About Lorraine

I am a local historian, whose love of Dover has lead to decades of research into some of the lesser known tales that this famous and beautiful town has to tell.
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